Statutory duty to support birth parents needed to tackle repeat removals of children, says charity

    Pause, which supports women at risk of having more than one child taken into care, also urges much improved monitoring of recurrent removals to understand scale of the problem

    Woman looking depressed or in fear
    Photo posed by model (credit: fizkes/Adobe Stock)

    Councils must be under a statutory duty to support birth parents of children taken into care to tackle, and eventually end, repeat removals, a charity has said.

    Pause also called for much better recognition of birth parents and improved data on, and monitoring of, recurrent removals, so agencies could understand the scale of the problem, in a report issued today.

    The charity said its ambition was for no birth family to have more than one child taken into care.

    However, it warned that this objective was currently being undermined by a lack of support for birth parents, despite their often severe and complex needs.

    About Pause

    Pause is a national charity that supports 23 local practices, covering 29 areas, to deliver its 18-month programme for women who have already had at least one child removed from their care and are at risk of this recurring. Practices are generally run by local authorities or other charities.

    Each woman is assigned a practitioner, who works to build a strong relationship with her in order to help stabilise her life, for example through accessing support with domestic abuse or to tackle substance misuse, and develop her sense of self. Women should, ideally, have no children in their care at the time and are asked to take long-acting reversible contraception for the duration of the programme.

    Pause was funded by the Department for Education’s (DfE) innovation programme for children’s social care from 2015-21. An evaluation, published in 2020, found that in five areas where Pause had operated continuously since 2015, there was an average reduction of 14.4 infants being taken into care per year, compared with comparator sites with no such programme.

    Young mothers and care leavers at particular risk

    In England and Wales, the probability of a woman entering her first repeat proceedings with a new child within a decade of her first proceedings was about one in five, found a Nuffield Family Justice Observatory-commissioned report published last year.

    The same study, by academics at Lancaster and Swansea universities, found that more than 40% of these mothers were estimated to have been aged between 14 and 19 at the birth of their first child. It also cited previous research that found many such young mothers had been in care themselves.

    But with no statutory duty on councils to provide support for birth families of children taken into care, apart from in cases of adoption, Pause said that they faced a postcode lottery in provision.

    ‘Postcode lottery’ of support

    A mapping exercise in 2020 by Research in Practice and Lancaster University academic Claire Mason found 49 of the 152 had no service for parents who had experienced one or more sets of care proceedings, while it was uncertain whether there was a service in a further 30.

    This meant birth were often “falling through the cracks in services”, while dealing with the trauma of having had their child removed, said the Pause report.

    This increased their vulnerability to poverty, homelessness and partner abuse, as well as the further involvement of social care with any future children.

    In its final report last year, the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care said that “birth families must be supported with this loss and responsibility should be taken across services to break cycles that are often repeated”.

    It also said the lack of support for care experienced parents had “a particular failure of corporate parenting”.

    It called for support for birth parents to be included in its proposed ‘family help’ services, which would merge child in need and early help provision, and “non-stigmatising” help for care experienced parents.

    Family help services to support birth parents

    The DfE accepted the recommendation to establish family help services to help “rebalance children’s social care away from costly crisis intervention to more meaningful and effective help for families”.

    It said they should include support for “parents who have previously had a child removed by the family court”, in its draft children’s social care strategy, Stable Homes, Built on Love, published in February.

    Pause said it welcomed this but urged the DfE to go further and place a statutory duty on councils to support all parents after their children are taken into care, not just those whose children are placed for adoption.

    “For the reform of children’s social care to succeed in reducing the number of children going into care, it is critical for parents to be provided with evidence-based support after care proceedings,” it said.

    Need for improved data on repeat removals

    The duty would need to be accompanied by action to tackle a lack of data on repeat removals, with councils not required to report on this and government statistics not including any information on repeat care proceedings.

    As a result, councils did not know how many families in their area needed post-removal support and the likely costs of this.

    Pause called on the DfE, as part of its forthcoming social care data strategy, to ask councils to collect and publish annual data on parents who have experienced the removal of more than one child.

    Women ‘completely dropped by services’

    More broadly, the report said birth families needed to be better recognised across children’s social care policy and practice.

    “The women we work with have difficult and often dangerous lives,” said Pause chief executive Jules Hillier. “Some grew up in care themselves and all have been through care proceedings and had a child removed from their care – one of the most invasive, traumatic interventions a state can make into family life – after which they are completely dropped by services.

    “We see women stuck in a terrible cycle of repeated pregnancies that result in a child being removed. More must be done to understand and meet the needs of this group of women.”

    In response to the report, the Association of Directors of Children’s Services acknowledged the importance of working with families who had had their children removed but said that non-statutory services had been particularly hit by funding cuts.

    Impact of funding cuts

    “The earlier we work with and support vulnerable children and families, including parents who have already had their child taken into care, the more chance we have of sustaining families, helping them overcome the issues they face and preventing the repeat removal of children in care which can be retraumatising for birth parents,” said Helen Lincoln, chair of the association’s families, communities and young people policy committee.

    “However, since 2010 local authorities have seen their funding significantly reduced, which has led to tough decisions about scaling back services and non-statutory services have been hardest hit by cuts. ADCS continues to call for a long term, equitable funding solution for children’s services to enable local authorities to support all children and families at the earliest opportunity.

    “ADCS welcomes the focus on early help and support for children and families in Stable Homes, Built on Love and we understand there will be a specific focus on parents who have previously had a child removed via the shift to family help.”

    *Councils must assess birth parents’ needs for adoption support when requested to do so (section 4(1), Adoption and Children Act 2002) and adoption support services must extend counselling, information and advice services to birth parents (regulation 4(2), the Adoption Support Services Regulations 2005).

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    One Response to Statutory duty to support birth parents needed to tackle repeat removals of children, says charity

    1. L March October 19, 2023 at 2:33 pm #

      Solihull Approach offered nationally to ALL parents would help to alleviate this along with more robust plans to involve parents and support children to be able to remain at home. This costs money, but is fundamental to ensuring care approaches change for the better!