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Groundbreaking Dorset pilot launches to help safely avert the need for care proceedings

Published: 8th February 2024

3 minute read

Family Rights Group has announced Dorset as the local family justice pilot area as part of its ambitious ‘Reimagining pre-proceedings’ project.

The 15-month Dorset pilot brings together families, Dorset Council, partners agencies, local services, and the Dorset Family Court to create the conditions for families to get the help they and their children need at an earlier stage. This includes families being in a position to understand and address social workers’ concerns and have their voices heard. And practitioners feeling equipped to work in an effective way with families, drawing on their own knowledge and the insights and experiences of families.

The pilot commences with families with experience of the child welfare system sitting down with social workers, senior managers, judges and others working in the local family justice area, to identify what’s working well in Dorset, but also what needs to improve. All involved, then working collaboratively to identify priorities and to learn and review, adapt and redesign policies, procedures and practices.

The Dorset pilot is part of a wider ‘Reimagining pre-proceedings’ project, the aims of which are to create system change by implementing, and embedding in pre-proceedings work with children and families, learning from the Care Crisis Review and other key reports. The project is funded by a major three-year grant from The Legal Education Foundation.

Useful learning from the project will be shared. An independent academic evaluation of the reimagining pre-proceedings work is being conducted by Caroline Thomas, an independent research consultant.

Speaking on the announcement of Dorset as the local family justice area pilot, Cathy Ashley, Chief Executive, at Family Rights Group, said:   

“At a time when record numbers of children are in the care system, the Dorset pilot presents a unique opportunity to help safely avert the need for care proceedings by supporting the child welfare and family justice system to deliver early, effective partnership working with children and families. 

Theresa Leavy, Executive Director for People – Children, at Dorset Council, said: 

“The ‘Reimagining pre-proceedings’ project reflects Dorset’s commitment to keep children and families at the heart of everything we do. 

“We are delighted to be the pilot area, and at the forefront of positive change which will help to shape the best support possible for children and families in Dorset. We are looking forward to working within the broader systems our families and children experience, boosting collaboration, focusing on people’s strengths and restoring relationships.” 

Welcoming the pilot, Sir Andrew McFarlane, President of the Family Division of the High Court of England & Wales, said:  

“The aim of the Dorset pilot to reimagine pre-proceedings is consistent with the recommendations of the Public Law Working Group report, a collaborative piece of work by professionals from all sectors working on child protection cases in the Family Justice System. I am glad that the messages in the report are being put into effect on the ground in Dorset. It is my earnest hope that we will begin to see a real improvement in the system’s ability to address the needs of the children and families at the centre of these important cases.”

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