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Is there a way to save time spent in court?

BASW Northern Ireland seeks feedback from children's social workers...

social work northern ireland court time children's services
Feedback could help free up time for social workers to do direct work

Published by Professional Social Work magazine - 11 September, 2019

Children’s social workers in Northern Ireland are being asked to share their experience of court work to help tackle inefficient use of time in the system.

BASW Northern Ireland has asked for the feedback in wake of concerns over how long social workers spend travelling to attend court and waiting for hearings to commence.

BASW NI professional officer Martina Jordan said: “This has been an ongoing issue for many years.

“Social workers are spending far too much time sitting in court waiting for cases to be heard and it is impacting on their work.”

Making the system more efficient could free up time social workers spend with clients or enable them to get on with other work such as writing up reports or administrative tasks, said Jordan.

 “A possible solution could be better facilities in court for social workers to work from while waiting for their cases to be heard.

“It could be a social services room or an office with ICT which would make much more productive use of their time in court.

“Use of video links so social workers don’t have to appear in court is another solution.”

While the use of video links to give evidence is used in some criminal justice cases, it has not been adopted within in children’s services teams, said Jordan.

“Part of our research involves mooting the idea to get feedback on whether social workers feel this is viable,” added Jordan.

BASW Northern Ireland launched the consultation following feedback from MLA Colin McGrath who took up the association’s challenge to spend a day as a social worker earlier this year.

McGrath said the issue of time lost in court work was raised by social workers.

“They mentioned that they could be summoned to a meeting with solicitors for 9am or 4pm This could be 30 or 40 miles away.

“Everybody has FaceTime or Skype… so there’s a question there of can some meetings be done using those or through videoconferencing rather than taking up hours of the day?”

The Gillen review into civil and family justice found the use of video links, tablets and online communications “could revolutionise” courts in Northern Ireland.

This, it said, could “prevent people from hanging around all day waiting to appear in court”.

BASW NI is visiting social work teams to get their views on court work.

In a separate study, it is also looking at how contact arrangements between children and parents could work more efficiently and save time for practitioners.

“A social worker may spent a full day on this,” said Jordan. “In some cases there may be two social workers on it.

“We are looking to see if there are more efficient ways of having that contact. It may be, for instance, that this isn’t work that has to be done by social workers.”

To contribute feedback on court work email martina.jordan@basw.co.uk

This article is published by Professional Social work magazine which provides a platform for a range of perspectives across the social work sector. It does not necessarily reflect the views of the British Association of Social Workers.