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Understanding care pathways and placement stability for babies in Wales

Authors & Organisations
Dr Laura Cowley: Swansea University
Dr Laura North: Swansea University
Professor Karen Broadhurst: Lancaster University
Dr Stefanie Doebler: Lancaster University
Dr Bachar Alrouh: Lancaster University
Dr Linda Cusworth: Lancaster University
Dr Mariam Abouelenin: Lancaster University
Dr Lucy J Griffiths: Swansea University
Authors
Dr Laura Cowley
Dr Laura North
Professor Karen Broadhurst
Dr Stefanie Doebler
Dr Bachar Alrouh
Dr Linda Cusworth
Dr Mariam Abouelenin
Dr Lucy J Griffiths
Organisations
Swansea University
Swansea University
Lancaster University
Lancaster University
Lancaster University
Lancaster University
Lancaster University
Swansea University

Introduction


This is the summary of a full report that provides new evidence about entry routes to care, pathways through care, and placement outcomes for the very youngest children in the care system in Wales.

The report is the seventh in the Born into Care series, and the first to use data collected by local authorities on all children in care to understand the care experiences and outcomes for babies under a year old.

To date, the Born into Care research has focused on data about babies coming into care via care proceedings under s.31 of the Children Act 1989, captured within Cafcass and Cafcass Cymru data.

This has not included babies entering care with parental agreement. The use of data collected by local authorities in this study has ensured that all babies entering care are included. The study identifies four main pathways through care for these babies.

Conclusions


The study identified four main pathways for babies entering care under voluntary arrangements or an interim care order.

1. Babies that enter care with the voluntary agreement of parents under s.76, and remain subject to voluntary accommodation as a family support service.

These babies – 37% of those who entered under voluntary arrangements – did not progress to care proceedings. Rather it appears that local authorities are offering voluntary accommodation as a family support service, in keeping with the objectives of Part III of the Children Act, 1989.

At 2-year follow-up, 94% of these children had left care, with three quarters returning home to their parents.

Findings firmly evidence the importance of s.76, as an option for local authorities and families to work together on a voluntary basis where additional help is needed, including out-of-home care, for the very youngest babies.

2. Babies that enter care with the voluntary agreement of parents, but then become subject to care proceedings, typically within around 4 weeks.

Almost two thirds (63%) of babies initially subject to s.76 arrangements subsequently became the subject of care proceedings. This is a sizeable proportion and, given that the median time to conversion was only 4.5 weeks, this suggests that for these babies, s.76 appears to be a ‘holding’ position, en route to care proceedings.

Over time, the period between an initial voluntary agreement and care proceedings has reduced – which indicates that local authorities are heeding advice from the judiciary that they should not delay issuing care proceedings where the child’s welfare requires compulsory intervention.

3. Babies that enter care via care proceedings and are placed in out-of-home care.

Most babies who enter care via care proceedings are initially placed in out-of-home care. At 2-year follow-up, only 34% of babies who had entered care via care proceedings had returned home to parents or kin, or were placed at home, and 43% had either been adopted or were placed for adoption.

Overall, babies entering care via an interim care order are less likely to return home to parents or kin compared to those who enter via voluntary arrangements.

4. Babies that enter care via care proceedings but are placed with parents.

The issue of whether babies involved in care proceedings should be placed with their parents under a care order, has been subject to considerable debate, but empirical evidence has been wanting.

In this study, we found that 15% of babies who first entered care under an interim care order were initially placed with their parents. At follow-up, of those who had entered care via an interim care order and who were still in care (934), a third (297, 32%) were placed with their parents – which may indicate that this route supports family preservation, although further work is required to track this specific group of babies and verify this hypothesis.

Babies who first enter care via care proceedings, and who are not placed with their parents, have a greater chance of being permanently separated from their birth parents and extended families than babies who first enter care via voluntary arrangements.

However, a ‘neat’ split between voluntary and compulsory intervention is not evident – rather, there is movement between the two and, furthermore, evidence of care proceedings used as a mechanism to support and preserve ‘placement’ with parents.

The variation between local authorities warrants further analysis.

Adaptations in practice might be considered a positive response to the combination of factors that must be managed at a local level, including need, resources and preferences of local adjudicators (the judges). However, it is clear that mode of entry to care does matter – along with initial placement.

