This article outlines some of the areas of focus to assist you in preparing a report for children proceedings. It is by no means an exhaustive outline for all cases, but is designed as a practical reference tool to assist you generally.
1. Consider in what context you have been asked to provide your report and for what type of children proceedings?
Consider how the report has been requested? If this is not as a result of a formal Court Order you are not compelled to provide a report unless you choose to do so. However, you should consider the following issues with your organisation:
- Is it practical from an organisational perspective to spend the time or resources completing this document?
- As a professional (who may still be involved in the provision of ongoing treatment to the child / or relative), you must be certain that in providing any report or evidence (in the absence of a Court Order), this will not compromise the ongoing clinical care for that child or your patient.
- It is also important that as a professional you treat all Parties equitably – your report will be provided to all unless otherwise directed by the Court.
- If you do decide not to provide a report (as it is not as a result of a formal Court Order), you must understand that the Court could determine that it wishes to hear from you in any event (particularly if the Court or Parties considers that your evidence would be compelling). As such it may be that in the future you could be summonsed to attend Court to give evidence. Should this happen, you cannot ignore this summons and are encouraged to seek advice within your organisation.
- It is always a balance, but it is often better to provide a report with the view that this may negate your needing to go to Court. However even if you do ultimately need to go to Court, your report will form the framework for your evidence, and you will be able to use this (along with any medical records) when giving evidence.
If there is a Court Order, you need to be clear as to its precise parameters: What does it say? Who exactly is required to provide the report?
- Check that within the terms of the Court Order either the report needs to be provided by you, or that you are the most appropriate person in the current circumstances to provide it? Double check that the terms of the Court Order in relation to the provision of a report relates to your organisation.
- Check the scope of the Court Order in so far as it relates to the provision of a report – what have you been asked to do?
- The terms of the Court Order must be followed in so far as they are relevant to you or your organisation.
2. Consider what questions, issues or points you have been asked to cover in your professional capacity?
- You must be clear about exactly what the report is designed to accomplish and what issues you have been asked to deal with in your professional role by way of the report. This is important as you must ensure that the report responds to and is relevant to those issues – you will need to stay on point!
- You will need to keep the report factual and relevant to the issues which they have been asked to cover.
3. Writing the Report
- This must be drafted by you – it is your evidence.
NB: It may be possible for others to review the draft report to ensure that there are no obvious gaps or issues in terms of the evidence within it which is unnecessary. This should be discussed within your organisation.
There is no correct format for the report. However, in terms of the basics the report should cover:
- Introduction: you should set out why the report is being provided (ie, for the purpose of chid proceedings at the request / direction of the Court).
- You should outline who you are, your qualifications, experience and your work address.
- It often helps if at the start, you set out the specific issues which the Court or Parties has asked that you consider, or the specific questions you have been requested to address.
- You should then ensure that you address the specific issues within the body of your report.
- Again it is helpful (although not mandatory) to finish with some sort of concluding paragraph or summary.
- The report should be clearly signed and dated by you.
- Ensure that your work (not personal) contact information is available at some stage within the report.
- Above all it should be a factual report, and should keep to the issues which you have been asked to cover only.
- If you cannot answer a question or cover an issue because you do not have the evidence, or it is not within your scope of expertise, or for any other reason, then say so. Do not feel compelled to answer questions that you simply can't. You will not be helping anyone by doing so, including yourself!
- A question that is always asked is whether you can provide an opinion? You are able to provide a professional opinion (and will often need to do so to answer the issues at hand – for example around whether it is appropriate for a parent to have contact with a child). However, that professional opinion must be just that, and must be borne out of your expertise, experience with the child / parent and the evidence contained within the report (as opposed to a random and unsupported view).
Points to note:
- Think about the language which you use. Do you need to put any medical terminology into language which the Parties and the Judge can understand (remember nobody is likely to be medically qualified), and you may need to clarify some issues.
- Consider or reconsider the records or any other relevant information you can use in terms of producing your report.
- Try to be organised or methodical in your approach.
- Consider whether you need to attach any evidence to your report, and if so what? You will also need to attach that evidence to your report if it is crucial.
- Consider whether you need to link up with the organisation's legal team or keep them in the loop?
- Keep a copy of your report and any cover letter sending it to a recipient. You will need to reconsider your report if you are subsequently called to give evidence.
- Overall try to ensure that your report is, in itself, a good standalone document outlining your key messages in relation to the issues you have been asked to address.
It is important that you always keep in mind that your overriding clinical duty remains with your patient, but you also have a responsibility to ensure that the interests of the child are protected. To do so you must deal with the issues required of you honestly and accurately. If the provision by you of a report may affect the clinical relationship with your patient to his or her detriment, you must discuss this with the individual who has made the request of you as soon as possible so that consideration can be given as to whether somebody else can provide the evidence, or to consider what reasonable steps can be put in place to support your patient.
4. Where is the report to be sent and how?
Ultimately you need to ensure that your report is filed with the Court and a copy provided to all Parties (unless a Court Order says something different).
If you do not have the address for the Court or the Parties, the usual practice is to check this with the Local Authority (or if the Local Authority is not involved in proceedings, with the Child's representative). Sometimes the Local Authority (who is often the Applicant) will ensure that the report is filed with the Court and served.
Alternatively, you can send your report directly to the Court (along with copies for the Parties) with a cover letter asking that copies are provided to the Parties.
- Where the report is to be sent and how will need to be checked by you. If in doubt go back to the person who made the request of you!
- It will be your responsibility to ensure that your report is provided to the Court and Parties.
- You must ensure that the report is filed with the Court and Parties in accordance with the given timescale. If you cannot meet the timescale (particularly one indicated in a Court Order), this must be discussed with the individual / organisation who has asked you to provide the report as soon as possible to see if a compromise or extension can be reached.
5. The provision of your Report may not be the end of the matter.
It could be that in due course you will need to attend Court as a witness to provide evidence in connection with the content of that report. As such, you must be prepared to stand behind the factual accuracy, professional judgements and content of that report at all times, both now and in the future. This reinforces the position that you must be happy with the content of that report and what you have written before it is submitted.
If you are subsequently asked to attend Court you will need to take steps to facilitate this as far as possible. Whilst you technically do not need to go to Court unless you have received a summons, if you refuse this is likely to be issued in any event. A Court summons should never be ignored otherwise you risk being held in contempt of Court.
Clearly if you have important arrangements in place for the day you have been asked to attend Court that absolutely cannot be rearranged (ie exam, holiday out of the country, medical appointment) then this should be discussed as soon as possible so that appropriate steps can be taken with the Court and Parties around this.
6. If you need help, seek it.
Remember that you do not have to deal with this matter on your own. If you need help, please do seek it from your line manager, and consider whether you need any wider assistance from personnel at your organisation.