Social workers will be given new guidance on removing newborns from their parents for child protection reasons.
The decision comes after a review of pre-birth assessment and infant removal at birth by the Nuffield Family Justice Observatory (NFJO) identified gaps in social workers’ legal knowledge and inconsistencies in practice.
When safeguarding concerns for an unborn child are raised, local authorities and related agencies can intervene during pregnancy to assess the risk to the infant following birth and address any issues by providing tailored support to the parents.
However, if the local authority determines that it would not be safe for the newborn to remain with the parents, action may be taken to remove the baby.
The inquiries found that not enough time was being dedicated to pre-birth assessments, meaning families were not given enough time to implement changes that could potentially avoid the need for the baby to be removed.
The NFJO also said that misunderstanding of the legal framework and failure to follow due process was leading to injustices which were causing ‘acute pain and stress’ to both families and practitioners.
A spokesman for the NFJO said that, in light of the issues raised and the limited national guidance or training available for professionals, it will develop the first national, evidence-informed good practice guidelines for professionals involved in the process of removing newborn babies from their mother at birth for child protection reasons.
The guidelines will be developed over the next 18 months by researchers at Lancaster University and the Rees Centre at the University of Oxford, led by Professor Karen Broadhurst. The team will be working closely with health and social work professionals and birth parents.
The guidelines will then be piloted in eight local authorities and health trusts during a six-month period and used in at least 30 child protection cases involving newborn babies.
The review comes after the NFJO’s 2018 Born Into Care study revealed that the number of newborn babies being subjected to care proceedings in England had more than doubled in the last decade, going from 1,039 in 2007 to 2,447 in 2017. With the biggest increases evident in the North East, North West and South West of England, which the NFJO said reinforces the need to test the guidelines in different areas of the country.
Lisa Harker, director of the Nuffield Family Justice Observatory said the NFJO wanted the guidelines to be adopted by local authorities, health authorities, the police and the judiciary throughout England and Wales. She said:
‘Over the past decade, there has been a sharp rise in infants in care proceedings, with marked regional variation in the number of cases.
‘In this context, the Nuffield Family Justice Observatory is working in partnership with local authorities to understand the reasons behind these increases and variations, and to support the development of good practice.’
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