Cafcass Pre-Proceedings Pilot
The Cafcass Pre-Proceedings Pilot that sought to test the added value of the family court advisor in pre-proceedings practice is now complete in Coventry and Warwickshire. In addition, the same project in Liverpool is sufficiently progressed, such that it is timely to report on this initiative.
Key and important messages from this project provide interesting insights into the opportunities but also challenges to effecting change in local family justice systems. The pilot project has enabled the team to follow up in some detail 75 pre-proceedings cases across the three sites, and to follow the twists and turns that cases have taken in respect of both diversion from, and the duration of care proceedings. Findings are derived from detailed prospective tracking of cases in which the family court advisor was involved in pre-proceedings (the Cafcass PLUS sample) and a cohort of comparator cases. The Family Justice Review (MOJ, 2011) and the Government response (MOJ, 2012) set in train a modernization agenda of the Family Courts which is supported by the Crime and Courts Act 2013, and the Children and Families Bill which is currently before Parliament. The reform is far reaching, with the formation of a single Family Court in April 2014 and strict timescales for the duration of cases (26 weeks).
Only time will tell if planned changes can deliver much shorter care proceedings, achieving the proposed target of 26 weeks is ambitious and will require good pre-proceedings work and a whole system change. Messages from this pilot study offer some very positive observations in respect of safe and effective diversion, but outcomes in respect of the duration of care proceedings highlight the difficulties in effecting change in complex systems. We offer an analysis of the barriers to change drawing on the theoretical literature and offer practical suggestions about how change can be achieved in complex systems.
Kim Holt and Dr Nancy Kelly – University of Bradford
Dr Karen Broadhurst and Dr Paula Doherty – University of Lancaster