Infant removals executive summary

Executive Summary

Infant removals: Working with families to prevent recurrent proceedings, 19 April

This seminar was hosted jointly by Research in Practice, Pause and the Centre for Child and Family Justice Research, based on work in the community of practice funded by Segelman Trust. The programme presented a broad-based appeal for developing targeted services for parents who have had children removed by the state, including contributions from researchers, practitioners, local leaders, and mothers with lived experience of such services.

Chair’s introduction: Susannah Bowyer, Assistant Director, Research in Practice

Building on the work undertaken within the supporting parents community of practice, this event brought together different forms of evidence that make a compelling case for providing specialist services for parents who have had children removed from their care. Evaluation and impact studies show how these targeted services work to reduce the number of parents going through proceedings with successive children, while testimonies from parents who have drawn on such services illustrate how such support can be life changing.

Preventing recurrent care proceedings: the case for change

Professor Karen Broadhurst, Centre for child and family justice research Lancaster University

Prof. Broadhurst presented findings from the review she led which looked at the outcomes of 96,457 mothers in proceedings in England and Wales over the preceding ten years. The analysis showed that:

  • One in four mothers are at risk of returning to court after their first set of proceedings.
  • This likelihood of returning to court is highest for young mothers. Over 40% of mothers returning to court were aged 14-19 at the time of the first birth.
  • The likelihood of returning to court is greatest in the first three years and increases after the first return to court.
  • 83% (England) and 84% (Wales) of recurrent care cases concerned babies.
  • There are significant regional differences in rates of recurrence: the North East, the Midlands, Yorkshire and the Humber and the North West have the highest rates and London the lowest.

Population-level analysis shows the intersecting vulnerabilities experienced by parents who have more than one child removed by the state:

  • The very young mothers involved in recurrent care proceedings are likely to go on to have more children.
  • Care leavers are overrepresented in this cohort, raising the question of the responsibility of the state as ‘corporate grandparents’ to the children of care-experience people.
  • Motherhood is often a valued aspect of identify and source of social capital, particularly for women disenfranchised by other factors in their lives. When children are removed, for many mothers this is replaced by grief, loss, shame and stigma.
  • Data shows clearly that statutory involvement in family lives tends to be concentrated in deprived and marginalised communities. This often has a negative impact on the relationship between citizens and the state, leading to distrust of services.

These factors combine to make recovery after child removal a challenging prospect for many parents.

Prof. Broadhurst called for increased funding and equitable national development of services for parents in this position. The multiple human and economic costs involved in separating children from their parents are substantial, the likelihood of recurrence is high, and the costs to the state of substitute care are compounded by successive children entering into the system. Despite the challenging picture presented in these statistics, evaluation evidence from specialist services working with parents shows positive change in a high proportion of cases. These services typically offer intensive support to stabilise parents, therapeutic help and support to engage with physical, sexual and mental health services. While the evidence base is still emerging (as Claire Mason’s evaluation overview below), the message from this body of research is that parents greatly benefit from specialist support services post-proceedings, leading to lower rates of recurrence. One area for further service support and research is on fathers’ experiences after proceedings.

Prof. Broadhurst finished by asserting the need to expand services and develop interdisciplinary working between agencies, and the pressing need for national social policy to address the persistent issues of poverty and insecurity which feed into the vulnerability of women, eroding protective factors and causing distress to families.

Further reading: Services for parents who have experienced recurrent care proceedings: Where are we now? Findings from mapping of locally developed services in England (2021).

Interview: mothers with experience of targeted services

Karina Graham, Involvement Assistant at Pause recorded video interviews with two women who have been supported by services, April and Stacey-Ann. They discussed what the impact the services made in their lives and why they think this support should be made available to all parents.

Where would you have been without the support of the services?

‘The social worker that was once family, then is no longer family as soon as the children are in their care. It’s just yourself.’


‘Without [Foundations] I wouldn’t have had my little boy, who I have been able to keep in my care…who is doing so well because of the support I got’. April


How are these services different from others you have worked with?

'this [service] is solely for yourself, to look at the trauma… and help you unload that stuff that’s all stacked up’. Stacey-Ann


‘It’s all done on your own time … it teaches you how to be a good person’. April

Local leaders on commissioning services

Shema Begum – Strategic Commissioning Manager, Camden
Laura Eden – Director of Safeguarding, Islington
Andrea Walters – Head of Service, Bradford
Julie Longworth – Director for Children and Families, Leeds
Rebecca Key - Director of Children’s Social Care and Principal Social Worker, Stockport

A group of local leaders who commission services for parents after proceedings discussed what led them to commission the service, what persuades them to keep funding it and what the added value is for the local system.

Their discussion raised some common themes across the organisations represented. The services had been commissioned in response to unmet needs of parents post-proceedings and the observation that some parents were caught in a cycle of repeated removals. Wider research on children born into care highlights that there is a persistent problem here that statutory services were not managing to address. The discussion covered both the ethical imperative to provide a service and the potential cost savings involved.

