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An interview with: Jagdish Barn, Education, Child and Family Psychologist and Independent Expert Witness at Carter Brown

Dr Jagdish Barn is an Educational, Child and Family Psychologist. In addition to running her own practice,FocusPsychology, Jagdish also works as an Independent Expert Witness with Carter Brown. 

Jagdish recently sat down with us to share her experience and interests that have motivated her to support better outcomes through 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 provide psychological formulations for the family court – working with families going through pre-proceedings with the local authority, or care proceedings. I’ve been part of the Carter Brown team for around a decade.

What made you choose Carter Brown?

A colleague recommended it – she was working with them at the time and thought I would enjoy expert witness work. When I looked into it, I thought it would be very rewarding. It was an easy choice because my colleague told me about her work and how Carter Brown supports you. I joined not long after it was set up, so it’s been exciting to be part of that journey. 

In the initial stages, there’s a lot of additional training on how to ‘be an expert’ that you need to undertake – it’s very different to your day-to-day role, especially the legal side of things. I like that Carter Brown provides a consistent case handler who gets to know you, your way of working, supports you and takes care of all the administration and day to day communication with the lead solicitor. 

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

All of us working in family law know about adverse childhood experiences and possible trauma arising out of prolonged exposure to such adversity, but the main thing I think that I bring, which other experts perhaps don’t, is the cultural aspect. I’m an expert in acculturation and the cultural implications of life journeys on parenting, and the impact that has on parenting in a country that may have different expectations of the parenting approaches that are deemed acceptable or tolerated in the country of origin. I’m quite passionate about that – the cultural narrative and acculturation journey that families take. I am also passionate about intersectionality; really thinking about not just their culture, but the impact of social deprivation; political systems; poverty; gender; the inequality we have in society. 

We can get all consumed about the welfare of the child/ren and the law around that, which of course is of paramount importance, but equally important is why people are there and why certain demographics are more represented among families undergoing care proceedings. I’m not one for reductionist labelling and identifying disorders; I use the ecological model and a strengths based approach to my work – looking at the systems around the child and the family and how those are impacting (protectively or not) presentations. Whilst I’m formulating my opinion I am acutely aware that I am supporting professionals working with the family to empower a process of change, so what I do is very much solution orientated and strengths-based.

What is your main driver in your line of work? 

I don’t think I would be incorrect in saying that the main driver for all the various professionals working in family law is keeping families together, wherever possible. Obviously there are some cases where that is just not possible but for me it’s about helping colleagues in social care to understand the psychological perspective and move that case along. 

Co-construction is a really big thing of mine, working together with families, children and young people on shared outcomes, rather than ones generated solely by professionals that may be beyond the current capacity of parents. Another area I’m passionate about is around young people being left out, not feeling they have a voice in this system, because the focus is on adults being able to provide ‘good enough’ care and the type of permanency plan that will achieve this. What can be missed is the young person’s capacity to look after themselves whilst still being able to remain in the family home. Yes, the family may need ongoing supervision, but it’s about looking at the young person’s ability to protect themselves from harm and their individual level of resilience. 

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

For me, it’s the adversarial system, because it’s just so different from the other work I do. Even when you’re liaising with solicitors etc, you have to be careful what you say. I would like to see more professionals meetings around the table – again, co-construction, ideally with parents. In my view, there is not enough co-construction and I think it’s detrimental in some ways. The cases I have worked on where colleagues on the legal and social care side have got together with me to reflect and clarify have had a higher success rate of families remaining together. 

The other thing I struggle with is not always being informed of the outcome of a case that you have invested so much emotional, as well as mental energy into. This is why clinical supervision and peer mentoring is so important in this role. This is quite a solitary job – as an Independent Expert your opinion is yours and yours alone, so it’s good to have peer consultation around the role as a whole. 

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

I have found working on cultural cases very rewarding, seeing my findings and opinion affect positive change for the family. 
Its been heartening to see social care colleagues change their approach to working with particular families to be more respectful of the acculturational journey they’ve taken and understanding how extended family play an important role, and how to involve them more. 

It’s about moving on from a very individualistic approach – other cultures don’t work like that, they work as a collective. Instead of being an advocate for the individual, it’s looking at family advocacy. The upshot of that is children being able to stay with their family because professionals have been open to viewing the case from a different perspective; instead of using Western constructs, they’ve moved to exploring the cultural aspect and how to formulate their assessments in a different way .

A lot of parents from other cultures will tell me they find the questionnaires and being interviewed very difficult. Storytelling is a big thing in many cultures and a structured approach can feel alien to parents.  

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

I would say instead of being overly fearful of the law bit and, as a result, rejecting the work outright, to take those first steps and see how it feels. 

I’m part of the mentoring scheme at Carter Brown for psychologists who want to become an Expert Witness and are new to that role. As part of this, I mentor them on the process and they can ask me any questions on their first few assessments. It’s a good scheme because straight away, you’ve got someone in your area (educational psychologist etc.) who can support you with the Expert Witness side of things whilst you find your feet, so I think that’s a good way to get into it if you’re a little unsure and would appreciate guidance. Carter Brown will also help you locate the best training for you to support any gaps. I think just go for it!

The main thing to always remember is that your report will be used to help the court in deciding on the future life journey of a child or children, whether they can remain in their family’s care or not. Yes, this can be a daunting prospect, but equally it is a great privilege

As such, you need to make sure your opinion is clear and evidenced. You have to be honest and transparent, as well as independent and balanced. A well thought through, reflective and fluent report will help considerably if you are required to give evidence in court. You need to have the confidence in your expert understanding and knowledge to explain why you came to that opinion and the evidence base that backs that opinion. 

This work is rewarding, it’s challenging and it keeps you on your toes. You have to stay on top of the research and literature, as well as movements in family law (Carter Brown is good at keeping you updated on the latter). The other thing I would say is to choose your cases carefully. The referrals team at Carter Brown is very good in finding you suitable work; I only want to take on the cases I feel I can add value to, and the team understands this. Be open and honest if there’s a case where you’re not a specialist or a specific instruction you cannot answer because it’s beyond your professional knowledge. Solicitors might not be aware, so you’re helping them too. In my experience they are very appreciative of that.

Find out more about becoming an Independent Expert Witness at Carter Brown here.

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