The Sussex Family Justice Quality Circle met on 9th July to discuss what was required to create a culture of respect in proceedings in the Family Court. It was inspired by, an article in Community Care entitled ‘Divisive, demeaning and devoid of feeling: How SW jargon causes problems for families’ and written by Surviving Safeguarding.

The discussion was led by Tom Stibbs the Principal Children and Families Social Worker at Brighton and Hove City Council supported by Francis King Lead Practitioner in Brighton, Andrew Pack AKA Suesspiciousminds  and Martin Downs.

The article sought to demonstrate the impact on children and their parents of being subject to Local Authority involvement/proceedings, in particular in respect of the language used and the confusion and bewilderment this can cause.

During the meeting all those in attendance sought to explore the impact of the language used in court practice and paperwork on a day-to-day basis and how we could improve our communication to make the process more easily understood by all involved. The Quality Circle also focused on how we would work toward helping those subject to proceedings to feel more valued, listened to and respected.

Surviving Safeguarding  (who sent a special message to the meeting) referred to the problem for parents when professionals use language, jargon or acronyms that they don’t understand. At worst, the parent may feel a sense of injustice, that decisions will be made about their future and that of their child based on responses to questions/statements they don’t understand.

The article concludes with a plea to “social workers, senior social workers, team managers, conference chairs, independent reviewing officers – any and all health and social care professionals not to use certain terms that are so often used within the family court arena.” These include terms like “contact”, “Siblings”, “placement” and “LAC”.

During the meeting the group discussed other words that cause problems to parents, as well as to many professionals. These included: “Attachment”, “Parentified”, “Shared”, “Verbalised”, “Permanency”, “Insight” and “Implement”. Top of the list, however, was the word “Disclosure” when used to refer to a person making an allegation. Those present were implored not to use this (emotive) word but to replace it with “Account” instead.

Those at the meeting concluded that those who write reports will do so with both the parent and court in mind. Jargon will be avoided and simplicity is key. There was agreement that the tone and language in court documents as well as that used in court (by all present) is really important.

There was recognition that it can be easy to use jargon or complex words as shorthand for difficult concepts and that in an emotional and charged setting sometimes taking the time and making the effort to be courteous and respectful can be overlooked, but that both issues can potentially have a bearing on outcomes and experiences and every effort must and will be made to treat those engaged in court proceedings with courtesy and respect.

The principal of respect is key, as is treating one another politely and with dignity. This applies to all, whether a parent, professional witness, lawyer or the judiciary.