ADR UK Research Fellows: Understanding experiences of the family justice system

Status: Active

The Data First family court – Cafcass linked dataset originates from a data sharing agreement between the Secure Anonymised Information Linkage (SAIL) Databank (an ADR Wales partner), MoJ, and Cafcass as a result of the Data First programme. Cafcass stands for Children and Court Family Advisory Service. All data is de-identified. It contains information on marriage and divorce characteristics, adoption, and public and private law cases and their legal outcomes in England and Wales.

The two Research Fellows will be the first to use these linked datasets for policy-relevant research for the public good. Projects are aligned with the MoJ Areas of Research Interest 2020. They will access the data via the SAIL Databank, a trusted research environment available to accredited researchers for approved research projects.

Learn more about the Research Fellows and their projects below.

Dr Ludivine Garside

Domestic abuse proceedings in family courts: Overlap and pathways in private and public family justice

Dr Ludivine Garside is a socio-legal researcher at the University of Bristol Law School and School for Policy Studies. Her project focuses on domestic abuse cases in family courts in England and Wales, and how individuals involved in such cases use family courts more broadly.

View project details

This project aims to explore the following research questions:

  • What are the characteristics of domestic abuse cases in family courts between 2011-2021?
  • How do domestic abuse cases overlap with other cases heard in family courts?
  • What are the main pathways through the family justice system for individuals and families who experience domestic abuse?
  • Can future data users plan to study the outcomes of children potentially affected by domestic abuse?

The methodology used in this study:

This project will use linked, de-identified family court datasets to identify connections between domestic abuse and other cases and build a more complete picture of the individuals involved.

The fourth research question is dependent on time allowing and will use additional linkages to demographic and children’s social care data in Wales.

The project will use a variety of methods, which may include: 

  • descriptive analysis, providing a summary of domestic abuse cases with annual trends in Orders applied for and Orders granted, and their association with other types of public and private family law cases 
  • regression analysis estimating the relationship between family court decisions or pathways and a range of independent variables (e.g. case factors, policy changes) 
  • survival analysis to explain the length between domestic abuse cases and other types of Orders applied for or granted in family courts 
  • sequence or event history analysis studying social processes that unfold over time as sequences of events.

The project may also carry out additional linkages to data held in SAIL Databank. This will scope ways to study the outcomes of children potentially affected by domestic abuse, as some of the children may never appear in administrative family justice datasets. Linkage to children social care and demographics data will be used to look for children in Wales who live with an adult involved in a domestic abuse case in family courts. The project will report on the matching quality and scope possible descriptive analyses of this population. 

Funded value from ESRC: £115,904 (80% FEC)

Duration: July 2023 – October 2024

Dr Mariam Abouelenin

Exploring the life course patterns and family justice experience of young mothers involved in recurrent care proceedings in England

Dr Mariam Abouelenin is a Research Associate at the Centre for Child and Family Justice Research at Lancaster University. Her project focuses on young mothers (aged 14-19 years at first birth) in the family justice system, who are indicated to be at heightened risk for returning to court for care proceedings.

View project details

This project aims to explore the following research questions:

  • What is the descriptive profile of young mothers in the family justice system in terms of their demographic characteristics?
  • What trends can we observe in the frequency of mothers’ repeated involvement in family court cases during their youth  and adulthood? Do these instances of returning to family court decrease over time, and if so, at what age?
  • What are the family justice experiences of, and outcomes for, young mothers in terms of their caregiver relationships with their children?
  • What is the risk of termination of parental rights through adoption among young mothers, and what factors moderate this risk?

The methodology used in this study:

This study will focus solely on England. The analysis will require the use of both the standalone Cafcass England data and the Data First family court – Cafcass linked dataset. These are both required because:

  • the standalone Cafcass England data ensures the longest possible observational window (2007/08 – 2020/21) regarding young mothers’ profiles and (recurrent) journeys through the family justice system
  • the Data First family court – Cafcass linked dataset (2011 – 2021) provides a far richer range of variables on mothers’ family justice experiences and outcomes.

The study will use structured query language (SQL) coding to restructure the de-identified Cafcass data using the SAIL platform.

  • Using mothers’ IDs within the Cafcass data, all mothers will be linked to their demographic data, care proceedings, and children
  • Using child IDs, all children will be linked to their legal orders.

The analytic sample will be limited to mothers who are determined to have been aged 14-19 years old at the birth of their first child.

This data will then be profiled using descriptive statistics to examine the mothers’ demographic characteristics. In addition, thanks to the long observational window and large sample size, the study will use the group-based trajectory model - a method designed to identify subgroups of individuals following similar trajectories. This will allow evaluation of the trajectories and the patterns of reappearances of young mothers in the family justice system over their life course.

Furthermore, the mother and child IDs in the Cafcass data will be used to construct mother-child relationships. By combining these with the Data First family court – Cafcass linked dataset, a mother’s experiences in the system and her outcomes relating to caregiving will be analysed. Descriptive statistics will once again be used to explore further questions, such as whether the mother had legal representation and the duration and outcome of her proceedings.

The final stage of analysis will use the Data First family court – Cafcass linked dataset to explore the relationship between experiences of the family justice system and mothers’ caregiver relationships with their children – particularly in relation to adoption. Survival analysis (analysing the expected time duration until an event) and the Kaplan-Meier estimator (estimating the probability of something surviving past a certain time) will be used to determine the probability of a mother losing her parental rights through adoption.

Funded value from ESRC: £115,946 (80% FEC)

Duration: August 2023 – November 2024

Categories: Research using linked data, ADR UK Research Fellows, ADR UK Partnership, Children & Young People, Crime & Justice, Health & Wellbeing

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