The number of newborns placed under local authority care has doubled over the past decade, a study has revealed.
Researchers at Lancaster University and the Nuffield Family Justice Observatory found that 2,447 babies were subject to care proceedings in the first week of their lives in 2016/17, compared to 1,039 in 2007/08. This represented an increase of 136%.
The study found that a total of 16,849 newborns under one week were subject to council care proceedings between 2007 and 2017.
Variation across country
The study also revealed that the number of newborns involved in care proceedings vary across the country. Between 2008 and 2016, Yorkshire and Humber and the North West recorded the highest rates on average, with 39 cases of care proceedings per 10,000 live births.
In contrast, London and the South East had the lowest rates, at 18 and 20 per 10,000 respectively.
Under the 1989 Children Act, a child identified by police as being at risk of ‘significant harm’ from one or both parents can be removed to ‘suitable accommodation’, which can be provided by any council.
‘Greater policy and practice’ focus
The researchers called for ‘greater policy and practice’ around infant care, given the ‘frequency’ with which councils step in to care for newborns.
They wrote: ‘In 2007/08, 32% of all infant cases were issued for newborns. By 2016/17, this percentage had risen to 42%. Current statutory practice guidance is very scant on both pre-birth assessment and best practice regarding care proceedings at birth.
‘Cases that reach the higher courts provide useful insights into practice pitfalls and failings.
‘However, in the absence of wider analysis of a broader, representative sample of cases, it is not possible to ascertain the extent to which shortfalls in practice are more widespread, or to identify good practice in the management of care proceedings concerning newborns.’
According to the authors, the study is the first of its kind in England. Professor Karen Broadhurst from Lancaster University, who leads the development team at the Nuffield Family Justice Observatory said:
‘The new findings we present are a first step in building an empirical evidence base specific to newborn babies.
‘And although there will be circumstances where the state has to intervene very early in a baby’s life, we want to ensure that professional practice is as sensitive as possible to women’s vulnerability following the delivery of her baby.’