Judge seeks improvements to social work reports presented to court – 2023vol2#41

A judge in a rural town began proceedings by calling all practitioners to court before starting the call-over to explain improvements he intended to make to the child care law court day in respect of court reports, timing of expiry dates and organisation of the court list. “I want to be fair to everyone. I want to make improvements,” he said.

Social work reports for court

He stated that he was receiving voluminous amounts of reports where there was regular repetition in later reports of matters already included in the earlier reports. He was critical of the “cut-and-paste” approach in some reports.

He advised that only the initial social work report should include the background and extensive details. This “master report” should set out matters at the start of the proceedings and state whether orders had already been granted. Subsequent reports should include an update on what had happened in the interim period, without repeating the whole matter.

The judge said that reports took a long time to read and they should be clear and not cause time to be wasted in trying to decipher who they related to.

Each report should state:

  1. The correct title of the case.
  2. The court record number of the case and the name of the child.
  3. The order made on the previous occasion.
  4. The issues to be undertaken following the initial order.
  5. The timeframe for undertaking the actions.
  6. An update on how things have progressed.

The judge said that he would allow the practitioners some time to agree between themselves on the best approach to court reports. If problems persisted, he advised that he would issue a Practice Direction on the matter.

Organisation of the list

The judge stated that the volume of cases being listed on the child care law days was very unsatisfactory. He added that the volume on the list should be one that did justice to the type of cases and to the dignity of the parties involved.

He also said that “rubber-stamping” of matters was not going to be allowed and stated that issues could not be allowed to be crammed onto a list. He advised that he did not want to see cases added to an existing list at the last minute but wanted to know in advance exactly what was on the list, saying that he did not mind sitting late on any day so long as he knew about it in advance.

Expiry of orders

The judge told practitioners that in the future care orders should have an expiry date at the end of school terms rather than in the middle of a school term. He stated that the expiry of a care order in the middle of a school term was not practical for children, who might be forced to change schools in the middle of term. Consequently, reviews should, where possible, be planned for the month of June.


The judge said that the word “disclosure” was regularly used when describing what a child has stated. The judge was critical of the use of this term as “disclosure” gave the impression that it was a fact and that it could not be challenged. He advised the use of the word “statements” instead. He was also critical of the term “birth parents” as he said foster parents sometimes found this offensive.