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Handbook 1: Juvenile Court Hearings and Reports
8-3.1  Court Report Writing
Juvenile Court Hearings and Reports
8-3.1  Court Report Writing
Overview
Elements of a Good Report
Points to Keep in Mind
Court Report Basics
What to Avoid
Who Reads the Report
Separating Fact and Opinion
Documenting Sources of Information
Important Topic Areas of Court Reports
Making Recommendations
Attachments
Other References


Reference Points
Effective Date: TBA
Last Updated: 3/16/09


Overview  

A good court report is one which addresses every point to be considered at

the particular hearing for which it is written.

The basic principle of court report writing is that a poor presentation may

mask good information and detract from a report's credibility and

persuasiveness. The quality of a social worker's report reflects his/her

expertise.  

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Elements of a Good Report  

A good report can:

  • Establish and maintain credibility with the court and attorneys.
  • Eliminate or decrease continuances, which means less court

    report writing.

  • Decrease the number of trials, which means fewer court

    appearances.

  • Move cases along statutory timelines without delays.

 

Elements of a good report include:

  • Objectivity, Balance and Professionalism
    • The report should:
      • Be non-judgmental.
      • Be factual.
        • That fact should not be distorted by the social worker's feelings.
      • Include all information, not just the facts that support

      the social worker's recommendation.

      • Refer to adults, including the parents, as Mr./Ms./Mrs.
        • Do not refer to the parents by first name.
      • Be clear as to whom the social worker is referring.
      • Be clear in the use of proper pronouns and last names, when several adults have the same last name.
      • Not include jargon.

  • Conciseness and Specificity
    • Generally speaking, the shorter the report, the better, though

    all information must be included.

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Points to Keep in Mind  

Social workers should always keep in mind:

  • They are the experts in the case.
    • The report is the vehicle for the social worker to give expert opinion and its basis.
  •  
  • Objectivity is critical.
    • The social worker is the court's eyes and ears in the "real"

    world.

    • If the facts are told objectively, the social worker should trust

    the court will make the right decision.

    • If the social worker tries to "slant" the facts, the court may

    discount crucial evidence that is presented in the report.

  • Most likely, the court's decision will be based more on the reading of the social worker's report than on any other factor.
  • Often, on appeal, the court report is the only record of case history.
    • It is important that the social worker writes an addendum or

    memorandum with new information that arises, prior to the hearing date, so that all information and/or evidence is available on the record and upon appeal.

  • County Counsel is available to assist.
     
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Court Report Basics  

The basics of a good court report include:

  • Synthesizing contact notes and professional opinions and assessments.
    • Current and accurate contact notes are critical to the report.

  • Good form, which means social workers should be aware of and correct:
    • Misspelled words
    • Typographical errors
    • Poor punctuation and grammar
    • Misspelling the parties' names
    • Problems with spacing
      • The report should be double spaced to correspond to the line-number pleading paper required by the court. 
  •  
  • Accuracy
    • Social workers should not assume a prior report written by someone else is factually correct and should verify:
      • ICWA information
      • Paternity information
      • Family court history
      • Case history

  • Quotes
    • Effective quotes bolster the impact of a report.
      • Avoid random quotes throughout the report.
    • The source, date and by whom the statement was made should be identified.
  •  
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What to Avoid  

Social workers should avoid the following in the court report:

  • Making legal conclusions (i.e. regarding paternity, ICWA).
    • The social worker provides the facts and clinical assessment, and the court makes the legal conclusions.

  • Airing disagreements between social workers, worker and supervisor, supervisor and manager, manager and director, or any differing opinions or points of view among department staff.

  • Making unnecessary references to lawsuits and other retaliatory actions taken by the parents.


  • Offering their own mental health diagnosis of a client or otherwise attribute a mental or psychological condition to a client, regardless of the social worker's professional standing, such as license or experience.
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Who Reads the Report  

In writing the court report, the social worker must consider that there are multiple parties in every court case who will have access to and be reading the report.  Those parties include:

  • Judge or Commissioner
    • For the court, it is important to provide a brief review of the case.
  • Attorneys
    • Attorneys have to explain reports to their clients.  They will set trials when the report does not include justification for recommendations.
  • Parents
    • Parents are sensitive to any errors of fact. 
    • Recognition for their strengths, cooperation and accomplishments should be documented in the report.
  • Children
    • Children want to be sure that their opinions are heard.
  • Social work supervisors
  • Other social workers
  • Court Appointed Special Advocates
  • Evaluators
  • Mediators
  • Therapists
  • Auditors
  • Ombudsperson
  • Appellate Court Judges
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Separating Fact and Opinion  
  • A fact is a thing that has actually happened or is really true.  It is a thing that has been or is.
  • An opinion is a belief not based on absolute certainty or positive knowledge but on what seems true, valid or probable to one's own mind.  It is a judgment.
  • A conclusion is the last step in a reasoning process.  It is a judgment, decision or opinion formed after an investigation or thought.

