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Vests

I am starting to come across cases in which rather than a police notebook or statement, the Court now has the benefit of seeing the video-footage recorded by the police vest-camera of an incident. The officers have a camera fitted to their vest, and everything that they do in the course of the working day is recorded and available for later scrutiny.

No doubt this is very helpful in cases with Brazilian electricians, or where there is doubt about whether or not someone had a gun, or heaven forbid whether a Government Minister included a class-based insult when swearing at police officers.

The benefit for court proceedings is plain – rather than relying on a recollection of an event that may or may not be accurately remembered or may be coloured by other issues, what actually happened is there for the Court to see. It might back up what the prosecution is saying, it may back up what the defence is saying. I was tempted to say “The camera never lies”, but we’ve seen too many doctored photographs to believe that any more.

There are potentially other benefits, as well as the direct forensic one – chiefly about trust and relationship between the public and the police. There’s no value in the police stretching the truth, or behaving in an improper way towards a suspect if the camera footage is going to be disclosed and seen later.

So, is there merit in trialling these vest cameras (the most high-tech ones being about the size of a credit card or identity card) for social workers?

There’s not a lot of transparency online about the costs of these cameras, since they are being produced by commercial bodies who don’t want to stick their pricing up on line and give their competitors an edge, so that would be the major hurdle. But you can tell from the price of camcorders and how much cheaper and smaller they have gotten over the last five years that it wouldn’t necessarily be prohibitive.

The camera would be worn for every meeting with the family, every assessment session, every visit. The family would be entitled to request to see any of these, and to make use of any of them in Court. Equally, the Judge could see any footage of an incident where there is a dispute. Rather than having to choose between two competing stories, the Court can see for themselves what actually happened.  It cuts both ways – if a social worker is exagerrating about the home conditions or being provocative, difficult or patronising, that will get seen – on the other hand, the Court could see exactly what was said and exactly how the house looked on the day in question. Much better chance of getting to the truth.

And just as with the police, the knowledge that everything is being filmed might reduce the occasions on which professionals are heavy-handed or stretch the truth.  Which in turn might improve the relationship between professionals and families – everyone knows that the facts can’t get twisted or have words put in their mouth, because the truth is there to be watched and inspected.

 

Is it something that is worth a try? Is it the sort of thing that would make more of a difference to how families are treated than micro-management of forms and documents?

 

The counter arguments might be that being filmed might inhibit people or make them self-conscious giving a more stilted performance in assessments, that the footage might be misused or misfiled or get lost (accidentally or deliberately), that the footage might find its way online, that children might be shown it or come across it. Those are things which would need careful thought.

 

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About suesspiciousminds

Law geek, local authority care hack, fascinated by words and quirky information; deeply committed to cheesecake and beer.

16 responses

  1. forcedadoption

    The sad thing is that it is all very well for the police to use video evidence but parents are always refused when they try to introduce videos or recordings as evidence.It would be nice to have a more level playing field…..

  2. Jerry Lonsdale

    If the planets were in alignment, the pope was finally proven to be catholic and by some grace of god that this idea became legislation, over night the number of applications placed in to the court re care proceedings would almost half, if not more.

    It is one idea that has been thrashed about in time of yore, I know parents would be in complete support of it however the professionals approach to this would not be so reassuring,

    I have faced many scenario’s whereby the Parent(s) have secretly recorded the Social Worker or other professional and trying to get the recordings to be used as evidence is almost a non starter, it is not impossible though.

    This could also benefit the care profession in that they would be able to show in real time those cases where it is inevitable their intervention is necessary.

    • Ashamed to be British

      There is a case we both know, the parent produced all the written and recorded evidence, the judge said ss don’t lie! Wtf he heard it for himself.

      The other bonus would be that there would be no need for reems of paperwork to cross reference, all that would be needed is, ‘as you can hear at 3:05 this is said, yet at 5:09 the opposite is said’

      I’ve always said the same, sw’s would be very careful to do things correctly, stop lying and we would see removals go down to very very few children, in fact, most wouldn’t get on to the CPP

  3. Hm, this sounds like a good proposal at first glance, but do ensure all possible loop holes are closed. For example – how can there be a guarantee that recordings and footage are not tempered with? Wouldn’t this require an independent body.. yet, parents need fast, speedy and unbureaucratic access to any evidence for or against them. Yet evidence material would need to be sealed to ensure it is original and hence all copies made of it are identitical. I am afraid that in the age of digital media much is possible we can not even think of at present, and stringent controls are absolutely necessary.

