Special Issue "Protecting Children, Empowering Birth Parents: New Approaches in Family Justice"

A special issue of Societies (ISSN 2075-4698).

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (30 September 2020).

Special Issue Editors

Prof. Pamela Cox
E-Mail Website
Guest Editor
Department of Sociology, University of Essex, Wivenhoe Park, Colchester CO4 3SQ, UK
Interests: modern social and cultural history; social policy; social justice and criminal justice; gender relations; youth justice; child rights; family law
Special Issues, Collections and Topics in MDPI journals
Dr. Susan McPherson
E-Mail Website
Guest Editor
School of Health and Social Care, University of Essex, Colchester CO4 3SQ, UK
Interests: mental health; trauma; families; clinical effectiveness; evaluation methodologies
Dr. Frances Blumenfeld
E-Mail Website
Guest Editor
Division of Psychological Therapies, University of Essex, Colchester CO4 3SQ, UK
Interests: clinical psychology; mental health; families; multisystemic therapy (MST); expert court assessments

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

This Special Issue of Societies will present insights from new interdisciplinary research in the family justice field.  The contributors work across a number of disciplines, drawing on theoretical perspectives from law, sociology, social work, health, psychiatry, and psychology. In addition, they all have experience with applied and action research in these fields. The Special Issue sets out to explore the design, delivery, and impact of new initiatives that seek to enhance the protection of children at risk of harm by engaging more directly and proactively with their parents and wider families. Articles will address particular aspects of these innovations, including:

  • new ways of defining risks to infants, children, and parents;
  • new actions seeking to mitigate these risks;
  • recent developments in edge-of-care work, and community, therapeutic, and clinical initiatives to reduce the likelihood of birth parents losing one or more of their children to care;
  • the particular experiences of (birth) mothers, (birth) fathers, kinship carers, and practitioners working in the family justice arena.

This open call for further contributed articles opens 1 April 2020 and closes 15 Sept 2020. The Special Issue will include a maximum of 10 articles in total. The editors are particularly interested in receiving submissions in the form of scholarly articles and concept papers of up to 8000 words drawing on initiatives from outside the United Kingdom.

All invited and open call submissions should be submitted via the Societies online submission system by 15 Sept 2020 but the editors welcome submissions made before this date.

Prof. Pamela Cox
Dr. Susan McPherson
Dr. Frances Blumenfeld
Guest Editors

Manuscript Submission Information

Manuscripts should be submitted online at www.mdpi.com by registering and logging in to this website. Once you are registered, click here to go to the submission form. Manuscripts can be submitted until the deadline. All papers will be peer-reviewed. Accepted papers will be published continuously in the journal (as soon as accepted) and will be listed together on the special issue website. Research articles, review articles as well as conceptual papers are invited. For planned papers, a title and short abstract (about 100 words) can be sent to the Editorial Office for announcement on this website.

Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are thoroughly refereed through a double-blind peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Societies is an international peer-reviewed open access semimonthly journal published by MDPI.

Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. The Article Processing Charge (APC) for publication in this open access journal is 1400 CHF (Swiss Francs). Submitted papers should be well formatted and use good English. Authors may use MDPI's English editing service prior to publication or during author revisions.

Published Papers (7 papers)

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Editorial

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Editorial
Protecting Children, Empowering Birth Parents: New Approaches in Family Justice
Societies 2021, 11(2), 32; https://doi.org/10.3390/soc11020032 - 09 Apr 2021
Viewed by 538
Abstract
This Special Issue presents insights from new interdisciplinary research in the family justice field [...] Full article

