Vulnerable birth mothers and recurrent care proceedings

This project is examining care proceedings cases in the family courts where mothers have had successive children removed from their care.  

We initially funded the team's feasibility study, which undertook a preliminary analysis of data held by the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) and identified a large proportion of mothers subject to repeat proceedings who are highly vulnerable and whose situations make exceptional demands on children’s services and the courts. In addition, where siblings enter care or are adopted at different points in time, there are particular complexities in terms of sibling placement and contact that are insufficiently understood.

The feasibility study established a provisional picture of national prevalence and we have now funded the team's in-depth study, which will use mixed methods to further explore this problem and consider what might be done. The study will comprise quantitative analysis of records relating to 46,094 birth mothers, 7,143 of whom are linked to recurrent care proceedings during the period 2007-2013.

In addition, the team will complete a case file review (430 cases) to better understand the characteristics and history of the cases, and in-depth qualitative interviews with 50 birth mothers ‘in recovery’. The over-arching aim of the project is to answer questions about what can be done to intercept this negative cycle.

Project details



Professor Karen Broadhurst, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, Lancaster University


Professor Judith Harwin (Brunel University)

Dr Mike Shaw (Tavistock and NHS Portman Trust)

Funding Programme

Children and Families

Grant amount and duration


November 2013 - April 2014 (feasibility study)


September 2014 - January 2018 (in-depth analysis)

Detailed project summary and project website


Connecting Events in Time to Identify a Hidden Population: birth mothers and their children in recurrent care proceedings in England, Karen Broadhurst, Bachar Alrouh, Emily Yeend, Judith Harwin, Mike Shaw, Mark Pilling, Claire Mason and Sophie Kershaw, December 2015

Research project summary

Project website (Lancaster University)

Media and publications

Professor Judith Harwin and Dr Bachar Alrouh, ‘New entrants and repeat children: continuity and change in care demand over time’ [April 2017] Fam Law 407

Professor Karen Broadhurst and Dr Stuart Bedston, ‘Women in recurrent care proceedings in England (2007–2016): Continuity and change in care demand over time’ [April 2017] Fam Law 412.

Birth Parents and the Collateral Consequences of Court-ordered Child Removal: towards a comprehensive framework, by Karen Broadhurst and Claire Mason, March 2017

Statement on findings of feasibility study, 23.06.14

'Thousands of mothers have multiple babies removed', BBC Today Programme feature, 23.06.14

'Capturing the scale and pattern of recurrent care proceedings: initial observations from a feasibility study', Family Law, 23.06.14