Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Opening our New Support Forum

At The Custody Minefield, we get many enquiries by phone and email, on a wide range of topics related to family law.

Some six months ago, I considered setting up support forums at The Custody Minefield. A call on Christmas Eve from a desperate parent and the offers of support by a highly experienced team led me to decide the time was right now as the development work on the forum had been carried out in the Autumn.

Our Team
The offers of support have come from highly experienced advisors, who collectively have answered more than 10,000 posts on other family law advice forums. Myself, I was a moderator and advisor on one of the UK's leading charity's forum for 4 years. We know what we're letting ourselves in for, and have the experience to provide the support which people need, but we'll be doing things a little differently.

Other forums often fulfill a number of roles. Discussion about the organisation and its objectives and administration, general chat, self-help, debate, lobbying and campaigning. We want to provide a forum with one single purpose... providing support in a timely and targeted manner.

Our Service Standards
The forum has been designed in such a way that the support team instantly get taken to new posts, so that no question gets left unanswered. We have a system of 'traffic lights' which instantly draw attention to new posts. Users can find their own questions with ease to check on answers, and our intention is that every question gets answered within 24 hours. Whether we will achieve this goal is dependent on demand, but we'll constantly review our performance, and will increase the size of the support team if needed. The support team, as well as having substantial experience of forum management and administration are all experienced McKenzie Friends with experience of all levels of court.

Something New
We're not seeking to compete with other organisations, simply that The Custody Minefield's guides were viewed more than 275,000 times last year and we want to increase the level of support to our visitors. We already answer many questions by email, and by creating forums, we can provide a more structured support service. There's a need, which we intend to meet.

Having experience of forum advice, and with the opportunity to build the forum from scratch, we've had the opportunity to consider a design and structure which we believe to be ideal.

The forum has been divided up into specialist areas, and against each are guides so that as well as posting questions, the forum users have instant access to information. We'll be adding more guides over the coming year and several are in production now.

Forum users' anonymity will be protected, and users are encouraged to use pseudonyms and not post information which may identify their children. We'll also ensure that all users are treated with respect.

For the New Forum User
Not everyone has experience of forums, and we appreciate some people are technophobes. To help, we have two guides to help, the first being a Guide to Registration, and the second being a Getting Started Guide. More will be created based on what our forum users tell us they need.

Our team all ascribe to the belief that no child should be denied a meaningful relationship with both parents so long as there is no risk of significant harm. Assisting parents and the wider family to secure arrangements which secure the children's welfare is a primary goal.

We care. This was the reason why The Custody Minefield was set up 6 years ago. With the Government's intention that legal aid will be withdrawn from the majority of cases, there is need for more support. According to the Government's own impact assessment, it's likely some 53,000 cases will lose legal aid. A safety net is needed, which we want to provide.

We're known for having ambitious goals, whether it be on lobbying, or getting support information out to many thousands of parents. We're also known for innovating.

Opening Date
The forums are open for registration from 6th January 2012. After registration, accounts will be activated within 24 hours.

Please bear with us during the beta-testing phase. The forums have already been extensively tested, but as with any new software, we expect the odd bug. There's an area on the forums where users can report any bugs they find, and where we can let you know that they're fixed.

Registration Fees
Initially, the forums will be free during the beta-testing phase. Depending on usage and demand, it may be necessary to charge a fee in the future, but this will be a modest amount sufficient to cover costs and ensure we have the right people behind the scenes to deliver the service that you'd expect from us. If we do decide to charge a fee, we'll give at least 7 days notice to all existing users, and publicly on both this blog and on the main website.

Where to find our forums
We recommend you visit www.thecustodyminefield.com/forum.html where you'll find the guides on registering and getting started.