The report – ‘Born into care: One thousand mothers in care proceedings in Wales’ – challenges the assumption that mothers who become involved with children’s services avoid or delay interaction with antenatal services. The study found that almost two-thirds (63%) had made contact by the end of the first trimester of pregnancy.

The research was carried out by the Family Justice Data Partnership, a collaboration between Lancaster University and Swansea University, with Cafcass and Cafcass Cymru as integral stakeholders. It is funded by the Nuffield Family Justice Observatory (Nuffield FJO), providing it with ground-breaking analysis about the family justice system. ADR Wales facilitated and supported the acquisition and process of obtaining the Cafcass and Cafcass Cymru data for research.

It is the first project to link family court records to maternity and health data in Wales, and was made possible by analysing core family justice and linked datasets in Swansea University’s SAIL Databank (Secure Anonymised Information Linkage), where the availability of the Cafcass data opens up a range of research possibilities to better understand, provide evidence and ultimately improve the lives of those involved in the family justice system.

It also shows that the number of infants in Wales appearing in care proceedings at birth, or in the first year of life, is increasing, and there is growing recognition that parents need to be supported pre-birth if these numbers are to be reduced.

​’Born into care: One thousand mothers in care proceedings in Wales’ focused on over 1,000 birth mothers whose babies appeared in care proceedings before their first birthday, looking back at maternal health and well-being in and before pregnancy, interaction with maternity services, and birth outcomes.

The research revealed that mothers with babies at risk of being taken into care in Wales are more vulnerable to health and wellbeing issues prior to and/or during pregnancy compared to other pregnant women in the general population.

The latest report highlights the need and the opportunities for early intervention and enhanced support in the pre-birth period. It suggests that mental health should be given greater priority in all children’s social care pre-birth assessments and that more action needs to be taken to address maternal substance use and smoking during pregnancy. Consultations to discuss the report’s findings with health and social care professionals will be ongoing.

Dr Lucy Griffiths, of Swansea University, lead author of the report, said: “Welsh policy makers and practitioners require an evidence-informed picture of families involved in the family justice system in order to tailor services more closely to their needs, and to make the best decisions. Previously, very little was known about mothers in care proceedings in terms of their overall health and well-being before or during pregnancy, pregnancy outcomes, engagement with antenatal services or age profiles.

“This report, the third in the ‘Born into care’ series, provides a better understanding of their needs and vulnerabilities, and will help guide the intervention that might be needed. It also sets the scene for more in-depth analyses; further insights on child and maternal health soon after birth and in the longer term are needed, especially given evidence that a history of mental health during pregnancy, as well as substance use, can increase the risk of poorer child outcomes.”

Prof David Ford, Professor of Informatics, Co-Director of the Family Justice Data Partnership and ADR Wales Co-Director said:​​ “This report, another series of research studies aimed at better understanding the family justice system in England and Wales, demonstrated the remarkable new insights that can be gained by linking data from justice and health systems. The SAIL Databank, working in partnership with Lancaster University, and supported by the Nuffield Foundation, is committed to using data, safely and securely, to permit research that has never been possible before. We hope this report and others that follow, will make a significant contribution to future policy and practices.”

“Born into care: One thousand mothers in care proceedings in Wales’ follows the Family Justice Data Partnership’s ‘Born into Care: Wales’ report, published in October last year, which revealed the scale and rising numbers of babies subject to care proceedings in Wales, notably in the first year of life. It promoted questions about the reasons behind these increases, and what could be done to prevent infants being removed from their mothers’ care.

You can download the full report, ‘Born into care: One thousand mothers in care proceedings in Wales‘, on the Swansea University Population Data Science website.

The Family Justice Data Partnership team at Swansea University includes: Prof David Ford, Prof Kerina Jones, Dr Lucy Griffiths, Rhodri Johnson, Ashley Akbari, Alex Lee, Jonathan Smart, and Simon Thompson.

This research was covered by The Guardian and the BBC.