As part of the social work programme, all students were expected to undertake a practical examination, whereby students would request an Order from the court regarding an 18-month-old baby and be cross-examined by a barrister.
Requesting an Order from Court | Reflective Log
This examination would show my capabilities as a Social Work Student, highlighting my knowledge of the case and my oral presentation in court. This task would test my knowledge of the Children’s Act 1989, which would be determined through my response to questions asked by the barrister.
Prior to this practical examination, all students were provided with the relevant court documentation which included a first statement, final statement and background of case, which listed all information required including, history of the case, precipitating events, circumstances leading to commencement of proceedings, family composition and dates for Child Protection Plan.
A good knowledge and understanding around the Children’s Act 1989 would be necessary, including all the various sections, as this would give me confidence when responding to questions. Social workers are bound by the statutory frameworks, detailed in the Children’s Act 1989, which places an obligatory duty on professionals to safeguard children who are suffering or likely to suffer significant harm (Brammer, 2007).
This practical exam was held in a replica courtroom on the university campus. Students were told the process, this included being called to the stand individually and crossed examined by the barrister. The barrister would then ask specific questions in relation to the Court Order being requested.
Additionally, the barrister would ask questions, which challenged and tested the evidence document in the first statement. Students were advised that they would be crossed examined for approximately ten minutes and this would take place in front of other peers within the group and two lecturers who would assess students’ knowledge, understanding, oral presentation and response to questions.
All students would be given a pass or fail grade and receive written feedback, which they would use to complete a reflective log.
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Initially, I felt overwhelmed with the level of information provided in the first statement, final statement and background information. I was unsure how I would organise this information into a chronology that I would be able to understand and use effectively.
Although I was familiar with the Care Proceedings process, I underestimated the volume of information required when the Local Authority makes an application to court. The quantity of information heightened my anxiety, as I had not envisaged receiving this amount, however I am aware of the expectations placed on Social Workers to complete concise and comprehensive assessment and care proceedings under the Children’s Act 1989 (Government, 2010)
Prior to the court examination, I felt very apprehensive and concerned. I accept that this was because of my uncertainty around what to expect and lack of clarity around what type of questions which would be asked. Furthermore, I wanted to answer all questions accurately, showing my competence and in a timely manner.
When familiarising myself with the case study and other relevant information, I thought about the type of questions that could be asked and I surmised that I would only have a short period to answer, this highlighted the need to have an in-depth understanding of the case. If I was not equipped with the relevant information, appropriate for answering the question, it could have potentially resulted in no order being made, placing the child at risk.
As the barrister began asking questions, I tried to maintain a calm exterior, even though I was exceptionally nervous. I tried to keep my posture open as I felt this would demonstrate my confidence and I would present as professional a key domain with the Professionals Capabilities Framework (Work, 01).
This was confirmed in my feedback, which highlighted that although I was nervous, I remained confident and was able to maintain a professional stance, highlighting further my ability to behave as a professional social worker.
Whilst I was able to remain professional throughout, my nerves overtook my composure at times, and I did not always remember to address the judge when answering questions asked by the Barrister, this is something I must continue to think about when in a court setting.
I was asked an array of questions by the barrister, some of which I found challenging and others, which I feel, I was able to answer with a little more confidence.
Some questions, including those around the parental responsibility viability assessment I found particularly problematic, which lead to an unclear response. I note that this would have been inappropriate in a legitimate court setting and could have potentially led to no order being made.
This has indicated that whilst I consider my knowledge of the Children’s Act 1989 acceptable, there are still areas which I need to continue to familiarise myself with ensuring that this does not happen again.
This Court Examination allowed me to demonstrate my knowledge of the legal system and my specific understanding of the Children’s Act 1989 and how I apply this to practice. Additionally, this allowed me to demonstrate my ability to remain calm under pressure and respond to the questions asked appropriately.
Throughout the court examination, I tried to emulate a professional and non- judgemental demeanour, which I felt was key. I achieved this by communicating all information factually, trying to avoid adding my own opinions.
At times the barrister would ask statement questions, where I would only answer yes or no. I answered these questions with a yes or no regardless of whether this may undermine the court’s assessment, as I knew it was important to be honest and accurate, and this would demonstrate my credibility. I acknowledge that being honest and transparent when working with individuals is a crucial in social work.
Feedback received after the court examination evidences, my ability to demonstrate an excellent knowledge of the case, which enabled me to answer the questions confidently. Prior to receiving this feedback, I doubted my ability in completing a task such as this as I did not feel that I would be able to answer all questions satisfactorily. I thought my nerves would overtake my ability to perform. This feedback has given me confidence in my ability, whilst still recognising areas for improvement.
