Albinia Stanley, Family Justice Officer, reflects on the new addition of Family Justice projects to our map of innovation.
Since becoming the lead organisation in the FDAC national partnership in Spring 2019, the Centre has become submerged in the complex architecture of the family justice system as never before. Touring the country to visit different FDAC teams, I’ve met the judges, social workers, lawyers, guardians, and of course, parents and children, who populate the faded corridors of our family courts.
As has been recognised by many prominent voices in the sector, the English family justice and child welfare systems are in crisis. The most recent statistics published by the Department for Education show that the number of children looked after by local authorities continues to rise, up 4% from 31 March 2017 – 31 March 2018, as it has done in recent years. Sir Andrew McFarlane, President of the Family Division, has announced that addressing the rising numbers of public law cases is his ‘Number One Priority’ for his term, citing his staff’s wellbeing as a primary concern.
And yet, from Leeds to Coventry, Milton Keynes to Hastings, FDAC service managers are brimming with optimism. Despite the fact that these innovative services are often precarious in a squeezed local funding context, practitioners working in them are full of hope. Social workers particularly talk about the pleasure of working in FDAC after standard practice and how the relational emphasis of the model liberates them to work with vulnerable people in a humane and transparent way. Older social workers, on the other hand, talk about returning to a style of practice in which they were originally trained, which they feel has eroded over recent years.
When I’m visiting sites, FDAC team members often share with me their ideas for spreading the approach to benefit their colleagues on ‘the frontline’, as they refer to standard child protection social workers. This has set us thinking. Could components of FDAC – such as the multidisciplinary team, non-lawyer review or problem-solving approach – be used in other areas of social work or family justice to similar effect? And what other successful approaches or experiments across family justice could we learn from, as FDAC grows and develops in the future?
Inspired by these practitioners’ infectious enthusiasm, we have decided to broaden our Innovation Map, which showcases ‘bright lights’ of innovation in the criminal justice system, to include case-studies from within family justice. By collecting in one place the innovative projects happening around the UK in the public family law and the child welfare system, we want to celebrate ingenuity in troubled times, stimulating other areas to experiment and replicate successful models. At the same time, we want to collect the on-the-ground evidence which will help us build a fuller picture of the policy and practice needed not only to strengthen the FDAC approach, but to address more broadly the crisis in public family law.
If you know of a project that we might like to add to our map of innovation, please get in touch on firstname.lastname@example.org. If you would like to subscribe to our Family Justice bulletin, please click here.
Family Justice Officer