Court Skills Training over two days is run regularly at St Michael's.
Being on the stand and being questioned in court by barristers and judges about the family you have been working with is often one of the most daunting prospects for a new social workers or family assessment workers.
“I tell them 'no one knows this family better than you',” Ronald a house manager from St Michaels explains. “You have spent more time with this family than anyone. Other professionals will just have had snapshots during visits. You and colleagues have been observing them for up to 12 weeks.”
The most recent training was run by Ronald and Jo, two of our house managers. Between them they have plenty of experience of giving evidence in court and supporting members of their teams.
We asked Ronald how many times he has stood up in court – is it thousands?
“I wouldn’t say thousands, hundreds though and it does get easier. If you have done your work properly you have nothing to fear.”
Why is Court Skills Training important?
It gives staff the skills to be expert witnesses. It helps them understand the process and how questioning works. It gives them confidence in their ability to get the best result for the child.
Here is a video explaining why it’s important in more detail
What happens before the court skills training starts….
The court skills training session is a continuation from earlier training (Observation, Recording & Report Writing). Participants warm up using ice-breakers and talk about their fears around giving evidence in court.
Trainers take turns being either the prosecution or defence and putting the trainees through their paces in a mock court set up. Trainees are taught the correct way to address the judge and the court. Even though it’s just a practice it’s quite intense. Trainees are expected to be able to go into more depth and also clarify comments or observations and deal with some agressive questionning. The trainers emphasise that for the lawyers taking part, it's all in a day's work. Participants are urged to keep cool and not to feel undermined or defensive about a particular line of questioning or the suggeston that they don't know their job - for the barrister, it's a standard technique.
What difference does it make to staff taking part?
“Hopefully demystifies, as well as clarifies, court attendance and the expert nature of this part of our work. For us as an organisation, we want confident practitioners attending court, aware of the process and suitably informed/trained,” says Jo.
Why do the courts need to question social workers about their reports?
In a nutshell, to help the court understand all that has been going on during the intervention, and to answer any questions to help the court make the important decisions before it.
“Like any training, particularly on something so important and relevant, it is crucial that staff are knowledgeable about the process, confident about their role in this regard and properly able to help the courts. The experience of attending court and giving evidence is both stressful and anxiety provoking. Training beforehand, and the use of team meetings, supervision and court preparation sessions helps to keep the focus on the child affected,” Ronald explains.
How did everyone do?
Everyone was feeling the pressure on the training days but are confident they know their families.
"I am really glad I got this opportunity to practice. It's shown me where I need to do some more work. I was worred that I kept repeating myself but they told me this is ok because often barristers and judges ask the same question in different ways." Denise a family assessment practitioner.
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