19 December, 2019
The Nuffield Family Justice Observatory has recently published a review which will assist in developing new guidelines for pre-birth assessments and the removal of infants at birth from their parents.
A local authority may wish to intervene during pregnancy and subsequently issue care proceedings on the birth of a child where there have been safeguarding concerns relating to the parents. The local authority must carry out pre-birth assessments to establish whether such intervention is necessary to protect the new-born child. Following assessment, if the local authority are unable support the parents and the risk posed by them is so great that the new-born infant would be unsafe in their parents' care, the child may be removed.
The number of new-born infants 'born into care' has more than doubled between 2007/8 and 2016/17 with marked regional variations noted.
The Nuffield Review highlights the moral, ethical and legal challenges that arise when care proceedings are issued at birth.
Where there has been a lack of pre-birth assessment and support during the pregnancy, the Review states that;
'….intervention at birth is likely to be poorly planned and can result in instability for the new baby and huge distress for family members. Despite the complexity surrounding this practice, there is scant reference to either pre-birth assessment or removals at birth in national statutory guidance.'
The new guidelines, currently being developed by researchers at the University of Lancaster and the Rees Centre (University of Oxford), will be 'evidence-informed' to enable professionals to explore the reason that new-borns are taken into care and to consider any preventative measures that may be available.
It is hoped that the guidelines will be developed over the next 18 months and that they will be piloted in various local authorities and health trusts over a 6 month period. It is also intended that the guidelines will be used in 'at least 30 child protection cases involving newborn babies.'
It is clear that action must be taken to support professionals in reducing the number of new-born infants subjected to care proceeding. Pre-birth assessments, which are conducted by local authorities, will be reviewed in depth by the researchers and it is hoped that through this research, preventative methods such as tailored support for parents during pregnancy will be implemented.