Up Against It: Fathers in Care Proceedings

A recent study in collaboration between the University of East Anglia and Lancaster University funded by the Nuffield Foundation in its early findings has found early indicators for the need for a whole-family, gender-sensitive services with recurrent parents.

The research by Professor Marian Brandon and Professor Karen Broadhurst was taken between August 2017 – June 2020 and conducted in partnership with 22 local authorities and their respective Local Family Justice Boards, building on two recent studies about Fathers’ experiences of child protection and Mothers in recurrent care proceedings.

In England, an increasing number of parents return to the family court as repeat respondents in care proceedings and lose successive children from their care. Despite considerable progress in understanding the trends and patterns of mothers’ (re)appearances in care proceedings, knowledge of fathers and of parents’ family relationships in recurrent care proceedings remains very limited. Fathers have legal party status in approximately 70% of s.31 proceedings each year, this is a sizeable population, about whom we know very little. This study aims to address this gap by building on two recently completed ground-breaking studies also funded by the Nuffield Foundation; firstly of fathers’ experiences of child protection (Brandon, Philip and Clifton, 2017) and secondly: mothers in recurrent care proceedings (Broadhurst, Mason, Bedston et al 2017).

The analysis of the Cafcass data produced ground-breaking insights including the first estimate of fathers in recurrent proceedings. The research uncovered gender and life-course dynamics of recurrent parents and produced important insights about the significance of couple relationships for understanding recurrence. For example, the research found that unlike recurrent mothers, recurrent fathers are most likely to return to court with the same partner, leading to early finding indicators suggesting a need for whole-family, gender-sensitive services with recurrent parents.

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