Our timeline

Oct 2015 Towards a Family Justice Observatory to improve the generation & application of research

The Nuffield Foundation first proposed a Family Justice Observatory in 2015.  One of the many problems identified by the Family Justice Review (DfE 2011) was the limited use of research findings and analyses of administrative data in family justice decision-making.  In 2015, following discussion with key experts, the Nuffield Foundation published a report titled: ‘Towards a Family Justice Observatory'. In this report the Foundation set out its intention to try to improve the generation and application of research, through the establishment of a Family Justice Observatory.

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Jun 2016 The Nuffield Foundation commissions the Family Justice Observatory scoping study.

In June 2016 The Nuffield Foundation commissioned a consortium led by The Centre for Child and Family Justice Research at Lancaster University, to carry out a 12-month scoping study to explore the feasibility of establishing a new observatory and its potential functions.

This mixed-methods study comprised:

  • A national call for evidence
  • A series of regional focus groups,
  • Consultation with overseas colleagues,
  • Interviews with national policy and practice leads
  • A review of relevant organisational models.
  • A data scoping exercise to examine the potential use of available large-scale datasets.

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Dec 2017 The Nuffield Family Justice Observatory for England & Wales: Making it Happen

In 2017 the Nuffield Foundation published The Nuffield Family Justice Observatory for England and Wales: Making it Happen which summarised the findings of the scoping study and set out the foundation’s trustees intention to establish the Nuffield Family Justice Observatory for a five year incubation phase.

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Mar 2018 The Nuffield Family Justice Observatory entered its development phase

The Nuffield Foundation then identified a fund of up to £5 million for the incubation and piloting of the Family Justice Observatory, beginning with a 12-month development phase from March 2018.  A development team led by The Centre for Child and Family Justice Research worked on the infrastructure and operating model for the Observatory.

By the end of the development phase the following was established:


  • The details of the delivery model for the Nuffield Family Justice Observatory, with any delivery partners identified and key personnel in post
  • A Governing Board, Stakeholder Advisory Council and Expert panel
  • A Data Platform and Analytics Service

Operational Approach

  • Development of a portfolio of Observatory resources and projects
  • The approach, mechanisms and quality standards for synthesising evidence and developing guidelines
  • The model for working with regional satellite areas

Work Plan

By the end of the development phase there will be a clear work plan for at least the first year of the Nuffield FJO pilot.

  • This will include regular analysis of patterns and outcomes including regional variations
  • A special interest project focusing on infants in the family justice system
  • A framework for evaluating the impact of the Nuffield FJO pilot phase and plans for ensuring future sustainability

Throughout the development phase and into the launch of the pilot delivery phase, the development team and the Foundation will engage with stakeholders through regional partnerships and events and undertake a number of consultation activities. Stakeholders will be updated through regular communication, and resources will be made freely available as they are developed.

The Development Team was made up of:

  • Professor Karen Broadhurst, Lancaster University
  • Carey Oppenheim, Independent Consultant
  • Claire Mason, Lancaster University
  • Lisa Holmes, Rees Centre, University of Oxford
  • Susannah Bowyer, Research in Practice
  • Mary Ryan, Independent Consultant
  • Chris Millan, Lancaster University

The development phase was being overseen by an Interim Steering Group:

  • Noel Arnold, Director of Legal Practice, Coram Children’s Legal Centre
  • Natalie Byrom, Director of Research & Learning, The Legal Education Foundation
  • Her Honour Judge Lesley Newton, Designated Family Judge in Manchester
  • Matthew Pinnell, Deputy Chief Executive, Cafcass Cymru
  • Rob Street, Director of Justice, Nuffield Foundation
  • Andrew Webb, former Director of People Services at Stockport, Family Justice Lead for the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, and member of Family Justice Board 
  • Teresa Williams, Director of Strategy, Cafcass England

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Jun 2018 Consulting with stakeholders to establish priorities

The purpose of two consultation workshops was to narrow the priorities for the new Observatory and help inform an inaugural work plan. Improving the use of evidence in the family justice system requires close working and collaboration across all stakeholder groups to set agendas and pilot and test Observatory outputs. 

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Mar 2019 Nuffield Family Justice Observatory enters its pilot phase

In March 2019 The Nuffield Family Justice Observatory entered its pilot phase.

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