There has been a sharp rise in the number of newborn babies going into care, a report by The Nuffield Foundation has found.
The number of all care proceedings issued for infants who were newborns was 32% in 2007-8 and this rose to 42% of all cases in 2016-17.
In 2007/08, 1,039 of newborn cases were issued but by 2016/17, this figure has risen to 2,447 cases. Although the greatest proportional increases are for older children, the large volume of infant cases is also noteworthy, the report says.
The likelihood of newborns in the general population becoming subject to care proceedings has more than doubled, increasing from 15 newborns per 10,000 births in the general population in 2008 to 35 per 10,000 in 2016.
The Nuffield Foundation warns of the regional variations regarding overall rates of care proceedings issued for newborns. Based on an overall rate between 2008 and 2016, Yorkshire and Humber and the North West recorded the highest incidence rates, with overall rates above 30 cases of care proceedings concerning newborns, per 10,000 births in the general population.
On the other end of the spectrum, London and the South East recorded the lowest overall rates at 18 newborns per 10,000 births and 20 per 10,000, respectively.
For all regions, rates increased over time, however, the greatest proportional increases were evident in the North East, North West and South West. There is also unexplained fluctuation in the percentage changes for all regions over time.
The figures also revealed that in 47% of cases of newborns between 2012/13 and 2016/17, the newborns were “subsequent infants” - that is an older sibling had already appeared before the courts in s.31 proceedings.
The report highlighted that this means 53% of newborns did not fall into this category. If the court has not already dealt with an older sibling, this raises the question of the basis of a claim of likely significant harm. For infants whose family is new to the court, pregnancy provides only a short window for the assessment of parenting capacity and support for change.
More cases of care proceedings concerning infants completed within 26 weeks over time. In 2012/13, only 28% of cases concerning newborns completed within the statutory timeframe of 26 weeks, but this increased to 61% in 2016/17.
The report also revealed 39% of newborn cases in 2016/17 exceeded the 26 weeks statutory timescales. It suggests that further qualitative research is needed to understand why newborn cases do or do not complete within 26 weeks and the grounds for seeking more time in the longer running cases.
Almost half of all newborns recorded the final legal outcome: “placed for adoption”. The percentage of placement/adoption orders was also highest for newborns than for all other age bands of infants. The total percentage of all orders falling into this category was 47%.
Fewer newborns were placed “with extended family” than older infants with just 21 per cent of newborns falling into this category.
"In 2016/17, of all infants subject to care proceedings, 42% of cases concerned newborns. Given this finding, a greater focus on newborns in the family justice system within policy and practice is indicated. As stated, statutory practice guidance is scant on both pre-birth assessment and best practice regarding care proceedings at birth," the report said.
The marked regional differences in the rates at which newborns were subject to care proceedings reported in this study warrant further collaborative analysis of regional contexts and practices.
"Although there is a general increase in children coming before the family courts in care proceedings, it is important to further interrogate the increases in both the proportion of infant cases issued for newborns and incidence rates reported in this study," the report concluded.
Diane Wills is Consultant Social Worker at WillisPalmer, responsible for quality assuring the forensic risk assessment reports.
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