Courtroom tips for social workers

By Gemma Raw

It's not unusual for social workers to be called to give evidence in court, particularly in child protection cases. But it can be a daunting prospect. Here are some top tips to make the experience less of a trial. Whether you're a newly qualified social worker or a veteran social care professional, at any time you could be summoned to court to give evidence in a legal case, particularly if you're a children and families social worker. You may be an old hand and comfortable with the challenge, but for many the environment and proceedings can be intimidating. So, how you do make sure you acquit yourself well?

1. Be prepared

Take time over writing your statement, check it over carefully and re-read it before you make your court appearance. This could save a lot of time and stress in the witness box. You can simply refer the barrister or judge to your statement when he or she asks a question you've already answered.

2. Dress for confidence

Looking smart is not just about the image you project to others as a professional social worker. It will also give you more self-confidence. Scientists have called this phenomenon 'enclothed cognition', meaning that what you're wearing can have a significant effect on your state of mind.

3. Talk to the decision-maker

It's natural to address your responses to the person who asks the questions ie the advocate or barrister. However, it's important to remember that he or she is not the decision-maker. That's the magistrate or judge, so you should give your answers directly to him or her. The same applies if you need clarification of something or want to ask a question.

4. Be clear and concise

Try to speak clearly and slowly, giving the magistrate or judge time to make notes if they want to. Avoid using any jargon, acronyms or industry buzzwords.

5. Take your time

Don't rush your answers. Take a deep breath and think before you speak. Make sure you've fully understood the question before giving an appropriate answer that's succinct but comprehensive ie not too long and not too short.

6. Keep calm

It's not unusual for your answers to be challenged, sometimes quite robustly. It's vital to stay cool, calm and collected. Maintain your professionalism and don't take things personally. Remember, the other people in the court are just doing their jobs.

7. Stick to the facts

It's important not to get drawn into speculation or give personal views. You're appearing in your social work role, so you should always remain professional and objective. Focus on the facts and avoid making comments or coming to conclusions which go beyond your professional expertise.

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