The Nuffield Foundation has appointed Lisa Harker as Director of the Nuffield Family Justice Observatory (Nuffield FJO), a new organisation which aims to improve the lives of children and families by making sure that decision-making in the family justice system in England and Wales is informed by the best data and research evidence.

Lisa has 30 years experience of advancing policy and practice to improve the lives of children. She is currently Chief Executive of children’s charity The Art Room, and was previously Director of Strategy at the NSPCC, Co-Director of the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), and the government’s ‘child poverty tsar’. Lisa is also a Visiting Fellow at Nuffield College, Oxford and has first-hand experience of the family justice system as an adoptive parent of two children.

The Nuffield FJO Governing Board has also been appointed, following a recruitment process overseen by its Chair, Sir James Munby. The Governing Board members are:

  • Noel Arnold, Director of Legal Practice and Solicitor, Coram Children's Legal Centre
  • Sally-Ann Jenkins, Head of Children’s and Families Services, Newport City Council
  • Sophie Kershaw Miller, Head of Safeguarding and Quality Assurance, Camden Council
  • Her Honour Judge Lesley Newton, Manchester Family and County Court
  • Carey Oppenheim, former CEO of the Early Intervention Foundation and consultant to the Nuffield Foundation
  • Andrew Webb, former President of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services
  • Teresa Williams, Director of Strategy at Cafcass

Professor Karen Broadhurst has been appointed as Principal Academic Advisor to the Governing Board.

In addition to these appointments, the Nuffield FJO has established a new data partnership with the Centre for Child and Family Justice Research at Lancaster University and the SAIL Databank at Swansea University. Funded with a grant of £2.2 million from the Nuffield Foundation, the data partnership will enable analysis of and access to datasets held by Cafcass and Cafcass Cymru, and to link them with others, providing much-needed information about the characteristics and pathways of children and families through services, and their outcomes.

Through the data partnership, the Nuffield FJO will also provide training and support for researchers and analysts in the use of data, increasing the capacity within the family justice sector to understand, interpret and apply data. The Nuffield FJO will publish accessible outputs for practitioners based on both regular analyses of the data, and more in-depth study of specific trends and issues.

The Nuffield FJO is working with the Welsh Government Knowledge and Analytics Service and the Administrative Data Research Unit Wales. It will also work with the Ministry of Justice, the Department for Education and the Administrative Data Research Partnership

Lisa Harker said: “I am thrilled to be taking up the role of Director of the Nuffield Family Justice Observatory. I am passionate about the need to address the rise in the number of children who are subject to decisions about their lives in the family courts and I am determined to find ways to ensure that the best data and research evidence is used to inform those decisions. I look forward to working with many in the child welfare and family justice systems to make a substantive difference to the lives of thousands of children and their families.”

Sir James Munby, Chair of the Nuffield FJO said: “The appointment of Lisa and the board, and the funding for the data partnership, mean that we now have both the people and infrastructure in place to build on the vital work done by the development team and to get the Nuffield FJO fully up and running. Our mission is to ensure that decisions made about vulnerable children are informed by robust data and research evidence. It is an ambitious goal, and our success is dependent on working collaboratively with all those in the family justice system, but I am confident that under Lisa’s leadership the Nuffield FJO can improve the lives of vulnerable children and their families.

Professor Karen Broadhurst, Co-Director of the Nuffield FJO data partnership said:"I am delighted to be working with Professor David Ford of SAIL Databank at Swansea University to support the Nuffield FJO in its ambition to effect step-change in the use of valuable national datasets. Practitioners have consistently said that far too little is known about the impact of the family justice system on the lives of children and families, and the data partnership means that researchers and analysts will now have the opportunity to answer such questions. We are indebted to our colleagues at Cafcass England and Cafcass Cymru for their continued support and guidance.”

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