Large increase in new-born babies subject to care proceedings

Large increase in new-born babies subject to care proceedings

New research has found that there has been a large increase in the number of new-born babies (i.e. babies under 2 weeks old) in England and Wales subject to care proceedings.

Child Law Team

Sarah Hindle – Senior Solicitor – Head of Child Law Team

The research was commissioned by the Nuffield Family Justice Observatory (‘NFJO’), which aims to improve the use of data and research evidence in the family justice system, and undertaken by the Family Justice Data Partnership, which is a collaboration between the University of Lancaster and the University of Swansea.
The research found that in England the number of new-born babies in care proceedings increased by 20 per cent between 2012/13 and 2019/20, rising from 2,425 to 2,914 per year. In Wales the figure increased by 40 per cent in the same period, rising from 145 to 203 babies per year.

The number of new-born babies subject to care proceedings has also increased when measured as an incidence rate (that is, the number of new-born cases per 10,000 live births in England and Wales). In 2019/20, 48 new-born babies per 10,000 live births were subject to care proceedings in England, up from 35 per 10,000 in 2012/13. In Wales, the rate is even higher—68.3 per 10,000 live births in 2019/20, up from 41.1 in 2012/13.

These figures are particularly concerning, given that previous research found that final legal order outcomes for nearly half of new-borns subject to care proceedings was that they were placed for adoption.

Most parents given very little notice

child maintenance arrangements subject to care proceedingsAnother matter highlighted by the research, and equally concerning, is that most parents are given very little notice of court proceedings issued by the local authority.

In 2019/20, 86.3% of cases involving new-born babies in England and 74.8% of cases involving new-born babies in Wales were heard at short notice (under seven days), the majority of which on an emergency basis, with just one to two days’ notice between the application being issued by the local authority and the first hearing

Shockingly, the NFJO say that in a sizeable and growing proportion of new-born cases in both England and Wales, the application is issued and the first hearing is scheduled on the same day, with zero days’ notice. In 2019/20, approximately one in every six new-born babies in care proceedings was the subject of a same-day hearing.

Regional differences

The research has also highlighted regional differences.
London has the lowest incidence rates (25 new-born babies per 10,000 live births in 2019/20), and both London and the South East have the lowest proportion of same day hearings (9% and 11% respectively).

At the opposite end of the spectrum is the North East, where incidence rates have doubled over the last eight years, increasing from 34.0 per 10,000 live births in 2012/13 to 83.1 per 10,000 in 2019/20. Over time, the proportion of same-day new-born cases has also doubled in the region (to 41.3%)—by far the highest rate across England and Wales.

As Cathy Ashley, Chief Executive of Family Rights Group, commented: “It is inexcusable that the chances of whether your baby may be removed varies so significantly depending upon where you live in England and Wales.”

And Lisa Harker, director of the NFJO, said: “The separation of a mother and baby is deeply traumatic for all involved and has lifelong implications. Although in some cases urgent action following the birth of a new baby can be necessary where there is an immediate safeguarding need, there is widespread concern that the volume of these cases is increasing. Not only does it seem that chances are being missed to work with vulnerable mothers much earlier to give them the best chance of staying together as a family, but when that is not possible, the process is often not being managed in a sensitive or humane way.”

Early adviceteam discussing babies subject to care proceedings

All of the above shows how important it is that you seek expert legal advice as soon as possible if social services should express concerns over your parenting ability. Ian Walker Family Law and Mediation Solicitors can provide you with the expert advice that you need. To find out more, and to get started with one of our specialist lawyers, click here.

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