For those of you who would like to read this, but are having difficulty in obtaining it, here it is; consider it my good deed for the day. .  Lucy Reed, in her blog Pink Tape has written about the difficulty in people being able to obtain access to this bulletin.

Family Justice Knowledge Hub – Research Bulletin

New and forthcoming research and analysis for the Family Justice System

 Bulletin 2 – February 2013

  Welcome to the second bulletin from the Family Justice Knowledge Hub

 What is the aim of Knowledge Hub?

 A number of recommendations in the Family Justice Review related to the need to better disseminate relevant research and good practice throughout the Family Justice System. The Government Response to the review accepted these recommendations and committed to work with the Family Justice Board to facilitate the provision of social research evidence to family justice practitioners and wider stakeholders.

Ministry of Justice (MoJ) Analytical Services is supporting this through developing the Family Justice Knowledge Hub.

One aspect of this is to collate and disseminate the latest research news, whether conducted on behalf of government departments, local authorities, research bodies or other organisations.  Recipients of this bulletin are welcome to forward to others to help facilitate the dissemination of knowledge across the Family Justice System.

What can you expect from the Knowledge Hub Research Bulletin?

The Knowledge Hub Research Bulletin aims to provide a summary of the findings of recent research relevant to family justice, and an update on the progress of noteworthy ongoing and forthcoming projects. Where available links to fuller information are provided.

This second bulletin focuses on public law and includes studies on child maltreatment and child development, residential care and adoption. It also includes summaries of recent studies around parental contact after separation.

How can you get in touch?

We would appreciate your feedback on this bulletin. Additionally, if you would like to suggest any research for inclusion in future bulletins or to add a recipient on to the mailing list please get in touch at knowledgehub@justice.gsi.gov.uk

NB. While MoJ Analytical Services will apply discretion in assessing the relevance of material included, inclusion in the Knowledge Hub Research Bulletin does not mean the research is endorsed by the MoJ. The information included is not intended as an official view of the MoJ or a reflection of MoJ policy. Note that where research included here has been through an independent peer review process this is indicated in the Bulletin.



Maltreatment and child development

The contribution of experts’ reports

Residential care

Returning home from care



Contact and residence orders

Parental contact after separation


Update on ongoing or forthcoming research projects

Public Family Law

Parental capacity

The role of experts

Children’s guardians

Maltreatment of looked after children


Private Family Law

Shared parenting

Parental conflict

News Update



Maltreatment and child development

Davies, C. and Ward, H. (2011) Safeguarding Children Across Services: Messages from Research on Identifying and Responding to Child Maltreatment. Safeguarding Children Research Initiative. Department for Education

Funder(s):  Department for Education and Department of Health

Report:  Department for Education

Peer Review Status: an Advisory and Implementation Group reviewed the content of the review; the final report  was reviewed by  academic peer reviewers  before publication

Related Journal Articles: in preparation

The study is a review of key messages from fifteen studies on child maltreatment. The aims of the review were to identify how children might be better safeguarded in three key areas:

•             Identification and initial response to abuse and neglect.

•             Effective interventions after abuse have been identified.

•             Effective inter-agency and inter-disciplinary working.

The study found:

•             The long-term impact of abuse and neglect on children’s life chances is not sufficiently recognised and interventions can be indecisive and delayed.

•             The neglect of adolescents often goes un-noticed; stronger links are needed between professionals in adult mental health, substance abuse, intimate partner violence and those in children’s services.

•             There are some high quality interventions to address the needs of maltreating parents and their children. However, these are usually of short duration, and maltreating parents usually require continuing support to prevent relapse.

•             There is a lack of evidence-based services to address intimate partner violence.

•             Outcomes for children tend to be better when social workers are proactive, including careful assessment and planning and proactive case management.

•             The majority of maltreated children who are looked after by local authorities do better in terms of wellbeing and stability than those who remain at home.

•             There is insufficient agreement and clarity over thresholds for referral to children’s social care and proceedings in family courts.

•             More support is needed for families where there are concerns or suspicions that parents or carers may be likely to harm their children when they fall just below the threshold for referral.


Brown, R. and Ward H. (2012) Decision Making Within A Child’s Timeframe. Childhood Wellbeing Research Centre.

Funder(s):   Department for Education with support from the Family Justice Council

Report:  Childhood Wellbeing Research Centre

Peer Review Status: Peer reviewed by the project steering group and by academic experts

Related Journal Articles: in preparation

The aim of this Department for Education funded study was to bring together key research evidence to facilitate understanding among professionals working in the family justice system in the following areas:

•             Neuroscience perspectives on children’s cognitive, social and emotional development.

•             The implications of maltreatment on childhood and adulthood wellbeing.

•             Evidence on the outcomes of intervention by the courts and children’s social care.

•             Timeframes for intervening and how they fit (or don’t) with those for children.

The methodology included both a literature search of peer reviewed research and collation of expert knowledge. A total of 482 papers were identified and examined. Key findings included:

•             Children growing up with parents experiencing mental illness, learning disability, substance abuse and domestic violence are at greater risk of being maltreated.

•             Protective factors, such as a non-abusive partner, supportive extended family, parents’ ability to understand the problems and their willingness to engage with services can reduce the likelihood of maltreatment.

•             Healthy child development depends on the child’s relationships, particularly with their primary carer.

•             The process of attachment begins at birth; four attachment styles can develop: secure; insecure ambivalent; insecure avoidant; disorganised.

•             Up to 80% of children brought up in neglectful or abusive households develop disorganised attachment styles.

•             Much of the child brain and central nervous system develops after birth, within the first three years of life; negative experiences and insufficient stimulation adversely impact on the construction of neural connections and cognitive and social development.

•             There is a short window of opportunity for certain types of development; if the experiences upon which they depend do not occur within a predetermined timeframe, children will not move to the next stage of development.

