Bristol Family Court recognised as initiator of an excellent resource namely a Family Court Information website
Lord Justice McFarlane said in a lecture given in London on 20th March 2017. “The Bristol Family Court has established a “Family Court Information” website aimed at families who find themselves involved in proceedings………. This is an excellent resource and if social workers were required to refer parents to it in any case where proceedings were being contemplated, the gap between ignorance and achieving full on legal representation once the proceedings start may, to an extent, be bridged. I am told that the cost of establishing the Family Court Information website is under £1,000 per court centre. I cannot understand why it has not been replicated by each and every one of the other 40 or so family hearing centres around the country.”
The lecture entitled ‘Holding the risk: The balance between child protection and the right to family life’ is excellent and you can find it on the blog written by one of the barristers here in Bristol, who wrote and set up the website, http://childprotectionresource.online/much-much-more-of-this-please-the-bridget-lindley-obe-memorial-lecture-2017/. It is long, but well worth reading. In many parts of his lecture McFarlane LJ refers to the lack of resources available to support families e.g. on p12 “In a neglect case, where permanent removal is a borderline decision, the question of what resources can be introduced into the home to support the parents may be determinative of the outcome. Resources have never been limitless and in the current times they are often scarce.” Other parts are on pp 14, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, and 31.
This scarcity of resources available to support families is exactly why Judge Wildblood and family lawyers have asked the National Parenting Initiative on several occasions now, if there were churches in Bristol, near where the parents lived, who could help them. Many churches here in Bristol have been able to help in various different ways and there are some wonderful stories of the difference that has made to the parents involved.
It is not just the courts who are interested in what the churches are doing. On Wednesday, 8th March, we, the NPI, had a meeting with Geraldine Smyth, Public Health Principal, Mental Health, Vulnerable Young People and Risk Behaviour, Children and Young People’s Public Health Team and Helen Erswell, Specialty Registrar in Public Health. They both work for the Bristol City Council and both have a background in drink and drug addiction services. They were referred to me by Rob Scott-Cook so they could find out what the churches in Bristol were doing about parenting. Our Mayor Marvin Rees had pointed them in the direction of Rob Scott-Cook. In the email, Helen wrote to me after our meeting she said, “The work I am doing on parenting is in its infancy and I am just trying to understand what is available in Bristol at the moment and then I am working on a plan to look at how we can support parents and families in Bristol and want to make sure we involve all the great provision that is already there, so I will be in touch with you (or someone from your organisation) as the work develops.”
Also, in March, Alex Campell from Bristol City Council’s Children and Young People’s team has been in touch to find out whether churches in Bristol are involved with a similar initiative as Family Matters in Bath. I have spoken to him and told him that many churches have been involved with helping parents referred to us by the Family court or family lawyers, but as yet we do not have the joined-up approach of Family Matters.
Family Matters was set up in Bath by Christians, in partnership with B&NES Council's Connecting Families team, who are delivering the government's troubled families programme in the area. Their volunteers pick up on supporting families once B&NES have been working with them for some months had begun their exit programme. Their concern was whether the families would continue with the changes they had made and their volunteers make a weekly support visit to help keep them on track. They, Family Matters, are seeing some very positive results where the families engage.
Family Matters came out of BathCAN's approach to the council to find ways that the Christian community could work alongside the council to help deliver services. They simply fell over themselves at this opportunity and since then they, Family Matters, have been asked to find volunteers to work with refugee families and more recently in the Children's centres across the area. Family Matters are just about to employ someone to manage it all.
It seems an opportune time now to consider running either Family Matters or an initiative like it in Bristol, so I would ask that those who might be interested in becoming involved to contact me and, meanwhile, please let me know if any of your churches would like to be on the NPI’s list of those to approach when referrals come through, as well as being available to Alex Campbell to help with any of the families he works with. They, unlike the court referrals, would of course only be in the city of Bristol.
I should like to extend my thanks to those who are already doing a great deal to help and support families and it appears that there will be increasing opportunities to support families in our city and, with the Lord’s help, to transform family life.
National Parenting Initiative Co-ordinator jane a_t thenpi d_o_t org d_o_t uk
, Bristol Family Court
, Jane Auld
, The National Parenting Initiative