In the interest of transparency, and further to our post on 31st August, in which we shared a new consultation proposing a Family Law Hub designed to house the latest research and evidence on family matters in one place, we are adding our contribution to this consultation below.

As you can see, our focus is on encouraging the researchers to create a network of teams to source and simplify high quality information with a view to developing best practice inside the Family Justice System. We have also invited the researchers to consider placing service users in their model, in order to ensure that the information becomes practical and useful and makes a positive difference to families and children experiencing the court system.

You can submit your thoughts here, until 31st October 2016, when the consultation closes.

Your name Natasha Phillips
Name of your organisation Researching Reform
Primary function(s) of your organisation To highlight gaps within Family Court practice and offer solutions for improving the Family Justice System for families and practitioners.
Your role within the organisation Founder
Your own research experience/formal research training I qualified as a barrister, and went on to work as a legal researcher. I now produce events in the House of Commons on Family Law topics and create and implement campaigns to help change law and policy inside the Justice System.
Describe primary roles and functions of your employees/members I don’t currently employ anyone.

If no specific consultation has been undertaken, please indicate what has informed this response to our call for evidence?

Having assisted families going through the courts for eight years and having worked with family professionals as well I believe there is an urgent need for a hub which offers up to date, responsive, progressive data which can be efficiently and quickly formatted to suit each body within the system and ensure they are using the best available evidence and guidelines, across the country. It should also include information that is clear and easy to follow for families going through the system so they can understand exactly what to expect.

B1.1 How do individuals within your organisation currently use research evidence – for what purposes?

B1.2 Can you provide one or more examples of the direct application of research in the work of your organisation (e.g. at the case-level or in service development)?

B1.3 Can you provide one or more examples of how research has had a broader conceptual impact (e.g. has changed thinking about the nature of problems or solutions)?

B1.1 and B1.2

Typically I use research evidence for:

  • Court statements, with a view to highlighting poor/ negligent practice and other errors which go to the heart of a case and can lead to miscarriages of justice
  • Family Law events, to inform, highlight and share difficulties, improvements and pioneering projects with professionals and policy makers with a view to changing or improving policy and legislation
  • Greater transparency inside the system through the dissemination of information to the wider public, so that they can engage with the material and share it with others.

B1.3

– Research can have profound effects on the quality of practice and process inside the family justice system. The Ireland report into wide variations of expert assessment quality inside the Family Court has helped to bring about reviews in this area, as have prior reports on social work practice by other researchers, which have gone on to persuade government to review standards in this field as well.

B2.1 How do individuals within your organisation access research evidence? Can you identify any preferred sources or methods?

B2.2 Does your organisation, or do individuals within your organisation, subscribe to any journals, associations, or evidence intermediaries (such as Family Law, Association of Lawyers for Children, Research in Practice)? Please state which ones and comment on their usefulness.

B2.3 Does your organisation fund attendance at annual conferences or seminars? Please state which ones and comment on their usefulness.

B2.4 What does your organisation consider to be the most pressing barriers regarding access to research?

B2.1 I access research which is publicly available online, from countries around the world so that I can compare and contrast policies and their outcomes. I’m also fortunate in that I have a large network of colleagues, many of whom produce research, so they very kindly share it with me.

B2.2 I write for Jordans/ Lexis Nexis Family Law but also subscribe to their online magazine and various services they offer including information on the latest developments. I also subscribe to CRIN, Academia Edu and The Global Information Network.

B2.3 Researching Reform doesn’t fund events, we create and produce them.

B2.4 Currently the most pressing barriers to accessing research are:

– Cost: Good research is often hidden behind a pay wall or fiddly to find online. Service users such as Litigants In Person find it particularly hard to access.

– Digital: more research needs to be online, but it also needs to be in one  place, easy to find, and simply presented.

B3.1 To what extent does your organisation agree or disagree with the above statements (a and b)? Please give examples to support your view.

B3.2 Do you think that professionals in your organisation want or would benefit from additional research training? Would any additional research training form part of undergraduate or initial qualifying training, or should this form part of a continuing professional development (CPD) programme?

B3.3 Has your organisation found opportunities to engage local academics or researchers alongside practitioners to evaluate/understand the impact of your service, or to assist with the implementation of research in policy and practice? Would you value such opportunities?

B3.1 I agree that more research, in an accessible and easy to read format needs to be made available across the country in a uniform and systematic way. We need a system which takes best practice research and data which identifies gaps or failures and turns this information into workable documents across agencies, in a fast and responsive way.

B3.2 I don’t think research training is the answer. The system needs a place which constantly updates and maintains the latest, and highest quality information, provided perhaps by a group of people from each agency able to translate the data and apply it to real world problems, in order to provide pathways to best practice focused solutions. Service users must be a part of that process if the data is to be developed in any meaningful way.

B3.3 Yes, our debates inside the House of Commons bring together the public, policy makers, politicians, researchers and practitioners with a view to sharing experiences. The advantage of this is that each sector can better understand the impact of their work on real life scenarios and try to develop their practice and policy to better serve the system and its users.

