Keywords: Care proceedings – alternative dispute resolution – family group conferences – mediation – family support
The Family Justice Review reported in 2011 on the increasing volume of care proceedings in England and Wales and consequent pressures on the family justice system. Its report includes consideration of a number of alternative processes to court proceedings relating to child protection. However, little progress has been made in evaluating the potential of these alternatives to improve outcomes for children and families, despite the Review’s positive recommendations that this be explored. Instead, reliance is being placed solely on legislative reforms that restrict the input of judges and lawyers. The article sets out the current policy context and considers each of the mechanisms the Review investigated, together with more recent developments in the family courts and some comparisons with other jurisdictions. It is argued that caution should be exercised when there is a risk that delegalisation is based on economic rather than child-centred motives. Even so, it is disappointing that opportunities identified in the Review for research and development of a wider range of more imaginative alternatives to traditional court proceedings appear to have been lost.