An interview with: Elisabeth Robson, Clinical Psychologist and Independent Expert Witness at Carter Brown

Elisabeth Robson, a Clinical Psychologist and Independent Expert Witness at Carter Brown, sat down with us to share her experiences that have motivated her to support better outcomes at Carter Brown throughout her career.

What is your role at Carter Brown and how long have you been part of the Carter Brown team of Independent Experts?

I am a Clinical Psychologist and I joined Carter Brown in summer 2015.  For the past six years, I have been with Carter Brown, but I am now in the process of retiring from all my medical legal work.

What made you choose Carter Brown?

At the time my professional life had been somewhat unusual compared to my colleagues. When I started, I trained in Austria, and I came to England in 1997, which led to my training being very different to my colleagues.

I was trained from the word go to practise in private practice, so it was very broad. When I came to this country, I always had to have the balance in my work. For example, when I worked for the NHS, it was split posts, but I also did private work, so it always was a mix and match.

In 2015, after working in my own practice, I decided I would go back to my medical legal work that I started back in 2004.

I started looking for agencies and I subscribed to about three of them, and after about a year or so I found that I just wanted to work through Carter Brown, mainly because I found the whole system very efficient.

Could you provide us with a broader definition of the types of assessments/categories of assessments that you complete? 

I have always worked with children as well as adults and old age psychiatry. When it came to assessments and historically before I joined Carter Brown, I very much had the reputation for global family assessments. This could be up to 6-8 headed families but also assessments just of the parents or just of the children, so that is mainly what I’ve been doing through Carter Brown as well.

What is the main driver in your line of work?

I have always had to keep busy in different areas. I can’t just do one thing and be happy with that, I need that breadth and the variety of work.

I think for me the main driver has been very much the complexity of problem-solving, making suggestions and making sure that those children are safe. If it’s possible to keep them with their family, that’s even better.

In terms of the medical legal arena, care proceedings specifically or family law, the main drivers were the complexity. You need to be able to understand complex systemic situations, to analyse it and to offer solutions.

What is the most challenging aspect of being an Independent Expert?  

I think it varies for different people, and for me the most challenging aspect has been the mental responsibility.

With care proceedings, I found it very challenging because regardless of what I do or say, I’m part of a process where families are separated either during the care proceedings process and potentially thereafter also, and there is no reward in that. Whilst my recommendations at that point in time may serve to safeguard the children, I don’t always know what happens to these children afterwards in terms of their care plans and that can be difficult. It’s almost like you are dealing with one snapshot in someone’s life and you are meant to decide or contribute to a decision on that basis, not knowing what the consequences would necessarily be.

Could you give us a few examples of positive outcomes from cases you’ve been involved in within Carter Brown?

It comes down to the definition of what is a positive outcome. In majority of cases, the outcome is positive in that the courts usually reach the right decision for the family, in that they will end up safeguarding the children, this does sometimes mean that the family are not able to stay together, which is difficult.

For example, I had several cases where the parents themselves have been very vulnerable with significant mental health problems and through the process came to recognise that they would not be able to meet the children’s needs and instead focused on addressing their own longstanding issues in a meaningful and constructive way. There have been other cases when parents have not previously been taken seriously by mental health services and by allowing them to share my report with their G.P., it helped them to obtain the necessary support, which is great to hear.

At the moment there is a shortage of Expert Witnesses. Now, more than ever, it’s important for practitioners to enter this field to ensure that vulnerable individuals continue to receive valuable input and insight from an expert in their field.

Do you have any advice that you would share with other independent expert colleagues that want to join the Carter Brown service?

My advice would be that I think people need to be very realistic of their own capabilities.

In this line of work, you must understand the impact of what you’re doing. For example, assessments and simple reports have far-reaching consequences for more than just one individual that people are used to working with on an individual basis and so I think that is extremely important to be aware of.

Don’t delay your filing. Not everyone is aware of the implication it has on those children and adults who are waiting. Considering how many people must coordinate things, delaying filing by one week means that the whole case and outcome for the family and children involved can be delayed for another two to three months. Although it seems those aspects are very much organisational or admin, they are just as important as going out there doing the assessment.

My other piece of advice is that people must be careful to not to have preconceived ideas about that person but rather to just focus on assessing them. The reason this can sometimes be very difficult is that you get a lot of paperwork provided to you in advance of seeing the person. Whilst this information is necessary and helpful to enable you to understand the case and the current circumstances so you can be informed and prepare your assessment process, it includes a lot of sensitive historic information, which can sometimes be very tough to read. You must have the ability to put all of that aside and meet that parent, meet that person as a blank canvas and not carry any preconceived ideas with you, and meet them as if you don’t know anything about them. This is the only way to get their true story so one can understand the issues and make the right recommendations.

Explore our opportunities to join our team of Independent Expert Witnesses here.

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We have adapted our working practices following the new COVID-19 national lockdown and rest assured that Carter Brown and our expert team of assessors are still available to support you throughout this difficult time. Although our doors may be closed, we are open for business and willing, ready and able to assist you.