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Judge and Gavel

DFJ Trailblazers - Reducing Time to Family Court Pilot Programme

Following on from a previous project assessing the impact of delays in care proceedings on
Children's Services, Mutual Ventures has been commissioned by the Department for Education (DfE) to work alongside five 'Trailblazer' areas to pilot solutions aimed at tackling the key drivers of delay in the family court.

Project overview

The five DFJ Trailblazer areas will be piloting solutions between April 2024 and March 2025, focussing on:

Aligning system governance & reforming the role of Local Family Justice Boards (LFJBs) to become more proactive, preventing delays within their geographical footprint. 

Building on the current programme of work to improve pre-proceedings data by extending data collection to cover the whole child journey, including outcomes for children after proceedings. 

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Creating vehicles and incentives for multi-agency collaboration by creating pooled resources and services operating across organisational boundaries, tackling duplication and staff shortages. 

Improving pre-proceeding practice to divert cases from courts by providing families with a dedicated family support worker, improving access to legal advice, and developing new early-help interventions. 
 

Helping children and families navigate the system through development of a user-friendly portal for sharing information and advice.

The five DFJ Trailblazer areas are:

  • Wolverhampton

  • Cheshire and Merseyside

  • Guildford

  • Central London

  • Essex, Suffolk, Southend-On-Sea and Thurrock

Pilot objectives

Mutual Ventures is supporting each of the Trailblazers to design and implement solutions aimed at reducing family court delays, creating efficiencies in the family justice system and enabling quicker decisions to reduce the negative long-term effects on the children and families involved.

With the ultimate objective to improve outcomes for children and families, the pilots aim to:

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Tackle the drivers of delay across the family justice system

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Mitigate individual agencies working in silos

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Reduce Further Case Management Hearings (FCMHs)

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Divert more cases from court

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Reduce costs across the family justice system

Intervention themes

DFJ Trailblazers will base their solutions to local delays around one of the following five themes:

01

Aligning system governance. Reforming and strengthening the role of the Local Family Justice Boards to become more proactive at system oversight and preventing delays within their geographical footprint.

 

02

Improving data availability and use. Creating a single, shared and agreed dataset across all partners working together in the judiciary system, providing insight into outcomes for children.

03

Creating vehicles and incentives for multi-agency collaboration. Creating pooled resources and services operating across organisational boundaries, tackling duplication and shortages of staff (e.g. joint LA and court progression managers, national pool of experts, pooled budgets for expert assessments and therapeutical support).

04

Improving pre-proceeding practice and divert cases from courts. Providing families with a dedicated family support worker, improving access to legal advice, developing new therapeutically focused early-help interventions and supporting a more widespread use of Family Group Conferences. 

05

Helping children and families navigate the system. Developing a user-friendly portal for sharing information and providing advice and providing families with earlier access to legal advice. 

MV's previous work in this area

MV had previously been commissioned by the Department for Education to investigate the impact of court delays on children's services, a project that was delivered in two phases. Phase 1 ran from December 2021 to April 2022 and focused on the analysis of the financial impact of these delays. Phase 2 ran from October 2022 to March 2023 to role out a financial modelling tool nationally and further investigate the key causes of delays across the country.

Phase 1

Between December 2021 and April 2022 MV worked with children's services across the country to carry out a deep dive exercise, which involved workshops with frontline staff and team leaders followed by a detailed data-gathering exercise to identify and quantify the source and impact of the delays. This information was then used to develop a tool which allows the user to model the financial impact of the delays for children's services. The model can be used by individual local authorities or children’s trusts to understand the potential financial costs that delays in proceedings create. It has also been used to extrapolate the financial impact at a national level.

In Phase 1, Mutual Ventures worked with six local authorities and children's trusts to collect information and data:

 

  1. Achieving for Children

  2. Birmingham Children’s Trust

  3. Bolton Metropolitan Borough Council

  4. Calderdale Metropolitan Borough Council

  5. London Borough of Wandsworth

  6. Northamptonshire Children’s Trust

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Phase 2

Following the successful pilot phase, the DfE commissioned a national roll-out of the tool, to support all local authorities in England to better understand the financial impact of care proceedings delays on children’s services across the country.

 

MV subsequently worked with 104 LAs across the country and engaged widely across the family justice system to develop realistic cross-system responses to their identified delays. The financial analysis was supported by a wide array of research activities, including a qualitative diagnostics survey with the family justice system professionals, system-level deep dives and development of a care proceedings benchmarking tool. We produced a report with recommendations on how the system as a whole could work more closely together to improve outcomes for children.

Our financial modelling suggests that each one-week reduction in average proceedings duration could generate a financial benefit of approximately £18.5 million across all English local authorities. To learn more about our work and findings, please refer to our case studies below.

To learn more about the work completed in Phase 1 including a detailed breakdown of the methodology, the key findings and recommendations, download the report.

Webinars and articles

For participating local authorities only

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To find out more about the Trailblazers project get in touch with Senior Consultant Morgan Finlayson.

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