The Nuffield Family Justice Authority is an evidence and data-based think-tank highlighting the need for change within the family justice system. The latest report from the organisation focuses on the increasing numbers of babies being taken from their mothers at birth, and explores ways in which vulnerable mothers and their babies can be kept together and supported.
The report is titled Born into Care: Newborn Babies in Urgent Care Proceedings in England and Wales, with data covering the eight year period to March, 2020, and involving over 21,000 babies. It analyses the number and rate of newborn babies (those under two weeks old) and infants in care proceedings, as well as the proportion of urgent Interim Care Order (ICO) hearings held at short notice (within seven days). Finally, the report looks at the number of Emergency Protection Orders (EPO) made for newborn babies and infants, and the proportion of such cases that continue to Section 31 proceedings.
The research recommends a wholesale review of how care proceedings at birth are conducted, warning that the human rights of parents may be adversely affected under the current system. In a great many cases new mothers complained of having insufficient time to prepare for court hearings, which could come only a matter of days after the birth of their child. It also found that location plays a major part in whether a baby becomes the subject of a care application, with the chances of this happening being much greater in the North-East of England and Yorkshire as compared with London. Applications for care orders are normally made when social workers determine that a mother is unable to look after her baby on her own, resulting in the child going into foster care or subject to adoption.
Increasingly, care order applications were found to be made at very short notice, mostly with seven days’ notice or less and with the majority at only one or two days advance warning. Many more newborn babies were now being taken into care overall, with numbers in North-East England more than doubling from 34 per 10,000 live births in 2012 to 83 per 10,000 in 2020. In contrast, London had under 25 applications per 10,000 live births in 2020, with less than 10% being same day applications compared with 41% in the North-East.
Commenting on the report, Chair of the Nuffield Family Justice Observatory Sir James Munby said that more research was needed, since “we now know what is happening but we know far too little about why”. He added that the current system was very likely leading to miscarriages of justice over the removal of newborns from their mothers. Co-author of the report Professor Karen Broadhurst said: “The statistics require us to look much more deeply into this issue…….It’s harsh enough to remove a baby at birth. So all the more reason why we need to strive for the fairest possible process.”
The Children Law department at Bretherton Law has been helping families in Hertfordshire for over 50 years, offering professional, experienced and sympathetic advice to those in need. We are proud to be accredited by the Law Society in Children Law, and are members of Resolution, the organisation representing family lawyers and other professionals in the field.
To see the report go to: Newborn babies in urgent care proceedings in England and Wales
BBC News: Post code lottery for Baby Care Orders