Professionals v Experts
On Thursday 11th November 2010 The Times journalist Camilla Cavendish commented on the use of ‘experts’ in Children Act proceedings. She made the point that some experts do not spend enough time with the parties to make a full and proper assessment. I can’t disagree with this but in my experience it is not only ‘some experts’ but many professionals around the case that don’t spend enough time to draw together a good qualified report. Local Authority reports, which are used as the starting point of proceedings often lack clarity, are ill-prepared, follow a template format and are rarely compiled with a thorough investigation of the facts.
Although I have concerns about the effectiveness of CAFCASS and their management, having worked for them I do believe that they are often used too late in proceedings. Many Family Court Advisors are former Local Authority social workers working in the same Geographical areas that they have worked in for years and as such ‘play the professional game’, failing to challenge their former social work colleagues who have prepared very poor early social work assessments.
Judges rely too much on the belief that those preparing and placing reports before them have actually taken the time to investigate the background to cases and form an opinion that is best for the children. Lawyers working in Children and Family proceedings know that the reports supplied by the ‘professionals’ are flawed and so for the sake of their client they ask for Expert Opinion. This comes late in the proceedings and there is a rush to get the case through the system in the time allowed. Experts who challenge the Local Authority regularly can be seen as a problem for them and they often refuse to have a particular expert allocated, agreeing to one that they do not see as challenging or problematic. For the sake of expediency and good relations ‘on the court steps’ agreements between the professionals and lawyers as to who they will accept means that the expert will be someone who will not ‘rock the boat’ and therefore, in my opinion will not properly investigate and assess in a robust and totally unbiased way.