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Professor Judith Harwin

Professor in Socio-Legal Studies, Research Student

Judith Harwin

Bowland North



Tel: +44 1524 594118

Research overview

I have over thirty years of experience in conducting socio-legal research in national and international contexts, funded by the Nuffield Foundation, the ESRC, the DfE, the EU and Unicef. I joined Lancaster University in 2016 on a 60% contract and am based in the Law School where I hold a Chair in socio-legal studies. I helped set up the interdisciplinary Centre for Child and Family Justice Research and I co-direct the Centre with Professor Karen Broadhurst, Sociology.

Research overview

Research priorities

My research focuses on vulnerable children, child and parental outcomes where critical decisions need to be made regarding child safety, wellbeing and risks of permanent removal from their birth parents.  All my research involves the use of largescale administrative datasets to monitor trends over time in use of different legal family type orders, supported by case studies of local practice and informed by in-depth explorations of personal experience of the child care social and legal system.

My priorities are promoting access to justice, identifying system and culture blocks and informing policy and practice, drawing on problem-solving justice and underpinning sociolegal theories such as therapeutic jurisprudence. Much of my research has been on parental substance misuse and its consequences.

Research projects

Pioneering studies that I have conducted include:

  • the first national longitudinal study of supervision orders supporting family reunification and of special guardianship orders (SGOs) in England based on data from the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Harwin et al, 2019)
  • successive evaluations of Family Drug and Alcohol Courts, a pioneering approach to care proceedings, adapted from the US to the English socio-legal and cultural context (2008 - ).

Current studies:

  • A major investigation of the impact of Family Drug and Alcohol Courts on parental offending: a data linkage study (ESRC 2022 -2024). This is the first study ever to explore the relationship, if any, between parental offending and the contribution of Family Drug and Alcohol Courts in care proceedings, compared to ordinary care proceedings and service delivery. It will for the first-time, link three national data sets –police national computer records on offenders, family justice data and FDAC records, producing a unique new longitudinal cohort. As well as widening the scope of evaluations into FDAC to the criminal arena, this study will test the feasibility and potential for data linkage across these administrative datasets. The project is being carried out with the University of Central Lancashire, the Centre for Justice Innovation and seven FDACs across England.
  • The FDAC data rescue project: it aims to identify and retrieve FDAC datasets where local FDACs have closed down or data collection has been patchy. The overall objective is to ensure that future scholars will have access to complete datasets to carry out further research on problem-solving approaches in public and private family justice and criminal proceedings. The project is being carried out with the  Centre for Justice Innovation under the auspices of the Centre for Child and Family Justice Research. It involves colleagues from Law and Sociology.
  • Reunification and special guardianship: a decade of data on trends and outcomes (together with the Family Justice Partnership at the Nuffield Foundation)
  • ESRC IAA: Developing a collaborative research framework for special guardianship. This study builds on an earlier ESRC IAA study for the 2021 REF that involved films with special guardians, Kinship (the leading SGO charity) and senior members of the judiciary to promote better understanding of special guardianship and the reform agenda. The present study looks at the potential of special guardians to become researchers in their own right.


My research on FDAC and the use of largescale datasets, carried out with members of the Law School and Sociology Department provided two of the four case studies for the Law School 2021 REF. The Law School was number 6 in the league tables – a clear demonstration of the impact of our research agenda to government policy makers and practitioners and its translation into policy and practice reform and development.

Conference presentations on supervision orders and their outcomes reached over 650 members of children’s social care, the judiciary and parents. Our films into special guardianship have received multiple downloads.

External esteem

I was invited to serve as a member of the Public Law Working Group on special guardianship. The PLWG was set up by the President of the Family Division to investigate the functionality of existing public law orders. Endorsed by the President, I co-chaired the PLWG on supervision orders (2020- 220, a legal order that did not feature in the suite of orders for investigation until the publication of our study. We received funding from the DfE to carry out interviews with parents on their experience of care proceedings and supervision orders and investigated the international use of equivalent orders. The report (2022) led to recommendations for reform to law, policy and practice.

Advisory group membership

Family Routes: Growing up in Adoptive and Special Guardianship Families Research funded by the Department for Education (2021-

Adoption & Special Guardianship Leadership Board, Special Guardianship Task Force July 2021 till closure of the task force. 

2020 NatCen consultancy Family Drug and Alcohol Court evaluation (feasibility study)

Member & academic adviser: Family Drug and Alcohol Courts National Advisory Board July 2020 - ongoing 

Member: Cafcass Research Advisory Committee, 2020 - ongoing

Co-Chair of Supervision Order Sub-Group:  Public Law Working Group 2020 - 2022

Honorary Visiting Professor, Department of Social Policy, LSE 2016 - 2018

Co-founder: Centre for Child and Family Justice Research, Lancaster University 2016

Honorary Research Fellow: Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust 2015 – 2016

Member: DfE Special Guardianship Review Expert Advisory Group 2015.

Associate Fellow: UNICEF, International Child Development Centre, Florence 1997 – 1999

Recent Publications

The co-occurrence of domestic abuse, substance misuse and child maltreatment: Can Family Drug and Alcohol Courts play a part? https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyt.2022.989813

Broadhurst, K., Cusworth, L., Harwin, J., Alrouh, B., Bedston, S., Trinder, L., Jones, K., Ford, D. & Griffiths, L., (2021) Scaling up research on family justice using large-scale administrative data: an invitation to the socio-legal community. Journal of Social Welfare and Family Law. 43, 3, p. 237-255 19p.

Harwin, J., et al (2018) Tensions & contradictions in family court innovation with high risk parents: the place of family drug treatment courts in contemporary family justice, Int. Journal of Drug Policy, V. 68, pp.10-108. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0955395918301464

How does FDAC Succeed with Parents with Substance Misuse Problems? Exploring Relational Practices within the English Family Drug & Alcohol Court, Child Abuse Review Vol. 27: 266–279 (2018).

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