•             Exposure to domestic violence and/or parental substance misuse in utero can have a long-term negative impact on the unborn child.

•             Neglected infants may experience chronic exposure to toxic stress as their needs fail to be met; exposure to toxic stress in early childhood can cause permanent damage to the brain and have severe, long-term consequences for future learning, health and behaviour.

•             The birth of a baby is often a catalyst for change; children who remain with parents who have not made substantial changes within a few months from birth may continue to experience maltreatment for lengthy periods.

•             There is a tendency in social work for delays to occur once a temporary solution has been found and the pressure to resolve a crisis is over.

•             On average care proceedings take a year to complete. Causes of delay include: resource issues, waiting for parenting assessments to be completed and results of placements with parents to be obtained, resolution of disputes and changes of plan, repeated assessments of birth parents or relatives, use of experts.

•             There is a stark contrast between the frequency of parenting assessments and the paucity of paediatric assessments to assess the impact of abuse and neglect on children’s development.

•             Most children placed for adoption are aged two or above; however, babies who are placed for adoption before their first birthdays are most likely to form secure attachments with new carers.


Ward, H., Brown, R. and Westlake, D. (2012) Safeguarding Babies and Very Young Children From Abuse and Neglect. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Funder(s):   Department for Education

Report:  Department for Education

Peer Review Status: Peer reviewed by academic experts at both the research proposal and the final report  stages

Related Journal Articles: Department for Education briefing paper

This prospective study explored the decision-making process that influenced the life pathways and developmental progress of a sample of very young children who were identified as suffering, or likely to suffer, significant harm before their first birthdays and were then followed until they were three.

The study took place in ten local authorities and focused on a sample of 57 children who were the subject of a core assessment, section 47 enquiry or became looked after before their first birthdays; 43 were followed until they were three. The study used a mixed methods design. Data concerning children’s life experiences, evidence of need, reasons for referral and changes of circumstances were collected from case files.  In depth, case specific interviews were held at regular intervals with birth parents, carers, social workers and team leaders and, where appropriate, with children’s guardians. Non case-specific interviews were held with senior managers, judges, magistrates and local authority solicitors, and focus groups were held with health visitors.

Key findings include:

•             Parents showed a high prevalence of drug and alcohol misuse, intimate partner violence and mental health problems that are known to be associated with an increased risk of children suffering significant harm;

•             About twenty mothers out of fifty three had already been separated from at least one older child before the birth of the index child.

•             Thirty two out of forty three of the infants were identified as at risk before birth and a further seventeen before their first birthday.

•             Neglect was the most common form of maltreatment, often compounded by exposure to intimate partner violence. About a third of the children were maltreated in utero. However, despite the presence of considerable risk factors, for nineteen out of forty three children there was no evidence that they had been maltreated by the time they were three.

•             By age three, sixteen children were adequately safeguarded and were living with their birth parents; twelve children were not adequately safeguarded and were living with parents at medium, high or severe risk of harm; fifteen children were safeguarded through permanent separation from abusive or neglectful parents.

•             After infants were six months old there was increasingly less likelihood that the outcomes of parenting assessments would be positive or that parents would succeed in overcoming their difficulties.

•             By their third birthdays sixteen out of twenty eight children were displaying developmental problems or showing signs of significant behavioural difficulties: aggression and speech problems were prominent.


Ward, H., Brown, R. and Maskell-Graham, D. (2012) Infants Suffering, or Likely to Suffer, Significant Harm: Experiences on Entering Education. London: Department for Education.

Funder(s):   Department for Education

Report:  Department for Education

Peer Review Status: Peer reviewed by academic experts at both the research proposal and the final report stages

Related Journal Articles: Department for Education briefing paper

This study traced the decision-making process influencing the life pathways of very young children identified as suffering, or likely to suffer, significant harm before they reached their first birthdays. The overall objective was to collect evidence which supports decisions concerning which children require permanent out of home placements (such as adoption) and which can safely remain with birth parents.

A sample of 57 children from 10 local authorities was originally recruited to the study; 43 were traced from birth until their third birthdays. Their experiences and those of their birth parents, carers and key professionals formed the basis of a major report (see Ward, Brown Westlake 2012 above). Thirty seven of the original 57 children were then traced up to their fifth birthdays. This study examined the experiences of the children as they entered their first year of formal education. Key findings from the study were as follows:

•             By the time the children were three, roughly one third of their parents had seemingly addressed issues such as substance misuse and domestic violence which were undermining their parenting capacity. However, by the time they were five, the home circumstances of almost half of these children had deteriorated. In all of these cases the mothers had started new, or re-established old, violent relationships which increased the likelihood that their children would suffer significant harm.

•             Although there was clear evidence that roughly one third of children had suffered, or were likely to suffer, significant harm at some stage between their third and fifth birthdays, none of the children became the subjects of care proceedings during this period, nor were any newly accommodated by the local authority.

•             Just under one third of the children had been permanently separated from their birth parents by the age of three; however at least four placements were showing signs of considerable strain and were on the verge of breaking down at around the time of their fifth birthdays.

•             By the time they were five, almost half of the children were showing signs of emotional and behavioural difficulties, and these were undermining their progress at school. At least four children were displaying very severe behavioural disturbance, such as self-harm. One child had been excluded from pre-school.

•             The majority of the children’s nurseries or schools had adopted a child and family welfare approach, regarding it as their role to safeguard children both at home and at school. Those that adopted an educational attainment approach focused more on achieving high academic standards and safeguarding children within the school. Some children were receiving exceptionally high levels of support from their primary schools, but this was not integrated into an inter-agency plan and was unlikely to be maintained when they moved to a new class or a different school.

Biehal, N. (2012) Parent Abuse By Young People on the Edge of Care: A Child Welfare Perspective. Social Policy and Society, 11:2, 251-263.

