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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


  • 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.

Explore our research on newborn babies

Resource

Newborn babies | 2022

Born into Care: Draft best practice guidelines when the state intervenes at birth (for feasibility testing)

These draft guidelines are being piloted with partner research sites in England and Wales between January and August 2022. Further work is also being undertaken to explore how the draft guidelines should be adapted to better reflect issues of specific relevance to parents with learning disabilities as well as parents…

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Resource

Newborn babies | 2022

Summary: Born into Care: Developing best practice guidelines for when the state intervenes at birth

The removal of a newborn baby from his or her mother at birth in response to safeguarding concerns is an emotionally charged and highly contentious issue. The number of newborn babies in care proceedings in England and Wales has increased over the past decade (Broadhurst et al. 2018; Alrouh…

Methodology

Qualitative
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Resource

Newborn babies | 2022

Born into Care: Developing best practice guidelines for when the state intervenes at birth

The removal of a newborn baby from his or her mother at birth in response to safeguarding concerns is an emotionally charged and highly contentious issue. The number of newborn babies in care proceedings in England and Wales has increased over the past decade (Broadhurst et al. 2018; Alrouh…

Methodology

Qualitative
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Externally reviewed
Resource

Newborn babies | Young people | 2021

Health vulnerabilities of parents in care proceedings in Wales

This summary highlights the main findings of a report that provides an overview of health-based vulnerabilities experienced by mothers and fathers of children aged 0–17 across a two-year period prior to their involvement in section 31 care proceedings in Wales. The report was written by the Family Justice Data…

Resource type

Report
Summary

Region

Wales

Methodology

National administrative data
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Resource

Newborn babies | 2021

Explaining high rates of infants in care proceedings in deprived areas of Wales

This short report summarises results of recent analysis published by the Family Justice Data Partnership that aims to pinpoint the particular domains of deprivation associated with rates of infant entry to care in local authorities in Wales. The work complements research conducted as part of the Born into Care…

Resource type

Report

Region

Wales

Methodology

National administrative data
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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
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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
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Research and resources on newborn babies in care proceedings by other organisations

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