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Newborn babies in care proceedings

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.

A doctor places a stethoscope on a pregnant woman's stomach.

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


  • 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.

Explore our research on newborn babies

Featured
Externally reviewed
Resource

Newborn babies | 2021

Newborn babies in urgent care proceedings in England and Wales

This summary highlights the main findings of Born into Care: Newborn Babies in Urgent Care Proceedings in England and Wales—a report commissioned by the Nuffield Family Justice Observatory and undertaken by the Family Justice Data Partnership, which is a collaboration between the University of Lancaster and the University of…

Resource type

Report
Summary

Region

England
Wales

Methodology

National administrative data
View resource
View resource
Featured
Externally reviewed
Resource

Newborn babies | 2021

Recurrent care proceedings: five key areas for reflection from the research

All professionals involved in the family justice system have long been aware that some parents will experience more than one set of care proceedings. Some parents return to court on many occasions and lose multiple children to public or kinship care, or to adoption. This cycle of returning to…

Resource type

Spotlight

Region

England
Wales

Methodology

Evidence review
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Externally reviewed
Resource

Newborn babies | 2021

Born into care: One thousand mothers in care proceedings in Wales, A focus on maternal mental health

The Family Justice Data Partnership’s initial report on infants and newborn babies subject to care proceedings under Section 31 (s.31) of the Children Act 1989 revealed the scale and rising number of babies subject to care proceedings in Wales, notably in the first year of life (Alrouh et al. 2019).

Resource type

Report
Summary

Region

Wales

Methodology

National administrative data
View resource
View resource
Resource

Newborn babies | 2020

Discussion paper: What explains marked regional variations in infant care

In October 2018, Nuffield Family Justice Observatory published ‘Born into care: Newborns in care proceedings in England’, the first ever national study of newborn babies (under one week old) in the family justice system in England, led by the Centre for Child and Family Justice Research at Lancaster University. The…

Resource type

Report

Region

England

Methodology

Qualitative
View resource
View resource
Externally reviewed
Resource

Newborn babies | 2020

Born into care: One thousand mothers in care proceedings in Wales

This summary highlights the main findings of a report commissioned by the Nuffield Family Justice Observatory and undertaken by the Family Justice Data Partnership—a collaboration between the University of Lancaster and the University of Swansea. The rapid rise in the number of babies who have been taken into care in…

Resource type

Report
Summary

Region

Wales

Methodology

National administrative data
View resource
View resource
Resource

Newborn babies | 2020

Women in recurrent care proceedings in Wales: a first benchmarking report

Since the publication of the first estimate of the scale and pattern of women’s recurrent appearances in care proceedings in England, there is growing national and international recognition of what is commonly termed the ‘repeat removals’ problem. For a proportion of birth mothers – and also fathers – history…

Resource type

Report

Region

Wales

Methodology

National administrative data
View resource
View resource
Resource

Newborn babies | 2019

Pre-birth assessment and infant removal at birth: experiences and challenges

This rapid evidence review aims to identify key messages from research concerning birth parent and professional perspectives on pre-birth assessment and the removal of infants at birth. This paper is linked to Born into care: newborns in care proceedings in England (2018) and Born into care: newborns and infants in…

Resource type

Report
Summary

Region

International

Methodology

Evidence review
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View resource
Resource

Newborn babies | 2019

Born into care: case law review

This report considers judgments from the higher courts over the period 2008–2018 which are relevant to the removal of newborns from their parents at birth or shortly afterwards. One aim of the report is to provide information to professionals (lawyers, social workers, health professionals) involved in making decisions as…

Resource type

Report

Region

England
Wales

Methodology

Case law review
View resource
View resource

Infographic

What do we know about children in the family justice system?

Our infographic pulls together what we know, and what we don’t know, about children’s journeys through the family justice system from national data.

Profile