Funder(s):   Department of Health

Report:  Report to Department of Health

Peer Review Status: Peer reviewed by Department of Health research liaison group

Related Journal Articles: Biehal, N. (2008) ‘Preventive services for adolescents: exploring the process of change’, British Journal of Social Work, 38, 3, pp 444-461; Biehal, N. (2005) ‘Working with adolescents at risk of out of home care: the effectiveness of specialist teams’, Children and Youth Services Review, 27,9, pp. 1045-1059

This study focused on 112 young people aged eleven to sixteen who were reported to be violent to their parents. The parents were receiving family support interventions by social workers. Semi-structured interviews were undertaken with young people and parents and postal questionnaires completed by social workers.

The study aimed to report on parent abuse, the characteristics, histories and circumstances of the young people and their families and examined predictors of parent abuse. The study found that:

•             The majority of those reporting abuse in the sample were mothers (82%).

•             Young people who were violent to their parents were as likely to be female or male.

•             Most young people were violent beyond the family to other children and teachers.

•             The majority of young people who were violent to their parents were living with their mothers, often lone mothers.

•             Nearly half the parents reporting abuse by their children also reported continuing conflicts with current or former partners and domestic violence.

•             Abused parents hardly ever set boundaries to their children’s behaviour and were themselves lacking confidence to set limits and suffering from depression or substance abuse.

•             Social workers reported that about a third of young people who abused parents had experienced past maltreatment.

•             Many young people and parents were found to have mental health problems. Many parents reported that they had first been concerned about their child’s behaviour before the age of five.



The contribution of experts’ reports

Tucker, J., Moorhead, R. and Doughty, J., (2011) Evaluation of the Alternative Commissioning of Experts Pilot. Legal Services Commission (LSC).

Funder(s): Legal Services Commission

Report:  Legal Services Commission

Peer Review Status: peer reviewed

Related Journal Articles: none

The study, commissioned by the Legal Services Commission, evaluated a pilot of the proposal in the Chief Medical Officer’s report ‘Bearing Good Witness’ (2006) engaging six multi-disciplinary teams to provide expert witness services in care proceedings.

In particular, the pilot was intended to ascertain whether multi-disciplinary teams would address:

•             the severe shortage of health professionals prepared to give evidence in the family courts and the consequent problem that most of the health professionals currently acting as expert witnesses are so busy that they are unable to complete cases within a reasonable timescale; and

•             the requirement for the NHS to take a more active role in the provision of health expert witnesses in line with its duty under the Children Act 2004 to safeguard and promote the welfare of children.

Lack of awareness of the pilot, the short duration of the pilot and concerns about the implications of team-based expert witness services all inhibited take-up. Although only a small number of cases were put through the pilot, this study provided some key learning points on multi-disciplinary teams. These are highlighted below:

             Judicial leadership assisted take-up;

             The concept of multi-disciplinary working was highly regarded by clinicians, children’s guardians, lawyers, judges and local authorities;

             The quality assurance provided through mutual support, the capacity of teams to identify the need for additional assessments and their ability to make informed recommendations about care planning specific to local resources were all highly valued;

             Although proper evaluation of the true cost of multi-disciplinary teams providing expert witness services was not possible given the small number of cases in the pilot, participants generally reported the potential for improved value for money and reduce cost to the legal and care systems;

             The low take up raises issues regarding the viability of multi-disciplinary teams as not all in the pilot had been well supported by NHS Trusts which have not developed a commitment to expert witness provision;

             A review of the letters of instruction provided in the pilot suggests that there was often delay in providing the letter to the expert and that the questions asked did not always focus on the key issues in the case.



Residential care

Berridge, D., Biehal, N., Lutman, E., Henry, L. and Palomares, P. (2011) Raising the Bar. Evaluation of the Social Pedagogy Pilot Programme in Residential Children’s Homes. Department for Education.

Funder(s):  Department for Education

Report:  Department for Education

Peer Review Status:   Reviewed by Department for Education

Related Journal Articles: None

In Care Matters: Time for Change (2007) the Government outlined a commitment to fund a pilot programme for the introduction of social pedagogy into English children’s residential homes. The term social pedagogy refers to social education, or education in the widest sense. It is an approach to working with vulnerable groups, rather than a specific intervention, that is widely used in a number of other European countries. Social pedagogy has a broad focus on personal growth, development, social functioning, participation and social inclusion. It is a reflexive approach informed by theory and understanding of self, an emphasis on the centrality of relationships and the use of practical and creative skills to engage children and promote their development.

Building on previous work evaluating training in the pedagogic approach, programme coordinators at the Thomas Coram Research Unit (TCRU) aimed to test social pedagogy in the English context. The DCSF provided funding to recruit trained pedagogues from Denmark, Germany, Flanders and Belgium. The programme was funded for two years from 2009-11 with 30 homes recruited in four study groups to compare different methods of implementation:

•             Group 1 – 4 homes that already employed social pedagogues prior to the introduction of the pilot programme

•             Group 2 – 8 homes where social pedagogues were employed to fill vacancies during the course of the pilot

•             Group 3 – 6 homes where social pedagogues where employed to work part-time in a consultancy capacity

•             Group 4 – 12 comparison homes with no social pedagogies

A survey was completed by residential staff to compare the background and histories of young people in the four groups and the outcomes measured as progress of the young people in the four groups of homes in a follow-up seven months later. Aggregate data were also collected over an 18 month period to compare patterns for young people in the four groups on a range of key outcomes. A smaller group of 12 homes were subject to more intense scrutiny (nine homes which employed SPs and three comparison homes) including observations and interviews with heads of homes, SPs, staff and young people.

Key objectives were to:

•             Describe and compare the effectiveness of three different methods of implementing social pedagogy.

•             Compare quality of care and outcomes for children in homes with SPs and homes without them.

