Legal immunities for child care work have been gradually removed over the past number of years because of various court rulings. As a result, local authorities are now more likely to face negligence claims, writes Philip King, executive Consultant of WillisPalmer.
The solicitors who conduct these cases often need expert social work opinion to determine whether there has been a failure in duty of care and negligent practice. I have been undertaking this work for just over seven years and thoroughly enjoy the forensic challenge of providing opinion as to whether the social work practice has been negligent. It has been refreshing to utilise my 37 years of post-qualification experience (covering child protection, residential and fostering work) in a new way.
This work is not about spotting mistakes; it is about looking at the practice and commenting on what was reasonable and what was not. It is about providing a balanced opinion about the standards of social work practice applied during the relevant period for the child in question. Not about best practice, rather this is about considering whether the actions taken by the local authority were those that would have been taken by a responsible body of social workers practising during the specified period, taking account of the all relevant legislation, regulation, practice guidance and reasonable practice of the time. What is therefore applied is the Bolam Standard in the approach to this work.
In my experience, there are significant beneficial outcomes of such claims, quite apart from any financial rewards which may help in rebuilding the lives of children or adults. Like the recent well known celebrities who are survivors, these people have carried a burden for some time. Being able to tell their story and having any wrongs they suffered acknowledged is an important part of a healthy resolve and repair of damage. To be heard and understood is important for us all. It's vital such survivors receive assistance to build a new life and repair emotional damage through therapy, which they may not have received in their childhood. Celebrities often have the resources to get the right help; children who are, or have been in care, don’t. Lessons can be learned from these cases.
In April 2017, ISWA and WillisPalmer merged to form what is now the largest independent social work agency in the UK. Many benefits emanated from this merger, notable the creation of a Child Abuse Litigation Service. After much development work, we have now created a team to provide this service. This team consists of our most experienced social work practitioners who have been trained by me in this work; I am heading the team and will provide supervision and quality assurance to the team. I am proud of what we have now created.
The service comprises:
• Expert social workers
o who have lengthy post qualification experience within a range of care environments and who have operated within many safeguarding systems both past and present.
o who have the ability to judge reasonable social work of the time and not through the current day perspective.
• Good supervision and quality assurance of this complex work.
• Capacity to reduce waiting lists for this expert work which is beneficial for all concerned, particularly the client.
• An administrative case manager who will ensure a timely response and monitor a smooth process.
In addition to providing expert opinion, we offer an additional service to assist with this work:
Preparation of the Case Records
Disclosure can reveal Local Authority case records that range from a small bundle to 20 lever arch files or more; our record to date is ****. These records vary massively in their layout related to the time period involved and the varying practices of local authorities. They are often complex and not helped by containing jargon/abbreviation, being poorly sorted and containing what may appear to be repetitive documents - although this is not always the case. The examination of these records requires an experienced social work eye to sift and analyse them into a manageable form. Critically, this professional eye is essential to constructing a fair and balanced chronology in order to reveal a true picture of the case. Finally, the records need to be sorted into good order and paginated with an index.
We have a team of experienced social workers who can undertake this skilled work backed up by administrative staff who are well acquainted with social work records.
Referrals are taken by Elle Brackstone, who can be contacted here at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 01206 878165.
Please contact Elle or myself if you would like further discussion about any aspect of this service.