The Nuffield Foundation’s mission is to advance social well-being, and we believe this depends on people’s potential being fulfilled through education and skills, their access to social and economic resources, and their ability to exercise their rights, particularly in relation to the State. Central to this mission is our work to facilitate evidence-based change within the justice system, with the aim of improving outcomes for people who are seeking to resolve legal disputes or who require protection.
Nowhere is this more important than the family justice system, where decisions are made every day that will have a lifelong effect on children and their families. All of us working within that system feel the weight of those decisions, and all of us want to secure the best possible future for children. Research evidence and administrative data have great potential to support decision-making in family justice, but as the Family Justice Review identified in 2011, this is an underused resource.
This report sets out how the Nuffield Foundation will take forward the propositions set out in our 2015 briefing paper, Towards a Family Justice Observatory to improve the generation and application of research. In that briefing paper, we described the limited and uncertain place of empirical evidence in the family justice system and set out the preliminary case for a new Observatory to improve the generation, dissemination, synthesis, and application of relevant research evidence.
The Nuffield Family Justice Observatory will address this unfulfilled potential. Its aim is to support the best possible decisions for children by improving the use of data and research evidence in the family justice system in England and Wales. The Nuffield Foundation has identified a fund of up to £5m initially that will be available for the Observatory’s incubation, beginning in March this year with a 12-month development phase, and followed by a four- to five-year pilot delivery phase.
The Observatory will work with practitioners to identify issues where empirical evidence may help guide practice, and to provide reliable summaries of what is (and isn’t) known from research. It will ensure that knowledge from research is combined with insights from people working in or using the family justice system, so that this collective knowledge can be used to develop and update guidance and other tools.