•             Investigate the factors that maximise the likelihood of successful adoption of a pedagogic approach and lessons learned.

•             Explore views of living and working in homes with SPs

Key findings included:

•             Overall, most managers, heads of homes and SPs felt that residential practices had benefited from SPs presence and that practices had improved.

•             However, no significant difference in outcomes between homes with SPs and homes in the control group was found; comparisons were complicated by the rapidly changing groups of residents in residential homes.

•             Dissatisfaction emerged from many SPs about their involvement in the pilot and the contribution that they were expected and able to make.

•             Residents expressed mixed views on the homes they lived in; overall they were mostly happy with the experience and support provided but no differences were reported between homes with SPs and homes without them.

•             Success stories seemed to be linked to individual skills and attributes of some senior SPs and their ability to build relationships with residents.


Berridge, D., Biehal, N. and Henry, L. (2012) Living in Children’s Residential Homes. Department for Education.

Funder(s):  Department for Education

Report:  Department for Education

Peer Review Status:   Reviewed by Department for Education

Related Journal Articles: None

The study focused on a purposive sub-sample of 16 residential homes, including some from the sample used in previous research (Raising the Bar, Berridge, Biehal et al, 2011) to understand the nature of children residential homes, characteristics and circumstances of the young people who live in them and their short-term outcomes.

The study found that:

•             The average age of residents was 15½ years.

•             Residents could be very challenging; short-term outcomes for residents were mixed, including offending and engaging in risky behaviour.

•             Residential homes accommodated a diverse group including emergency and longer stay admissions (average was 10 months).

•             Staff had low levels of professional qualifications.

•             Only about half the homes studied provided a consistently warm and caring environment.

•             Young people were mainly complimentary about the residential experience and the support provided by staff.

Implications for policy and practice:

•             Residential care staff should ensure that they provide high degrees of interaction with young people.

•             Managing residents’ behaviour can be challenging and staff need to be supported to address any episodes of anti-social behaviour.

•             Residential homes need to better engage with colleges and career advisory services, as many residents are age 16 years or over.

•             Children’s residential care homes are under-professionalised despite caring for very challenging young people.



Returning home from care

Thoburn, J., Robinson, J. and Anderson, B. (2012). Returning Children Home From Public Care. Social care Institute for Excellence. Research Briefing 42.

Funder(s):  Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE)

Report:  Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE)

Peer Review Status: peer reviewed internally and externally

Related Journal Articles: none

The aim of this SCIE evidence review was to highlight key findings from research concerning:

•             the way social workers make decisions about whether or not to return looked after children to their birth parents;

•             effective approaches to deciding which children are likely to benefit from return home, and to helping parents and children when they do;

•             predictors of stability and positive wellbeing following return home.

The review drew on evidence made available since 2005 alongside data from literature reviews of earlier relevant research from Europe, the USA, Australia and New Zealand. The study found:

•             Returning home from public care is the most likely ‘permanence’ option but, for maltreated children, the least successful.

•             For families with complex needs, intensive, relationship-based social and multidisciplinary work, followed in most cases by a longer term lower intensity of episodic community-based service, can help motivated parents to meet the needs of children returning home from care.

•             Specialist, speedily provided reunification services have been shown to help create stable placements with birth families and quicker placement with alternative families if return home is unsuccessful or inappropriate.

•             Well planned ‘respite’ and short-term placements with foster carers trained in working towards reunification can increase the chance of parents with complex problems meeting their children’s long-term needs.


Farmer, E., Sturgess, W., O’Neill, T. and Wijedasa, D. (2011) Achieving Successful Returns from Care. What Makes Reunification Work? British Association for Adoption and Fostering (BAAF).

Funder(s):   Department for Children School and Families (now Department for Education)

Report:  BAAF

Peer Review Status: reviewed by two independent reviewers and discussed by Department for Education  research liaison group

Related Journal Articles: not known

The Department for Children, School and Families (now Department for Education) funded this project to find out more about the reunification of looked after children with their parents. The key aims were to examine the patterns and outcomes of return home for a large sample of returned looked after children; investigate which factors are associated with successful and unsuccessful returns and explore children and parents’ experiences of successful and unsuccessful returns.

The study consisted of review of case files for a consecutive sample of 180 children, aged 0 to 14, who were returned home from care in six local authorities in England during a one-year period and followed up two years later. Semi-structured interviews with a sub-sample of children and their parents were also undertaken. Brief phone interviews were also conducted with the children’s social workers or team managers. Key findings included:

•             Over half of the mothers had been victims of abuse or neglect and over a quarter had spent time in care themselves.

•             A quarter of children had been referred to children’s services by or at birth; three-quarters had been referred by the time they started school.

•             Half of the children entered care for abuse or neglect and over a quarter because of their own behavior.

•             The majority of the children were voluntary accommodated; children subject to court order were younger than those voluntary accommodated.

•             Social work planning for return home varied greatly and depended on whether the court was involved, age of the child and social worker’s motivation; parents and children’s pressure to return home.

•             Two-fifths of children were returned to a parent without any in-depth assessment of their situation; conditions for return were set in just over a third of cases and mostly when children were young and courts were involved; improvement in the family situation was the main reason for return only in half the cases.

•             Specific preparation for children’s returns were made in a third of cases and this helped reunification. Supportive relationships between parents and foster carers as well as respite care after return were found to increase returns’ success.

•             Two-thirds of children returned to the same parent(s), a quarter to a household which a parent or partner had joined or left while they were away, one in ten to a different parent.

•             Returns to a different parent or to a household with changed composition were most likely to be successful.

•             Children were often returned to parents that had previously abused or neglected them, had mental health problems and learning difficulties, were abusing drugs or alcohol.

•             Some support was generally provided to the families on return, such as financial or material support, respite care, activity groups, although often this was short term. Support was most likely to be provided to families with children subject to care or supervision orders.

