Gwenda Thomas, Deputy Minister for Children and Social Services
Last month I informed members of plans for major reforms to the family justice system, following the publication of the UK Government response to the Family Justice Review, which will help strengthen parenting, tackle delays in progressing cases through the courts, and simplifying the complex system, which crosses both devolved and non-devolved matters. I’d particularly like to thank Welsh and UK government officials and all those involved in maintaining the momentum in driving forward this very important work.
Members will be aware of the proposal to create a Family Justice Board for England and Wales which will provide greater leadership and co-ordination across delivery agencies nationally and locally, and to prepare for any system changes to follow. Membership of the Board will include key representatives from Wales, including the Association of Directors of Social Services (ADSS) and Cafcass Cymru, as well as a senior Welsh Government official, who will advise on the specific Welsh context and key devolved aspects of the family justice system. I am particularly keen that through them we continue to ensure that the rights and voices of children are at the heart of the process in Wales.
To support the Family Justice Board, and in particular the Welsh representatives that sit on it, I have also committed to establishing a new Family Justice Network in Wales which will bring together the key players within the family justice system at an all-Wales level, providing a local community of understanding and common purpose to improve services and outcomes for children and families in Wales. In particular, I envisage that the Network will:
- Complement, support and inform the work of the Family Justice Board, and particularly the Welsh representatives which sit on it, by advising on the specific Welsh context and ensuring that the Board takes into account Welsh perspectives on non-devolved issues in relation to the family justice system in Wales;
- Secure the commitment of all key players within devolved aspects of the family justice system in Wales (including local government, Cafcass Cymru and NHS) to unblock barriers, drive and deliver specific actions from the family Justice Review to achieve significant improvements in the performance of the system within Wales and delivering best possible outcomes for children who come into contact with it;
- Provide a forum to identify, share and monitor the implementation of local best practice and intelligence; look to challenge and encourage improved performance, whilst building improved relationships and greater cross-agency coherence and tackling variations in local performance and practice; and promote the wider engagement of other key stakeholders in Wales as a means of securing lasting improvements and better outcomes for children; and
- Provide a link between the Family Justice Board at the England and Wales level and Local Family Justice Operational Boards in Wales, which will oversee the operation of family justice in their local areas, to ensure a whole system approach is taken in achieving significant improvement in the performance of the family justice system.
We will arrange for the Network to meet for the first time in April, to coincide with the establishment of the Family Justice Board. As well as the Welsh representatives on the Family Justice Board, we will invite other key stakeholders to be part of the Family Justice Network, including the judiciary, the Children’s Commissioner, the Care Council for Wales, Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service, Police, representatives from the new Local Family Justice Operational Boards, the Legal Services Commission, the Welsh Local Government Association and SOLACE. Wider stakeholders will also be kept abreast of activities and information from the Network and will be able to engage in developments via a virtual webpage.
Our commitment to implement those areas of the Family Justice Review that fall within the remit of the Welsh Government is clear. We will continue to work collaboratively within Government and with partners, and though our new Network, to deliver on this ambitious agenda.
I will provide a further update to the Assembly in the summer.