This was the question asked by a family court experienced parent at the Family Procedure Rule Committee’s annual general meeting in November 2021.
The parent, who cannot be named for legal reasons, has shared the response she received from the committee with Researching Reform, and so we are adding it below.
Speaking to Researching Reform, the parent said:
“This is surely the highest level of the legal system at which to ask what mechanism holds social workers to account for the veracity of the evidence they give in family court. The response may show why social workers are able, should they desire to do so in order to win their cases, to lie freely in their evidence to family courts with complete impunity. All that prevents them from doing so is that they are trusted not to.”
“Even if the regulator takes dishonest reporting seriously, the complaint and investigation process takes years – it certainly cannot be done in time to stop a forced adoption. The courts themselves should care that they are not basing devastating decisions on falsehoods,” the parent added.
This was the parent’s question to the committee:
“At court I was informed by my own legal team that to question the evidence of the ‘trusted professional’ would ‘look very bad’ for me. Using Subject Access Request documents from the LA, which had never been made available to the court, I was later able to have my complaints regarding numerous serious falsehoods in social work evidence upheld. I therefore ask, does any mechanism exist for holding social workers to account for lack of veracity of their evidence in care proceedings?”
And this was the committee’s reply:
“There are a few mechanisms to hold social workers accountable for their professional conduct. The Department for Education has set clear standards to strengthen the social care system and improve social work practice and safeguarding across the country.
Qualified social workers must follow clear expectations set out by the Department for Education in the Post Qualifying Standards (PQS), which set out the knowledge and skills that practitioners working with children and families should have. These standards can be viewed at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/knowledge-and-skills-statements-for-child-and-family-social-work
Social Work England, which is the regulatory body for social workers in England, have also set professional standards that determine the threshold necessary for safe and effective practice. More information about the standards can be viewed at: https://www.socialworkengland.org.uk/standards/professional-standards/
They set out what a social worker in England must know, understand and be able to do after completing their social work education or training.
If a member of the public has any concerns about a specific local authority and/or social work practice, they are encouraged to make a formal complaint to that local authority in the first instance. If they remain dissatisfied with the way their complaint has been handled the complaint could be directed to the Local Government Ombudsman (LGO). More information on making a complaint to the Local Government Ombudsman is available at www.lgo.org.uk or by calling the advice line on 0300 061 0614.
A concern can also be raised about a social worker by contacting Social Work England, however, they can only help if the complaint is about a social worker’s fitness to practise and the social worker is registered with them. Additional information on what is meant by ‘fitness to practise’ can be found here: https://www.socialworkengland.org.uk/standards/professional-standards/
Social Work England are required, as a regulator, to undertake investigations into individual social workers where they are made aware of concerns about a social worker’s conduct or competence. Social Work England can be contacted in several ways:
– By completing an online form: https://www.socialworkengland.org.uk/concerns/raise-a-concern/
– By email: firstname.lastname@example.org or
– By writing to: Social Work England, 1 North Bank, Blonk Street, Sheffield, S3 8JY.”
As the parent explained, the issues with the current reporting process are that it cannot undo unjust decisions or legal breaches in a timely way, or ensure that children are not wrongly separated from their families. The loopholes surrounding the registration of social workers — which allows people to work in the sector without registering if they give themselves work titles which aren’t protected — are also dangerous and not fit for purpose.
Many thanks to this parent for sharing this information with us.