How can vulnerable mothers and babies be better supported to stay together, and humanely and sensitively cared for when it is not safe for them to do so?
Our aim is to support professionals to respond to the increasing numbers of babies being removed at birth, by exploring the needs of the mothers and children affected and the type of support required through the pre-birth period and beyond.
Why we need research into newborn babies in care proceedings
The Council of Europe and judges in England have described the separation of mothers and babies within hours or days of an infant’s birth as a very severe form of intervention in family life fraught with ethical, legal and procedural challenges.
Nuffield FJO research, carried out by the Family Justice Data Partnership, since 2018 has revealed the increasing numbers of newborn babies who are subject to care proceedings in England and Wales – a figure that has more than doubled in the last decade, and which reveals significant variations across the regions.
There is also growing national and international recognition of what is commonly termed the ‘repeat removals’ problem. For a proportion of birth mothers—and also fathers—history can repeat itself and result in the successive removal of children from their care through family court proceedings.
What we are doing
Our Born into Care research by the Family Justice Data Partnership continues to track the rising numbers of infants in care proceedings. The analysis has also revealed that in the majority of cases involving newborn babies parents are given very little formal notice that care proceedings have been issued and the case is to be heard in court, which may result in the baby being removed from their care.
Nuffield FJO rapid evidence and case law reviews in December 2019 underlined the acute pain and stress experienced by all involved in cases where a baby is removed at birth – both family and practitioners. With researchers at Lancaster University and the Rees Centre at the University of Oxford, led by Professor Karen Broadhurst, we are now developing the first national, evidence-informed good practice guidelines for professionals involved in the process of removing newborn babies from their mother at birth.
Our study of 1,000 mothers in Wales who were at risk of having their babies removed—which brings together Cafcass data and GP health records for the first time—is helping to paint a fuller picture of the issues affecting them. We have already seen that over half have experienced mental health problems, and challenged the assumption that mothers who become involved with children’s services avoid or delay interaction with antenatal services.
Using national administrative data we are examining women’s recurrent appearances in care proceedings in England and Wales. Our 2020 report examined recurrence in Wales, finding that one in every four birth mothers in Wales who have appeared in a first set of care proceedings are at risk of returning to the family court. There is also a growing body of research providing evidence of the circumstances of the mothers and fathers who experience recurrent proceedings, the impact on them of having children removed in this way and the most effective services to support them. Our spotlight paper brings together the key messages from this research.