References


Allnatt, G., Lee, A., Scourfield, J., Elliott, M., Broadhurst, K. and Griffiths, L. (2022). Data resource profile: children looked after administrative records in Wales. International Journal of Population Data Science, 7(1), 1752. https://doi.org/10.23889/ijpds.v7i1.1752

Alrouh, B., Broadhurst, K., Cusworth, L., Griffiths, L. J., Johnson, R. D., Akbari, A. and Ford, D. (2019). Born into care: Newborns and infants in care proceedings in Wales. Nuffield Family Justice Observatory. https://www.nuffieldfjo.org.uk/resource/born-into-care-wales

Broadhurst, K., Alrouh, B., Mason, C., Ward, H., Holmes, L., Ryan, M. and Bowyer, S. (2018). Born into care: Newborns in care proceedings in England. Nuffield Family Justice Observatory. https://www.nuffieldfjo.org.uk/resource/born-into-care-newborns-in-care-proceedings-in-england-final-report-october-2018

Broadhurst, K., Mason, C. and Ward, H. (2022). Urgent care proceedings for new-born babies in England and Wales: time for a fundamental review. International Journal of Law, Policy and The Family, 36(1). https://academic.oup.com/lawfam/article/36/1/ebac008/6540595

Doebler, S., Alrouh, B., Broadhurst, K., Bedston, S., Cusworth, L., Akbari, A., Ford, D. and Griffiths, L. J. (2021). Born into care: unpacking the impact of area-level deprivation in Wales. Centre for Child and Family Justice Research. https://www.cfj-lancaster.org.uk/files/documents/BiC_dep_Wales_report.pdf

Ford, D. V, Jones, K. H., Verplancke, J. P., Lyons, R. A., John, G., Brown, G., Brooks, C. J., Thompson, S., Bodger, O., Couch, T. and Leake, K. (2009). The SAIL Databank: Building a national architecture for e-health research and evaluation. BMC Health Services Research, 9, 157. https://doi.org/10.1186/1472-6963-9-157

Griffiths, L. J., Johnson, R. D., Broadhurst, K., Cusworth, L., Bedston, S., Akbari, A., Lee, A., Alrouh, B., Doebler, S., John, A. and Ford, D. (2020a). Born into care: One thousand mothers in care proceedings in Wales. Nuffield Family Justice Observatory. https://www.nuffieldfjo.org.uk/resource/1000-mothers-care-proceedings-wales

Griffiths, L. J., Johnson, R. D., Broadhurst, K. and John A. (2020b). Born into care: One thousand mothers in care proceedings in Wales. A focus on maternal mental health. Nuffield Family Justice Observatory. https://www.nuffieldfjo.org.uk/resource/born-into-care-maternal-mental-health

Lyons, R. A., Jones, K.H., John, G., Brooks, C. J., Verplancke, P., Ford, D. V., Brown, G. and Leake, K. (2009). The SAIL Databank: linking multiple health and social care datasets. BMC Medical Informatics and Decision Making, 9:3. https://doi/10.1186/1472-6947-9-3

Pattinson, B., Broadhurst, K., Alrouh, B., Cusworth, L., Doebler, S., Griffiths, L. J., Johnson, R. D., Akbari, A. and Ford, D. (2021). Newborn Babies in urgent care proceedings in England and Wales. Nuffield family Justice Observatory. https://www.nuffieldfjo.org.uk/resource/newborn-babies-urgent-care-proceedings

Welsh Government. (2019). Welsh Index of Multiple Deprivation. StatsWales. https://statswales.gov.wales/Catalogue/Community-Safety-and-Social-Inclusion/ Welsh-Index-of-Multiple-Deprivation/WIMD-2019

This report was written in partnership with
  • Family Justice Data Partnership logo
    Family Justice Data Partnership
  • Lancaster University logo
    Lancaster University
  • Centre for Child and Family Justice Research logo
    The Centre for Child and Family Justice Research
  • Swansea University Medical School logo
    Swansea University Medical School
  • Population Data Science at Swansea University
    Population Data Science at Swansea University
  • SAIL Databank logo
    SAIL Databank
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