Slashing the fees of social work experts will put vulnerable children at risk and increase delays in the family court, their representative groups have warned. From October 2010, the Ministry of Justice will reduce by around 50% the fees paid to social workers who give independent advice to family courts in public law cases concerning children. Alison Paddle, spokeswoman at NAGALRO, the professional association for children’s guardians and independent social workers, said the fees would be cut from around £50-70 to £30 – the amount paid to CAFCASS social workers. ‘Despite courts relying on their assessments, independent social workers are already the lowest paid of the court’s expert witnesses. Yet it is often their report that draws together and puts in context the conclusions of more highly paid experts,’ she said. She said the fee cut could lead to people leaving the profession, diminishing the pool of experts available, which would exacerbate the already ‘unacceptably long delays’ in cases. A Ministry of Justice consultation is considering the fees paid to expert witnesses, but social workers are not included in it. Christina Blacklaws, Law Society council member for child care law, said there was a real disparity in amounts experts receive, with some getting £300 an hour while others earn much less. ‘It is completely wrong that the fees of social workers, who play an important role in proceedings, are being slashed,’ she said. ‘But let’s not forget that legal aid lawyers are paid a pittance – we get an average of £55 an hour and have huge overheads to cover,’ she said. An MoJ spokesman said that since 2003 Legal Services Commission guidance has said independent social workers should be paid the same rates as CAFCASS pays its self-employed contractors, and it was appropriate to follow those rates.