•             Although matters generally improved on return home compared to when children were previously at home,  half the number of children who were thought to have been abused  before entering care, were abused again on return; three fifths of all the alleged child abuse or neglect that occurred during the return was perpetrated by substance misusing parents . Other factors associated with abuse and neglect on return were parental anti-social behaviour, domestic violence, financial problems, instability and poor home conditions, poor parenting skills.

•             After concerns had been raised the majority of children remained at home. This choice was appropriate in the majority of cases as either the maltreatment was not severe enough to warrant removal or was by someone who had left or was outside the family. Two-fifths of children who had returned home, however, appeared to have remained at home inappropriately, for too long or without appropriate investigation of the alleged maltreatment.

•             By the end of the two-year follow-up period, almost half of the returns had broken down, a quarter were considered borderline and 1 in 10 of poor quality.

•             Children who returned home on a supervision or care order were more likely to experience return stability as compared with those who were voluntarily accommodated; these families were also most likely to receive support and the children to be of younger age; being over 11 years of age was associated with return breakdown.




Neil, E., Beek, M., Thoburn, J., Schofield, G. and Ward, E. (2012) Contact Arrangements for Adopted Children: What Can Be Learned From Research? University of East Anglia

Funder(s):   This document draws on a range of research projects, in particular the longitudinal “Contact after Adoption” study (funded by the Nuffield foundation) and the “Supporting Direct Contact after Adoption” study funded by the Department for Education.

Report:  University of East Anglia

Peer Review Status: This document is a synthesis of research findings drawing on a range of peer reviewed studies which are cited in the document.

Related Journal Articles: none

The paper sets out messages from research to inform the Department for Education’s consultation about birth family contact for adopted children. It draws on research evidence from a number of studies carried out at the University of East Anglia, and from the authors’ reviews of the wider research literature. Emerging findings include:

•             Research into post-adoption contact shows that the experience of contact as reported by adopted children, birth relatives and adoptive parents is variable; contact can be positive, neutral, or negative and the quality of contact is more important than the type.

•             Contact may have an impact on adopted children’s specific aspects of development, such as children’s understanding of their background and why they were adopted.

•             The role that contact with birth relatives can play in helping adopted children manage issues of attachment and family belonging, loss, separation and identity should be considered on a case-by-case basis.

•             A UEA survey of a cohort of 168 children placed for adoption under the age of 4 showed a minority of children (11%) were planned to have no contact with birth relatives. The most usual contact plan was for the child to have letterbox contact once or twice a year (over 80% of children); 17% of children had a plan for face-to-face supervised contact with an adult birth relative and 9% of children had a plan to see a birth parent. Almost all of these face-to-face contact arrangements were to happen infrequently (most usually once or twice a year) and often they were very brief (lasting an hour or two).

•             Children adopted above the age of four may have somewhat higher levels of face-to-face contact compared to younger children.

•             Adoption now tends to include more contact than in the past. There are many reasons for this, for example children are often placed at an older age from care and they can have significant feelings for birth relatives and wish to remain in contact with them.

•             Plans for post-adoption contact often change after the child is adopted, and there is often a falling off of contact overtime. The reasons why contact stops are varied and include: concerns about the quality of contact and the impact on the child; the discomfort of adoptive parents with contact; the withdrawal of birth relatives from contact; the child’s decision to discontinue contact; contact “petering out” through lack of support by professionals.

•             The success or otherwise of adoption is related to the age at which the child is placed, the quality and continuity of care he or she received before being adopted, and the quality of care in the adoptive family.

•             There is little evidence that birth family contact has any great impact on broad outcomes of adoption such as placement breakdown, relationships with adoptive parents and children’s general development.

•             There are a number of challenges to contact. Adoptive parents have identified: managing children’s feelings and behaviours before, during and after contact; managing relationships with other people involved in contact; managing the actual contact event; protecting the boundaries of the adoptive family and managing adoptive parents own emotions about contact.

•             The main benefits of contact as seen by adoptive parents were children being allowed to maintain relationships that were important to them, gaining information about the child’s past and understanding their birth family, and strengthening adoptive family relationships;

•             A study of children interviewed in middle childhood found that they were generally positive about any contact they were involved in; they mostly enjoyed hearing from or seeing birth relatives. Few reported contact to be stressful, and most accepted whatever level of contact they had as roughly the right amount, suggesting only modest changes. Children who expressed negative views of contact were mainly unhappy about arrangements that had stopped, or about birth relatives who they did not see or hear from. Children placed at older ages or interviewed when they were older tend to express more mixed views.

•             The vast majority of birth relatives valued having post-adoption contact with the adopted child. The main benefits perceived by birth relatives was gaining information about the welfare of the child, and feeling able to contribute to the child’s life after adoption in some way. However, contact can also be emotionally challenging because it can bring back feelings of loss and because the reality of the child’s membership of another family must be faced. A minority of birth relatives do not want to have contact with the adopted child after adoption.

•             Contact is most likely to benefit children where adoptive parents have an open attitude about adoption and can empathise with birth family members; other factors that help contact to work well are: where the child did not have emotional or behavioural problems at the time of placement, where the child was under two when placed for adoption, and where the contact meeting did not include a birth relative who had abused or severely neglected the child. For older placed children, contact arrangements are more complex and can result in behaviours that are difficult to manage.

•             Contact is likely to be most beneficial where birth parents and other relatives support the child’s placement in the adoptive family and is likely to be harmful when they display hostility to the placement in communications with the child. Most birth relatives find it difficult to cope with the pain and stress of losing a child to adoption. However, many birth relatives, including birth parents who have opposed the adoption, can and do make an adjustment towards a position of positively accepting their child’s adoption and supporting the adoptive placement, and having contact with the child is an important factor in helping birth relatives achieve this adjustment.

