Newborn babies in care proceedings doubled in Wales since 2015

Newborn baby

The number of newborn babies subject to care proceedings in Wales (per 10,000 births) more than doubled between 2015 and 2018.

New research from the Centre for Child and Family Justice Research at Lancaster University and the SAIL Databank at Swansea University has been published today by the Nuffield Family Justice Observatory. The full report and a summary, in English and Welsh can be found here.

For every 10,000 births in Wales in 2015, 39 newborns became the subject of care proceedings within two weeks of birth. 

By 2018, the rate had risen to 83 cases per 10,000 live births.

In 2018, 52% of all infants (under one year old) subject to care proceedings in Wales were under two weeks old, a higher proportion than in 2015 (38%).

Almost half of these babies were born to mothers who had previously appeared in care proceedings concerning another child.

Whilst there are some differences in the rates of care proceedings issued for newborns across Wales, all the family court areas recorded a marked increase in the numbers of newborns in child protection cases from 2015 onwards.

These findings come from the first ever analysis of newborns and infants in the family justice system in Wales.

The research team used valuable administrative data produced by the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service in Wales (Cafcass Cymru).

This report, 'Born into Care: newborns and infants in care proceedings in Wales', complements a study published in October 2018, which focused on newborn babies in care proceedings in England.

Findings reveal some clear differences in practice, despite the fact that the two countries work to the same legal framework (the Children Act 1989).

Overall, the picture of a high proportion of infant cases issued within four weeks of birth is similar for Wales and England.

However, the incidence rate is higher in Wales than England: newborns in Wales are more likely to appear in care proceedings than those in England.

In 2018, the most likely outcome for newborns at the end of care proceedings in Wales was a care order. This has changed since 2012, when the most likely outcome for newborns was to be placed for adoption. 

In contrast, the family courts in England make far less use of care orders at the close of care proceedings and this pattern has remained relatively stable over time. The reason for differences between England and Wales is not clear.

Further analyses using linked administrative data made available through the SAIL Databank will now be undertaken.

The research team aims to understand why more newborns and infants are coming before the family courts in England and Wales and provide a far more holistic picture of what happens to these infants in the longer-term.

Lancaster University’s Professor Karen Broadhurst, the Co-Director of the Nuffield Family Justice Observatory data partnership, said: “The changing pattern of legal orders for newborn babies and infants at the close of care proceedings in Wales is particularly striking. It appears that the family courts are moving away from using the full range of orders available under the Children Act 1989. Conversations with policy and practice colleagues are an important next step if we are to understand these patterns and differences between England and Wales.”

Director of the Nuffield Family Justice Observatory Lisa Harker said: “The removal of a baby into care is perhaps the most difficult decision that professionals can make to intervene in family life. This study provides an important starting point for discussions about how to ensure that more babies are able to be safely cared for by their parents and that any intervention by professionals is designed to avert potential harm.” 

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