University expertise to help improve legal outcomes for children and families

A major new project will draw on the expertise and infrastructure of Swansea University’s SAIL (Secure Anonymised Information Linkage) Databank to provide much-needed information about the family justice system in England and Wales, to help support best possible outcomes for children and families.

A joint project between SAIL Databank of the Swansea University Medical School and Lancaster University has been awarded a grant of £2.2m from the Nuffield Foundation to create the data partnership at the heart of the Nuffield Family Justice Observatory (Nuffield FJO).

The four-and-a-half-year project will combine the infrastructure and technical expertise of the SAIL Databank with the leading family justice research capability at Lancaster University to provide a vast source of data to improve understanding of how the family justice system is performing and how it could be improved.

The data partnership will be a vital component of the Nuffield FJO’s operation, enabling analysis and linkage of existing datasets, as well as providing training and support for researchers and analysts.

Professor David Ford, Director of SAIL Databank at Swansea University Medical School, and Professor Karen Broadhurst of Lancaster University, will jointly lead this project, heading a highly skilled interdisciplinary team of data scientists, statisticians, and family justice and social policy researchers.

Rob Street, Director of Justice at the Nuffield Foundation said:

“The new data partnership with the SAIL Databank and Lancaster University will be central to the Nuffield FJO’s mission to improve the lives of children and families through better use of data and research evidence. It will improve understanding of how the family justice system is working and enable us to share that understanding with professionals who are making decisions about vulnerable children.” 

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The SAIL Databank developed at Swansea University Medical School, which holds billions of anonymised person-based records, is an internationally acclaimed data repository dedicated to providing a safe and trusted means of harnessing population-scaled data to increase the quality and quantity of research, and support better policy making, practice and citizen wellbeing.

With the support of the ESRC funded ADR Wales (Administrative Data Research Wales) this major new project will see the SAIL Databank host the valuable administrative data held by Cafcass (Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service) in England and Cafcass Cymru in Wales, making the data fully accessible to the researchers of the UK.

The Cafcass Cymru dataset will be linked to health, education and other governmental and social routinely-collected datasets relating to individuals living in Wales which are already available in SAIL Databank.

In addition, the dataset from Cafcass in England will be combined with other data from England. These data will provide researchers with the opportunity to examine the characteristics and pathways of children and families through services, and their outcomes to be understood more clearly.

Teresa Williams, Director of Strategy at Cafcass England said:

“We are delighted to be a part of this exciting project. A key priority in Cafcass’s future strategy is to ensure that we unlock the rich insights within our data about the children and families who are unfortunate enough to come into contact with the family justice system. Too often the experience of children and families in the system is ‘too little for too long and then too much too late’. The potential for linked data to improve understanding of the opportunities for earlier intervention through a public health approach across England and Wales is immense.”

Nigel Brown, Chief Executive of Cafcass Cymru, said:

“The unique partnership between the SAIL Databank, Lancaster University and the Nuffield Family Justice Observatory offers a genuinely exciting opportunity through the linking of anonymised data and research to better understand at a fundamental level the experiences and outcomes of the many children and families who come across the Family Justice System in Wales and England. The subsequent hope is that the learning generated from this partnership drives system wide improvements to benefit children and families in the future.”

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Professor David Ford, Co-Director of the Nuffield FJO data partnership and Director of SAIL Databank at Swansea University Medical School said:

“The infrastructure and expertise in the new Nuffield Family Justice Observatory data partnership will, at last, make it possible to develop really vital understanding about how the justice system supports children and whether it can be improved.

“Linking together data from across the justice system and beyond will, for pretty much the first time, allow researchers to shed light on topics which have been largely invisible to practitioners and policymakers to date. 

“In addition to undertaking a programme of sophisticated data analysis, the Nuffield FJO data partnership will support the UK’s wider research community to access the data it holds safely and securely held within the SAIL Databank,  to allow the research to rapidly scale up and hopefully see significant improvements in children’s outcomes.”

The Swansea and Lancaster Universities’ team also aim to change the relationship that practitioners and policy makers have with data by ensuring the research outputs address the sector’s concerns and are accessible to the practitioners who need them.