Putting children and young people first in the family courts

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‘Our resilience comes from our systems and our people’

Anthony Douglas2014 has been a momentous year for us. In March, we achieved just about the highest possible rating (realistically) in our first national Ofsted inspection under their tough current regime. In April, we were part of the launch of the Single Family Court, a major change to how courts are organised. Having seen other jurisdictions like Australia struggle to get to this stage, this development was especially gratifying. Also in April, we began to work within the framework of the new Child Arrangements Programme in private law cases, which sought to reduce adversarial matches between parents over contact arrangements after separation but rather focus on the needs of their children. This shift was part and parcel of the implementation of the Children and Families Act 2014, which also made the 26 week limit in care and supervision applications by local authorities a legal requirement. Overall, these changes have led to an even more critical role for us in the early stages of our case – especially at the Case Management Hearing (CMH) in public law cases and at the First Hearing Dispute Resolution Appointment (FHDRA) in private law cases. The higher numbers of litigants in person have also led to more work for us, our practitioners supporting them with advice and direction in and around the court process. Finally, towards the end of the year, we began to pilot pre-court private law services, aimed at diverting separating parents from court into programmes based upon resolution in the community and to pilot a role for us in sector-led improvement, by taking on the leadership and management of the Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO) service for Birmingham City Council. The overlap between the work of children’s guardians and IRO’s during the court phase of public law cases means there is scope for improving the way we work together in the future. All in all, an amazingly busy and successful year, which I believe will stand us in good stead to withstand the major challenges I know are ahead, particularly with the long-term difficulty in the public finances. Our resilience comes from our systems and our people, and this was reflected – and celebrated at the Social Worker of the Year Awards in November, when one of our practitioners won the Social Worker of the Year award, one of our service managers won the Team Leader of the Year Award and we were second in the Best Employer of the Year award. These achievements were only possible because of the high standard of work we maintain all over the country, day in day out, throughout this year – and every year now to support the children and families we work with.

Written by Chief Executive Anthony Douglas at 09:00

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