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Systemic Family Assessment (public law)

Providing expert analysis for the courts in public law proceedings

WillisPalmer’s Systemic Family Assessment is a new and innovative service designed to address public law disputes and provide the court with the expert analysis it needs to be able to make final decisions for children in a timely manner.

Public law proceedings refer to cases whereby a local authority makes an application to the court for an order to safeguard and protect the welfare of a child. The most common orders a local authority will apply for are care order, supervision order, emergency protection order and secure accommodation orders.

During public law proceedings, the child is represented by an independent professional, a children’s guardian, who will promote the child’s welfare and ensure the arrangements are in the best interests of the child. The guardian will also appoint a solicitor to act for the child.

WillisPalmer has been established for 17 years and is an expert provider of genuinely multi-disciplinary services, exemplified by our Multi-Disciplinary Family Assessment Service which assesses the needs of vulnerable families in their home providing a cost-effective alternative to expensive residential assessments.

Based on the success of WillisPalmer’s existing multi-disciplinary models and our in-depth understanding of public and private law, we have designed the Systemic Family Assessment model to assist the court by providing expert reports to address complex issues that are often beyond the expertise of the parties already involved in the case.

The Systemic Family Assessment or SFA has been introduced with a tight time frame meaning the local authority may be in a position to file their final evidence, and public law proceedings being able to conclude in less time than the allotted 26 weeks of the Public Law Outline.

Fundamentally, this means that permanency for the child can be achieved sooner and Court time commitment is reduced.

The problem

The number of children going into the care of the local authority has risen steadily over the years and, in January 2020, the Local Government Association stated that the number of children in care has risen by 28 per cent in the past decade. The figures show that 78,150 children are now in care, up from 75,370 in 2018.

Children in care proceedings have often experienced unsettled, unstable, and unsafe childhoods, and all professionals involved with them aim to have a decision made regarding their long-term living arrangements without delay.

These children have often experienced unavoidable delay and instability whilst the local authority try to work with their families, and so, if the matter eventually reaches care proceedings, it is important that children do not experience further unnecessary delay.

It is likely that children will be aware of the proceedings and the enormity of the decisions that will be made by the court, and that knowledge can often cause them distress and worry, wondering about what will happen to them. During this time, they can feel as if they are in a state of limbo whilst they wait for adults to make decisions about their futures. It is important that care proceedings are concluded as promptly as possible in order to minimise the distress and uncertainty experienced by the children who are at the heart of these cases.

The sooner a decision can be reached about the child’s long-term future, the less likely it is that any emotional or psychological damage caused as a result of prolonged distress and worry will impact on the child in the longer term and they are more likely to be able to settle with their carers, whether that is their parents, relatives, foster carers, or adoptive families.

Therefore, the aim of the SFA model is to carry out a multi-disciplinary assessment within a clear time-frame to ensure the courts have access to key information required for determining the best outcome for the child and making safe decisions about their future.

The SFA model

The Systemic Family Assessment is a multi-disciplinary assessment with a clear timeframe, to address public law disputes and provide the Court with the expert analysis about the impact of family relationships and dynamics on subject children.

In public law it is often necessary for the court to order expert reports to address complex issues beyond the expertise of the parties already involved in the case, and subsequently psychological assessments of children and their parents along with parenting assessments undertaken by an independent social worker are readily ordered.

As the UK’s leading provider of independent social work and psychological services, WillisPalmer has access to a nationwide network of experienced and highly trained Independent Social Workers and psychologists who work in tandem in the SFA model.

The Systemic Family Assessment is an assessment that incorporates psychological profiling of the parents and a social work analysis of the needs of the child, taking into consideration the Welfare Checklist.

The two experts – a psychologist and independent social worker – work together, in consultation with one another, to provide a full assessment and final report in six weeks from instruction.

The social work analysis considers the relationship each child has with their parent/s and siblings (if relevant) before providing an expert view about the impact of the family system on the child/ren and clear recommendations about how to minimise any negative effect on the child.

The Systemic Family Assessment allows the two experts to work collaboratively in their assessment of the family and via consultation throughout the assessment will ensure that the court is not faced with any disagreement from reporting experts which could result in the delay of decisions being made for the child.

The Systemic Family Assessment has been introduced with a tight time frame meaning the local authority may be in a position to file their final evidence, and public law proceedings being able to conclude in less time than the allotted 26 weeks of the Public Law Outline.

Who can use the SFA model?

The SFA can be adapted to both private law and public law proceedings (see our separate page on private law proceedings).

Professionals or organisations likely to instruct WillisPalmer for a SFA are local authorities, solicitors who work with local authorities and private law solicitors.

Benefits of SFA

  • It provides the court with an analysis of the key issues regarding the case to enable a final decision to be made about the child’s future.
  • Parents and children benefit from the tight time-frame which reduces the impact of delay in court cases such as emotional distress on both children and families.
  • Expert professionals work in tandem which prevents the parents and child or children from needing to repeat their views, feelings and wishes to numerous professionals.
  • It is a cost-effective model, within legal aid agency rates.
  • WillisPalmer’s professionals are highly trained, experienced and have a wealth of expertise.
  • WillisPalmer has been providing multi-disciplinary services for children for 17 years.
  • All final reports are subjected to our robust Quality Assurance Process, ensuring the highest standards are adhered to in every report.

What people say about WillisPalmer

I have used WillisPalmer on a number of occasions over the last 2 years. I have always found the team to be reliable, responsive and professional in handling my enquiries and managing business relations.

L L – Lawyer

Contact details

For more information about our new innovative SFA model, please contact our Head of Services Dave Wareham or Head of Practice Lucy Hopkins who can answer any questions you may have relating to the service.

Dave Wareham 01206 878169

Lucy Hopkins 01208 878173

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