Local family justice pilot launched in Dorset as part of 'reimagining pre-proceedings' project

Family Rights Group has announced Dorset as the local family justice pilot area to help “safely avert the need for care proceedings”, by providing early partnership working for children and families.

The pilot, set to last 15 months, will bring together families, Dorset Council, partner 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, the charity said.

The Dorset pilot is part of a wider ‘Reimagining pre-proceedings’ project, drawing on learning from the Care Crisis Review and other key reports. Family Rights Group said the pilot would allow families to “understand and address social workers’ concerns and have their voices heard”, and practitioners would feel equipped to work in an effective way with families, “drawing on their own knowledge and the insights and experiences of families”.

The pilot will commence 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 is working well in Dorset, and what needs to improve. Family Rights Group revealed that “useful learning” from the project will be shared.

Welcoming the pilot, Sir Andrew McFarlane, President of the Family Division, 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.”

According to charity Become, there are more children in care than ever before. In England alone, 83,840 were in care as at 31 March 2023.

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: “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.”