Theories and interventions
The United Kingdom has its own child protection legislation and process, social workers use which to support and protect children most vulnerable in society for any type of abuse or neglect. Legislation implemented includes the Children’s Act 1989, which provides a statutory framework placing an obligatory duty on social workers and enabling them to identify children at risk of harm or abuse and provide the relevant intervention to stop any other abuse happening (Lorraine, 2011).
As specified in the Children’s Act 1989, unless a child is deemed to be in crucial danger, an initial assessment will be completed. This will highlight the needs and risks of the child and identify whether they are suffering or likely to suffer significant harm. Social workers have a statutory duty to complete this within 7 days of receiving a referral (NSPCC, 2011).
If a child meets the threshold criteria set out in s31 of the Children Act 1989, affirming that a child is suffering or likely to suffer significant harm, the Local Authority has a duty to complete a strategy discussion and start s47 enquires. As part of these enquires, assessments will take place to find out the needs of the child and the risks associated in the current environment, if it is identified that the child is at risk of significant harm a child protection conference will be arranged (Brammer, Social Work Law, 2007).
Various case conferences will be held on different occasions, with Core Group Meetings taking place in between case conferences to ensure the Child Protection Plan is being adhered to. This will be an ongoing process until the risk of significant harm is lowered, or care proceedings are initiated (Government, Working together to Safeguard Children; A guide to inter-agency working to safeguard and promote the welfare of children, 2015).
This legislative process was emulated in the court examination and the case study. Familiarising myself with the relevant case study allowed me to advance my awareness and familiarise myself with a greater understanding of the Children Act 1989 and the statutory responsibility Social Workers possess. Additionally, it highlighted the tough decisions, which need to be made around assessing the risks, and needs of children.
The assessment process when working with children and families is described as an ongoing process that must be meaningful and timely, with a clear agenda around why the assessment is being completed and what the expectations are from all involved (NSPCC, Keeping children safe in Education, 2015).
In 2015, Working Together to Safeguard Children Guidance highlighted a few key aspects needed to develop a holistic and informed assessment.
Emphasised as key was the importance for all assessments to be child centred, with the views of the child being paramount.
Additionally, other crucial aspects including the best interests of the child are core, child development is included and based on evidence and positives and strengths are highlighted throughout assessments, not just risks and other areas for concern (Government, Working together to Safeguard Children; A guide to inter-agency working to safeguard and promote the welfare of children, 2015).
It is important to note that the assessment process is not solely around collating knowledge, whilst this is an important part, social workers must remember that it is about understanding all the facts even if it appears irrelevant or conflicting. It is imperative that social workers continue to be aware of why they are collating this information, evaluating all evidence and find out what elements support or hinder the development and welfare of the child.
Social workers need to be equipped with the correct skills and knowledge, allowing them the ability to analyse information effectively and to think analytically and reflectively (Turney, 2011).
Social workers are continually encouraged to identify risks, and this is a key element emphasised throughout all assessments. In the United Kingdom, several public inquiries including the Victoria Climbe Inquiry have affirmed the importance of managing and identifying risks (Lamming, 2003). Risk assessing within social work practice is to identify a situation or event, and ascertain the level of risk, and how this can be managed via strategies or intervention (Bostock, 2005).
Trying to eradicate any type of risk is difficult, and it has been identified, that whilst various risk assessment models, lower risk levels these do not fully prevent any assessed risk (Power, 2004), essentially, it is the responsibility of social workers to adopt new strategies and work in a holistic and person centred approach to lower and manage risks more effectively (Titterton, 2005).
Although the assessment and management of risk varies when supporting different service users groups, the fundamental principles remain the same. Social Workers assessing children and young people, have a statutory duty to assess risk under s.31 of the Children’s Act 1989, ascertaining the risk of ‘significant harm’, which was identified in the case study. Social workers practicing in Adult services will look at the risks associated with loss of independence, and the support carers may need to avoid carer breakdown (Crisp, 2005).
A duty is placed on Social Workers working with all members of society to work ethically when making decisions. An in-depth knowledge of values and ethics is at the core of social work practice, and a competent understanding of the legislative frameworks in place.
This is key in practice when completing assessments and court reports (Thompson, 2006). Values are fundamental to our practice, and it is important that Social workers have clear boundaries between personal and professional values, further enabling social workers to conduct themselves professionally.
I recognise the detrimental effect my own personal values could have evoked in the court examination if these were not managed and If I allowed this to affect my view of the case leading to a potentially harmful outcome for the child. Social workers may find situations such as this conflicting leading to ethical dilemmas.
As denoted in the Professional Capabilities framework, Social workers have a duty to promote the participation of vulnerable individuals ensuring that they are part of any decision-making process where appropriate.
Transparency and fairness is key when working with families, ensuring all information is accurate; it was imperative that I was able to remain factual in my answer throughout the court examination, referring specifically to the information documented (Banks, 2006).
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