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Family courts fail young mothers

At least one in four women will return to the family court, having previously lost a child through a court order, and the chances of having a child removed increase to at least one in three for women who were teenagers at the birth of their first child. 

A team of researchers, funded by the Nuffield Foundation and led by Professor Karen Broadhurst from Lancaster University, have updated initial findings that were first presented last year confirming that a ‘hidden population’ of mothers are caught up in a cycle of family court proceedings with children being removed from women’s care.

This research (outlined in ‘Number of newborn babies taken into care more than doubles in five years’, 14/12/15) identifies for the first time the relationship between young motherhood and the risk of court-ordered removal of children and statistics concerning removal at birth. The paper covering this research, titled ‘Connecting events in time to identify a hidden population: Birth mothers and their children in recurrent care proceedings in England’ is published in the British Journal of Social Work.

The investigators are based at Lancaster University, Brunel University in London and the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust. Further detailed case file review work is ongoing and the study will conclude in June 2016.  

The study uses electronic records held by the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) and findings are based on care applications made by local authorities in England over a period from 2007 to 2014. The research team found more than 13,000 infants were subject to legal proceedings at or close to birth (within 31 days) for the period.

The research team warn that without further evaluation and a far wider roll-out of preventative programmes, it is highly probable that local authorities and family courts will continue to see a sizeable population of mothers reappear through the family courts. The team welcome initiatives including an intensive support pathway as part of the National Family Court and the Pause Initiative, but say more is needed to ensure these initiatives are established and sustained in mainstream practice.

Link: Lancaster University