Question It!

Welcome to another week.

A letter from a member of the public in Brighton’s Argus newspaper has suggested councils should take seriously overweight children into care, as the phenomenon amounted to child neglect and abuse.

Mike Howard, from Greentree’s Crescent, in Sompting told the Argus that while the measure sounded draconian, it was the only way “to seriously address the problem”, and that Sally Davies, the former Chief Medical Officer for England, had offered a pointless solution to the issue in placing a ban on eating while on public transport.

Mr Howard said:

“A seriously overweight child is prima facia evidence of child neglect by the parents and should be treated as such. Feckless parents, who are clearly neglecting their child’s welfare need to be offered training on health and nutrition, which it would be reasonable to expect them to pay for, followed by a period of monitoring of their child’s health.

If, at the end of this period there is no improvement in the child’s well-being then the possibility of taking the child into care should be  seriously considered.”

Research tells us that children can become overweight for a variety of reasons, including genetics, a lack of physical activity, unhealthy eating patterns, or a combination of these factors. In some cases, becoming overweight can be caused by medical conditions.

Our question this week then, is just this: do you agree with Mr. Howard? 



Ministers And Children’s Policy – Who’s Who In 2019

It seems as if Researching Reform is constantly updating this segment, but we feel it’s worth sharing the latest on all things ministerial in child welfare.

Here is the current list of ministers involved in children’s policy, and the new posts the government has created, as well as positions the government has scrapped:

Home Office:

Ministry Of Justice:

  • Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, Robert Buckland QC MP
  • Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Youth Justice, Victims, Female Offenders and Offender Health – this position no longer exists

Department For Education:

  • Secretary of State for Education and Minister for Women and Equalities – this position no longer exists
  • Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation, Chris Skidmore MP
  • Minister of State for School Standards, Nick Gibb MP
  • Minister of State for Children and Families, Kemi Badenoch MP – the position is currently being covered by Michelle Donelan MP, while Kemi is on maternity leave
  • Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the School System (Unpaid), Lord Nash

Department Of Health & Social Care:

Department For Work & Pensions:

  • Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Thérèse Coffey MP
  • Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Employment, Mims Davies MP
  • Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work, Justin Tomlinson MP
  • Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Pensions and Financial Inclusion, Guy Opperman MP
  • Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Family Support, Housing and Child Maintenance – this position no longer exists

Department For Digital, Culture, Media And Sport:

  • Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Nicky Morgan

Department For Housing, Communities And Local Government:

For a full breakdown of departments and which ministers head them, click here. 

Child Welfare in 2018A Government Department Breakdown#WhosWho (3)


The Latest

Child welfare items today:


Family Law Cases

This week the case we’re sharing is a complex one, filled with nuance and challenging conduct.

On the surface, it looks like a court awarding a father contact because of a mother’s alienating behaviour, but a closer look reveals two parents with limited insight into how their actions continue to harm their son.

There are a lot of twists and turns, but it is worth reading the whole judgment, including the expert’s views on the parents.

The judge also criticises the social worker’s Section 37 report looking at the welfare of the boy in the case, calling it woefully inadequate, for being critical of the father but not the mother. The social worker recommended that the child stay in the care of his mother.

Justice Keehan considered the report of limited help because the social worker had not had any direct experience with parental alienation cases.

The NYAS caseworker also concludes that the 12 year old boy should continue to live with his mother. Keehan says in his judgment:

“In her report, she only considered the negative issues about the father and set out the mother’s criticisms of him. There is no consideration at all of the adverse role of the mother in H’s life nor did she give any consideration as to the extent, if at all, to which the mother had alienated H against his father. She accepted H’s expressed wishes and feelings at face value and had no consideration to [the parental alienation expert’s] opinions.”

Keehan also calls out the caseworker for several shortcomings within her report.

The solution offered in the judgment – a complete and total uprooting of the child’s life, away from his school and friends, to distance him from his mother and re-establish his connection with his father by moving him to his father’s home, is another example of how the courts continue to get it wrong.

This kind of solution is deeply traumatic for a child, making it no solution at all.

While this site feels both parents contributed to their child’s distress, there is a far better way of dealing with cases like these, and it starts with the parents, not the child.

Wholesale repatriation is rarely the answer, and is a shoddy and careless way of dealing with these cases. It’s the kind of judgment we’ve come to expect from a court that doesn’t have the time or the inclination to offer sophisticated solutions to complex problems.

You can read the full judgment on BAILII.

Family Law Cases RR



Number of Newborns Going Through Care Proceedings in Wales Doubles

A groundbreaking study has revealed that the number of newborns going through care proceedings in Wales has doubled in just three years.