Research

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Article
Better Decisions for Children with “Big Data”: Can Algorithms Promote Fairness, Transparency and Parental Engagement?
Societies 2020, 10(4), 97; https://doi.org/10.3390/soc10040097 - 09 Dec 2020
Cited by 3 | Viewed by 1135
Abstract
Most countries operate procedures to safeguard children, including removal from parents in serious cases. In England, care applications and numbers have risen sharply, however, with wide variations not explained by levels of socio-economic deprivation alone. Drawing on extensive research, it is asserted that [...] Read more.
Most countries operate procedures to safeguard children, including removal from parents in serious cases. In England, care applications and numbers have risen sharply, however, with wide variations not explained by levels of socio-economic deprivation alone. Drawing on extensive research, it is asserted that actuarial decision tools more accurately estimate risks to children and are needed to achieve consistency, transparency, and best outcomes for children. To date, however, child protection has not achieved gains made within comparable professions through statistical methods. The reasons are examined. To make progress requires understanding why statistical tools exert effect and how professionals use them in practice. Deep-rooted psychological factors operating within uncertainty can frustrate processes implemented to counter those forces. Crucially, tools constitute evidence; their use and interpretation should not fall to one practitioner or professional body and modifications must be open to scrutiny and adjudication. We explore the potential of novel big data technology to address the difficulties identified through tools that are accurate, simple, and universally applied within child protection. When embraced by all parties to proceedings, especially parents and their advisors, despite societal fears, big data may promote transparency of social work and judicial decisions. Full article
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Article
Recognition and Justice? Conceptualizing Support for Women Whose Children Are in Care or Adopted
Societies 2020, 10(4), 96; https://doi.org/10.3390/soc10040096 - 02 Dec 2020
Cited by 3 | Viewed by 1290
Abstract
This paper examines the views of mothers who have experienced (or are judged to be at risk of) recurrent removal of children into care or adoption. Drawing on their accounts of working with an intensive 18 month support program called Pause, we argue [...] Read more.
This paper examines the views of mothers who have experienced (or are judged to be at risk of) recurrent removal of children into care or adoption. Drawing on their accounts of working with an intensive 18 month support program called Pause, we argue for the relevance of conceptualizing policy and practice with reference to Honneth’s theory of recognition and Fraser’s arguments about the need to address misrecognition through redistribution, attending to gendered political and economic injustice. The analysis draws on qualitative longitudinal interviews with 49 women, conducted as part of a national UK Department for Education (DfE)-funded evaluation of Pause. Each woman was interviewed up to four times over a period of up to 20 months, both during and after the Pause intervention. Case-based longitudinal analysis illuminates how stigma can obscure women’s rights and needs—including welfare entitlements and health, as well as rights to family life—and shows how support can act to enable both redistribution, advocating to ensure women’s rights in a context of diminishing public welfare, and recognition, challenging stigmatization through recognition of women’s motherhood, and of their rights to care, solidarity, respect and fun. Full article
Article
Parental Non-Engagement within Child Protection Services—How Can Understandings of Complex Trauma and Epistemic Trust Help?
Societies 2020, 10(4), 93; https://doi.org/10.3390/soc10040093 - 26 Nov 2020
Cited by 4 | Viewed by 1641
Abstract
Building on the findings from the national study of mothers in recurrent care proceedings in England, this paper proposes that the concepts of complex trauma and epistemic trust may help explain parents’ difficulties in engaging with child protection services. With the aim of [...] Read more.
Building on the findings from the national study of mothers in recurrent care proceedings in England, this paper proposes that the concepts of complex trauma and epistemic trust may help explain parents’ difficulties in engaging with child protection services. With the aim of advancing theoretical knowledge, qualitative data drawn from interviews with 72 women who have experienced repeat care proceedings are revisited, with a focus on women’s developmental histories and accounts of engagement with professionals, to probe the issue of service engagement. The article starts with a succinct review of the literature on parental non-engagement in child protection, highlighting strengths and potential limitations of current knowledge. This is followed by an introduction to the theoretical concepts of complex trauma and epistemic trust, outlining how these concepts provide an alternative framing of the reasons why parents may resist, or are reluctant to engage with, professionals. Drawing on women’s first-person accounts, we argue that high levels of maltreatment and adversity in women’s own childhoods shape adult relationships, particularly in relation to vulnerability to harm in adult lives but also mistrust of professional help. Extracts from women’s first-person accounts, chosen for their typicality against the core themes derived from the data, indicate that acts of resistance or rejection of professional help can be seen as adaptive—given women’s childhoods and relationship histories. The authors conclude that parents’ social histories need to be afforded far closer attention in child protection practice, if preventative services are to reach those with histories of developmental trauma. Full article
