Sharp rise in care applications for newborn babies

By Neil Puffett

| 11 October 2018

The number of applications for newborn babies to be taken into care has more than doubled in the past nine years, research has found.

A report has recommended more research on why there has been an increase in applications for newborn babies to be taken into care

A study by the Nuffield Foundation, Born into Care, found that in 2007/08, 1,039 babies were subject to care proceedings within one week of birth. By 2016/17, this number had more than doubled at 2,447, an increase of 136 per cent. Between 2007/08 and 2016/17, a total of 16,849 newborns were subject to care proceedings.

The report found an upward trend in newborn care applications across all measures - volumes, proportions and incidence. In 2007/08, 32 per cent of all infant cases (for children up to the age of one) were issued for newborns. By 2016/17, this percentage had risen to 42 per cent.

Researchers said the rise is difficult to explain, but suggested that increasing financial hardship for families, the impact of the reduction in preventative services and a defensive, risk-averse culture could be possible factors.

The report noted that it is "perhaps surprising" that more than 50 per cent of infants subject to proceedings at birth were not "subsequent infants" - in that an older sibling had not previously been subject to proceedings.

"This raises questions about the basis of a claim that the newborn is likely to suffer significant harm," the report states.

"How are such claims made and accepted by the courts given that the family courts cannot draw on a previous set of care proceedings for relevant history, and that the window for pre-birth assessment is typically short.

"This is not to suggest that action is taken inappropriately, rather it is to highlight the challenges for professionals and families, given the short assessment window that pregnancy provides - in a context of increasing pressure on children's services."

The report concluded that more research needs to be conducted on why there has been an increase in applications for newborn babies to be taken into care.

"Given this new evidence, coupled with the challenges that are particular to intervention at birth, [the need for] a greater focus on newborns in the family justice system within policy and practice is indicated," the report states.

"Current statutory practice guidance is very scant on both pre-birth assessment and best practice regarding care proceedings at birth."

Last month, it emerged that the amount spent by councils supporting children who have been taken into care is set to rise by more than £370m this year, breaking the £4bn barrier for the first time.

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