The Social Service Worker (SSW) is central to the provision of child protective services and, therefore, the entire abuse, neglect and dependency court process. As representatives of the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, Department for Community Based Services (DCBS), the SSW is responsible for the investigation of child maltreatment reports and the provision of protective services. This requires the ability to be flexible; at times, acting in an evidence gathering function, while at the same time completing a thorough assessment of family strengths and needs, and coordinating the provision of services to address issues related to the maltreatment. At all times, the primary focus of the SSW is the safety of the child. It is critical therefore, that the SSW carefully balances the circumstances in the home with the potential trauma to the child should the child be placed elsewhere. Both decisions have very significant long term implications for the child.
The SSW should understand his/her role in the court process and be prepared for each court appearance. The standards of practice (SOP) 1 in this chapter provide principles to guide the SSW in the duties involving court responsibilities; however, consultation with supervisors and OLS on case specific court issues is essential for appropriate regional and local court protocols. One of the basic principles is the need for comprehensive and timely judicial actions in child welfare cases. Victims of child abuse and neglect come before District, Juvenile and Family court judges for protection from further harm and for timely decision making for their future. In response, judges make critical legal decisions and oversee social service efforts to rehabilitate and maintain families, or to provide permanent alternative care for child victims. Courts and the Cabinet work together to make sure a safe, permanent and stable home is secured for each abused and neglected child.
The role of the SSW in court includes knowing where and when to exercise flexibility and compromise on original plans; responding to new, emergent information; and knowing when to state for the record that the Cabinet’s position is distinct from that of the court or other participant’s opinions. Accordingly, it is imperative that the SSW be professional in conduct and attire and to present promptly and prepared. 2
- Is fully prepared with relevant and reliable information at each court appearance and prepared to:
- Present information from the investigation and the assessment;
- Make recommendations for disposition at the appropriate time; and
- Provide information, as requested by the court, regarding the progress of the case at all court hearings;
- Knows all court dates and is present;
- Arranges to have another worker represent DCBS and provides this SSW with the necessary information for the court if unable to attend;
- Knows the facts of the case;
- Presents up to date information regarding the child and parents, including information from treatment providers, care providers, schools, relatives or others as appropriate;
- Identifies the eligible resources and the reasons why they are appropriate;
- Knows the requirements of each stage of the court process and the corresponding expectations;
- Knows the documentation and time schedules set by law and the court;
- Notifies the client of the Cabinet’s recommendations prior to the court proceeding unless there are safety considerations, which would justify withholding this information;
- Is prepared to implement any court orders and any dispositional recommendations made by the agency and accepted by the court;
- Contacts Office of Legal Services immediately if there are concerns about a court order;
- Prepares the child for testimony (without instructing the child on specifically what to say) and has the child available to testify, as needed;
- Anticipates and plans for any safety considerations; and
- Is prepared to testify truthfully in a clear and concise manner.