Only facts should appear in the body of the report.  All facts should be reported, not just those that support the social worker's viewpoint.  For example, if the parent has made positive progress in some area of service, the progress must be reported in the report.

Opinions and thought processes should be discussed in the Assessment/Evaluation section.  There should be no new facts in the Assessment/Evaluation section. 

The social worker should avoid drawing conclusions without providing the factual basis for those conclusions.  For example, the following statements, in and of themselves, say little that is useful:

  • "They do not appear to have a close relationship."
  • "The mother is depressed."
  • "The house was dirty."
  • "Her school attendance was poor."
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Documenting Sources of Information  
  • In the report, the social worker should clearly distinguish between what is known from first hand observation and what is learned through other sources. 
  • The report should always identify the:
    • Source of information.
    • Date the information was obtained, whether from first hand observation or from a statement from another source
    • Identity of the person to whom the information was given.
      • Quotes should be used when possible. 
      • The importance of documenting the clear identification of sources of information and when the information was obtained goes a long way in avoiding trials in cases, in that questions are not raised in the mind of the reader.
  •  
  • The reader should have a clear understanding to whom the worker is referring. 
    • Care must be taken in using pronouns or when a number of people in the case have the same last name.
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Important Topic Areas of Court Reports  

There are specific headings of the court report that categorize issues that are important to the court.  Those headings include:

  • Reason for Hearing
  • Current status and circumstances of the children
    • Placement
    • Emotional status/progress in therapy
    • Educational status
    • Frequency and quality of visits with parents
    • Frequency and quality of visits with siblings
  •  
  • Current status and circumstances of the parents
    • Compliance with services
    • Progress towards mitigating the factors which led to the dependency
    • Consistency and appropriateness during visits with the child
    • Employment
    • Housing situation
  • Educational Rights
    • The report must include a factual discussion of the parents' or guardians' willingness and ability to participate in making educational decisions for the child or whether circumstances exist that compromise the ability of the parents or guardians to make educational decisions.
  •  
  • Reasonable Efforts
  • Evaluation/Assessment
    • This section must be a clear and concise explanation of the social worker's thought processes.  The reader should be guided by the social worker through an analysis of the facts and how the facts led to the recommendations.  Both risk factors and safety factors should be discussed.
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Making Recommendations  

Recommendations made to the court must be specific to the case.  They should flow as a natural progression of the report.  If a social worker discusses the need for a service in the body of the report, that need must be brought into a recommendation for a court order at the end of the report.

Note:  Social workers should consult with County Counsel when making any changes to the formatted recommendations on the G:drive.
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Attachments  

Attachments should be identified within the body of the report where referenced.   There is also an Attachment heading at the end of the report.  Under this heading, the social worker lists all attachments referenced in the report, using the following language:

The attachments identified in this report are attached and incorporated herein by reference:

  • (Example) Letter, dated 8/10/06, from Dr. Lindquist
  • (Example) Laboratory results, dated 8/4/06, from Quest Laboratories

 

  • What to attach:
    • Pertinent, relevant information such as:
      • Police reports
      • Detective reports
      • Therapist reports
      • Letters from collaterals
      • Medical reports
      • Drug test results
      • Certificates


  • What not to attach:
    • Anything that refers to AIDS/HIV
    • Anything that reveals the identity of the reporting party
    • Children's Developmental Evaluations (unless for a specific purpose)
    • Report cards
      • May be attached if the youth and Court have entered into some kind of contractual arrangement about school and grades.
    • Irrelevant information
    • Information that should not be distributed to all parties (e.g., documents containing confidential addresses).


  • Information to consider before attaching:
    • Information regarding a child's sexual identity or sexual activity or information that the child is pregnant.
      • The reporting of these issues need to be handled with discretion, and, at times, social workers may want to consider making a verbal report to the court as opposed to reporting the information in a court report.
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Other References  
bullet2 OPP Chapter 13-12: Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA)
bullet2 OPP Chapter 9-2: Paternity Issues in Juvenile Court
bullet2 OPP Chapter 9-1: Reasonable Efforts
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