father care proceedings
Child law

Understanding fathers’ repeat appearances in care proceedings

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James Harbottle
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Understanding fathers’ repeat appearances in care proceedings

Fathers are often the forgotten figures in care proceedings, sadly sometimes quite literally. It is therefore essential that we find out more about their role, particularly where there are recurrent care proceedings involving the same family.

A welcome new piece of research seeks to provide answers. And the answers the research comes up with may not be entirely as many expect.


‘Up Against It’

Child Care Law Team
Sarah Hindle – Senior Solicitor – Head of Child Care Law Team

The study, tellingly entitled ‘Up Against It’, was undertaken by a partnership between the University of East Anglia and Lancaster University.

As the researchers explained: “There is some urgency to understand more about the high volume of recurrent care cases which, between 2007 and 2014, affected at least 43,500 mothers and 30,000 fathers. Studies … have generated a growing body of evidence about this vulnerable population of women, while in contrast, very little is known about fathers and the circumstances, extent and pattern of their repeat appearances in court and the subsequent outcome for their child. A key aim of this study has therefore been to bridge this gap in family justice knowledge about fathers and identify opportunities for policy and practice responses and development”.

The researchers analysed anonymised family court records for 73,140 fathers involved in care proceedings between 2010 and 2018. A survey of fathers in 18 local authorities was also completed, along with a qualitative study which followed the lives of 26 fathers involved in recurrent care proceedings, over a period of 6–12 months.


Key messages

The study came up with a number of ‘key messages’, including the following.father care proceedings

The first is not entirely surprising: that fathers had a lower rate of entering care proceedings than mothers. However, the percentage of cases in which the father was known and named as a party to the case (80%) is perhaps higher than some may imagine. This, as the researchers say, means that there are substantial numbers of fathers visible in applications for care proceedings, who therefore need assessment and, potentially, support.

And what of the other 20% of cases, where the father did not take part in the proceedings? The researchers speculate upon the reasons for this, which they say may include estrangement, uncertainty over paternity, or simply fathers becoming further removed from any local authority or court process after they separate from the mothers. Whatever, this is of course potentially to the detriment of the welfare of the children.

The next key message is certainly one that will come as a surprise to some. The researchers found that of the fathers who do return to court, three out of four (79%) do so with the same partner. The researchers say that this relationship continuity is contrary to notions of ‘feckless’ fathers, who move from relationship to relationship.

And what does the research tell us about the backgrounds of the fathers? Quite a lot.

Firstly, compared with fathers with a single appearance in care proceedings, recurrent fathers were more likely to have been looked after as a child (22%), to have experienced multiple childhood adversities (48%), to be unemployed (69%), and to be not living with their youngest child (44%).

Secondly, the researchers found that the majority of recurrent fathers had backgrounds characterised by “trauma, economic, social and emotional adversity and repeated loss.”  They said that support is needed to help fathers address the underlying causes of their difficulties and address relationship problems, past and present.

Recurrent fathers are vulnerable, they said – they may pose risks to the children arising from their vulnerabilities, but they should also be seen as at risk themselves.

Lastly, they found that recurrent fathers in the study “had few and fragile social, material and emotional resources for practical and emotional coping, or for implementing sustainable changes into their lives.”

The research clearly provides much food for thought. Hopefully, it will be used to improve outcomes, not just for these fathers, but ultimately for their children.


Legal adviceIan Walker team

If you are the father of a child who is the subject of involvement by social services then it is essential that you seek expert legal advice, at the earliest possible stage. Ian Walker Family Law and Mediation Solicitors can provide you with that advice. For further information, see this page.