Trimega Webinar - ‘Women in forensic science and child protection’ – 24.04.12

Chaired by Meg Munn MP, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Child Protection

Online PR News – 18-June-2012 – London, UK – London – Trimega Laboratories, a leading provider of substance misuse testing services, recently hosted a panel discussion in London about women in forensic science and child protection in the U.K. The webinar was chaired by Meg Munn MP, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Child Protection.

The participants included:
- Sue Carney, Forensic Consultant, Ethos Forensics
- Lorna Cservenka, Partner in the Child Care Law practice of Hanne & Co.
- Deborah Jacobs, Principle, Gary Jacobs & Co.
- Helen Swain, Forensic Consultant, Forensal Limited

Douglas MacSween, General Manager of Trimega Laboratories, said: “The perspectives that the panellists gave about the role of forensic science in determining the right child-care outcomes, and the way that it can form part of a court system that works more efficiently, are things that I hope the industry can take away from this discussion. Similarly, the role of women in forensic science, and the challenges they face to remain in the profession are issues that need to be constantly addressed and affirmed.”

Section one summary: child protection

Lorna Cservenka, Family Legal Aid Lawyer of the Year, 2011, started the discussion by considering the Munro Review of Child Protection and the need to increase the speed of progress of child custody cases through the courts in order to achieve the right outcome for children as soon as possible.

Deborah Jacobs pointed out shifts in the role of social workers in child protection and adoption hearings. Historically, courts had placed high emphasis on the testimony of social workers but were increasingly turning to expert evidence. Deborah concluded with a discussion of the joint directions appointments she had experienced, such as the Crown Prosecution Service and the police working together on child court cases, advocating this as an efficient process when criminal matters overlap with child protection hearings.

Sue Carney, an experienced forensic scientist, echoed the view that expert testimony is very important but should only be viewed as one part of the picture painted by evidence. Sue went on to voice concern that the dissolution of the Forensic Science Service could have a negative impact on the standard of forensic testing provided in criminal cases. With a greater emphasis on more fragmented testing of evidence, in an attempt to limit cost, Sue warned that a level of perspective in interpreting the results was in danger of being lost.

Helen Swain, a forensic consultant, illustrated her experience of the privatisation of forensic testing in the UK and noted a growing trend to use forensic testing in a more selective way. Helen highlighted this as an effect of spending cuts, but raised the concern of limiting analysis. Helen called for a better standard of dialogue between parties to child protection hearings, namely forensic service providers, the police and child protective services.

Section two summary: women in forensic science

Meg Munn opened the discussion by noting the Smith Institute report finding that 70 percent of women who are qualified in science, engineering or technical fields will leave their profession.

Helen Swain observed that salaries were a factor causing women to leave the field of forensic science, and scientific professions in general. Additionaly, grants are often the only means of support for academics. However, forensic science maintains a strong proportion of women entering the profession, possibly aided by the popularity of television programmes and films about forensic science and murder investigation.

Sue Carney developed this point further by pointing out that empathy is a highly useful tool for forensic scientists, helping them to approach problems more effectively, and that empathy is something that tends to come very naturally to women.

Meg Munn then addressed the issue of maternity leave and the impact that this has in professions with a high rate of technological advancement coupled with a high standard of practical capability. The participants all cited examples of rapid change in their professions and the way in which this might delay advancement in a chosen field when coupled with prolonged absence.

Helen Swain and Sue Carney gave examples of initiatives to dispel misconceptions of science as an insular profession as well as to remove negative connotations from the study of mathematics. Sue gave particular emphasis to The ‘I’m a Scientist’ project, funded by The Wellcome Trust, an initiative to give schoolchildren direct access to scientists as a means to answer questions about the various professions and to demystify the day-to-day role of the modern scientist.

The discussion was brought to a close with a consideration of the initiatives that are being used to limit the time cases take to move through children and family court proceedings. Debbie Jacobs cited the initiative being led by District Judge Nicholas Crichton, who established the Family Drug & Alcohol Court involving a team of social workers, nurses and psychiatrists to examine cases and to offer help, such as drug counselling and psychiatric services, to families appearing before the court.

Biographies of participants and a recording of the discussion can be viewed via this link: