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 :-
This is interesting, but I can’t seem to get the report to load, is it still available?
That is annoying, it works on mine. I was going to give you a link to http://www.cafcass.gov.uk and it should be in their news section, but their website is being a bit sticky at the moment and I can’t get the exact link I want for you.
You can also get to it from the Children and Young People now article http://www.cypnow.co.uk/cyp/news/1077421/use-expert-witnesses-family-courts-slide-cafcass
I hope that helps
Going beyond questioning Cafcass about their perception of a report being useful or not – and I concur Judges would be better placed – other sponsors of said specialists should have an opportunity to respond, ie parents.
Further I wonder if there should be a further analysis of those reports the Cafcass Guardians do not find useful, ie why not, is it that they diasgree with the specialist especially where they are a more qualified adult and child paycologist? Or is it that the specialist does not agree or concur with the Cafcass Guardian and that is why there is a perception of it not being helpful? Not helpful to the Guardian but maybe helpful to others.
The game analogy maybe the Guardian expected another catcher on their side and instead the keeper turned pitcher and throws a curve ball back? I appreciate not all but some may fit this sceanrio – and from the position of doing what is right for a child and a family or one parent – then some is too many to simply overlook by simplistic approach and analysis.
This type of reporting is so narrow as to add little value bar act as the stick to justify not commissioning said specialist which may in itself being more comfortable for Cafcass only. It is a little like Cafcass saying we know we do a good job when reporting on themselves and not having any records – independent or their own – to demonstrate positive outcomes for children. At best it is limited if not subjective.
As you suggest Cafcass are often out of their depth in all but a handful of situations as regards adult psychiatric work and even complex psychological assesment. I would go further in that the worked carried out by them with children is not always performed by Guardians with the requisit experience of working with “young children” but rather they are say ex probation workers. In that case is there not another level or potential influence. The specialist really does unearth something the Guardian did not and by the fact they are not experienced in said area find the report unhelpful as creates complexity or raises perceptions and or anxiety based of professional pride.
It would also be interesting to see where the view that specialist psychologist reports are deemed unhelpful by Cafcass, if there is a also spilt between adult and child psychologists/psychiatrists. May be it is but without sight of said report I am unsure.
This occurred to me after I had written it Clive, I HOPE that Guardians were trying to be objective and to assess whether a report was helpful or not regardless of whether it matched their views; but of course that is the risk, that they found a report unhelpful if it didn’t agree with them. And yes, I would like to see the thing broadened out to cover all of the participants – parents, LA, Guardian, Judge. If those figures hold up, that in about a quarter of cases nobody found the report helpful, that’s a big problem.
It of course is still subjective, rather than objective, but at least it would attempt to smooth out those subjective views by taking them from all sides.
and while they’re asking questions about the helpfulness of expert witnesses to the judiciary and also ask them how helpful were the Cafcass Guardians.
Commenting as a psychologist who has done this work for may years…. I suspect long social services involvement correlating with instruction of psychologists is because both may correlate with long standing mental health/parenting problems, but which have previously not been so severe as to precipitate proceedings. So the obvious question arises, is there an intervention we could undertake which would allow the parent(s) – one or other or both – to care for the child(ren) safely and well?
Sometimes, in complex cases, the answers given by an expert don’t help the court, because the proper and professional answer is something like “if x can continue to desist from alcohol misuse and complete a behaviourally based parenting course, then s/he may be able to improve parenting to an acceptable level. Estimating the probability of success is very difficult. It would not be possible to estimate until after n weeks of engagement in therapy.” This sort of thing is not what anyone in court wants to hear, except perhaps to parents and sometimes a child, it offers a glimmer of hope. Occasionally, when I say something like this, I can sense the Judge thinking “Well D’uh” (perhaps in Latin?).
Unfortunately, even having undertaken a full psychological assessment, sometimes experts can’t always help decision making much, and just have to say so. In fact, being more confident in one or other outcome than it is possible to be, is dangerous and unprofessional.
Thank you David, an interesting response. I have often thought (and fairly often said) that we seem to allocate our scarce resources in family justice to a Harley Street diagnosis and a shoplifting from Superdrug treatment. You may very well be right that without proper provision for interventions, reports that would be extremely helpful in a setting where intervention and treatment methods are readily accessible become less so in our culture where they are not (certainly not in the timescales required)
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