Background and Study Objectives: There is increasing concern in England about the high volume of care proceedings. Care proceedings are issued by local authorities when it is deemed that children are suffering significant harm. Typically the making of a care order will result in placement of a child in out of home care. Given both the human and economic costs of this form of compulsory state intervention, one issue that has caught national attention is repeat clienthood – why do some parents appear and re-appear before the family court, losing successive children to state care and adoption. The study aimed to quantify the scale and pattern of recurrent care proceedings in England, based on birth mother as the primary unit of analysis. The overarching aim of the study was to generate new evidence to inform interventions aimed at helping parents avoid a cycle of recurrent proceedings whilst safeguarding children.
Methods: Records held centrally by the Child and Family Court Advisory Service (Cafcass) concerning public law proceedings comprised the primary source of data for the study. Following the completion of ethical clearances, all usable records were extracted to an electronic relational database, de-identified and restructured to enable the identification and profiling of recurrent cases. The study population comprised all usable birth mother, child and father records during the observational window 2007-2014.
Results: Almost 1 in every 3 care applications were linked to birth mothers with a recurrent profile. Intervals between repeat care proceedings were very short and typically involved infants. In recurrent cases, the likelihood of an infant being subject to repeat care proceedings at birth increased with successive applications, as did the likelihood of adoption as the final legal outcome.
Conclusions. The study confirmed that repeat clients constitute a sizeable population within family law proceedings, requiring an urgent policy response.