The Commission on Justice in Wales has voiced concerns over the very high numbers of children being taken into care. Recently, there has been a sharp rise. In addition, the rate of newborn babies involved in care proceedings in Wales has more than doubled in 3 years.

Numbers of looked after children in Wales. Source: Wales Centre for Public Policy/Justice Commission

In a 2-year wide-ranging review of the justice system in Wales, former senior judge Lord Thomas has called for the devolution of powers over family courts. Although the care system is controlled from the assembly, family courts are not.

Social services can ask courts to put a child into council care or up for adoption when there is a risk of them being harmed at home.

Last year, there were 6405 looked-after children: a 52% increase since 2003. As such, Wales is predicted to soon overtake Scotland to become the UK nation with the highest proportion of children in care.

One of the possible explanations for the rise included deprivation. The report also noted how children from the worst-off places were far more likely to be taken into care than those from the most affluent communities. It also highlighted the very significant cost and overwhelming evidence that many children in care are seriously disadvantaged in later life.

Torfaen has the highest rate of looked-after children in England and Wales. A spokesman for the council said there were a number of complex factors putting more demand on children’s services. Most of the children it looked after had been placed in care by courts because they were at risk of significant harm at home, he said.

Lord Thomas said early intervention and setting up problem-solving courts could be the way forward. “Much more should be done to prevent families getting into a position where their children are at risk of being taken into care”, he said.

In England, Family Drug and Alcohol Courts (FDACs) help solve the problems of families at risk of losing children to care. The report said that the Welsh Government’s reasons for not doing the same thing were difficult to follow. It went further by warning that children’s interests are being neglected in court cases that decide who looks after them. In addition, it found stark differences between the Welsh councils.

Stopping so many children going into care would require a profound change in culture within the legal system, councils and Welsh Government.

Prenatal paternity tests increasingly used in care proceedings

AlphaBiolabs’ prenatal paternity test could provide answers earlier in cases involving newborn babies. The test is used to accurately determine paternity before a baby is born without posing any risk to the unborn child.

The prenatal paternity test can be performed once a mother is at least 8 weeks pregnant (or a minimum of 6 weeks after conception).

AlphaBiolabs offers a range of legal DNA, drug and alcohol tests for local authorities and social workers. Alternatively, if you have any queries or need further information, please call Customer Services on 0333 600 1300 or email