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Family Law

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Court of Protection Practice and Procedure Conference 2016

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16 DEC 2015

New figures show alarming increase in number of newborns subject to care proceedings

New figures show alarming increase in number of newborns subject to care proceedings
Figures from a new study concerning recurrent care proceedings show a shocking increase in the number of newborn babies made the subject of such cases within the past 5 years in England.

Using original family court records held in electronic format by Cafcass as source material, the study – conducted by the University of Lancaster and published on Monday (14 December 2015) – was based on care applications made by local authorities across the country over the course of 7 years. It found that more than 13,000 infants were the subject of legal proceedings between 2007 and 2014 at birth or within 31 days post-partum. In particular (and more disturbingly), the study found that, in 2013, a total of 2,018 babies were the subject of care proceedings – a stark comparison to the 802 newborns involved in care-related cases in 2008.

Out of 43,541 court applications relating to care issues between 2007 and 2014 (97% of which being section 31 care order applications), 8,291 children (19.1%) were under a month old while being the subject of a care proceedings’ ‘index episode’ (the initial set of proceedings for a child as referred to in the study). Nearly 60 per cent (59.7%) of children were aged less than one month during the ‘first and second repeats’ (ie where subsequent children from the same family as in the index are made subject of care proceedings).

The study also focused on mothers who go on to have more babies should their first child be removed and taken into care, in what lead researcher Professor Karen Broadhurst called a ‘destructive circle’. Professor Broadhurst and her team’s research uncovered a link between a child being made the subject of legal proceedings and new pregnancies. According to the report, in 36 per cent of first repeat episode cases proceedings actually coincided with the index and 21.8 per cent of second repeat cases also overlapped. It was found that several mothers became pregnant again either during care proceedings with a first baby, or in a very short time following the conclusion of a first set of proceedings. The findings that focused on pregnancy intervals between care cases proved that a pattern of rapid repeat pregnancy is associated with recurrent care proceedings.

Professor Broadhurst was disconcerted about what the final results of the study showed:

‘Rapid repeat pregnancy carries health risks for both mother and child.

‘In addition, the number of infants removed at birth is increasing and we need to understand why this is so. Although more children generally are entering care, there is a disproportionate increase of infants subject to legal proceedings at birth.

‘When we put these findings together, a very concerning picture emerges.’

Infants removed from their mother during care proceedings would either be looked after by appropriate family members or placed either in interim foster care or with adoptive carers. Although care proceedings may only commence once a child has been born, in severe or urgent circumstances a local authority may begin assessing a situation whilst the mother is still pregnant. In recent years innovative schemes such as the Family Drug and Alcohol Court National Unit have been set up, which aim to help families and carers understand and prevent them repeating the course of actions that brought them to the world of family justice in the first place.

The full study is available to view and download here.

See also an article published in August 2014 Family Law by Karen Broadhurst, Judith Harwin, Mike Shaw and Bachar Alrouh reporting the initial findings of their recurrent care proceedings project. 'Capturing the scale and pattern of recurrent care proceedings: initial observations from a feasibility study' is available to read here.

Look out for a detailed article written by Professor Karen Broadhurst and her research team regarding their study and findings published in Family Law early in 2016.

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