The rate of newborn babies involved in care proceedings in Wales has more than doubled in 3 years.

Courts have the power to put a child into council care if they are being harmed or likely to be harmed at home. For every 10,000 babies born in 2015, 39 became subject to care proceedings because social services raised concerns in the first 2 weeks of their lives. By 2018, that number had risen to 83. This means that newborns in Wales are now more likely to appear in care proceedings than those in England.

The findings come as the Welsh Government has set targets with local authorities to bring down the number of children in care. However, the analysis has shown more children are going into local authority care at the end of proceedings, and fewer are being put up for adoption.

By contrast, courts in England are much less likely to impose care orders. England’s care system is struggling to cope with teenagers in need. The latest figures from the Children’s Commissioner’s 2019 Stability Index shows that the number of teenagers in care rose by 21% between 2012/13 and 2017/18, while the number of 0–5-year-olds fell by 15%.

One of the report authors, Karen Broadhurst of Lancaster University said: “The changing pattern of legal orders for newborn babies and infants at the close of care proceedings in Wales is particularly striking”.

This is very distressing for mothers who are expected to appear before the courts shortly after giving birth, she said. “How do these mothers instruct a solicitor or meaningfully participate in proceedings so soon after giving birth and be able to contest the removal of their baby?”

More babies subject to care orders

More and more babies in Wales are subject to care orders with fewer family orders and fewer adoptions.

“There’s a big question about why the family courts are changing their practice around the orders and what happens to the babies as a consequence”, said Professor Broadhurst.

Nuffield Family Justice Observatory director Lisa Harker added: “The removal of a baby into care is perhaps the most difficult decision that professionals can make to intervene in family life.

“This study provides an important starting point for discussions about how to ensure that more babies are able to be safely cared for by their parents and that any intervention by professionals is designed to avert potential harm.”

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