The report, which was produced by the Nuffield Foundation and the Centre for Child and Family Justice Research is the second such report in a series of investigations carried out by the organisations, which hope to shed light on how to support families to care safely for their babies, rather than remove children from their birth parents.

The first report, Born into Care: Infants and newborns in care proceedings in England, which was published this time last year, looked at the number of newborns being taken into care in England, and discovered that the rate of care applications for newborns had more than doubled in a decade.

Information about the project’s aims was published last year on the Nuffield Foundation’s website and offered the following important details about its first report, and the project:

“The report argues that the new findings indicate far more attention needs to be paid to court intervention at birth.

At present, the report says, national statutory practice guidance ‘makes scant reference’ to either pre-birth assessment or removals at birth.

The Council of Europe and judges in England have described the separation of mothers and babies within hours or days of an infant’s birth, as a very severe form of intervention in family life fraught with ethical, legal and procedural challenges.

Given the frequency with which local authorities are issuing care proceedings at birth, the study recommends a greater policy and practice focus on newborns within the family justice system.”

Newborns 3.png

The second report also offers some interesting data on what’s been going on in Wales, and highlights some significant gaps in the information recorded on newborns going through care proceedings, particularly in relation to Cafcass data around placements. (The one organisation that should be required to keep a meticulous set of data on the children they see).

While the authors noticed a drop in the number of applications for adoption orders, they also recorded a spike in the number of babies going through care proceedings in England and an even more pronounced increase in Wales, from 2011 to 2018. The reasons for this increase remain unclear.

The report also noted that while Welsh authorities ramped up their use of care orders (in 2012, care orders were made in 29% of newborn cases – by 2018 this figure rose to 67%), English child protection staff had begun to use other orders like Special Guardianship.

Further key findings from the report:

Volume of cases and changes over time
• Between 2011 and 2018, 3,266 infants were subject to care proceedings. Infants
comprised 30% of the overall population of children involved in s.31 care
proceedings in Wales during this period.

Over time, a greater proportion of care proceedings concerning infants have been
issued for newborns in Wales, although the trend is not linear. In 2011, 40% of all
infants coming before the courts in s.31 proceedings did so in the first two weeks after
birth. This proportion remained roughly stable until 2015, and then started to rise,
reaching 52% in 2018. Cases of newborns in the family justice system comprised a
substantial proportion of all care proceedings issued for infants in Wales.

In 2011, for every 10,000 live births in Wales, 43 newborns became the subject of care
proceedings within two weeks of birth. The incidence rate remained fairly static at around 40 cases per 10,000 live births until 2015, then increased rapidly, and had more than doubled to 83 cases per 10,000 live births in 2018.

Overall, the picture of a high and increasing proportion of infant cases issued close to
birth is similar for Wales and England. However, the incidence rate (number of cases
per 10,000 live births) is higher in Wales than England.

Variation by court area
• There were differences in the rates of care proceedings issued for newborns
across the three Welsh Designated Family Judge (DFJ) areas. Based on an overall
rate (for the period from 2011 to 2018), the Swansea and South West Wales DFJ area
recorded the highest incidence rate, of 64 cases of care proceedings concerning
newborns per 10,000 live births in the general population. Cardiff and South East
Wales DFJ area and North Wales DFJ area had lower overall rates, at 47 per 10,000,
and 45 per 10,000 respectively.

All three DFJ areas saw an overall increase in incidence rates over the period (2011 to
2018), although the trends varied, and incidence rates between the three DFJ areas
appear to converge in the more recent years.

Between 2015 and 2016, all three DFJ areas recorded a marked increase in newborn cases, which warrants further investigation.

Local authority level variation
• A minority of local authorities departed significantly from the national incidence rate of 52 newborn cases per 10,000 live births. However, the rate range for outliers was
marked between 32 and 100 newborn cases per 10,000 live births.

In the North Wales DFJ area and Cardiff and South East Wales DFJ area, there was
very little deviation in local authority rates from the area average.

However, in Swansea and South West Wales DFJ area, there were a number of low
and high outlier local authorities, falling outside the expected boundaries of the area
average incidence rate of newborns entering care proceedings.

Case characteristics
“Subsequent infants”
• Between 2016 and 2018, 49% of newborns were “subsequent infants”; that is their
mothers had already appeared in care proceedings concerning an older sibling.

• Based on a 5-year observational window, 51% of newborns were linked to mothers
who had not previously appeared in care proceedings.

Urgent ICO hearings and non-standard case management hearings
• Newborns are more likely to be subject to urgent ICO hearings and non-standard case
management hearings than older infants, and other age groups of children.

