Insight Local Government Lawyer Insight December 2018 21 the document in the first place by taking instructions from the social worker. I suspect that this is usually due to pressure of time and resources. Also, it is expected that social workers will have the skill to prepare a balanced report and will know, through experience, the legal principles that apply. There is, of course, the standard social work evidence template, unattractively known by its acronym, which is clearly intended to ensure that all relevant matters are included. Regrettably, I find that its use leads to much material from previous statements being repeated unnecessarily. I have occasionally wondered whether if the effort put into filling in all the boxes were devoted instead to thinking carefully about the child’s welfare and a five page document were produced in place of the SWET … but that is heresy. All the templates in the world cannot, in my view, usefully replace the input of a specialist lawyer and the process of repeated redrafting. There are three other straightforward recommendations I have: (1) the need for the statement to be balanced – or there is bound to be uncomfortable cross- examination; (2) the need for the statement to be signed (so important) and a copy of the signed page put into the bundle; and (3) if the statement is to be served electronically, the need for any tracked changes to be accepted and for tracking to be turned off. (There are embarrassing tales to be told in relation to the third point.) Assessments Assessments of family members are integral to social work practice and to care proceedings. And there are so many different types: among others, viability assessments, parenting assessments, connected persons assessments, risk assessments. Even the rather tortured “preliminary viability assessment”, used to minimise the amount of work which is to be done. I suggest that often, far too great emphasis is placed on the label given to the assessment. For social workers particularly, the type of assessment is of significance because it dictates the precise nature of the work that needs to be done and the information that needs to be gathered – and, often, the multi-paged template to be used. That is not to say that the label cannot be of significance from the perspective of lawyers too. But I have sometimes found myself discussing a requirement for an assessment with a social worker and it has seemed to create more anxiety than I would have expected – probably because I am not the one who is going to be carrying out the work! Much of the anxiety arises, I suspect, because of the sense in the social worker’s eyes that the work is unnecessary in comparison with other pieces of work – in relation to the same family – which demand attention. Think, for instance, of the urgent life story work that often needs to be done with an emotionally damaged, vulnerable child, which takes careful, patient social work. I would suggest that social workers should avoid using the mantra “We are not carrying out a parenting assessment” (say in a case where children have previously been recently removed). Leaving aside the local authority’s duty to provide the court with sufficient material to conduct its welfare and proportionality evaluation, the social worker is, in such cases, giving too narrow a definition of the word assessment. Better, surely, to say, “I will reassess the parents drawing on the previous assessments and identifying what if anything has changed and evaluating their parenting capability for this child. This will be done through a series of meetings and at least one observation of contact”. This is surely likely to be more productive than a rather sterile debate about the difference between types of parenting assessment which is, in any event, likely to lead to a more prescriptive approach by the court. Micro-managing by the court is a modern curse; the risk of that can be lessened by producing a carefully crafted plan for assessment. The plan should consider what, precisely, requires attention in relation to the adult: for instance, is the case about basic parenting or is it about associations with risky adults? A short final point on assessments of extended family members: based on recent experience, I would suggest that it should be the duty of the legal department and not the social worker to send the completed assessment to the person being assessed, together with the instructions as to how to challenge it. And given the vagueness that often ensues, with no response having been sent by the extended family member in question but the parent asserting that they DO want to be assessed (one can speculate, possibly unfairly, on family dynamics at play here), far better to rely on something in writing from the family member themselves than on a non- response which can always be blamed on the post, a social worker not returning calls etc etc. Bundles Care proceedings end with the final hearing, however many of those there may be, and whether they happen before or long after the twenty six weeks have expired. Final hearings require the local authority to prepare a court bundle and preliminary documents in accordance with Practice Direction 27A. It would be dull to set out all the requirements and I will confine myself to one important provision which is frequently ignored: only those documents relevant for the hearing and necessary for the court to read or that will be referred to during the hearing should be included in the bundle. Of course, one does not necessarily know what will arise during a hearing – but I would suggest that many local authorities could prune a great deal of extraneous material without complaint. Electronic bundles are increasingly being used by advocates and I would recommend that complete electronic bundles (not merely an index) be sent to all legal representatives when lodged with the court; such a step will avoid a great deal of preliminary skirmishing, delay and those dreaded words “Your pagination is different from mine”. I would also set out a plea for the term “core bundle” to be scrapped; so often it gets confused with court bundle. It should be replaced with the term “abridged bundle” or “reduced bundle”. Conclusion The various thoughts above may not lead to every case resulting in the outcome desired by the social workers – and that is how it should be – but I hope that they might lessen the angst for those conducting the case and lead to timely outcomes following intelligent consideration of the available evidence and not repeated wasted case management hearings and even adjourned final hearings. Julien Foster is a barrister at 1GC | Family Law. foster