Recurrent care proceedings

Professor Pamela Cox

Professor Pamela Cox (Principal Investigator)

The English family justice system faces a crisis of ‘revolving doors’ and recurrence: up to one in four birth mothers who have a baby taken into care in England are likely to re-appear in another set of care proceedings within seven years.

New services have been established to provide support to affected mothers and we've conducted one of the first academic evaluations of their impact.

The challenge

The number of children removed at birth has risen rapidly in recent years but few of the birth parents involved are offered any follow-up support, despite often facing multiple challenges including poverty, poor housing, domestic violence, mental health problems, learning difficulties and addiction.

New support services

Since 2011, a number of new services have been established to begin to address their unmet needs. Our interdisciplinary research team is conducting one of the first academic-led evaluations of one of these new services: Positive Choices, run by Suffolk County Council.

One-to-one support

Positive Choices offers birth mothers - and, where both are willing, their partners - one-to-one support during the difficult months following the removal of their child. The support offered is individually tailored, with some women opting for quite intensive contact and others less so. It can take the form of face-to-face visits, phone calls, texts and emails as well as through personal letters and cards. Support workers also assist and encourage women to engage with other community-based services including sexual health services.

The Positive Choices model contributed to the early development of the Pause project in Hackney which is now a Department for Education Innovation Fund six-site pilot scheme, and the two groups continue to maintain collaborative contact.

Our project

Our initial evaluation of Positive Choices and a sister service, Mpower, run by Ormiston Families, was carried out over 18 months in 2014-15. It involved the development of a new methodology to capture the highly personal impacts of the services’ bespoke interventions.

During 2016, we worked with Positive Choices to refine this and to co-produce a new tool for data collection and evaluation.

Initial findings

  • None of the 65 participating women experienced an unplanned pregnancy.
  • Nine pregnancies likely to have led to the removal of a baby were 'avoided'.
  • Cost savings from nine ‘avoided’ care proceedings alone amounted to £810,000.
  • One woman and her partner were able to keep a baby born as a result of a supported planned pregnancy.
  • A sub-sample of engaged clients demonstrated clinically-significant changes in their psychological functioning.

Read the report

Research team

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