Dates: Aug 2017-June 2020
Research Team: Prof Marian Brandon
Funder: Nuffield Foundation
In the wake of a “national care crisis” in England, an increasing number of parents return to the family court as repeat respondents in care proceedings and lose successive children from their care. Despite considerable progress in understanding the trends and patterns of mothers’ (re)appearances in care proceedings, knowledge of fathers and of parents’ family relationships in recurrent care proceedings remains very limited. Fathers have legal party status in approximately 70% of s.31 proceedings each year, this is a sizeable population, about whom we know very little. This study aimed to address this gap by building on two recently completed ground-breaking studies also funded by the Nuffield Foundation; firstly of fathers’ experiences of child protection (Brandon, Philip and Clifton, 2017) and secondly: mothers in recurrent care proceedings (Broadhurst, Mason, Bedston et al 2017). This produced an exciting collaboration between a team from the CRCF project managed by Georgia Philip and led at UEA by Marian Brandon and at Lancaster University by Karen Broadhurst.
The analysis of the Cafcass data has produced ground-breaking insights including the first estimate of fathers in recurrent proceedings. We have uncovered gender and life-course dynamics of recurrent parents and produced important insights about the significance of couple relationships for understanding recurrence. For example, we have found that unlike recurrent mothers, recurrent fathers are most likely to return to court with the same partner. Our early findings suggest a need for whole-family, gender-sensitive services with recurrent parents.
Understanding fathers’ repeat appearance in local authority care proceedings: new evidence and insights
Increases in English local authority applications for care proceedings have raised serious concerns about parents’ repeat involvement in the public law family justice system and how to prevent families becoming stuck in a cycle of recurrence. Our research makes a timely and significant contribution to family justice knowledge about fathers, and to policy and practice interventions aiming to reduce parents’ repeat appearance in care proceedings and repeat child removal.
The project involved quantitative analysis of administrative data held by Cafcass (Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service); a survey of fathers involved in care proceedings; and an in-depth qualitative study of a group of recurrent fathers, over 12 months. Our findings present, for the first time, a population level analysis of the scale and pattern of fathers’ repeat appearances in care proceedings; an indicative picture of characteristics and circumstances of fathers involved in care proceedings, and new insights into the life histories, trajectories and relationships of recurrent fathers.
On 24 March 2021 the research team held a project launch event presenting key findings from all three elements of the study, along with key policy and practice messages. This was the first extensive study of fathers and recurrent care proceedings.