All of the leaders reported a decrease in the numbers of women eligible for the services over time, as services are diverting women from future proceedings. There are many positive testimonials of women going on to keep children in their care, which speaks to the moral case for services. The added value for the local system is manifold: parents are given the opportunity to develop their skills and life chances, while professionals are skilled-up and increasingly connected with support services for drug use, housing and mental health. There is a sense of a renewed commitment to keeping families together, to overcoming adversity and to the chance of reunification, which while rare can be made possible through intensive support. 

Understanding the communities we work with: ethnicity and diversity

Ellen Marks, Director of Practice and Learning, Pause

Since inception in 2013, Pause has worked nationally with 1157 graduates, with between them 3368 children taken into care. About 40% are care experienced. About 70% of graduates who have gone on to have children after the programme have been able to keep their child in their care and a small number have had their children returned to their care.

Pause’s commitment to becoming an anti-racist organisation has led them to analyse ethnicity data and the extent to which local communities’ diversity is represented in women who access the programme. National data shows the population in England and Wales as 82% white, while the child in care population is 74% white, demonstrating the over-representation of global majority children in the care system. Pause women are 90% white and the ethnicities of women do not always reflect that of the general population of the local areas where Pause works. However, looking at the cohort of women who are in a cycle of recurrent proceedings with successive babies, Pause participants’ ethnicities do reflect this population. 

The cost of doing nothing

Kate Tilley, Director of Business Development, Pause

The annual costs of statutory children’s services in the UK is £8.2 billion, £1.1 billion of which is spent on care proceedings. The Department for Education (DfE) funded evaluation of Pause (Boddy et al., 2020) showed reduced numbers of babies coming into care and the significant savings this involves for the local system. The number of infants entering care was reduced by an average of 14.4 children per year per local authority in areas with Pause. Pause estimates that for every £1 spent on the working with these parents, £4.50 is saved over 4 years, and £7.61 over 18 years.  The evaluation also showed improved relationships with birth parents for children already in the care system – difficult to put an economic cost against but with significant impact on people’s lives. Support from Pause made significant improvements in key aspects of women’s lives:

  • Improved housing and financial security
  • Increased engagement in education, employment and specialist services
  • Reduction in crime and in serious crime
  • Improved emotional wellbeing and reductions in psychological distress
  • Improved life satisfaction, from lowest 5% to approaching population average.

Graduates also reported improvements in their personal relationships and their relationships with services.

York Consulting’s 2022 report allowed Pause to think about some of these changes in terms of money saved by the local system as a result of investing in working with these parents.

Category of cost saving

Average saving per woman

Reduction in Class A drug use


Reduction in non-Class A drug use


Reduction in alcohol consumption


Reduced risk of domestic violence


Moving from state funded accommodation


Avoided eviction


Reduction in arrests


Reduction in A&E visits


Moving into paid work/employment


Improved mental health


Impact of recurrent care services: the emerging evidence

Claire Mason, Centre for Child and Family Justice Research, Lancaster University

The evidence base on targeted services for parents post-proceedings is emergent and varied. Small, locally developed services lack the infrastructure to collect and analyse data in the way that the DfE-funded national evaluation of Pause enabled. Local services have a range of funding structures, eligibility criteria and local imperatives to respond to, so provide different kinds of support and collect data accordingly.

Nevertheless, a growing body of evidence shows that service provision for parents after proceedings has been linked to:

  • Reduction in newborns in proceedings or entering care
  • Reduced number of parents who experience recurrent care proceedings. At the same time, wider societal and systemic factors have driven up the volume of care proceedings overall, and the availability of these services is by far not national or equitable.
  • Increased access to and uptake of contraception
  • Improvements in wellbeing, housing stability, trust and engagement with other services

Case studies from three local services illustrate locally collected outcome data:

  • Futures, Leeds: Established in 2018. Evaluation shows the service has led to increased uptake of contraception and pregnancy planning, significant improvements in mental health outcome measures, Improved access to health, housing, education, training and work, reduced use of ‘crisis services’, 77% of participants have had no further pregnancy or proceedings.

  • Foundations, East Sussex: Established in 2014. Prior to the service launch, local data analysis showed 70% of women in proceedings in the year 2011-12 had had a previous child removed from their care. By 2023, only 6% of mothers in receipt of the Foundations service went on to enter proceedings for a subsequent child. Foundations has an assertive sexual health offer as part of their service.

  • Strengthening families, Salford: Outcomes evaluation of families referred to the service between 2014-17 show decreased partner abuse, improved housing stability and reduced substance misuse. Of babies born in 2022 to mothers who have accessed the service, 12 of 13 have remained at home.

While there is a need for a systematic review of data and consideration of how to achieve some core common data items and measures across local services, the data analysis couples with testimonial evidence to make a convincing case for providing and developing targeted services for parents post proceedings.

Related seminar resources

Together with the executive summary, key messages from each of the presentations are available to watch. View recordings.


Video presentations, slides, published papers and other documents. Including resources developed by parents.
View all