account arrow-down-linearrow-down-small arrow-downarrow-download arrow-left-small arrow-leftarrow-link arrow-rightarrow-upawarded books calendar close-modal closedate delete document education emailevent facebookhamburger impact instagramjustice linkedin location-outline location opinion page phonepinterestplay plusplyr-pause plyr-play post preview projectpublication reports resourcesearch-bigsearch series share star-full star-open startime twitterwelfare youtube zoom-in zoom-out

Draft guidelines being tested for feasibility in England and Wales to help improve best practice when babies are separated from their parents at birth

Draft guidelines to help improve practice when the state acts to safeguard a baby at birth have been published by Nuffield Family Justice Observatory (Nuffield FJO) and are being tested for feasibility in sites across England and Wales.

Read the full guidelines here
Read the full report here 

When the state intervenes to safeguard a baby at or close to birth, it is traumatic for birth parents and painful for professionals. When the safeguarding action results in parent and baby separation, this can be a life-changing course of action with many inherent and unresolved ethical and practice dilemmas. There is a need for more national guidance for professionals working in children’s social care, health services and the courts to ensure best practice.

In response, Nuffield FJO has published a draft set of best practice guidelines, developed through a collaborative research study involving professionals and parents in eight local authorities and seven corresponding NHS trusts in England and Wales. Part of Nuffield FJO’s Born into Care series, the work has been led by the Centre for Child & Family Justice Research at Lancaster University and the Rees Centre at Oxford University.

The research study aimed to identify key challenges and good practice examples from different stages of parents’ journeys (pre-birth, maternity settings and the return home). It explored compulsory state intervention at birth from the perspectives of parents and professionals, and included focus groups and interviews with parents who had been separated from their babies at birth, midwives, social workers, Cafcass workers, foster carers and heads of local authority legal services. The research identified consensus among frontline practitioners and parents about what constitutes best practice when local authorities issue care proceedings at birth – but also uncovered numerous challenges, ranging from discontinuities, delays and resource constraints to risk adverse practice, shortfalls in a family-inclusive practice, insufficient professional specialism and poor inter-agency collaboration.

The draft guidelines are based on these data, and aim to deliver better and more consistent practice. They include a series of aspirational statements for each stage of the parents’ journey and provide examples of how these statements can be translated into best practice.

The guidelines consider how to overcome challenges at both a strategic level and in frontline practice. They also include examples of innovations from practice drawn from across England and Wales.

The guidelines are being published and tested for feasibility against a backdrop of a rising number of newborn babies being subject to care proceedings in England and Wales – with numbers more than doubling over the last decade.

The intention is for the guidelines to be used as a basis for developing local area action plans and locality specific guidelines, within the context of national guidance*. Between now and August 2022, the participating local authorities and NHS trusts are working with the team to test the feasibility of the guidelines. Findings from this feasibility study will inform a final version of the guidelines, which will be published later in 2022.

At the same time, the research team is supporting a number of other local authorities that are using government recovery funds to develop new approaches to work with pregnant mothers and newborn babies at risk of separation. Further work is being undertaken to ensure the guidelines are inclusive and meet the needs of parents from minority groups, including those from Black, Asian and minority ethnic groups and those with learning difficulties. More work is also planned to ensure further consideration of the specific needs of fathers and kinship carers.

*Such as Working Together to Safeguard Children (England) and Working Together to Safeguard People (Wales).

Separating a newborn baby from his or her mother at birth is highly contentious, complex, emotionally charged and painful. And if the system is failing to meet the needs of birth parents, the trauma will be exacerbated. The need for consistent best practice when a baby is removed from his or her mother’s care is clear, but many challenges stand in the way, and they are present at every stage of the parent and baby journey, from pregnancy to placement. The draft guidelines and associated feasibility study is designed to support change and improve practice.” Lisa Harker – director of Nuffield FJO
Health and social work professionals who are involved in the very difficult task of assessing the risk of significant harm and, where necessary, removing a baby from his or her mother’s care within hours or days of birth, need more support and guidance. The new draft guidelines set out a series of aspirational standards for practice and aim to address challenges in the system and introduce more sensitive and humane practice in this difficult area of work. We welcome the opportunity to continue to work collaboratively with parents with lived experience and practice partners to co-produce change Professor Karen Broadhurst, Lancaster University