UNISON has released a new report, Social Work, the Courts and the Consequences of Transparency. One of its key findings is that many social workers are not aware that their name might be made public when court judgments are made. The report also provides recommendations on how employers can better protect social work staff, who appear in court as part of their job. You can read the report here.
Among the key findings:
· 69% of respondents were unaware that they now could be named in court
· Only 2% of respondents said their employer had taken steps to prepare for
and protect social workers in connection with being named in media coverage
· 79% said negative media coverage of social workers in court proceedings
could lead to them considering leaving the profession
· Heavy workloads are leaving more than nine in ten (90 per cent) social workers
without enough time to prepare for court
The report also highlights a gap in social work training with one third of respondents saying it did not prepare them properly for writing court reports or presenting to a judge. The situation is even worse for newly qualified social workers of whom just one in ten surveyed said they had been well-trained.
One social worker, who had received no training on giving evidence in court, described being cross-examined in a High Court hearing as: “An awful experience. I felt that I was a lamb to the slaughter.”
Social workers play a huge part in the legal process, advising on life-changing decisions for vulnerable individuals and families. They should have all the support and training possible to give them the confidence to face what can sometimes be a traumatic experience.
It is unacceptable that social workers are having to carry the can in court for decisions which their supervisors have overseen.
UNISON is calling on all employers to agree to protect social workers from what is potentially a very damaging situation. Local authorities must also exercise their duty of care with better handling of any media attention and providing staff with appropriate legal support.
UNISON is calling for social work training to include modules about presenting in court and writing court reports, and for local councils to protect social workers who are named in court or put in requests to prevent them from being named in the first place.
The report contains four other recommendations which you can raise directly with your employer.
1. Local authorities need to engage with the judiciary to:
a) review the impact of the guidance on social work practice and identify circumstances and
b) develop a protocol for when social workers’ names will not be published in order to protect them.
2. Local authorities should develop and facilitate awareness raising programmes involving Social Workers to consider the implications of being named in a judgement report for practice and to develop a process to protect the staff who have been named.
3. Employers should work with UNISON branches to agree comprehensive protocols on how to discharge their duty of care to social workers, and how they will protect their staff from media hounding. (UNISON branches have already been sent detailed guidance to help them with this.)
4. Employers need to review safety provision in the court environment to better protect Social Workers.