Government interest in patterns and outcomes of family law proceedings is primarily in children. This leaves many questions about how family court proceedings impact on parents unanswered. Responding to anecdotal concerns from professionals about women who are ‘repeat clients’ of the family court, this study sought to examine the scale and pattern of women’s exposure to repeat court-ordered removal of their children.

As part of a 2-year mixed methods study, funded by the Nuffield Foundation, electronic administrative records (2007-2014) held by the Child and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) were extracted and restructured to create a new longitudinal national dataset. This dataset revealed not only the size of the population of women within care proceedings (n= 43,541 birth mothers), but also the scale of the recurrent population (n= 7022).

The paper discusses the methodological challenges in working with administrative data, in particular problematic categorizations  of adult parties, the tendency of agencies to change coding ‘on the fly’ as well as practices of archiving, overwriting and purging. The paper also considers the policy response to headline findings, including the age profile of women within care proceedings. A small, but concerning population of legal minors were identified, and teenage mothers were over represented when compared to the general demographic. The paper concludes by highlighting what has been a generally positive policy response to this work.


This seminar is part of the 'Methods Mixtures' series presented by the Centre for Science Studies and Centre for Gender and Women's Studies. For further information on this seminar series please contact Maggie MortThe full list of seminars this term can be downloaded below:

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