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Team appointed to establish scope and delivery of a new family justice observatory

Date:8 APR 2016
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The Nuffield Foundation has appointed a team from Lancaster University and the Alliance for Useful Evidence to undertake a scoping study that will establish the purpose, functions, and delivery options for a family justice observatory.

Professor Karen Broadhurst from Lancaster University will lead the team, which will begin the 18-month study on 1 June 2016. Experts in family justice from outside the two institutions will also contribute.

The study will comprise a national call for evidence, a series of focus groups, and a review of existing observatories. A major component of the work will be to scope data sources and address the technical and governance issues that currently stand in the way of better use of administrative, survey and cohort datasets for research.

Professor Karen Broadhurst comments:

'By commissioning this scoping study, the Nuffield Foundation has taken the lead in responding to what are long-standing concerns about barriers to the use of evidence within the family justice system. Robust knowledge about the impact of the family justice system is vital, in order to ensure that we have a system that delivers the best possible outcomes for children and families. This is a study of considerable national importance and I am delighted to be leading this work in partnership with the Alliance for Useful Evidence. We aim for a comprehensive consultation with the full range of stakeholders to establish the feasibility of, and distinctive remit of a new observatory, founded on a far better understanding of user needs.

As well as tackling the "demand" side of knowledge use, we will also tackle long-standing issues on the "supply" side of knowledge generation. Administrative and survey data assets are under utilised and we need to build capability in the field such that we can enable more researchers to undertake studies based on population-wide datasets. We are very pleased that Professor Ruth Gilbert, Co-Director of the Administrative Data Research Centre - England has joined the team and will bring her wealth of expertise to this element. The growing quality and longevity of administrative and survey data assets means that we are in a good position to generate far better knowledge about the long-term child and family outcomes of the family justice system.

Final details of the project plan, practice and academic partners are being confirmed and we will be publishing fuller details of the study in May.'

The need for a family justice observatory

The study is part of a project led by the Foundation to improve the generation and application of research in the family justice system. Earlier work has identified the need for an observatory to ensure that participants in the family justice system have access to: (a) reliable research to inform analysis of options for specific cases; and (b) system performance data to assist in the allocation of resources and the development of new services and interventions. The observatory could be a single institution, but is more likely to be a consortium of organisations.

The appointment was made following a competitive tender. A more detailed description of the scoping study, including other contributors will be published in May 2016.

National Call for evidence

A national call for evidence will be initiated in July 2016, this national consultation exercise aims to map the range of evidence users within the family justice system and to ask questions that will enable a better understanding of the evidence needs of a range of stakeholders. At present, there is a lack of clarity about the knowledge-to-action process – we simply don't know enough about how users access evidence, apply knowledge in practice and how this then effects child and family outcomes.

The research team are currently compiling a list of relevant organisations and will be communicating directly with organisation leads to stimulate responses to the call in July.

In the interim, interested individuals/organisations can also make contact via the website of the Centre for Child and Family Justice Research at Lancaster University, using the 'contact' facility on the home page: http://wp.lancs.ac.uk/child-and-family-justice/

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