Both families and practitioners experience "acute pain and stress" in cases where a baby is removed from their mother at birth, a case law review published by the Nuffield Family Justice Observatory has found.
The review found that while many cases demonstrate the effectiveness of the current legal framework in protecting children, there was evidence of inconsistent practice, such as delays and insufficient time for robust pre-birth assessment, misunderstandings of the legal framework or a failure to follow due process, which can lead to insensitive practice or injustice.
Lisa Harker, Director of the Nuffield Family Justice Observatory said: “Over the past decade there has been a sharp rise in infants in care proceedings, with marked regional variation in the number of cases. In this context, the Nuffield Family Justice Observatory is working in partnership with local authorities to understand the reasons behind these increases and variations, and to support the development of good practice.”
Previous Nuffield FJO research showed that the numbers of newborn babies who are subject to care proceedings in England and Wales has more than doubled in the last 10 years.
Given the issues raised in the review and the lack of national guidance or training available for professionals, Nuffield FJO is set to develop the first national, evidence-informed good practice guidelines for professionals involved in the process of removing newborn babies from their mother at birth for child protection reasons.
Researchers at Lancaster University and the Rees Centre at the University of Oxford, led by Professor Karen Broadhurst, will work closely with health and social work professionals and birth parents over the next 18 months while developing the guidelines. Following that, the guidelines will be piloted in eight local authorities and health trusts over a six-month period and used in at least 30 child protection cases involving newborn babies.
The Nuffield FJO aim for the guidelines to be adopted and developed into guidance by local authorities, health authorities, the police and the judiciary throughout England and Wales, and for local authorities and the judiciary to gain a better understanding of why so many infants are being taken into care. Then, measures to prevent this can be explored.
Professor Karen Broadhurst, lead researcher on the Born into care project said: “We are delighted to be working in partnership with both professionals and family members across England and Wales to deliver this participatory project. We are also privileged to be supported by an outstanding advisory board chaired by Sally Jenkins (Head of Children and Family Services at Newport City Council) and a dedicated birth mothers’ group. This new Nuffield FJO project promises to make a real difference to the experience of infants and family members, when local authorities take the very difficult decision to issue care proceedings at birth.”
The Nuffield FJO’s Born into care England and Wales reports found that in 2007/8, care proceedings were issued with respect to a total of 1,039 newborns, which was 32% of all cases involving infants aged one year and under). By 2016/17, this number had more than doubled to 2,447 newborns which was 42% of all infant cases. There were also significant regional differences – reinforcing the need to test the guidelines in different areas of the country.
Pre-birth assessment and infant removal at birth: experiences and challenges