•             It is concluded that contact that meets children’s needs should be promoted, and contact does not meet children’s needs should not be promoted; the current legal position which neither promotes contact nor promotes a no contact stance is considered appropriate as it allows for this case-by-case decision making. Suggestions for improving professional practice in relation to contact planning and support are outlined.



Contact and residence orders

Hunter, R., Barnett, A. (2013) Fact-Finding Hearings and the Implementation of the President’s Practice Direction: Residence and Contact Orders: Domestic Violence and Harm. Family Justice Council.

Funder(s):  Family Justice Council

Report:  Family Justice Council

Peer Review Status: peer reviewed

Related Journal Articles: ‘Fact-Finding Hearings and the Implementation of the President’s Practice Direction: Residence and Contact Orders: Domestic Violence and Harm’, Family Law forthcoming April 2013.

The report presents the results of a national online survey of 623 judicial officers and practitioners on the implementation of the President’s Practice Direction: Residence and Contact: Domestic Violence and Harm (2008/9).  The aim of the survey was to contribute to our understanding of:

•             whether the Practice Direction is operating in the way it was intended; and if not

•             what problems are being experienced with its implementation; and

•             what steps may be necessary to overcome any such problems.

The Domestic Violence Practice Direction was issued following a call by the Family Justice Council for a ‘cultural shift’ in the approach of legal and child welfare professionals, so that rather than pursuing contact at any cost, they should promote and facilitate contact only when it is ‘safe and positive for the child’. Remaining differences in views as to the relative importance of contact and safety, however, affects the interpretation of the Practice Direction, on issues such as whether a fact-finding hearing should be held, the forms of domestic violence considered relevant, the nature of the causal link between domestic violence and harm, and the consequences of findings of fact. The study found:

•             Outstanding cultural and material problems with the implementation of the Domestic Violence Practice Direction. Material problems include both limited court and judicial resources and the limited availability of domestic violence perpetrator programmes, contact services and other support services relating to domestic violence.

•             The majority of respondents said that fact-finding hearings are held in only 0-25% of cases in which domestic violence is raised as an issue, with the largest group (42%) estimating that fact-finding hearings are held in fewer than 10% of such cases. Responses suggested that the decision not to hold a fact-finding hearing is very often based on a view that disputed allegations may be disregarded. Where allegations are considered relevant, they may instead be dealt with as part of the substantive hearing.

•             Respondents overall did not perceive much of a change in the proportion of fact-finding hearings over time; however the majority considered the current level of fact-finding hearings to be appropriate.

•             Respondents indicated that the allegations to be tested in a fact-finding hearing are frequently limited by the court.

•             Fact-finding hearings tend to run for up to 2 days on average, and are mostly heard continuously, though a significant minority may be adjourned part-heard.

•             Respondents were generally of the view that a fact-finding hearing was likely to prolong the finalisation of the case. Delays were identified both in getting to the fact-finding hearing (listing, obtaining police records/disclosure, etc), and then in concluding the case following the fact-finding hearing (post-hearing assessments and interventions and multiple contact reviews).

•             Judicial respondents were divided in their views on the impact of fact-finding hearings on other cases in the list, with some (mainly in County Courts) considering fact-finding hearings to consume time that could have been devoted to other cases, while others (mainly in Family Proceedings Courts) did not see this as such an issue. Some courts successfully balanced fact-finding hearings with other cases by means of listing practices or the commitment of additional resources, but in other courts, the main management tool appeared to be to try to avoid fact-finding hearings as far as possible.

•             When allegations of domestic violence are raised, respondents considered it most likely that either none or some of the allegations will be admitted. If the allegations are contested and a fact-finding hearing is held, the most likely outcome is that at least some of the allegations will be found proven.

•             The majority of respondents thought that a fact-finding hearing does make a material difference to the outcome of the case.

•             A number of respondents expressed concerns about the impact on fact-finding hearings of increasing numbers of unrepresented litigants in the family courts.

•             Responses from Cafcass Family Court Advisers and domestic violence advocates, children’s guardians and expert witnesses contrasted in several respects with those of the legal professional majority. Those with disciplinary backgrounds in social work, psychology and/or children’s services tend to see violence in broader terms of power and control and are concerned at the courts’ tendency to minimise violence and its effects. By contrast, those from a legal disciplinary background tend to take a narrower, more incident-focused view of violence, and see less need for fact-finding hearings.

•             There were differences between the reported experience of respondents from London and of those from the rest of the country. London courts appeared under particular pressure in relation to fact-finding hearings and responding to allegations and findings of domestic abuse.



Parental contact after separation

Fortin, J., Hunt, J. and Scanlan, L. (2012) Taking a Longer View of Contact. The Perspectives of Young Adults who Experienced Parental Separation in their Youth.

Funder(s):  Nuffield Foundation

Report:  Sussex Law School

Peer Review Status: not peer-reviewed but the researchers had an Advisory Group

Related Journal Articles: Fortin, J (2013) ‘Findings favour unfettered judicial discretion on contact’ 162 The Review 35-37.

The study is based on a telephone survey of 398 young adults in England (aged 18 – 35) who had experienced the break-up of their parents’ relationship before they reached the age of 16, and face-to-face qualitative interview with 50 of them. Among the findings are:

•             Children often emerge from the shock of parental separation with ‘a precocious maturity’ – a critical awareness of their parents’ frailties, and considerable clarity of their own needs.

•             Parents were rarely reported to have consulted their children about contact. Being involved in decisions about contact was associated with a positive experience of contact.

•             There was no evidence that children often resisted contact primarily because their resident parent pressurised them into doing so. Resident parents were rarely said to have tried to undermine the relationship between the non-resident parent and child and were much more likely to have sought to facilitate contact.

•             Children’s resistance to contact was often linked with their own disapproval of the non-resident parent’s behaviour and/or their perceived responsibility for breaking up the family.

