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WillisPalmer's Child Abuse Litigation Service extends into Scotland

By Philip King

Once again, my very best wishes to readers in these very difficult and uncertain times. At times like this, it is important to remember all of the vulnerable children and adults who are living in situations where lockdown has unintentionally intensified their vulnerability and exposure to a range of abuse. Consequently, at WillisPalmer we have worked hard in planning to ensure our service is running as close to normally as possible in order to help reduce the risks with these heightened vulnerabilities.

This blog continues the theme from our last newsletter with a focus on Scotland where we extended our successful Child Abuse Litigation Service (CALS) in March 2020. We are pleased to see that cases are now coming in, with more in the pipeline. Referred cases are covering a wide period from the 1970s through to the present.

Based upon our experience of providing expert social work reports for claimants and defendants in child abuse litigation in England and Wales, we have recently recruited and trained a team of 12 highly experienced social workers in Scotland to undertake this work. The team have range of experience including child protection, residential work, criminal justice, working with those with a disability, fostering and adoption. The average post-qualification experience is 18 years.

The training undertaken before being approved to join the team is intensive and draws on our experience of providing input in hundreds of cases involving a whole range of different situations. Most of these are settled shortly after providing an expert report, with only a few cases requiring a hearing. In fact, in the last of these the case settled on the first day with our expert assisting in the negotiations.

The training is in two main parts, the first section covering file auditing and preparation, with the construction of a chronology, and relates to our experience of providing this service as a part of the Lambeth Redress Scheme. The second part involves a detailed examination of the process of providing expert opinion and the construction of a report. This ranges from exploring the area of heuristics and bias through to case examples and how reports are laid out to provide a clear and well evidenced formulation of opinion.

One of the key messages from many child abuse enquiries is that this area of social work is complex and requires highly experienced practitioners who have the benefit of high-quality supervision/consultation to ensure that they have an ‘eyes wide open’ approach when devising and implementing plans to protect children from significant harm. Regrettably, we know all too well that this message is not always translated into practice with the result that children are killed or exposed to harm for much too long.

We have incorporated the above message into our quality assurance processes for our CALS work to ensure that we deliver high quality reports that meet your requirements. I personally provide consultation throughout the life of the case as needed with a formal mid-point review held to audit the progress of the case. We also use the mid-point review mechanism to give an update to the instructing solicitor on the progress of the case and our view of the strength of the case. I also quality assure all reports before submission.

Our service of the provision of social work expert reports in Scotland is therefore now readily available and based on solid foundations. Likewise, we would be very interested to assist with any redress scheme that the Scottish Government wish to implement. Our several years’ experience of involvement in the Lambeth Redress Scheme emphasised the importance of having an independent social work agency involved in the examination of records and the preparation of a chronology to allow a fair and just award to be made.

If you think that any of our services may be useful to you, then please do not hesitate to contact our senior case manager Tracy Lias who can assist with any referral. As ever, I am more than happy to discuss our services by telephone, or by way of Zoom for a meeting with you and your team.

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