JUDITH HARWIN, Professor of Social Work, Brunel University
KAREN BROADHURST, Senior Lecturer in Socio-Legal Studies, University of Manchester
SOPHIE KERSHAW, Service Manager Family Drug and Alcohol Court
MIKE SHAW, Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist, Child and Family Department at the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation TrustBACHAR ALROUH, Research Fellow, Brunel UniversityCLAIRE MASON, Research Associate, University of Manchester, Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation TrustThis is the second in a series aimed at stimulating a national conversation about recurrent public law proceedings.
One of the most concerning findings of our recent
feasibility study into the national scale and pattern of recurrent care
proceedings was the young age of the mothers (Broadhurst et al, 2014:
Fifty per cent of all mothers caught up in a cycle of recurrent care
proceedings were aged 24 or less at the time of the first application recorded
in our observational window (2007–2013). Some of these mothers had been
involved in not just two, but in multiple successive proceedings and, although
the numbers were small, they also included those aged 14–19. This pattern
prompts an immediate question. What can be done to help mothers break a pattern
of recurrent care proceedings early in the maternal life course? In addition,
we would add, what role might the court play with young mothers (and indeed
fathers) vulnerable to a pattern of repeat removal of children? The recent Re B-S
case ( EWCA Civ 1146, 
1 FLR 1035) and our own findings provide a catalyst to start a debate about the
potential of the court to intercept the cycle of recurrence for young mothers
and to identify some of the challenges and opportunities it faces in doing
so. It is a debate that links well to
the Interim Report of the Children and
Vulnerable Witnesses Working Group – 31 July 2014
September  Fam Law 1325 and the comments by the President of the Family
Division in ‘13th View from the President’s Chambers: The process of reform: an
update’ published in September  Fam Law 1259.
There is a pressing need to consider what the court can do
differently to address the needs of young mothers, as well as deciding on the
child’s future. To explore this question we consider the potential of
problem-solving courts and draw on our practice experience and research into
the Family Drug and Alcohol Court (http://www.brunel.ac.uk/fdacresearch).
The full version of this article appears in the October 2014 issue of Family Law.
Online subscribers can access the article here.
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