Mothers in Re-current Care Proceedings – how do we break the cycle?

On 20th October a group of about 100 lawyers, social workers, local authority professionals and others interested in child protection issues, met at the Bristol Civil Justice Centre to discuss how we can break the cycle for those mother who have child after child removed from their care.

This is a post by Sarah Phillimore. 

The timetable and speakers for the event

16.30 Introductory remarks by Judi Evans, Barrister, St John’s Chambers.

16.35 Professor Karen Broadhurst of Lancaster University explained why some mothers are so vulnerable to repeated care proceedings and removal of successive children.

16.45 Georgina Perry, Co-Founder of Pause, discussed the Pause project.

16.55 Sally-Ann Jenkins, Head of Children & Young Peoples Services, Newport City Council discussed the development of their recent programme of help and support for vulnerable mothers.

17.05 Dr Freda Gardner, Chartered Clinical Psychologist and Deputy Clinical Director of Orchard House assessment and intervention centre, discussed a pre-proceedings intervention model for parents with children.

17.15 Written contribution from Surviving Safeguarding, a parent and campaigner outlining her concerns about the types of intervention proposed for mothers (read out by Sarah Phillimore as sadly Annie couldn’t make the event).

17.20 Questions from audience

18.00 Close

Presentations from the Speakers

Professor Broadhurst kicked off discussions by presenting some ‘short, sharp’ findings from her research into recurrent care proceedings. If the rate of ‘recidivism’ for mothers in care proceedings was repeated in the criminal justice system it would be a huge concern. Research in 2015 showed 1 in 4 of mothers would return to the family courts. The data she presented showed powerful argument for intervention – not merely to save money but to recognise the significant and harmful emotional cost upon mothers who have successive children removed from their care.


Women facing recurrent care proceedings are often very vulnerable and there is a real risk of injustice that many cannot access the interventions that the family court say they need. There was clear argument for earlier intervention – if we continue to do nothing, as care proceedings rise, we are simply creating more mothers for the family justice system.

We then heard from Georgina Perry of Pause, who gave brief overview of how the organisation started and what it wanted to achieve.  They had been ‘astounded’ to identify 205 women who had 49 children removed between them. Something had to be done to break the cycle. The group of women they met were very vulnerable – issues of violence in relationship, drug use and mental health challenges. Their vulnerability was compounded by the alien environment of the family court and the language used. They did not understand what was being demanded and they could not access the services the courts ordered them to use.

Pause requires the women they support to use Long Acting Reversible Contraception for 18 months – they appreciate that this is a controversial topic but point out that the adversarial atmosphere of the family courts gets in the way of supporting women and allowing them time and space to reflect and benefit from that support.

The wording of this tweet caused some concern from Surviving Safeguarding, which I shall discuss below.

Sally Ann Jenkins then spoke. She is Head of Children’s Services in Newport. She spoke of working in the area as a social worker in the 1980s and on her return meeting a mother she had worked with and one of her children had children in Newport’s care. This was a stark reminder of the cycle that needs to be broken.

Inspired by attending a seminar and hearing from Professor Broadhurst, Ms Jenkins became part of a local initiative to use existing funding and resources to help parents break the cycle. They work in close collaboration with Barbados. It was early days for the Newport project and it was important to manage expectations – but key message for the audience was that we are going to have to do this by better use of existing resources; unlikely to be any extra funding.

They ask parents – what do you need? What can we do to help you access our services? Work with Swansea on the ‘cost/benefit’ analysis of this approach shows clear

Dr Freda Gardner of Orchard House then spoke about some initiatives that she was piloting. She pointed out that it was often simply a waste of resources to carry on ‘assessing’ parents who had not been able to access the therapy/intervention proposed in previous proceedings by the family courts. She suggested instead a new model – use the funds to provide some therapeutic intervention.

Not all parents could or would respond to intervention. But for some, a short period of focused intervention could bring about real change – for example, helping parents understand the need to be emotionally atuned to their child. This can be taught.

Then a powerful written piece from Surviving Safeguarding. She supported the need for intervention and preventative work but was very concerned by the requirement of Pause that women agree to take LARC as condition of getting access to services. She felt strongly that for vulnerable women who had faced control all their lives, this was simply another aspect of control and she was concerned at the implications this raised around State control of women’s bodies.

She was also concerned about the language used by some professionals – there was a risk that it would continue the ‘othering’ of such mothers and treating them as less than human.


Discussion with the audience

There was then discussion with the audience about the various issues raised by the speakers. There was exploration about the reasons why women had successive pregnancies – clearly an important driver for some would be the desperate wish to have a child they were allowed to keep.

Pause emphasised that the requirement for women to use LARC was not seen as some form of ‘control’ but to give women freedom from continuing adversarial care proceedings and to empower and educate them so that they could be able to parent in the future. However, judging from subsequent conversations on Twitter, this is clearly an issue which raises strong emotion, along with the need to use language with care in case it simply built up further barriers to engagement and communication.

There were some useful discussions about better support for parents who were often very hostile to and alienated by the court process. A suggestion was made that it would probably be cheaper in the long run to provide parents with their own social worker – the social worker for the child was unlikely to effectively advocate for and support parents.

The Designated Family Judge for Bristol, HHJ Wildblood QC raised three questions: Why has a Pause type model not been introduced in Bristol? Who will introduce it? And when? Bristol City Council confirmed that they were in the process of developing such a service and they would persist.

All recognised the importance of systemic work and recognising the networks around the parents.

It was a useful and though provoking evening and I am grateful for the energy and innovation of our DFJ to encourage these meetings and for use of the Bristol CJC.

4 thoughts on “Mothers in Re-current Care Proceedings – how do we break the cycle?

  1. Pingback: Court report | This Week in Fostering

  2. Pingback: Adoption: “Nothing else will do” and the impact of decisions much earlier in the child protection process about mental health assessments and provision of therapy | The Transparency Project

  3. cerise wheeler

    Could I please have details for the next meetng and Sarah phillimores contact details please?
    Many thanks.

    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      There is no other meeting planned, so far as I know, but we will probably want to discuss these issues at the CPConf2017 which this year will be in June at UWE and organised by Dr Lauren Devine. Hopefully we will be publicising this and offering tickets in the New Year, and I will publish more information about this on the website and on social media. You can reach me at [email protected]

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