UNISON has launched a survey of social work members to gather information on their experiences of court work, how well prepared, trained and supported they are by their employers, and their opinions on the impact of naming social workers when court decisions are published.
This follows new government guidance on transparency in the family courts and the Court of Protection in England and Wales, which presumes that judgements will usually be published and expert witnesses named, unless there are compelling reasons not to do so.
Government guidance: Transparency in the family courts
Government guidance: England and Wales Court of Protection decisions
All responses to the UNISON survey will be anonymous, but the overall findings will inform the union’s future campaigning on the issue.
While the government move is intended to promote transparency and public understanding of the courts, UNISON is concerned about the effect on morale, recruitment and retention in social work, at a time when people are struggling with excessive caseloads and the effects of the cuts.
The union fears that it could expose social workers to public hostility and media intrusion in contentious cases – and many employers do not have plans to protect social work staff when this happens.
Some local authorities have allowed individual social workers to be criticised, despite the fact that decisions and evidence in court proceedings will always have been scrutinised, reviewed and approved at senior levels within the local authority.
We have rasied our concerns in writing to the relevant government departments, the Local Government Association) in England, the Welsh LGA in Wales, and the social services directors’ organisations.
The union is also preparing comprehensive guidance for branches on suppporting individual members affected by the issue and negotiating protocols with employers covering their duty of care to protect their social workers.
This guidance will be available in the new year.
UNISON (National News Release) – Tel: 0845 355 0845