I can’t compete with Sarah’s eloquent rant. So I won’t. This is a stream of consciousness therapeutic effort, not a literary one. I have insufficient energy to craft it, but I must must must let some steam / blood / stress… Or my head will pop.
First : SGO reports.
An SGO report is more than a paper exercise involving answering the headings that the SG Regulations require to be covered before the court has power to make an SGO.
An SGO report must, if it is to have any value or purpose, be an analysis of the risks and benefits of an SGO as compared to all the other options on the table (G, B-S).
The requirements set out in the regulations should not obscure or constrain or act as a substitute for proper social work analysis.
And if, after proper analysis, the recommendation is negative, the SGO report must still be a tool for the court to enable it to consider the appropriate order and to make such order as the court sees fit. A court is perfectly entitled to disagree with a negative recommendation – and if it does it will need a proper support plan AND a financial assessment. Skipping that because the recommendation is negative is NOT OK.
Oh. And if you are writing a report about an SGO application it’s a good idea to know what one is and what its legal effect is. Just sayin'.
Headings. Templates…. I hate ‘em! They're meant to encourage rigour. In fact they breed laziness. ctrl+C ctrl+v ...
Welfare checklist. I know many template creators don’t think it’s necessary to include these as headings in the myriad of templates that practitioners are expected to shoehorn their analysis into. But if ever there was a justification for some headings that should be properly considered in each and every case it is the welfare checklist – see B-S. The clue is in the title. It’s a list. You should check against it. Every time. For every child. Even if it isn’t on your danged template.
Post LASPO blues. I’ve heard some horror stories this week from solicitors. Of parents in “back door care proceedings” (you know the ones, LA in the wings, pulling the strings of their chosen relative, encouraging them to seek private law orders, so that the LA doesn’t have to pursue public law proceedings), leaving the parent about whom the LA is concerned unable to secure public funding to secure the return of their child or to secure sustainable contact – refused exceptional public funding notwithstanding their learning disability. Of grandparents funded by an LA to obtain an interim residence order, but left to commence proceedings themselves, against their own child, in order to secure the proper protection of an SGO. Really helps promote family harmony and placement stability that one.
Of the notion that a court might make do with a residence order where an SGO is sought, thereby limboing just under the 26 week pole - Again leaving all parties without the benefit of non-means non-merits tested public funding, condemning them to litigation round 2 and unnecessary placement and financial pressure: When I am grouchy (and at present I am) I think that is unprincipled, unfair and wrong. When I am not so grouchy I feel pretty much the same.
If there is a problem with delay in the receipt of SGO reports the answer is a) to identify the issue earlier and order the report earlier and b) to order the LA produce the report earlier. Or, to adopt a composite approach and to require the LA final evidence to address the matters set out in the SGO Regulations so that the final evidence can act as the SGO Report itself. Voila! And no, I don’t much care if an LA is organised internally so that a separate team conducts SGO reports. Holisitic evaluation requires a joined up social work team, not a different department for every limb of flipping assessment.
Oh. And while I’m at it, no the regulations DON’T entitle a LA to take 16 weeks to carry out every kinship or fostering assessment (as they insist on telling me). They set an outside limit, beyond which the LA cannot lawfully go. And there is nothing to stop a court directing such assessments sooner. Except that they don’t. That irks me. You may be able to tell.
The thing is there are only 26 weeks to play with. And if the LA faff around taking 16 weeks to do a kinship assessment and then 12 weeks to do an SGO assessment that’s it. Where is there any flexibility left for parents, for unforeseen circumstances? As Sarah points out, the parents get 9 days to get their case in order. I know LAs are under immense pressure (aren’t we all, tiny violin etc) but the balance feels all wrong.
Aaaaannnd… (no I haven’t finished yet). The imperative to get results by 26 weeks at the latest does not equate to justification for forming your long term conclusions by day 1 at the first hearing. The proceedings might be over before you can say “holistic analysis” and “time for change”, but there is still an interim period between “GO” and final decision. Your pessimism about the long term prognosis is NOT a basis for interim removal - nor is it a substitute for pre-proceedings assessment. We’re all in a mighty rush, but it is sadly still necessary to wait for some evidence before a final decision.
Oh. And you’ll need a threshold that bears some resemblance to the legal test for a care order.
Oh. And I never get to have a proper lunch in this stupid job. My mother is very concerned I don’t eat properly. And it makes me grouchy.
I shall be more temperate tomorrow.
I am now back from a day in court, feeling slightly more confident that the system is still working (contested ICO, good guardian, sensible bench). I know there is more to it than frustrated me can sometimes see. I know the is not an argument as much as it is an angst ridden crie de coeur (I can't spell that). I am not intending to criticize the many many professionals who do things properly with blanket grouchiness. But I publish this rant anyway, as a record of how it feels sometimes - a record of an experience. Like banging your head against a brick wall. Or a large ringbinder full of papers. Which incidentally is ALWAYS ALWAYS broken on receipt.
Postscript to the postscript
Yes. I am now in my jeans with a glass of wine. Taking a deep breath....