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Centre for Child and Family Research

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Towards a Family Justice Observatory: A scoping study
5 July 2016

Towards a Family Justice Observatory: A scoping study

There is a general consensus that improvements need to be made in the use of evidence in the family justice system. In 2015, the Nuffield Foundation set out a preliminary case for a family justice observatory based on a view that a new organisational structure is needed to improve both the quality of research evidence and its application in policy and practice. A background paper written by Bryan Rogers, Liz Trinder and Teresa Williams is published by the Nuffield Foundation and makes clear the Foundation’s position: Family Justice Briefing Paper

Where improvements can be made in both the quality of research evidence and its application, this holds out the promise of improving: a) decision-making at the level of the individual case, b) our understanding of the overall patterns and outcomes of the family justice system and c) commissioning and service development. Although important questions have been addressed by leading researchers, many important questions remain unanswered and in addition, policy and practice can lag behind summations of best evidence.

A research team, appointed by the Nuffield Foundation, is now progressing a scoping study that will explore the feasibility of a new organisational structure, as well as the purpose, functions, and delivery options for a family justice observatory. The research team will be led by Professor Karen Broadhurst of the Centre for Child and Family Justice Research at Lancaster University, working in partnership with Pippa Coutts of the Alliance for Useful Evidence. Pippa and Karen will also be joined by:

Professor Harriet Ward and Lisa Holmes of the Centre for Child and Family Research at Loughborough University

Susannah Bowyer, Research in Practice

Professor Ruth Gilbert and Dr Jenny Woodman, Administrative Data Research Centre for England, University College London

John Simmonds, Coram BAAF

Cathy Ashley, The Family Rights Group

This team brings together a mix of academics and policy and practice leaders, to ensure that the scoping study engages closely with the full range of stakeholders within the family justice system. Professor Judith Masson and Dr Julia Brophy will provide invaluable advisory support to the team regarding family law, given their extensive scholarship in this discipline.

The scoping study is now underway and will conclude in December 2017. The study aims to shed light on questions of both research generation and research utilisation. On the ‘supply’ side, Ruth Gilbert  (Co-Director of the Administrative Data Centre – England) will examine relevant administrative data assets with the aim of demonstrating how data routinely collected for family court, health and education purposes can be used to understand patterns and outcomes of the family justice system. This component will address the technical and governance challenges that need to be overcome to make better use of population-wide datasets for research purposes, while protecting privacy.

A detailed consultation will take place to enable far greater understanding of how different stakeholders access and apply research in their everyday work. Consultation will include a national call for evidence, a series of focus groups, and a review of existing observatories/other organisational models. The team will also consult with relevant organisational leads in a range of international contexts.

A combination of dissemination events and short briefing papers will keep the family justice community up-to-date with the progress of this study and interim findings. For further information, click here: Towards a national family justice observtory or follow on Twitter: @FJOScopingStudy. 



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