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Researching Reform: Child welfare people and policies to watch in 2015

Sep 29, 2018, 20:13 PM
family law, child welfare, public law, FDAC, McKenzie friends, Child Sexual Abuse Inquiry, Rights of Women, cohabitation, voice of the child
But if 2014 was the year that Family Law bottomed out and bared all to the world, 2015 is set to be the year of the pioneer, taking those reforms, suggestions and nascent policy murmurs and turning them into workable practices inside the system.
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Date : Jan 5, 2015, 07:15 AM
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2014 has, for family law at least, been a year of hard truths and hard knocks, affecting partners, children and practitioners alike. This sobering state of affairs is to be expected inside a sector embattled by widely-contested political reforms, and enduring an even deeper resource crisis. Challenges questioning legal aid policy and concerns over the Family Court’s future in a fast changing landscape have also made an uneven playing field foggy with procedural ambiguity.

But if 2014 was the year that Family Law bottomed out and bared all to the world, 2015 is set to be the year of the pioneer, taking those reforms, suggestions and nascent policy murmurs and turning them into workable practices inside the system.

Having already proven itself as the only serious contender to the current court structure in place for vulnerable families, the Family Drug and Alcohol Court (FDAC) continues to set the standard for what a functional, effective public family law court looks and feels like. It is to date the only court process on offer that has a significant impact on families, keeping them together and reducing parental drug and alcohol addiction. With a rocky start (the government has been slow to fund this enterprise fully), FDAC has now been endorsed by the President of the Family Division, Sir James Munby. This new alliance between the President and Nick Crichton, founder of the FDAC movement here (it is a
The stakes are high too in the latest challenge to our current legal aid policy. Rights of Women, a women’s charity focused on helping women find the legal support they need, challenged Regulation 33 last year, the domestic violence evidence criteria which, they argued, denied vulnerable women legal protection from abuse. The High Court gave the charity permission to challenge the lawfulness of the legal aid provisions four months ago and if the Court takes their argument to its natural, and indisputable conclusion in 2015, we will see a government review of this deleterious policy and, hopefully, a new way forward for victims of domestic violence.

Marriage laws should make the news in 2015, and reduce drafters to tears as what is now an unsightly tangle in tying the knot becomes visible. Outdated marriage laws coupled with supplemental marriage laws for heterosexual couples, same sex couples and royal couples have made marriage regulations messy and multiform rather than clear and uniform. No one is quite sure at this point whether they’re protesting the lack of clarity surrounding civil marriages, partnerships, location and venue because fairness demands it or because romance decries it, but if the latest consultation is an indicator of things to come, this year should be a fascinating one for all things ceremonial.

But of all the things to watch out for in 2015, there is one movement which is set to outshine all the others, as the government continues to tighten its financial belt and families feel the brunt of dwindling resources inside the sector (and get sent packing to look for support elsewhere). The Voice of the Child, on which so much of the family justice system rests, has historically piped up every now and then, but adult ears have always strained to hear it. As the now-defunct Voice of the Child Sub-Group called upon it to help lay out guidelines for judges talking to children in 2010, it has since travelled over to Cafcass Headquarters. There, the Young People’s Board , a collective of children working together to help Cafcass evolve child friendly policies, has amplified that voice and it has gained a new lease of life. Their Voice of the Child Conference last July was a game changer, attracting for the first time, senior politicians like Justice Minister Simon Hughes, who pledged to make the
The views expressed by contributing authors are not necessarily those of Family Law or Jordan Publishing and should not be considered as legal advice.
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