•             As adults some children became less judgmental and were able to forgive their non-resident parent for behaviour that as children they did not approve of.

•             Many children chose to terminate what they saw as unsatisfactory contact when they were able to do so.

•             No contact was seen as better than bad contact and coercive contact was disapproved of.

•             Children wanted non-resident parents to demonstrate their commitment to them, a matter which was more important than the level or type of contact.

•             Children’s pre-separation relationship with the non-resident parent was statistically very significant – both as a predictor of the success/failure of future contact and of the quality of the child-non-resident parent’s subsequent relationship. This was more significant than the frequency of contact.

•             The frequency and format of contact and whether there were overnight stays were statistically less important than continuity of contact.

The ingredients of successful contact were seen as:

•             Continuity (but not frequency or format);

•             A good pre-separation relationship with the non-resident parent;

•             Involvement of the children in decision making;

•             Little post-separation conflict between the parents;

•             No domestic violence or other abuse concerns;

•             Support for contact by the resident parent;

•             The child feeling equally at home in both homes;

•             Contact being child- focused, enjoyable and committed, rather than complying with the non-resident parents’ own interests.

Overall, the researchers emphasised the need for contact to be tailored to the needs, circumstances and wishes of the individual child.


Update on ongoing or forthcoming research projects


Parental capacity

Ward, H. and Brown, R.  (forthcoming) Parental Capacity and Evidence-Based Interventions – Distillation of the Evidence. Department for Education.

This research, commissioned by the Department for Education and conducted by the Childhood Wellbeing Research Centre will cover:

•             the evidence base on parental capacity, its different dimensions, the factors which help build/support parental capacity and those that can compromise it and how it impacts in varying ways on children.

•             the effectiveness of a range of  interventions, including those that target  factors such as mental ill health, alcohol and substance misuse and domestic violence that are known to be associated with parental capacity.

•             evidence on whether capacity can be increased sufficiently quickly to prevent or stop the child suffering significant harm, the critical moments that prompt change in parents and the markers which demonstrate that necessary levels of improvements are unlikely to be achieved.

•             the quality of the analysis drawn together and presented for the courts.

•             how, through work with the parent, the foundations for possible return home or the safeguarding of future children be laid even where there has to be recourse to care proceedings.

The study will consist of a rigorous review of literature using standard systematic principles. The review will be wide ranging and will explore what is known from a range of disciplines. The study will begin in February 2013.

The role of experts

CAFCASS (forthcoming) The Instruction of Expert Witnesses Within Care Proceedings.

This is a longitudinal study, deriving data from the cohort of 203 children’s guardians, whose cases (n = 247) were the focus of the recent Cafcass care applications study Three weeks in November…three years on… (Cafcass care application study, 2012). This new study aims to establish the extent of the use of expert witnesses within s31 care applications and whether, with reference to Three weeks in November, there are correlations between the use of expert witnesses and, for example, the timeliness of court application and the quality of pre-proceedings work undertaken by the local authority. The method that has been used  is an online survey of the 203 children’s guardians; it is largely quantitative with one open-text question.

The report is expected to be published in March/April 2013.

Children’s guardians

CAFCASS (forthcoming) Children’s Guardians: Undertaking “Necessary” Work

This is a longitudinal study, using a sample of 100 of the 247 s31 care cases that comprised the cohort for the Three weeks in November CAFCASS study (2012). The aim is to establish the nature and extent of work undertaken by children’s guardians. Data was collected from case files regarding what the children’s guardian did (the nature and extent of investigations) and the stage at which this work was undertaken. This included, but was not restricted to: contact with the child, and adults with party status; observed contact sessions; contact with the local authority, expert witnesses, and the Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO); and attendance at court. Data was also collected in respect of a number of variables likely to have a bearing upon the investigations being undertaken by the children’s guardian, such as the number of subject children, the age of the child/ren; and the length of proceedings. The findings will be compared to those reported in Capturing guardian practice prior to Cafcass (Hunt et al, 2003), which looked into investigations conducted by children’s guardians, and which used a different methodology (survey rather than file review).

The report is expected to be published in March/April 2013.

Maltreatment of looked after children

Wade, J. and Biehal, N. (2012-2013) Allegations Concerning the Maltreatment of Looked After Children. NSPCC.

The study, funded by the NSPCC aims to describe the incidence and nature of allegations and confirmed cases of maltreatment of looked after children across the UK. It will focus on both fostering and residential sectors to provide firm evidence on the scale of the problem for looked after children as a whole. The project aims to describe:

•             the incidence, nature, and outcomes of allegations, of cases during a period of three years (2009-2011).

•             the characteristics and histories of the children and caregivers concerned.

•             the diverse nature of allegations that are made, including differences in types of maltreatment and in the duration and severity of allegations.

The study will collect basic information about all allegations of maltreatment of looked after from every local authority in the UK. It will also collect more detailed information about confirmed cases of maltreatment in 20 local authority areas.  The study will therefore involve two phases of data collection:

Phase 1 will obtain summary information from every UK local authority (April 2009-March 2012). This UK –wide survey will provide evidence on the total number of allegations in foster and residential care; the number of substantiated and unsubstantiated allegations; and on outcomes for children.

Phase 2 will be conducted in 20 key local authorities and will focus solely on those allegations that were subsequently confirmed as maltreatment.  It will involve a brief online survey of fostering and residential workers to collect information on the characteristics of those involved and on the nature, severity and outcome of the maltreatment.

Publication is expected in Summer 2013.


Elsbeth Neil (forthcoming) Contact After Adoption. A longitudinal Follow up in Late Adolescence. Nuffield Foundation.