A non-standard CMH or an urgent ICO hearing was recorded for 61% of newborns
between 2015 and 2018, compared to 37% of older infants and 36% of all children aged
12 months and above. 52% of the newborns had an urgent hearing within 7 days of
the issue of the care application during this period.

Case duration
• Between 2012 and 2018, 52% of infant cases completed within 26 weeks.
• There has been a general trend towards shorter care proceedings for all infants. In
2012, only 12% of cases concerning infants completed within 26 weeks (the statutory
framework introduced in 2014), whereas in 2017 this percentage had risen to 70%,
declining slightly to 63% in 2018.

Newborns 2.png

The report goes on to make a series of recommendations, which include a review of cases involving care proceedings issued for newborns, what is driving a change in the type of legal orders being used, and further research to help improve child protection services.

It’s very much worth a read if you have 30 digestive biscuits and a full box of tea bags.

Useful Links:

The reports are also available in Welsh (see press release for links).

Newborns 1.png

The Buzz

The latest child welfare items that should be right on your radar:


Councils Using Alternative Orders to Remove Children from Parents After Judicial Push Back on Care Applications

Councils are increasingly turning to other types of court orders to remove children in child protection proceedings after senior judges warned social workers that care applications should only be used as a method of last resort.

The development was revealed by new Cafcass chief Jacky Tiotto, during an interview with Children and Young People Now (CYP Now) magazine.

According to Tiotto, there has been a marked increase in requests for orders for deprivation of liberty, secure accommodation and emergency protection during child protection proceedings.

The finding raises serious concerns about whether social services are making false allegations around service users’ mental health in order to remove children from parents.

Emergency protection orders are only to be used in the most serious circumstances and give councils the right to remove children from their parents if there are concerns around child abuse. These orders can also limit a birth parent’s responsibilities towards their child.

Secure accommodation orders allow councils to place children in residential placement units where they can be stopped from leaving, and have been criticised by judges and other legal professionals because of the way in which they impact human rights like freedom of movement. These orders are usually only used in cases where there appears to be a risk of gang violence, child sexual exploitation and child trafficking.

Deprivation of liberty orders have also gained international media attention because of the way these orders impact children’s human rights under Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights, and are closely linked to secure accommodation orders.

Care applications however, dropped more than 5% from last year.

The drop has been attributed to a shift in social work practice, which now requires social workers to look at care applications and adoptions as the last port of call, rather than the first option in child protection proceedings.

Several senior judges have published judgments relating to child protections cases in order to raise awareness around the need to keep children with their parents wherever possible. The judgements were also made public to confirm the law and policy in this area, which makes it clear that removing children from parents must only happen if all other avenues have failed and only if that removal is genuinely in the best interest of the child in the case.

Despite the warnings, child protection professionals, perhaps desperate to keep their jobs as budget cuts continue to squeeze councils, now appear to be looking to other orders to secure removals.

Tiotto told CYP Now that Cafcass would be working to find out the reasons for the unusual rise in the different types of orders:

“What’s been understood from that drop in care applications is that the public law system is less busy – but it isn’t.

“Behaviour is changing in terms of what [orders] people are going into court for and we need to understand why that is.

“We will be prioritising work to understand that.

“I think in enough authorities people are looking for different solutions for children that may not be public care.

“I’d be surprised if that’s not what we find when we look at the data.”

There is clearly a conflict of interest in a social work organisation taking on this task, and we would like to see an independent body reviewing the data.

Whatever research is conducted though, the investigators will need to look at:

  • The life of these cases and whether these orders ultimately lead to children being permanently removed from their parents at a later stage,
  • The cases involved and the kind of evidence gathering that’s taken place,
  • Which courts these cases are being heard in, paying attention to Court of Protection applications (a Court which remains largely closed off from the public) and;
  • The internal management issues facing each local authority engaged in placing submissions for these orders.


The Buzz

The latest child welfare items that should be right on your radar:

Court Reform Event

The Courts and Tribunals Service has launched an event to showcase its latest updates to the court system and it has opened the conference to the public.

The changes to the system are part of a £1bn reform programme, which covers family, criminal and civil courts as well as tribunals.

According to the invitation for the event, the programme has now reached its halfway point. It is not clear whether the halfway point refers to the amount of work completed or the time period the reform programme has to complete its updates.

The conference itself will include presentations and market stalls, and will also give people the chance to ask questions to individuals who are leading the programme’s development.

The event takes place on Tuesday 5th November, at the Ministry of Justice in London, and runs from 9.15am to 1.30pm.

The invitation says places are limited and registration is required to express an interest in the first instance. The team will then contact you to confirm attendance or to notify you that you’ve been added to a waiting list.

The Eventbrite page can be accessed here.