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BLOG – postcode lottery for baby care orders

Feet of a newborn baby in the hands of parents. Happy Family oncept. Mum and Dad hug their baby’s legs.

Recently the BBC News published the alarming findings of a report obtained from Nuffield Family Justice Observatory about local authorities issuing proceedings on new born babies.

Sir James Munby, Chair of the Observatory, observing that there was a “deeply troubling postcode lottery,” for parents involved in care proceedings. He suggests that where you live could be a big factor in the outcome for you and your baby

The BBC refer to case studies of two women whose babies had been subject to care proceedings. One woman, “Jade”, reflects that she felt like “the scum of the earth” and like everyone was looking down on her when her baby was removed.

In the article, Jade goes onto say that she was shocked to be summoned to court just a few days after her baby was born. She had not yet physically recovered from giving birth, let alone had chance to prepare for her hearing.

According to the Nuffield report, a mother’s chances of having a care application made for her baby shortly after it is born are far greater in the north-east of England and Yorkshire, than in London.

A second woman referred to as “Taisa” from London shared her experiences. After caring for her newborn in hospital, the judge gave her the opportunity to go into a specialist mother and baby centre. Taisa stayed there for 6 months, and was able to take care of her son, who is still living with her now.

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Perhaps, Jade’s story might also have had a positive outcome had she been given an opportunity in a mother and baby placement. The suggestion from the report is had she lived in London she may have been.

The “post-code lottery” aspect of babies being taken into care gives real cause for concern. In the north-east of England, the number of newborns placed in care has risen from 34 per 10,000 births in 2012/13 to 83.1 per 10,000 in 2019/20.  This is particularly worrying given that The North East saw the UK’s biggest increase in child poverty from 2014/15 to 2019/20, with 37% of children living in poverty over the three years prior to the Covid-19 pandemic. With the economic problems of the pandemic far from over, and the links between poverty and depravation leading to social problems and family breakdown widely acknowledged , there is a concern that the victims of this post-code lottery of inequality will be the country’s most vulnerable families and children.

The test for removing a child from a parents’ care is a high one. The local authority must prove that the child’s physical safety or psychological or emotional welfare demands removal and that it is a necessary and proportionate response to the risks that would arise if it did not occur. The court will want to know whether there is anything that could be available that might remove the need for interim removal. This legal test is the same whether you live in Northumberland or Land’s End

What the Nuffield report shows is that if the local authority are involved during your pregnancy (with a child protection plan in place or a pre birth assessment being undertaken) getting legal advice early is essential. It will ensure you are ready if the local authority are intending to issue at birth of your child.

Read the original BBC story in full here