    Kind of feeling we are always running around in the circles of mistrust.

  4. Ashamed to be British

    I have said this over and over, I am a BIG advocate of this, I fought for all meetings to be held in a police interview setting so that anything in the files (especially when the minutes are *uh hem* changed or most of it missing!!
    Every parent will tell you that the social worker has lied somewhere along the line which has created what I call the ‘snowball effect’ so why do they shy away from this?
    I know my own files are full of contradictions and blatant LIES, yet I could do a police interview knowing there’s a lawyer sat beside me and it’s all recorded.

    Having said this, it’ll only work when the judges grow a pair and send the social workers, guardians and expert witnesses straight to criminal court for perjury, as it’s mainly ignored even when the evidence is presented, what’s this going to change?

    • Not sure if this comment was posted already.. apologies for double postings..

      Surveillance the surveillancers… that would be a good idea.

      Having thought more about this I doubt that this proposal will be allowed, and if it will be allowed they will create plenty of obstacles to make people trip..

      The interests of too many stake holders would be cut down, if this proposal would get through; that is interests of the LA, corporate social enterprises (yes, it’s those guys again.. read: adoption lobby), police aso. Take one look at the surveillance market in relation to child protection (RIPAs, MASH etc) and the people who proposed and implemented it (actually, the same corporate groups that run adoption agencies and hire out social workers to the LA, btw all with US based head-quarters) and one can see – this is too huge a conflict of interests, and with this Cameron government in place.. the lobbies will subvert it with the help of MPs and their direct links into government. If all fails John Kerry himself will call Downing Street to prevent this from happening (he is one of the big people of the adoption lobbies and the surveillance market).

      On Child Protection and Surveillance
      http://rotemutter.wordpress.com/2013/02/21/population-surveillance-child-protection-the-battle-of-all-mothers/

      A report on the outsourcing of public services (yes, this incluides child protection)
      http://www.socialenterprise.org.uk/uploads/files/2013/02/the_shadow_state_report.pdf

      The US government’s statement on “international” child protection, they also talk about “surveillance” here
      http://www.childreninadversity.org/about/who/public-private-partnership

  5. Stella aka toni macleod

    i can honestly say i hope so and can’t wait if they do decide to partake in body cams for LA social workers

    ill gladly volunteer i also think all contacts should be microphoned and recorded too myself personally as a parent as a person and as a member of society have no fears from having my every move accounted for as i have recorded a number of la actions

    however i can gurantee the same can’t be said for social workers anyone will any spare time only needs to look on you tube the truth is always out there if you bother looking
    Stella xxx

  6. To avoid tampering perhaps recordings should be to analogue video tape…

    • probably the simplest thing to avoid tampering is for the footage to be uploaded within an hour of being recorded, and the uploaded footage to be datestamped. Once uploaded, it would not be possible to amend or edit the footage without leaving the digital footprint that the file had been saved at a later date.

      It would be impossible for someone to doctor the footage (which would have to include fake lip-synching with the fake audio) within that sort of timescale.

      Well, unless they were a major Hollywood film-maker with unlimited resources, but that’s not really what we are dealing with.

      • Ashamed to be British

        How many local authorities do you think would embrace this if it was put to them on a pilot scheme?
        As it is they will almost always refuse to allow you to record them, something to hide?

      • I don’t know, Sandy. Personally, I can see benefits to it – much better for the Court to see how the home was, how the children looked, how the parents reacted to attempts to help them, than rely on descriptions of it. Equally, better for the parents who say that the social worker is exagerating or unfair for the real footage to be shown. How many would take it up? Really not sure, but if the costs were not bad, I think it would be worth piloting somewhere.

        If the pilot showed that it just descends over and over into “the footage has been doctored, I never said that” it probably isn’t a worthwhile exercise.

