Lynn Davis is a Consultant for Davis, Simmonds & Donaghey Solicitors in Kent, UK. She has specialised in child care law since 1989, acting as a solicitor for local authorities, parents and children. She regularly provides legal update training for social workers and has taught on the law module for student social workers.

Here, Lynn answers some questions about her latest JKP title, A Practical Guide to Fostering Law: Fostering Regulations, Child Care Law and the Youth Justice System (August 2010).

What influenced you to specialise in child care law, and to write this book?

At college, another law student and I used to discuss what law was really about – he said money and I said people. We both did our training in the City but I knew it wasn’t for me, so after qualifying I went to work in a community law centre in South London. In 1989 I moved into child care law and have stayed there ever since. I always wanted to put my legal training to good use and I can’t think of anything much more worthwhile than trying to protect children.

I started writing books as there seemed to be a need for practical, plain English explanations of law in context, first for social workers (The Social Workers Guide to Children and Families Law) and now for foster carers.

What makes foster carers ‘the backbone of the care system’?

Foster carers play an absolutely crucial role in the child care system. The vast majority of looked after children live in foster care. Carers are there at the sharp end, dealing 24 hours a day, 7 days a week with all of the consequences of abuse, neglect or whatever family difficulties have led children to be looked after. Yet in spite of this, in my view foster carers are underpaid and often overlooked and under-appreciated.

What are some of the more common misconceptions or stumbling blocks in fostering law? In which areas do people need the most clarification?

Foster carers generally receive very little training or information about the law, even though they work in a field surrounded by a complex web of legal provisions. In my experience, many carers are unclear about many aspects of the system, from the differences between criminal and family courts to the process of care proceedings, their own rights and the rights of the young people they care for. Terminology and procedures can be confusing and other professionals don’t always include foster carers fully as part of the professional network, leaving gaps in carers’ knowledge and sometimes in their confidence.

But carers are eager to learn and often find that, with a bit of explanation, things fall into place for them. That’s why I wrote a wide-ranging book – to try to explain the legal context of the fostering role.

Your book bridges the gap between foster carers and the law. What impact does this empowerment have on the child in foster care?

I hope that carers who have a better understanding of the law will be able to help the children and young people they care for to cope with and understand their own situation. And it will give carers the confidence to advocate for their young charges to ensure that their rights are upheld.

What should a social worker expect when having to act as a witness during a court proceeding? What is the best way to prepare?

Social workers giving evidence in court proceedings are often asking the court to make a drastic intervention in the lives of children and their families. So they should of course expect to be challenged. They must know the details of the case and make sure that everything has been reasoned through properly, putting the child’s welfare first. No-one should be asked to go to court without proper training, preparation and support – we owe that to the children and families involved in court cases, as well as to the social workers themselves. Giving evidence is a professional skill and I hope that my book See You in Court is a practical contribution towards preparing social workers to do a good job for the children they serve.

Copyright © Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2010.

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