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.”

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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.

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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).

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