Being 'the epitome of reason': the challenges for lawyers and social workers in child care proceedings

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This article presents findings from an interview-based study of how local authority social workers and lawyers work together in child care cases in England. The interviews revealed considerable discontent from social services staff at what they saw as reluctance from the authority’s lawyers to fight hard enough when care proceedings are in progress. The article describes the social workers’ complaints and the lawyers’ responses, revealing the challenges facing both professional groups when pursuing care cases in the courts. These include the requirements of fighting hard whilst complying with the non-adversarial philosophy of child care proceedings, being sensitive to the vulnerabilities of many of the parents and mindful of the longer-term future of the case. Additionally, the lawyers are conscious of their professional role in the courts and of defending the interests of the local authority as a whole, whilst social workers look for high levels of support and robust defence against criticism. The article identifies five different ways that the lawyers use the concept of ‘reasonableness’ to justify their decisions on how to balance these diverse obligations, and compares these understandings with the social work perspectives. The article highlights the multiple tensions between the different approaches, between reason and emotion, and between the interests of the child, the social worker, the lawyer and the local authority. It concludes with suggestions on the ways that ‘reasonable’ inter-personal behaviour can help to promote effective working relationships.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)73-101
Number of pages29
JournalInternational Journal of Law, Policy and the Family
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2005

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