A study launched today has found a high number of women, who repeatedly appear before the family courts and lose many children into public care or adoption because of child protection concerns, have been in care themselves.
The study ‘Vulnerable Birth Mothers and Recurrent Care Proceedings’ was carried out by a team of researchers, led by Professor Karen Broadhurst at Lancaster University and funded by the Nuffield Foundation.
The research team read court records relating to a representative sample of 354 mothers who, at the time of the study, had appeared in a total history of 851 first and repeat sets of care proceedings issued by 52 local authorities in England.
In addition, they used population records, relating to approximately 65,000 women, to provide an up-dated picture of the size of this population of women and interviewed 72 women across seven local authorities.
40% of the mothers had been in foster care or children’s homes with a further 14% living in private or informal relationships away from their parents.
The study revealed the high levels of abuse and neglect women had suffered in their lives as children. Sexual abuse was experienced by more than 53% of the women. 64% of women became mothers in their teenage years and struggled with parenting, due to limited family and professional support and emotional difficulties resulting from the trauma of their childhoods.
The full report is available here.
Professor Broadhurst said:
‘If we want to tackle the very high volume of care cases coming before the courts which is resulting in a national crisis, we need to do more. We are witnessing some very positive initiatives, but preventative projects are simply working with far too few women.
Regarding the high rates of removals at birth that we have uncovered in this study (60% of all repeat cases), we urgently need to establish best and humane practice in these difficult circumstances to ensure professionals work in partnership with mothers as far as possible and that clear pre-birth plans are in place at a timely point. We need to see agencies routinely seeing pregnancy as an important window for change – pre-birth help needs to start much earlier.’
Teresa Williams, Director, Justice and Welfare at the Nuffield Foundation, said:
‘This innovative study has for the first time revealed the extent of recurrent care proceedings and highlighted the experience of women who have had successive children removed from their care. We have already seen the study’s impact in the way that local authorities and courts have supported new preventative services designed to break this damaging cycle, which in many cases begins in women’s own childhoods.
Although there is much more that needs to be done, the positive reaction to this study within the family justice system demonstrates how population data combined with research evidence can be the catalyst for change that will ultimately mean fewer women and children suffer.’