The family justice system expects parents who lose their children in care proceedings to undergo ‘natural recovery’, rather than benefit from any meaningful support.
That is one of the messages from a report published today on the impact of care proceedings on birth mothers and their children.
The research, ‘Birth Mothers and their Children in Recurrent Care Proceedings in England’ published in the British Journal of Social Work, estimated that at least one in four women who have had children involved in care cases will end up being subject to further family court proceedings. This rises to one in three for mothers who first go through proceedings from the ages of 16 to 19.
“For the majority of repeat clients, they will return within a short space of time ([average] interval is 17 months), typically following the birth of a new infant,” the report said.
It concluded: “Repeat clienthood is an enduring and routine feature of the family court.”
Born into care
Researchers used national records held by the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass), and the BBC reported how findings in the research also showed a “huge” rise in the number of babies involved in care proceedings, from 802 in 2008 to 2,018 in 2013.
The report found how a “sizeable percentage” of infants are effectively born into care after being subject to proceedings at, or close to, birth. Nearly 8,300 mothers had proceedings begin when their child was less than a month old, and for three-fifths of these mothers this happened again in a first repeat episode of legal intervention.
The findings should prompt questions about local authority and family court obligations to women who go through care proceedings, the report said.
“In England there is no statutory mandate regarding the provision of tailored rehabilitative support to parents following child removal. This in spite of the fact that specific recommendations for parents’ rehabilitation are frequently set out during care proceedings, typically indicating a programme of work that will endure long beyond the conclusion of care proceedings,” it said.
The proportion of mothers whose children were placed for adoption increased the more times care proceedings repeated, the research found. Adoption of children was the outcome for just over one in four mothers from their first experience of care proceedings, but this rose to half if the mother was involved two more times. Since Cafcass does not record child placement data, researchers inferred the most likely permanency outcomes from the legal orders made.
“This pattern suggests that over the course of successive proceedings, adoption becomes the preferred permanence option for local authorities and the family court,” the report said.