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There has been a lot of publicity following the research by Professor Broadhurst of Lancaster University that at least one in four women will return to the family court, having previously lost a child through a care order, and the chances of having a child removed increase to at least one in three for the youngest women who were teenagers at the birth of their first child.

The research described a ‘hidden population’ of mothers who are caught up in a cycle of family court proceedings.

Further detailed case file review work is ongoing and the study will conclude in June 2016.

The study uses electronic records held by the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) and findings are based on all care applications made by Local Authorities in England over a seven year period from 2007 to 2014.

Professor Broadhurst said the number of teenage mothers captured in the dataset was very concerning. She said:

“How does court-ordered removal impact on women’s own developmental journey to adulthood? It is evident that these girls – many still children themselves – simply do not understand the court process.”

Professor Broadhurst explained that after a child had been removed from her care, a mother herself was unlikely to get the required level of help to bring about the changes needed because agencies were not under any statutory obligation to provide comprehensive post removal support.

Many of the women had experienced very difficult childhoods themselves and were then severely emotionally damaged by the removal of their baby.

The report highlights that once a first child has been removed, the next time around the child is likely to be removed from his or her mother’s care closer to the birth and is much more likely to be adopted – meaning often the mother will often lose all direct contact with the child.

Professor Broadhurst and her team say that, while there is international concern about the issue, there has been, until now, little research or detailed understanding of the nature or scale of the issue.

The research has established that many women become pregnant again either whilst still in care proceedings with a first child, or very shortly after a first set of proceedings has finished.

The new findings that focus on pregnancy intervals confirm that a pattern of rapid repeat pregnancy is associated with repeat care proceedings.

“Rapid repeat pregnancy carries health risks for both mother and child,” said Professor Broadhurst “When we put these findings together, a very concerning picture emerges.”

The research team warns that without further evaluation and far wider roll-out of preventative programmes, it is highly probable that local authorities and family courts will continue to see a sizeable population of mothers reappear through the family courts.


Andrew Lobb is a senior associate in the family law team based in St Austell. If you would like to contact him about the issues raised in this article or any other family law issue, then please call 01726 74433 or email