Mock trials offer a glimpse in to the lives of professional social workers
“When you enter this courtroom, you are on my turf.” These are the words of Mr Johan van den Berg, addressing the second-year social work students at their annual mock trials where students got a taste of the harsh reality faced by social workers when having to testify in court.
The second year social work group, together with Dr Elmien Truter and Mr Johan van den Berg (far right hand side, front row).
Johan is an attorney and expert in family law with Willem Pretorius Attorneys in Vanderbijlpark. Dr Elmien Truter, who lectures the second-year class and also a practicing social worker, takes her class to the Vanderbijlpark children’s court every year.
In this real life scenario, each student is afforded a chance to defend a case study against a real attorney. Johan played the role of the defence attorney to a care giver (parent or guardian) in a legal dispute where it was deemed necessary to remove a child from said care giver in circumstances of abuse or severe neglect. The students worked hard on their preparation for the case, but were still quite nervous while awaiting their turn to speak.
In order to defend their client as best they can, the defence will attempt to discredit the testimony of the social worker and try to find technical gaps where the correct procedure might not have been followed to the letter. A failed testimony from the social worker may result in the child being returned to the care of the exact person who put him/her in danger in the first place, and this is why sessions such as these is so important to students.
. By participating in this real life scenario, students get a first-hand experience of this very stressful situation. It also serves as preparation for the many court cases in which they will be the only voice to speak out for the best interest of the child.
The group expressed their appreciation for the opportunity and agreed that this unique experience in a safe environment will prove to be priceless in the hard reality that they can expect in practice.
Dr Truter is also part of a research team exploring the occupational risks that social workers face. The questioning that they undergo in the courtroom has been identified as one of the most stressful aspects of the job.