Connecting events in time to identify a hidden population: Birth mothers and their children in recurrent care proceedings in England

08 Jun 2018

There is international concern about the population of birth mothers who experience repeat court-ordered removal of children. This article reports the findings from a population profiling study that provides the first picture of the scale of women's repeat involvement in public law proceedings in England. Based on national records from the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) (n = 43,541 birth mothers, 2007-14), two subsets of mother, child and legal proceedings data were created. The aims of the study were to:(i) produce a descriptive profile of recurrent cases, (ii) estimate the probability and timing of recurrence and (iii) examine the relationship between maternal age and recurrence. Quantitative analysis comprised descriptive statistics for profiling purposes and methods of survival analysis to estimate probabilities. Findings indicate that the family justice system recycles a sizeable percentage of wo men (24 per cent) through repeat episodes of care proceedings, with young women aged sixteen to nineteen years most at risk of recurrence. Implications for social workers and the family courts are outlined with reference to new innovations in England.