Putting children and young people first in the family courts

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Keeping the family alive, even if they can no longer be together

Anthony DouglasThis is an exciting time for us as we start to expand our pre-court dispute resolution role in private law cases. Supported by the Ministry of Justice, we are strengthening our pre-court interventions in Newcastle, York, Scarborough, Bristol, Norfolk and Kent, aiming to divert cases from court by supporting parents to establish a line of communication again about their child or children. Our aim is to keep the family alive even if they can no longer be together. In some areas we are carrying out this work directly ourselves. In others, we are commissioning voluntary sector organisations to do this. Common to each of the pilot areas is an emphasis on providing a keyworker to families for a short period of time pre-court, to help them use the best resource available for them and to be on hand to offer advice and support. We hope this will deter people from using the court process just because they do not have enough support and encouragement to consider the alternatives. In those same five areas, we are offering awareness sessions and a telephone consultation service to local mediators about child protection issues, if they have concerns. Mediators often sit outside the local safeguarding mainstream when considering risks to vulnerable children or adults and our service aims to increase mediator’s knowledge and confidence when dealing with such issues in their work, without them always feeling they need to grant an exemption and allow people to go forward into a court application and battle. I hope these initiatives will re-position pre-court private law services into mainstream early help services locally. Dealing successfully with the aftermath of relationship breakdown is a key local public health and wellbeing issue. So much unseen and unreported damage comes from high conflict post-separation which is allowed to carry on without an end for the child in sight. This drains a child of hope and positive emotion. Pre-court private law practice is far from a cost cutting exercise in relation to court applications. It is based upon a strong belief in Cafcass that many disputes which go to court can be more easily resolved out of court. We are putting more time and effort into this, and we will evaluate the outcomes with the Ministry of Justice within twelve months to see if it will be possible in future to establish a viable out of court service, one which is more powerful, accessible and constructive than going to court with all of its attendant risks of escalation and with heightened anxiety for all involved.  

Written by Chief Executive Anthony Douglas at 09:00

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