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Recurrent care proceedings: Part 2: Young motherhood and the role of the court (£)

Date:10 OCT 2014
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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 Trust

BACHAR ALROUH, Research Fellow, Brunel University

CLAIRE MASON, Research Associate, University of Manchester, Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust

This 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: http://www.familylaw.co.uk/news_and_comment/captu... 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 ([2013] EWCA Civ 1146, [2014] 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 published in September [2014] 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 [2014] 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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