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Going to court can be a daunting experience for even the most experienced social worker. Jo Spender gives us her thoughts on what you can do to improve your skills before heading to the courtroom.




Court proceedings are often the most crucial part of a social worker’s job, yet many practitioners do not feel confident when presenting evidence. At a time when there has been an increase in the number of court cases relating to children’s or adult social care, it has never been more important for social workers to be fully prepared for the courtroom.

It is a time when the actions of the local authority, social worker, other professionals, parents and on occasions the child, will be scrutinised and held to account by an independent body, the judiciary.

A social worker needs to engage the principles of authoritative practice; they are often the person who knows the family the best, and has met the child more than anyone else involved. Having confidence in your assessment as well as understanding the theoretical and research basis for your intervention will assist you in building the resolve needed to withstand questioning.

As a social worker one of the most anxiety provoking tasks that you can face is giving evidence in court. There will be many occasions where you arrive at court and it will feel like everything has been decided outside the court room following negotiation between the parties, and a resolution will be presented for approval by the judge.

However, there will be times that you have to attend a full contested hearing and there are some practical steps you can take to make the experience less stressful.

Preparation is key


Firstly, manage your diary. You could be in court longer than you expected, make sure all appointments are covered or rearranged. There is nothing worse than having the office call you wondering why they have an angry service user on their hands because you have not turned up!

Know your statement, you will have almost certainly submitted a written statement of evidence: read and re-read this. You will be quizzed on this so make sure know it well. Consider the points that you are most likely to questioned on and prepare your answers.

Make time to meet with your legal representative prior to the hearing so you are clear on the issues that you think will be raised. Discuss with your line manager the areas that are non-negotiable; it maybe that you asked to consider some compromises. Be clear on these areas, if there are any!

You can take a copy of your statement into the witness box, but remember anything you take into the witness box becomes evidence. If you take a contemptuous notebook in, consider how confident you feel answering questions on something quickly scrawled as a reminder.

Take a deep breath


When answering questions, speak clearly and slowly. This will give you time to consider what you are saying and not become flustered. Only answer the question that you are asked. You may feel there is a key point that you need to get across. If it is that significant, your own legal representative will give you the opportunity to put this across.

If you are unsure about an answer, then say so. You are under oath or affirmation and could come unstuck if challenged further. If you need to review some information to give an accurate answer, then say. When answering questions, turn and face the judge. They are the one making the final decision, and this will prevent you from getting into a “head to head” confrontation with the legal representation.

When you are appearing at court you are representing the organisation, and how you present will reflect on this. Consistent good presentation will not only enhance your organisation’s reputation, but will impact on your own personal standing the next time you are back in court. There is no better feeling than being than being commended by the judge on your work, and no worse feeling than being criticised for not knowing your case and being unprepared.

When in court, do not forget how significant a process this is for a service user. This is quite possibly one of the most significant decisions that can be made in a service users life, therefore it is important that the best possible outcome is achieved. This may feel like one of the most stressful days as a practitioner, but you are dealing with a service users life. They may not agree with the proposed course of action and will have to live with the outcome, so be sensitive to this and consider that they may be feeling anger and hostility towards you as the authority figure.

Learning from your experiences


After the hearing, take some time to reflect on the process and use it as a learning opportunity. Think about what went well and what areas you think you could improve on. If you have the opportunity, ask your legal representative to give you feedback on how you presented in the witness box - did they feel confident in what you were presenting?

Nothing will prevent giving evidence in court as being anxiety provoking, in the same way a job interview produces nerves. However, good preparation and planning can put you in the best position to obtain the best outcome, leaving you feeling confident in your own ability. Author profile Jo Spender is a qualified social worker with 26 years’ experience as a Children and Families Practitioner, Educator/Trainer and Operational and Strategic Manager.

Her skills, experience and knowledge are around court practices and permanency planning. Jo trains social care professionals and provides a consultancy service to local authorities.

Find out more at creativesocialworkltd.co.uk

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If you enjoyed this article, why not read the latest issue of Social Work News? It’s packed full of useful advice and informative articles to improve your social work knowledge. You can read online or if you subscribe, you can receive a digital copy as soon as it hits your inbox!
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