Report published on child welfare research dissemination and the judiciary involved in child care proceedings

Cover of the Nuffield reportResearchers from the Department of Sociological Studies at the University of Sheffield have today published a report about the dissemination of child welfare research to the judiciary involved in child care proceedings.

The report - Exploring the lessons from the dissemination of research to the judiciary involved in public family law and child care proceedings, from Dr Harriet Churchill, Professor Kate Morris and Dr Helen Richardson-Foster - presents the findings of an exploratory one year study which examined current arrangements for research dissemination to the judiciary and judicial experiences of engaging with research. The study was completed in partnership with the Family Justice Council (FJC) and was funded by the Nuffield Foundation to inform the activities of the forthcoming Family Justice Research Observatory.

The review of research dissemination found that, while significant developments have been introduced in recent years, current arrangements were complex and fragmented. A significant number of in-house judicial arrangements and broader research-practice initiatives disseminated lessons from child welfare research to the judiciary but these varied significantly in focus, scope and purpose. There were also significant gaps in the degree to which the judiciary were served by comprehensive, targeted and tailored research resources and dissemination mechanisms. In order to promote greater recognition of, and engagement with, the broad scope of relevant family justice/child welfare research among the judiciary, the study therefore identified the need to better support awareness, engagement, appraisal and evaluation of family justice and child welfare research among the judiciary. The study further proposed, as part of future initiatives, promoting more critical engagement with ‘contested, conflicting and newly emerging’ areas of child welfare research.

Qualitative interviews explored judicial perspectives and experiences of engaging with social research in the context of judicial roles in public family law and child care proceedings. These further highlighted the significance of multiple constraints and challenges in relation to current research dissemination and utilisation among the judiciary. Participants reported challenges in accessing relevant, up-to-date and quality research in timely ways to support their public family law roles. There tended to be an emphasis on an individualised approach to engagement with research on the part of judges themselves, which was problematic in the context of workload constraints and research support needs. Participants reported concerns about the scope and depth of their research knowledge as well as highlighted concerns about pressing gaps in social research. Judicial understanding of, and uncertainties about, the implications and applications of research findings for their practice and decision-making were also prominent issues.

The report concludes a more targeted and systematic approach to academic/research dissemination to, and links with, the Judicial College and the judiciary could be developed to enhance judicial awareness of, and access to, relevant and high quality child welfare and family justice research. Tailored guidance and resources could be produced for members of the judiciary to assist their awareness of, and engagement with, these areas of social research.

The Family Justice Research Observatory could play a vital role in adding value to, and better coordinating, current research dissemination targeted at, and available to, the judiciary as part of its focal aims to develop family justice research and its applications and utility to frontline practice and professional roles. Consideration of the underlying tensions around the practical constraints for research involvement among the judiciary and debates about the purpose of research utilisation on the part of the judiciary will be important issues to address to part of these endeavours.

For more information

The Nuffield Foundation is an independent charitable trust that funds research and student programmes to advance social well-being in the UK. The Foundation aims to improve people’s lives, and their ability to participate in society, by understanding the social and economic factors that affect their chances in life. The research it funds aims to improve the design and operation of social policy, particularly in Education, Welfare, and Justice. Our student programmes provide opportunities for individuals, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds, to develop their skills and confidence in quantitative and scientific methods. The Foundation has funded this project, but the views expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily the Foundation.

For further details see: