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Cautious welcome for new separated families support, but Ministers need to learn from mistakes

Date:24 OCT 2014
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National Family Mediation (NFM) has given a ‘cautious welcome’ to a Government announcement of a new £2m package of support to help families avoid court room confrontations.

But NFM says Ministers and officials must learn from recent errors if the package is to work.

The Government announcement (23 October) comes after the number of litigants in person – unrepresented parties attending family courts – soared following cuts to legal aid entitlements.

'There is a desperate need to change the culture of the way divorce is ‘managed’ in our country,” says Jane Robey, National Family Mediation’s Chief Executive. “But if these new measures are to succeed in helping change the culture, Ministers need to learn from mistakes they’ve made in the recent past.'
A written statement from Justice Minister Simon Hughes (23 October) outlined three main areas where the Government package will focus:
  • Improving online information so that it is accurate, engaging and easy to find.
  • A new strategy, funded by the Ministry of Justice, and agreed with the legal and advice sectors which will help to increase legal and practical support for litigants in person in the civil and family courts. 
  • A new ‘Supporting separating parents in dispute helpline’ pilot run by the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) to test a more joined-up and tailored out-of-court service.  
Jane Robey commented:

'Whilst the wish to improve online information is laudable, recent Government experience in online help for separating families does not augur well. In June 2014 Ministers admitted that the so-called ‘Sorting Out Separation’ app had cost taxpayers nearly half a million pounds, and there’s precious little evidence it’s made any difference.

We cautiously welcome hearing that a new strategy will be developed to help litigants in person, and National Family Mediation very much looks forward to being involved in shaping it. Our caution is because we fear the experiences of the recent Family Mediation Taskforce might be repeated. Many people and organisations contributed to that Taskforce in what, on the face of it, appeared a root-and-branch reform.

Yet when push came to shove, the recommendations of the Taskforce were largely ignored.

Families who are facing the heartache of separation, and who hear murmurs that support is on the way, really can do without another "talking shop".'
The Sorting Out Separation app had cost £417,500 as at 30 June 2014, according to a written Parliamentary answer published in Hansard on that date.
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