On the stand

Have you ever wondered when beginning your social work training, which part of the job would be the most exciting and most  nerve wrecking as well.  Its probably every minute of the day, but there is no hiding from the fact that when working with people and their lives that everyday you will want to make a positive impact, achieve change for the families you come into contact with.


I had been off for half term week and returned to work last week, I was greeted by my old manager (who I think would be happy if I would return to work for him again).  The smile gave it away as he sat himself down on my desk.  “What’s up?” I asked.  And so began the tale of one of his social workers giving evidence on the stand in court.  I have to admit that sadly there is not much in life that shocks me any more.  But this story shocked me! and made me remember my own involvement with the legal system.


I remember completing my own social work training, I had been sponsored by children’s social care so at some point I knew that as a practising social worker doing child protection work, I would need to attend court and give evidence.  Something that I was not looking forward to.


Laughingly I remember my first day and being told that my first year as a newly qualified social worker I would be protected from court work.  I had not even completed the in house training from our legal team, when I had been asked to write my first statement.  I could see the logic in this, I had been the only person able to engage with the young person and heard his disclosure of physical and sexual abuse.  My evidence was important and significant in order to safeguard him.  


The next case was “oh well its just to deal with the end of proceedings” its a case of rehabilitation of the baby boy back to his father.


However, quickly I began to enjoy going to court.  The process is clear and the tasks are clearly identified.  But what I enjoyed more was sitting and watching the proceedings play out.  The Barristers and Solicitors one minute chatting and talking about their new cars, or latest win in court or their last holiday.  to then arguing the finer points of law concerning the case.  It felt like a different world from mine and was like waiting to get on a roller coaster.  I could feel the adrenaline pumping and the nerves kick in waiting to get in the stand and give my evidence.


I would spend a long time writing my statement and court care plan to ensure that it was correct.  That my analyse was considerate of all possibilities and that I had tried everything I could to prevent the case getting to court.  One lesson I learnt on my first placement from my practise teacher was always be “Honest” so when talking with social work students I promote the same ‘honesty’ and for me when giving evidence it makes it easier as I never had to worry about getting tripped up on my evidence.  


When hearing my previous managers comments, it is essential that you have a good understanding of the social work process, that you have a good understanding of the Children Act 1989 and the Guidance that goes with this.  It is also essential that before going to court that you are prepared.


As there is no greater feeling than when you have been in the stand for 6 hours and the Judge comments in his Judgement at the end of the proceedings about the credibility and honesty shown by the social worker in their evidence.


This is not always going to be the case, and when the case is more complex, sometimes it can be 6 hours of grilling, difficult questions and an outcome reached that may not be the one we set out to reach.  However the main and only outcome wanted is the safety and well being of the child/young person.  So their is an element of pressure when on the stand.   The evidence you give is important, but the final decision is down to the Judge to ponder over, and look at the level of evidence to see whether the threshold has been reached in order to make any legal order.















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3 responses

  1. Testifying is tough work for sure. I do it often and remind myself that all I have is what I know and and it is the judge who is burdened with trying to sort out the big picture

  2. I think back to my first time testifying in court and am agasht at how much I needed to learn. Now, I am more comfortable. I think it is a unique position to have as a social worker. I have claimed the title of Forensic Social Worker because my work has been in court quite a bit. It is nice to know others have similar experiences.

  3. Its true Dave, the first time in Court and everything can throw you. Now I can walk in and all of the Judges know me including the Circuit Judges. It is a unique position, and Peter I am glad sometimes I do not have to make the final decision and balance the risk involved to make the final decision.Thank you for your comments

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