With the publication of Working Together to Safeguard Children (March 2015), effective inter-agency communication is more important than ever. It is to be expected then, that Achieving Best Evidence (ABE) is quickly becoming a pre-requisite for frontline social workers to have before working in duty and assessment.
As the Criminal Justice Joint Inspection last December, points out though, there are still some barriers to Achieving Best Evidence. The inspection cites that ‘Immediate improvements could be achieved through better planning at the outset, supplemented by improved supervision of interviewers and better quality assurance of the recording.’
With this in mind, we catch up with some recent attendees of Sanctuary Training’s course on ABE, which is delivered by retired police officer Robin Watts, who spent 30 years as a Detective specialising in child protection at the Metropolitan Police.
As an overview, the course helps social workers plan for and execute interviews with children to assist criminal justice partner agencies with their investigations.
Over five days, social workers attending the Continuing Professional Development (CPD) accredited course are taught how to prepare and complete a forensic interview of a child. Through a series of interactive and visual teaching methods, they learn about the correct questioning methods, reflect on the difficulties children face in the interview process, and gain a full awareness of the legalities around the ABE process.
It is, as recent attendee, Hazel-Ann Luke-Douglas says “a programme dynamically presented and packed with great relevant information”.
The dynamism of the course is very much a reflection of the unique approach Robin takes to tutoring. Group exercises and role-play form an essential part of the learning process. This ensures that the content is not only as attendee social worker Anthony Cole, says “targeted and appropriate”, but memorable and informs how ABE interviews are prepared for and executed by all those who have attended the course.
Every aspect of the forensic interview process is covered, from the use and purpose of recording equipment, through to the roles of all those involved in the process, in addition to the exact style and form of questioning.
Robin uses his professional experience of interviewing children to highlight the importance of open questioning and defining a sequence of ‘episodes’ and ‘topics’ to achieve best evidence.
As Hannah Doherty, a social worker who recently attended the course, says “it has given me a lot to think about in terms of my approach to witness interviews” with fellow-attendee Hugh Rodriques echoing her sentiments by saying “the discussions around the evaluation proved a very useful learning experience”.
Given the relevancy of the course to frontline social workers working in duty and assessment, there are now nine ABE courses scheduled from October 2015 to September 2016 and there are still places available.