News Release

Study calls for more ‘wrap around support’ for young mums leaving care in Wales

A ‘concerning proportion’ of care experienced young mothers in Wales – one in every six (17%) - have experienced at least one of their own children being taken into care between 2014 and 2021, according to new research published today

Reports and Proceedings

Lancaster University

A ‘concerning proportion’ of care experienced young mothers in Wales – one in every six (17%) - have experienced at least one of their own children being taken into care between 2014 and 2021, according to new research published today.

The greatest proportion of the care experienced mums (that is mothers who spent varying levels of time in state care) were only 19-years-old when their own children entered care and a sizeable proportion of 32% were teenagers.

This exploratory study, ‘Care-experienced mothers and their children in Wales’, is led by the Centre for Child and Family Justice Research at Lancaster University in collaboration with researchers from Swansea University and Cardiff University.

It is the first study of its kind to describe the care profiles of young care experienced mothers whose own children were placed in care in Wales between 2014 and 2020 and delivers insights into mothers’ and children’s age and care profiles.

The study, funded by the Nuffield FJO, provides firm evidence of placement instability’ for all care experienced mothers in this study.

Within the period of observation, on average, mothers recorded between five and seven placements, and placement instability was higher for the mothers whose own children were received into care. 

The study also describes the care profiles and legal statuses of children born to care experienced mothers.

Comparisons are drawn to explore whether there are differences between:

  • Mothers with care experience whose children are/are not placed in care
  • Children in care, whose own mothers have/do not have a care history.

Some 32% of the study cohort of care experienced mothers with children in care had ‘community placement/independent living’ as their last care episode, compared with 23% of the comparison cohort of care experienced mothers without children in care.

This, says the report, indicates that care experienced mothers may be experiencing independence too soon and too suddenly and may need more ‘wrap-around support’ to help them cope when they leave care.

The study found that children of care-experienced mothers who enter state care do so typically as babies, with many new-borns.

Researchers say the study provides firm evidence that a proportion of care experienced mothers (11% in this study) will lose their children to adoption by the end of the one-year follow-up of the study.

Although there are differences between the care experienced mothers whose own children were/were not received into care, there are also many similarities. Early motherhood and placement instability is common to both groups.

This, adds the study, raises important questions about why mothers whose children are not taken into care demonstrated greater resilience in respect of avoiding the removal of children from their care. 

The findings also serve to counteract common stereotypes and stigma about care experienced mothers. Many, says the report, have shown great resilience in the face of adversity they had to face early in their own lives and are coping, despite this. 

Lead author Dr Stefanie Doebler, of Lancaster University, said: “Permanent severance of parental ties is a very harsh intervention in family life, with traumatic impact on mothers who have experienced care themselves. It is important that we know more about what drives intergenerational care and what can be done to keep families together.”

Second lead author Dr Grace Bailey, of Swansea University, added: “The SAIL databank at Swansea University has been a vital resource, offering access to this very rare census of care experienced mothers and their children in care which made this analysis possible.”

The study is the first to make use of the Wales Children Looked After (CLA) Census to examine mothers who were aged 12 to 17 years in 2014 and 18 to 23 years at follow-up (31 March 2020).

The study also uses other linked data sources including the Welsh Maternity Indicators (MIDs) dataset (Welsh Government, 2023), the Welsh Index of Multiple Deprivation (WIMD) - the Welsh government’s official deprivation measure for small areas in Wales (WIMD 2019), and the Welsh Demographic Service Dataset (WDSD).

An important caveat of the study is its linkage rate. 38% of the population of mothers could not be linked to the study’s dataset, hence more research providing robust data is needed.

Authors: Dr Stefanie Doebler and Professor Karen Broadhurst (Lancaster), Dr Grace Bailey, Dr Laura Cowley, Dr Laura North, and Dr Lucy Griffiths (Swansea) and Dr Louise Roberts and Dr Sophie Wood (Cardiff).

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