At Carter Brown, part of the Antser Group, we provide expert witnesses for both family law and directly to Local Authorities. Expert witnesses provide an objective party to the family courts relating to children and young people across the country, as well as expert advice for fostering, adoption and special guardianship cases. The service we provide is a vital cog in the network of safeguarding children and young people.
When Covid-19 and its associated lockdown took hold, it turned a face to face assessment service to a virtual assessment service, overnight. It also affected our rate of referral enquiries. We saw an initial dip in referrals during April, as the sector tried to get to grips with the new social distancing guidelines and measures. However, in May and June, we actually saw an increase in these referrals, around 10 more per day than pre COVID.
The cause for this could have been due to a number of factors, one including the family court system playing catch up on existing cases or ongoing cases that were put on hold during the crisis. Another possible reason could have been due to other providers with a smaller network of assessors having longer timescales or a lack of flexibility on delivery methods, such as remote or face to face assessments.
The ingenuity and readiness of our team meant we that we were able to find innovative ways to undertake assessments and therefore be able to provide an increased assessment service. Although our assessors are deemed as key workers, and if absolutely necessary face to face assessments could and can still be made, we had to make adjustments, along with the rest of the country.
Our team of psychologists, psychiatrists and social workers who would normally rely on face to face interaction as vital to their assessment process were now using new methods, ranging from psychometrics being sent in the post and undertaking assessments virtually.
As lockdown continues, and we consider a second wave, the sector needs to be prepared for a post-summer crisis. As a result, we will continue to innovate and continually consider how our services can be provided in the very near future. One area is to develop our social work assessment to combine virtual reality with our usual assessment process. VR has the power to make real change and by using technology we can provide carers, parents and professionals with a way to really understand and empathise with the experiences of children in care, as well as provide a quality remote service.
Technology will certainly play an important role for us as we move forward out of lockdown, and our expert team will need to continue to be innovative and adaptable to the changing environment and the needs of local authorities and family courts.