Reforming the Family Justice System Initiative

Authors: Jehn, Spina, Lowe & Turner

Family breakdown is common and brings with it many challenges for parents and their children. These challenges are compounded by the current family justice system, which is adversarial in nature, complex and costly for families. Over the years, the justice community has tried isolated interventions to improve access to justice, and while these projects, reforms and programs have achieved some good, they have not created the system-wide change we desire. We’ve learned from past experience that the only way to bring about meaningful, systemic change is to have a broad collaboration of all the participants in the justice system come together to work collectively to create the change we desire. In the RFJS initiative, we are exploring systemic design processes to address complex problems through systemic change.This case study includes a description of the steps taken to bring together a collaborative alliance made up of approximately 200 individuals and organizations representing ten sectors that work within the broadly defined family justice system. Over the past year, we have held four workshops designed to build community and relationships among the collaborators; to gather information about the focus of concern within our collaborative alliance; to develop an understanding of systemic change andinnovative lab processes; and to ensure that there is a shared commitment to change. The main technique and method used throughout this process was Causal Layered Analysis (CLA) developed by Sohail Inayatullah, a futures studies researcher. While our current family justice system is characterized by a focus on family breakdown and legal responses, the space created through CLA enables us to consider solutions that might exist entirely outside the current understanding. Additionally, the language of the mental model and Theory of Change help us to understand and talk about the system in new ways that are much more focused on helping families to thrive, and recognize that family justice issues are primarily social and relationship problems which contain a legal element. This initiative is increasing the knowledge and capacity for systemic change among all participants in the RFJS. We are building an awareness and understanding of innovative approaches, developmental evaluation and collaborative action that has not previously existed among these participants. This project is opening up a space to enable stakeholders (clients, families, and those who work within the system) to reframe the problems that they encounter in family justice. We are creating a culture of learning that allows us to learn as we go forward, and will support continued improvement in the family justice system.

Posted: Jul-2015

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