CAFCASS have just published a study looking at experts – their use in proceedings, what type is being used, who asked for them, were they helpful?
It is interesting, although on their study of whether the use of the expert was beneficial, I think it would have been amazingly helpful, rather than just asking the Guardian in the case if they found them to be beneficial (which is in itself a huge leap forward, we’ve never even done that before) the study or a subsequent one could ask the Judge
- Did you find that report helpful in reaching your conclusions?
- Looking at things now, after the conclusion, was the obtaining of that report worth the waiting time? [ie, was it "value for time"]
This is what I found interesting about it though, in the Guardian’s analysis of whether the report was beneficial or not
100% of the drug and alcohol tests obtained were found to be helpful
100% of the paediatric reports obtained were found to be helpful
But only 75% of the psychological reports obtained were found to be helpful
Given that psychological reports are the most cash-expensive AND time-expensive, the fact that even Guardians (who in my view were being a bit generous with how useful they found reports) found only 3 in 4 of these reports to be helpful is STAGGERING
The report also headlines that since 2009 there has been a massive drop in the instruction of independent social workers – from about 33% of cases then to about 9% now. (That is probably a lot more to do with them being starved out of doing the job and thus not being available than any reduction in need for them, rather than, as some of the reporting I have seen of the report, that it shows how we have been busy embracing the Family Justice reforms)
The study also shows that, so far as Guardian’s were concerned, the quality of the pre-proceedings work done by the LA, or the prior involvement of the LA had no impact on whether or not an independent expert was instructed.
[The report goes on to cite 3 individual cases where Guardian’s had felt that poor social work had been the cause of the instruction, but of a survey of 184 cases this is statistically not significant]
Actually, the Court was rather more likely to instruct an expert if there had been historical social services involvement than in cases where little was previously known about the family prior to proceedings. (still scratching my head about that one)
The other interesting piece of information from the study (given the drive to cut down experts) was the breakdown of what discipline contributes what proportion of the assessments commissioned
The largest by far was psychologists, accounting for 35% of the experts instructed (and we know now that this means that about a quarter of those were unhelpful, or nearly 9% of all expert reports commissioned by the Courts. You’re welcome)
The next largest group was adult psychiatrists – coming in at 20%. I would suggest that this is going to be a difficult group to screen out of the system. One tends to go to an adult psychiatrist because there is a mental health or substance misuse issue that requires expertise over and above that that a social worker or Guardian can give. Even a talented and skilled Guardian or social worker can’t tell you what the prognosis for mother’s bi-polar disorder will be now that she has switched to different medication.
[Honestly though, I think that gathering this information has been a really useful start, and I would really really welcome a follow-up study where the Judiciary are asked on those sample cases, whether the expert report was beneficial and represented “value for time” for that child, submitted of course in an anonymised way so that we get the statistical information but that the judical feedback is kept apart from the actual case]
And in case my clunky pun has got you hankering after seeing a silhoutted woman dancing in front of a roulette wheel whilst playing cards are thrown about, and you have been singing “doo-doo-doo, noo-no0-noo doo-doo-doo” during your reading, here it is :-