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Big rise in newborn babies subject to care proceedings and at risk of removal

Published: 4th June 2021

4 minute read

41% of care proceedings for newborns in North East England are issued and heard on the same day.

A new research study reveals a significant increase in the number of newborn babies (i.e babies under 2 weeks old) in England and Wales who are subject to care proceedings. It also finds many cases in which the notice to parents of care proceedings for their new born baby is given on the same day as the court hearing.  There are significant regional variations – with 41% of same day hearings for newborns in North East England, compared to 9% in London.

Previous research found that final legal order outcomes for nearly half of newborns subject to care proceedings was placed for adoption.

The research was commissioned by the Nuffield Family Justice Observatory and undertaken by the Family Justice Data Partnership, which is a collaboration between the University of Lancaster and the University of Swansea. It is part of the ongoing Born into Care series.

Key findings include:

  • The number of newborn babies in care proceedings in England increased by 20% between 2012/13 and 2019/20 from 2,425 per year to 2,914 per year. In Wales, the number rose by 40% from 145 to 203 for the same period. Newborn babies account for a growing proportion of all infant cases.
  • The number of newborn babies in care proceedings has also increased when measured as an incidence rate (that is, the number of newborn cases per 10,000 live births in England and Wales). In 2019/20, 48 newborn 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 per 10,000 live births in 2019/20, up from 41 in 2012/13.
  • In 2019/20, 86% of cases involving newborn babies in England and 74% of cases involving newborn babies in Wales recorded a short-notice hearing. That is, there was less than seven days between the application being issued by the local authority and the first hearing. In the majority of cases, there was between one and two days’ notice between the application and first hearing.
  • The proportion of newborn cases in both England and Wales in which cases are issued and heard the same day has doubled in seven years. In 2019/20, in England 18% were the subject of a ‘same day’ hearing, compared to 9% in 2012/13. In North East England the proportion was 40%. In Wales the proportion has risen from 6% to 16%.
  • Regional differences are stark:
    • London differs very significantly from both Wales and many regions of England, particularly, the North West, North East, and Yorkshire and the Humber. It has the lowest incidence rates (25 newborn 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 per 10,000 live births in 2012/13 to 83 per 10,000 in 2019/20. And 41% of new born cases are same day applications.

Commenting on the report, Cathy Ashley, Chief Executive of Family Rights Group, said:

These findings are very worrying. In recent days attention has been paid to the heartbreaking and lasting impact to children and birth parents of the adoption policies of the 1950s, 60s and 70s.

Yet this new research shows that there has been a significant rise in recent years in new born babies being subject to care proceedings whilst their mothers are still in hospital, in some cases still bleeding from the birth. The most common legal outcome for these babies will be adoption. Many of these mothers whose babies are subject to care proceedings are very young and too often have themselves been in care.

If the state is to consider the draconian step of removing a child from its parents, then fair process is essential. It is shocking that same day notices for care proceedings have become the norm in parts of England and Wales and leads to serious questions as to whether the system can act justly in such cases.

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. We know from both research and our advice line that factors that can make a significant difference as to whether care proceedings are issued include: whether effective work is undertaken with expectant parents during pregnancy; the availability of mother and baby placements; the provision of services such as domestic abuse or mental health specialist provision; the severity of hospital maternity unit discharge policies; and whether the local authority has fully explored whether there are wider family who might be able to step in to support the parents and help care for the child, averting the need for care proceedings.

We – Government and all stakeholders in our child welfare and family justice system – urgently need to address the injustices set out in today’s research report – we know that the impact of failing to do so is lifelong for both children and their families”.

For further information contact:

Cathy Ashley
M: 07931570149

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