ISWs throw in the towel

Community Care reports on the prospect of Independent Social Workers quitting over the fees cap to be introduced by the LSC in October. What the article fails to disentangle (in fact it rather adds to the confusion) is the distinction between ISWs contracted by CAFCASS on a self employed basis to carry out Guardian or report writing work it does not have the in house resource to manage (and for which CAFCASS pays its own rate) and ISWs instructed as an expert by the parties with the permission of the court, and whose costs will be met (usually) by the LSC at its own rate. I know that there have been complaints about both the CAFCASS rate and the proposed rate via the LSC, and the thrust of the article is right: ISWs are finding it a real squeeze. Many are  quitting working for CAFCASS, or have already done so, only to find that their other source of self employed income i.e. expert instructions will also be severely limited.


It’s important to distinguish between a self employed CAFCASS Guardian and a social worker who is instructed as an independent expert in the case with the permission of the court. Their roles are quite different, and whilst each is independent in their own way it is not the role of a Guardian to conduct in depth assessments of a family or children. Where that work has not been completed by social services or has not been completed satisfactorily or with an independent and open mind the only means by which a parent can obtain a fair and thorough assessment is via ISW report. This type of report can turn a case around. If social workers flee not just CAFCASS, but refuse to undertake assessments at £30 an hour too, there will be injustices.

4 thoughts on “ISWs throw in the towel

  1. […] ISW Pay Rates May 27, 2010 by Brick When Cafcass started to be unable to meet courts request’s for Children’s Guardians the Legal Services Commission (LSC) became concerned that its legal aid funds were at risk of being used to engage Independent Social Workers (ISWs) as substitutes for the absent Cafcass Guardians. Indeed, I think this did occur on a few occasions. At the same time Cafcass, in pursuit of its aim of having a fully employed workforce wanted its self-employed contractors to sign up for contracts of employment and not be tempted to start to practice as Independent Social Work experts in the courts. Thus, it greatly suited both the LSC and Cafcass to decide that ISWs would be paid at a maximum of the Cafcass “hourly rate”. This would help the LSC to reduce its expenditure on experts in the family courts and would encourage ISWs to seek employment with Cafcass. Both organisations found it convenient to fudge the actually very distinct differences between the roles of Guardian and ISW expert. For explanation of the different roles see Pink Tape’s very helpful summary. […]

  2. Alison Paddle

    Dear familyloo

    Thank you for pointing out the impact that ISWs can have on children and their families. They often represent the last chance to make a good decision for a child – to have someone with experience and knowledge take a careful look at what is being proposed. It can make the difference between adoption or being brought up within your own family – and there’s no ready answer about which is right without that careful weighing up of each individual case which you have described.

    Just to let you know that we ISWs are not throwing in the towel yet. Nagalro, BASW, ISWA and WillisPalmer are working hard to try to get this decision changed. (I am involved with Nagalro and our joint position statement is on Latest News page.) We’d welcome hearing from other organisations that are also worried about losing ISWs from family court cases.

    The confusion you have so succinctly clarified is only too apparent in the MoJ’s two consultations on the issue. These demonstrate a lack of knowledge of what ISWs do and of their value for children, families and fairness. The decision seems to have been made without a proper assessment what the effect will be on children and on the courts. The MoJ do not know what they spend on ISWs annually or how much they expect to save by these cuts.

    Of course it is quite likely that these cases will cost more without ISWs because courts will turn to other experts like psychologists or psychiatrists whose fees are several times higher. Every other type of expert witness from psychiatrists to fingerprint experts are having their fees looked at by a working party – only social workers are being excluded. Not quite sure how that squares with the Social Work Task Force and need to value social work expertise more…

    Alison Paddle

  3. It is undoubtedly true that both Guardians and ISW’s represent (mostly) the most experienced and competent of workers – but let us not forget that our colleagues “on the front line” are also experts in their own right, and (mostly) competent.
    Acting both as a Guardian (self-employed) and as an expert witness I am fully aware of the impact of these changes – however I think though protests too much. There are far too many inspectors and “milk monitors” to the extent that it causes major cost implications and detracts from retention/recruitment of staff at the sharp end.
    I for one, if it comes to it, will be back at that sharp end earning my dosh – I do occasionally as an interim manager just to ensure I keep my feet firmly on the ground.
    If I ever had to do a child protection investigation, or man the duty desk and work very unpredictable hours I am sure I would manage – just about. It would however be very hard and very scary. Other Guardians and experts could of course go back to the frontline – somehow me thinks many think it below them.

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