Many adopted children now have contact with their birth relatives through meetings or letters, but the long-term effects of such contact when adoptees are teenagers and young adults is not known. This research will follow up 73 birth relatives and 62 adoptive families and their 87 adopted children for the third time when the adopted young people will be aged 14-21 years old. The aim is to discover the different types of contact people have had (including contact through social media), and what they feel is positive or negative about it. Researchers will measure how satisfied people have been with their contact arrangements and will explore whether there are any differences in young people’s self-worth, emotional and behavioural problems and competencies, adoptive identities, and relationships with adoptive parents according to how much and what type of contact they have had. Other factors, such as difficult experiences the children may have had before being adopted, will also be taken into account. In addition, the research will look at how open adoptive parents have been in communicating about adoption with their children, and what difference this has made to the adopted young people. Researchers will also examine how well birth relatives are coping with the adoption and look at their mental health outcomes in the context of the type and level of contact. The project website contains further details:


The timescale for this project is January 2012 to June 2014.


Shared parenting

Harding, M. and Newham, A. (forthcoming) Shared Parenting and Contact Orders for Children Whose Parents Separate. Nuffield Foundation.

The study, funded by the Nuffield Foundation, will explore shared parenting and contact orders for children whose parents separate. The researchers will examine how courts promote shared parenting in disputes between separated parents.

The researchers will examine the data from 210 county court cases over a six-month period from five courts in England and Wales and look at the relationship between the formal labels given to court orders and the actual allocation of children’s time between parents. They will also interview stakeholders, including judges, barristers, solicitors and social workers, on their perceptions of how those orders are applied.

The researchers expect to report their findings in 2014.

Parental conflict

Trinder, L. (forthcoming) Evaluation of PIPs plus

Liz Trinder, University of Exeter, is currently taking forward development work and a pilot on Parenting Information Programmes (PIPs). The development work involves an additional session to the PIP in appropriate cases; parents attend this session together and are supported by a facilitator to use the communication skills learnt during the PIP. The aim of this is to enable parents to manage conflict and reach amicable agreements about their children without further court intervention. Parents may also be encouraged to attend mediation. The pilot is currently taking place in Surrey, Kent, Portsmouth and Cambridge.

The study is currently underway, due to report in Autumn 2013.

News update

Inquiry into adoption

             The Children and Young People Committee at the National assembly for Wales has undertaken an inquiry into adoption. The purpose of the inquiry was to examine the experiences and voice of those directly affected by the adoption process.

             One key conclusion from the evidence presented to the Committee, both from organisations and adopters alike, is how unevenly adoption services have been provided across Wales.

             The final report was published in November 2012 and it is available at http://www.senedd.assemblywales.org/documents/s11356/Adoption%20Report%20-%20November%202012.pdf?type=Finjan-Download&slot=000002BA&id=00000EB9&location=0A640210

Department for Education’s adoption maps

             From Friday 11 January 2013, would-be adopters can access a new map showing the areas with the highest number of children waiting for new homes. The map shows the number of children in each local authority waiting for a family to adopt them, showing potential adopters how many children are waiting in their area and elsewhere. The map is available at: http://media.education.gov.uk/assets/files/pdf/n/map08c_alt3.pdf

             A new telephone information and advice service staffed by adopters has also opened to help potential adopters navigate the process of adopting a child. The information line, operated by First4Adoption, is also funded by the Department for Education.

Ministry of Justice scoping work on experts

             The Ministry of Justice, Access to Justice Analytical Services (AJAS), is scoping work into the use of experts in Family Law Cases.

             Areas of research currently explored include the way experts are used, the process for commissioning reports, how reports affect case progression, the quality and value of reports and the reforms to the Rules and new Standards for experts.

Events and conferences

6th Annual Family Justice Council debate

             The Family Justice Council held a debate and panel discussion on the following motion:“ Women who have children removed to care, year after year, are being failed by a system unable to respond to them as vulnerable adults needing support in their own right ”

             The event took place in London on December 3rd and was chaired by the Rt. Hon. Lord Justice Thorpe as Deputy Chair of the Family Justice Council.

             Podcasts  and transcripts for the event are available at http://www.judiciary.gov.uk/about-the-judiciary/advisory-bodies/fjc/fjc-6th-annual-debate

Forthcoming Statistics Publications

Ministry of Justice (MoJ) Court Statistics Quarterly (CSQ)

             The MoJ CSQ bulletin presents national statistics on activity in the county, family, magistrates’ and Crown courts of England and Wales. The bulletin includes statistics on both public and private family law cases, including care and supervision cases, adoption, divorce, contact and residence cases, and domestic violence. This includes data on the volume and duration of cases and legal representation in family law cases.

             The most recent bulletin was published on 17 January 2013 and the next is due to be published on 28 March 2013. They can be found on the Ministry of Justice website:


Department for Education (DfE) Statistical First Release (SFR) Outcomes for Children Looked After by Local Authorities in England, as at 31 March 2012

             This Statistical First Release (SFR) provides national and local authority (LA) level information on the outcomes for children who have been looked after continuously for at least 12 months at 31 March 2012. Outcomes reported include educational attainment, Special Educational Needs (SEN), exclusions from school, health, development of children aged under 5, education and employment after year 11, offending and substance misuse.

             The SFR was published on 12 December 2012. It can be found on the DfE website:


Department for Education (DfE) Statistical First Release (SFR) Characteristics of Children in Need in England, 2011-2012

             This Statistical First Release (SFR) contains final figures on the numbers of children referred to and assessed by children’s social services. It includes information on the characteristics of children in need and information on children who were the subject of a child protection plan for the year ending March 2012.

             The SFR was published on 31 October 2012. It can be found on the DfE website:



We would like to thank all those whose work we have summarised in this bulletin and to other contributors who have reviewed the bulletin and made suggestions for inclusion. With specific thanks to: Mavis Maclean, Julie Doughty, Karen Broadhurst, Nina Biehal, Rosemary Hunter and Rebecca Brown.