Work to restructure care proceedings data held centrally by Cafcass began in November 2013 and is ongoing. In particular, further work as part of this feasibility study will establish what can be learned about fathers in these cases. Our initial qualitative review of a sample of randomly selected Cafcass ECF (qualitative) files has already shown that in some cases the same mother and father appear as a couple before the family court in successive proceedings. In addition, distribution of recurrence by local authority and court area will be established. Given very large sample sizes and that analysis can be based on population-wide data, the research team can make use of more powerful statistical techniques to confirm and extend the initial observations we draw. The research team is also undertaking an exploratory exercise with the Department for Education to establish whether the care backgrounds of mothers and fathers within the sample of recurrent cases, can be profiled.
The initial results suggest some important practice and policy implications. It is clear that in order to assist mothers to exit a cycle of recurrent care proceedings, attention must be paid to the dynamic which sustains recurrence. This dynamic is sustained by short interval pregnancies and short interval care proceedings. As part and parcel of a multi-faceted recovery-focused approach to intervention, birth mothers must be helped to extend the window between pregnancies. The health implications of multiple short interval pregnancies for mother and infant have been substantially discussed within the medical literature (Wendt et al, 2012) and given the new evidence we present, preconception care for high-risk birth mothers should become a priority. Where the local authority is notified that a subsequent pregnancy has occurred, co-ordination of midwifery and children’s services as early as possible will be imperative to ensure both assessment and individualised support. Here, treatment recommendations made in a previous set of care proceedings must be addressed. Excellent grassroot initiatives that aim to tackle recurrent care proceedings have already been piloted, such as Salford City Council’s ‘Strengthening Families’ project (Warrington, Gardner and Garraway, 2014) or Suffolk County Council’s ‘Positive Choices’ (Suffolk Children and Young People’s Service, 2010). These initiatives are delivering promising results. Much can be learned from the successes of the Family Drug and Alcohol Court (FDAC) about how engagement with parents can be maximised through a problem-solving approach (Harwin et al, 2014). This might be particularly helpful for teenagers and very young parents attending court for the first time who could benefit from the individualised ongoing support provided within this model.
Further research is needed to identify the detail behind the statistics we present. As innovative projects continue to emerge across England they will benefit greatly from a fuller understanding of the needs, risks and prognosis for change of recurrent mothers based on large-scale data sets. Mothers who appear and re-appear before the family court are unlikely to generate much public sympathy (Broadhurst and Mason, 2013), however, the scale of the problem that we have evidenced indicates the need for a concerted, national policy response. The age profile of this population is very concerning given that 50% of mothers are aged 24 years or less at first care application. Where a negative cycle of recurrent proceedings is neither anticipated nor interrupted, it is likely that the damaging effects of care proceedings (Freeman and Hunt, 1998), which in these cases are multiplied, may serve to extinguish the possibilities for recovery that maturation might otherwise bring for this group of women. Society pays a heavy price for neglect of this problem.
K Broadhurst and C Mason, (2013) ‘Maternal Outcasts: Raising the profile of women who are vulnerable to successive, compulsory removals of their children – a plea for preventative action’ (2013) 14 Journal of Social Welfare and Family Law 291.
J Harwin, B Alrouh, M Ryan and J Tunnard, Changing Lifestyles, Keeping Children Safe: an evaluation of the first Family Drug and Alcohol Court (FDAC) in care proceedings (Brunel University, 2014), http://www.brunel.ac.uk/fdacresearch
P Freeman and J Hunt, Parental Perspectives on Care Proceedings (TSO, 1998).
Suffolk Children and Young People’s Service (CYPS) (2010). Support for birth mothers and fathers whose children are subject to permanency arrangements. Unpublished Report, paper available via authors.
UK Administrative Data Research Network (2012) The UK Administrative Data Research Network: Improving Access for Research and Policy. Report from the Administrative Data Taskforce, http://www.esrc.ac.uk/_images/ADT-Improving-Access-for-Research-and-Policy_tcm8-24462.pdfhttp://www.esrc.ac.uk/_images/ADT-Improving-Access-for-Research-and-Policy_tcm8-24462.pdf
W Warrington, J Gardner and J Garraway, Salford Strengthening Families Project: symposium paper (Tavistock Centre, 6th of June 2014). Available from authors: firstname.lastname@example.org
A Wendt, CM Gibbs, S Peters and CJ Hogue, 'Impact of Increasing Inter-pregnancy Interval on Maternal and Infant Health' (2012) 26(1) Paediatric and Perinatal Epidemiology 239-258.
Dr Karen Broadhurst (Principal Investigator)
Dr Karen Broadhurst is Senior Lecturer in Socio-Legal Studies at the University of Manchester. Karen has a long-standing interest in prevention where children are on the 'edge of care'. Karen has led or served as co-investigator for studies funded by the Nuffield Foundation, DfE, Cafcass and the Economic and Social Research Council. Reflecting her interest in vulnerable adolescents in care, she currently serves on the Children's Homes Workforce Development Group at the DfE.
Dr Mike Shaw (Co-investigator)
Dr Mike Shaw is Consultant Child & Adolescent Psychiatrist in the Child & Family Department at the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust where he is Clinical Lead for the Family Drug & Alcohol Court which is a collaboration between the Tavistock and Coram. His work is partly funded by grants from the Monument Foundation and the DfE. He has a longstanding interest in child mental health and the law including autonomy, protection and fairness.
Professor Judith Harwin (Co-investigator)
Judith Harwin is Professor of Social Work at Brunel University and directs the Centre for Child and Youth Research. She has a particular interest in outcomes for children in public care, parental substance misuse and child welfare and has held grants from the Nuffield Foundation, Department of Health, EU and UNICEF. She has recently published with a team at Brunel University the final evaluation of the Family Drug and Alcohol Court: Changing Lifestyles, Keeping Children Safe (J Harwin, B Alrouh, M Ryan, and J Tunnard (www.brunel.ac.uk/fdacresearch)). She is a member of the BAAF Research Group Advisory Committee and served on the DfE Returning Home from Care Expert Group.
Dr Bachar Alrouh (Research fellow)
Dr Bachar Alrouh is a Research Fellow at Brunel University. Bachar's doctoral studies were in data security and he also has particular expertise in quantitative research and computing. Prior to joining the team, Bachar was a researcher on the Family Drug and Alcohol Court Evaluation and is a co-author of reports on FDAC.