B4.1 Which topics, if any, does your organisation consider to be the most contested or confusing in regards to the use of research evidence?

B4.2 Describe research literacy in your organisation, do individuals have the skills to judge the quality of research evidence? Which of the methods listed above, if any, would help individuals within your organisation judge the quality of research evidence?

The areas I have found to be the most contested are:

  • The absence of working definitions for “Future harm”, “Risk of Future Harm”
  • The child welfare checklist (getting the balance right)
  • Non accidental injuries (detection, symptoms and diagnosis)
  • Threshold for adoption (understanding when adoption is appropriate)

– Conflicts of interest in the Family Court (research suggests a high level of unethical practice prevents children from benefiting from the best possible outcomes).

C1.1 What is your opinion regarding the potential use of national datasets to understand outcomes of the family justice system?

C1.2 What, if any, is the impact of regional variability in service performance on children and families?

C1.3 How does your organisation currently evaluate its performance and impact? Would your organisation benefit from support to make better use of in-house routinely collected data?

C1.1 These would be beneficial if produced in a format that was simple and written in a way which bolstered every day practice. Documents ready for real world application must be a part of this process.

C1.2 It’s enormous. Children’s lives are negatively impacted by variable standards every day and this aspect of the system really needs to be addressed. Providing best practice guidelines from the latest research which could be shared quickly across the country via an online hub would be an excellent way to help tackle this problem.

C1.3 Performance is evaluated by the solutions we try to achieve for families inside the system. Impact is partly measured by our online presence and engagement from Government, stakeholders and the public.Whilst it might be nice for some agencies to have in-house help, this would likely bog them down in an environment already stretched for time, so it would be better to produce ready-to-go documentation perhaps with helplines agencies could call if they had questions.

C2.1 Please give each of the following nine functions a ranking, with a rank ‘1’ meaning highest priority. Use Section D for any additional comments.

Priority functions

Rank

Improving the research evidence base through the use of national large-scale administrative and survey datasets.

6

Support for regional performance and outcomes monitoring, to identify and respond to unexpected variability.

4

Developing national quality standards for research to both improve the quality of research and confidence in its use.

2

Commissioning authoritative knowledge reviews to distill key and trusted messages.

9

A research design service to ensure better quality of new practice or policy pilots, along with robust evaluation. – This does not need to be a research design service, this can be done through guidelines published online.

1

Research internships to strength the links between practice and research.

5

Research training to improve the skills and knowledge of practitioners to enable better access and understanding of research.

7

Events and conferences to improve dissemination of research findings.

3

Authoritative response to media coverage of service failures/SCRs/current debates by providing balance and context.

8

C3.1 Which groups do you consider to be the priority audiences because they are best placed to catalyse and steer change? Please explain your reasoning.

Parties to cases – Families offer very important insight into how policy and research translates on the ground where it is ultimately meant to impact. Without their input, the data is meaningless.

Independent Practitioners – Due to complex reasons stemming from budget cuts to poor training, the system has become heavily conflicted and agencies can and do collude when they should not, which makes their input less reliable. Independent practitioners are a little more removed from this process and more able to give an impartial view of the system, which is beneficial to gathering a truer picture of what’s needed and why.

The Media  – Media outlets are powerful catalysts for change but not necessarily best placed to offer a rounded picture of the system.

The remaining groups all offer perspectives which need to be taken into account, but meaningful change will only happen if the system starts to collect data on the impact of decisions after they are made and why policy and practice are not able to deliver a robust service with an acceptable level of consistency.

C4.1 How would you like to see your organisation involved in setting research priorities? For example; annual consultations; key informant annual workshops; individual communications with the observatory.

C4.2 What do you think are the risks and benefits to tighter co-ordination of research priorities and strategic investment in funding?

C4.3 What topics, if any, do you think should be prioritised for new research?

C4.1 Consultations and individual communications would be helpful.

C4.2 Risks: Missing out key topics which need to be covered, incomplete datasets for areas of practice and ongoing confusion as to best practice.

Benefits: Clarification on areas which are still misunderstood, a rise in practice standards across the country and greater transparency brought about by set definitions for every day terms.

C4.3

Topics:

  • Short term and long term effects of Family Court Decisions
  • Children in Care – In depth data on children who run away, relocated and placed for adoption (i.e. how many homes have they been moved to, reasons for move, how many times a child has run away etc)
  • Family Drug and Alcohol Court – research looking at the model and the potential benefits of making these courts widely available
  • Producing an online hub for litigants in person (I’ve written guidelines for this, and very happy to share).

Please add any further comments you wish to make regarding sections B and C.

I think a hub is an excellent idea and one which could benefit the system hugely. Whatever form the hub takes, I hope it will boost transparency, offer people easy to follow guidelines on best practice underpinned by the latest, high quality research and inspire professionals to engage in dialogue with each other to make the Family Court better.

Wishing you lots of luck!

Observatory

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