Mother holding the hands of a new born baby. Unfortunately, the number of babies being taken into care is rising in some parts of Wales.

Social services across the UK try where possible to keep children with their families and communities. As some research has shown, this creates more stability for the child growing up, along with benefits such as better behavioural and mental health.

Research from the Nuffield Family Justice Observatory and the Family Justice Data Partnership – a collaboration between Lancaster University and Swansea University – focused on mothers in Wales whose babies appeared in care proceedings before their first birthday, looking at maternal health and well-being in and before pregnancy, interaction with maternity services, and birth outcomes. Through this study, the research team wanted to be able to recommend what additional support was needed for mothers at risk of care proceedings to ensure the right care and services are put in place.

What was done?

The study used anonymised data from Cafcass Cymru family court records. Cafcass Cymru is a Welsh government organisation that represents children’s best interests in family justice proceedings. This was combined with maternal health data, enabled by the SAIL (Secure Anonymised Information Linkage) Databank at Swansea University.

The research compared data on mothers whose babies appeared in care proceedings before their first birthday between 2011 and 2018 (comprising over 1,000 mothers) with data from the general population of women accessing maternity services in Wales who were not involved in care proceedings.

This study was the first of its kind to link data this way.

What did they find?

Key research findings included that the mothers at risk of their babies being subject to care proceedings:

  • Were far more likely to have had mental health problems compared to other pregnant women. Over half (53%) reported an existing mental health condition at their initial antenatal assessment.
  • Experienced greater levels of hardship (this could be in their general well-being, or financial or living situations) compared to women not involved with children’s services.
  • Mostly (76%) lived in two of the most deprived areas of Wales.
  • Were more likely to have premature and low birth weight babies.

The research also showed there are potential misconceptions that mothers at risk of having their babies removed from their care delay, or even avoid, interacting with antenatal services. This was not the case for the mothers in this research, showing there is potentially a window of opportunity for intensive early engagement.

What do they recommend?

To improve the support provided to expecting mums, especially those who have already been involved in care proceedings, the research recommends much earlier support and intervention to help keep more babies with their parents. The research results, along with findings from linked research involving Wales and England, have helped to inform guidelines for good practice when local authorities have child protection concerns about unborn babies.

These guidelines incorporate recommendations that include:

  • Giving greater priority to mental health in all assessments
  • Ensuring help is provided early, so that health issues and needs are addressed
  • Midwives to have a key role in identifying mothers at risk and providing support

This research is a good example of how harnessing data can make a real impact on people’s lives and improve services. It also highlights the importance of data in research.

Read the full research report on the Nuffield Family Justice Observatory website.

Born into care: One thousand mothers in care proceedings in Wales

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