Putting children and young people first in the family courts

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Mediation is one of many services – but there’s more we can do after separation

Anthony DouglasSearches for divorce on gov.uk are 55% higher in January than December (last year’s figures), confirming Christmas and the New Year are often a high tide for relationships.  As we start 2014 in Cafcass, we are keen to see a broader group of pre-court services in place, so that separating couples and their children have greater access to the advice and support they need, at the earliest possible stage. Court should only be used for justice and protection, not for dispute resolution, but to achieve that dispute resolution needs to become widely practised in the community and widely known about. Mediation is one service – in reality it is many services, as there are a great number of models of mediation – but there are many other services in the community supporting families experiencing separation and divorce. Voluntary sector and parent-led helplines do amazing work, as do children’s centres, with volunteers and professionals spending time counselling parents and children. We would like to see these services brought into the same service grouping as mediation, so that community-based services are more effectively co-ordinated. I think there is also scope to develop more customised programmes for individuals. For example, SPIPs have been able to engage many parents for the first time, especially if they are followed up with a support service. If sufficient safeguards can be built in, and if clear criteria for inclusion are established, it would in my view be possible to have a SPIP for domestic violence as well as the Probation programme, Building better relationships, and the full Domestic Violence Perpetrator programme. We know that domestic violence and post-separation control are a continuum and that not everyone needs a high end service. A graduated approach to service provision could reach far more people. Supporting more effective pre-court services will constitute major policy work for us in 2014. We are confident that a partnership approach can help to build better pre-court services over the next few years, despite all the current difficulties.

Written by Chief Executive Anthony Douglas at 00:00

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