Forensic Social Work

What is Forensic Social Work?

Forensic social work is the application of social work to questions and issues relating to law and legal systems. This specialty of our profession goes far beyond clinics and psychiatric hospitals for criminal defendants being evaluated and treated on issues of competency and responsibility. A broader definition includes social work practice which in any way is related to legal issues and litigation, both criminal and civil. Child custody issues, involving separation, divorce, neglect, termination of parental rights, the implications of child and spouse abuse, juvenile and adult justice services, corrections, and mandated treatment all fall under this definition.

Can any social worker be a forensic social worker?

Forensic social work is based on specialized knowledge drawn from established principles and their application, familiarity with the law, painstaking evaluation, and objective criteria associated with treatment outcomes. What the social worker offers must be of utility and couched in language to which the court can relate. The conclusions and recommendations must withstand critical review and rebuttal from opposing parties.

The training of social work practitioners has not traditionally included familiarity with the adversary process nor the issues that civil and criminal justice systems confront. Without such training, social workers called onto provide forensic services may find themselves at a disadvantage.

Functions of the forensic social work practitioner may include…

Providing consultation, education, or training to:

  • Criminal justice, juvenile justice, and correctional systems
  • Law makers
  • Law enforcement personnel
  • Attorneys, law students, and paralegals
  • Members of the public

Diagnosis, treatment, and recommendations:

  • Diagnosing, assessing, and treating criminal and juvenile justice populations
  • Diagnosing, treating, or making recommendations about mental status, childrens’ interests, incapacities, or inability to testify
  • Serving as an expert witness
  • Screening, evaluating, or treating law enforcement and other criminal justice personnel

Other functions:

  • Policy and program development
  • Mediation, advocacy, and arbitration
  • Teaching, training, and supervising
  • Behavioral Science Research and Analysis

Forensic social work practitioners engage only in forensic activities within their areas of competence and expertise.