        I have never had a problem with parents taping things, providing that it is done openly. Clandestine taping I think just leads to very stilted conversation where one party is trying to catch the other out. I don’t know that it ever turns out to be evidentially very helpful, but I don’t see a good reason why the parent shouldn’t be able to tape conversations if they inform the worker they intend to do it. It’s not something you would want to do when building a rapport and working relationship, but if the relationship has soured to the point where there’s no trust, I don’t think it is something that I would object to. (I wouldn’t like it, but that’s not the same as having a basis to object to it. I generally tell social workers – you aren’t going to say anything to them that you would be unhappy about the Judge hearing, so let them get on with it)

      • Ashamedtobebritish

        I openly recorded a pre PLO – the la legal refused to speak and it never got any further, so worked well for my family, they knew I recorded everything anyway.
        There is a local authority who do record child protection/core group meetings, I’d have to look it up when not on the phone

  7. My advice on the asking to record is very similar to that of Suesuspicious. A parent insists that they want to record the contact session and that if they cannot do so then they are not going to attend contact. I then write to the solicitor acting for the parent. I say that recording will be fine provided that: –
    a) Recording does not interfere with contact (i.e. recording device is to be to one side recording the interactions between parent and child. It must not be a way for the parent to avoid interaction or a device for the parent to direct the actions of the child while the parent remains in the position of the godlike director).
    b) The whole session has to be recorded and a full, unedited copy has to be provided to Children’s Services.
    Result? In every case no parent has ever proceeded with recording and the suggestion that contact or other sessions be recorded has not been raised again in that case.

    My own view is that recording would be a damn good thing and an enormous saving of time and effort. No more “When I shouted out to the window to little Johnny that if he did not come in now I would beat the crap out of him this was obviously a joke and how Johnny and I usually talk to each other and I cannot understand why the Social Worker is misrepresenting this perfectly normal and loving interaction between parent and child.” Save a lot of time in writing of statements and reports. Probably not save a lot of court time in hearing evidence as so rare for actual events to be factually disputed.

    I have seen examples of recording of mother/baby interaction for assessment of attachment (see Wikipedia article on Attachment Based Therapy at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Attachment-based_therapy_(children)). When you see an example of good interaction (parent responds to child’s cues, interacts and stimulates) and then of negative interaction (parent pays no attention to child; in some cases child looks actually scared by behaviour of adult carer) then you have a very clear and objective picture of the ability of that carer. It upsets me that 3 years after hearing a talk by a Professor on this subject (and my principal solicitor and Assistant Head of Children’s Services also being there) my Local Authority has still done nothing about using such resources. Does anyone know of any authorities who do use such resources and what the outcome of those has been?

    When I was in private practice doing divorce work (a long time ago) I came across a persistent urban myth that if a man and woman cohabited for 2 years then they could make financial claims on each other as if they were married. People were always very surprised when I told them it was not true. Some went to other solicitors because they were convinced that I was wrong. There are persistent myths in Social Work as well. For example about privacy and Facebook and taking photographs. I have lost count of the number of times that a Social Worker (or more usually a Social Work Manager) has told me that they cannot use as evidence something that a parent has posted on Facebook. I have explained time and time again that if a parent posts something on Facebook without using privacy settings then this is the technological equivalent of putting an advertisement in the newspaper. You can print it and use it (most common occurrence appears to be to change relationship status to Engaged after telling Social Worker that have finished with the other person once and for all). Likewise as long as you ask the parent if can take photographs and they say yes then you can go ahead and do so. If they refuse to allow photographs then Social Worker can record that refusal. Equally useful evidence.

    I don’t think that arguments would be over whether, or not, the tapes had been doctored. I think they would be over whether, or not, there was no recording because the parent said that they would only let the Social Worker in if the recording vest was turned off or if the Social Worker had said let’s do this without the recording vest so we can discuss like this like reasonable human beings …

    • forcedadoption

      The argument against the recordings would not change from those used now…………
      If social workers produce recordings or videos the judge nods approvingly ,rubs his hands and listens to every word ! If parents produce them the judge is outraged and refuses to have them presented in court at all ! I can’t see that position changing…………..

    • Ashamedtobebritish

      A friend of mine disputed what her contact notes contained – that there was no interaction, no eye contact, child didn’t want to cuddle her etc etc – she had recorded her contact sessions and told the judge she could prove the lies with these recordings, surprisingly he asked to see them, then adjourned as wanted to see more!!
      Good good we thought, someone is going to finally see through the stitch up.
      The judge agreed with the mother, and even says in his judgement that there are no concerns with her parenting which is of ‘an excellent standard’
      Then refused to return her children …

  8. Pingback: Recording interactions between social worker and parents | Child Protection Resource

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