Article
“I Had No Hope, I Had No Help at All”: Insights from a First Study of Fathers and Recurrent Care Proceedings
Societies 2020, 10(4), 89; https://doi.org/10.3390/soc10040089 - 20 Nov 2020
Cited by 3 | Viewed by 2024
Abstract
This article presents data from the first large-scale study of fathers involved in repeat (or recurrent) care proceedings in England. The project complements important research on mothers and recurrence. It consisted of three elements: an analysis of population-level administrative data from the Child [...] Read more.
This article presents data from the first large-scale study of fathers involved in repeat (or recurrent) care proceedings in England. The project complements important research on mothers and recurrence. It consisted of three elements: an analysis of population-level administrative data from the Child and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS), a survey of fathers in pre-proceedings and care proceedings, and a qualitative longitudinal (QL) study of recurrent fathers. Here we report findings from the survey and the QL study, offering an expanded definition and description of fathers and recurrence. Elsewhere, we reported that a significant number of fathers appear in recurrent care proceedings and that the majority return with the same partner. Alongside this, there is also a notable pattern of “missing” fathers demonstrated by the proportion of lone mothers reappearing before the court. Our survey indicates a certain profile of recurrent fathers, but also that recurrent fathers are not straightforwardly a homogenous group. We report on the significance of recurrent fathers’ early lives, on the phenomenon of enduring couple relationships and on the prevalence of issues affecting parenting, such as poor mental health, substance use and domestic abuse. Insights from the QL study in particular reveal legacies of harm, loss, and a lack of emotional and relational resources in childhood, which have debilitating and far-reaching consequences. We argue the importance of understanding the vulnerabilities of recurrent fathers and of challenging certain assumptions in child welfare and family justice practices. There is much to be learnt from existing services for recurrent mothers, but also a need for bespoke or adapted services that may be more responsive to particular circumstances of recurrent fathers and couples. Full article
Article
Reducing Recurrent Care Proceedings: Building a Local Evidence Base in England
Societies 2020, 10(4), 88; https://doi.org/10.3390/soc10040088 - 18 Nov 2020
Cited by 4 | Viewed by 1262
Abstract
Recent studies of public law care proceedings within the family justice system in England and Wales suggest that up to a quarter of all mothers who appear in such proceedings will reappear within a subsequent—or recurrent—set of such proceedings within seven years. In [...] Read more.
Recent studies of public law care proceedings within the family justice system in England and Wales suggest that up to a quarter of all mothers who appear in such proceedings will reappear within a subsequent—or recurrent—set of such proceedings within seven years. In the last decade, new interdisciplinary research spanning social work, clinical psychology and sociology has defined and investigated the previously hidden challenge and social costs of ‘recurrent care proceedings’ (RCP). This article adds to this new field by analysing the core values, practice and impact of three different local services in the northwest of England working with birth parents to reduce the risk of recurrent proceedings. The article combines data gathered from the three distinct services using a common evaluation framework co-produced by the authors working with service leads, practitioners and users. It explores how all three services are seeking to reduce the risk of recurrent care proceedings in their local areas without requiring women to use long acting reversible contraception (LARC) or other forms of contraception as a condition of accessing the service. It concludes that insights gained from these and cognate services can inform an emergent community of practice in the recurrent care field. Full article

Other

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Concept Paper
A Proof-of-Concept Pilot for an Intervention with Pregnant Mothers Who Have Had Children Removed by the State: The ‘Early Family Drug and Alcohol Court Model’
Societies 2021, 11(1), 8; https://doi.org/10.3390/soc11010008 - 21 Jan 2021
Cited by 2 | Viewed by 1278
Abstract
This paper describes a ‘proof-of-concept’ pilot of the ‘Early FDAC model’. The evaluated Family Drug and Alcohol Court (FDAC) model, on which Early FDAC is based, is summarised and the rationale for introducing the pilot variation is set out. This short paper describes [...] Read more.
This paper describes a ‘proof-of-concept’ pilot of the ‘Early FDAC model’. The evaluated Family Drug and Alcohol Court (FDAC) model, on which Early FDAC is based, is summarised and the rationale for introducing the pilot variation is set out. This short paper describes the learning from the pilot that set out to work with 30 families across three FDAC teams between 2015 and 2019. At the time of the pilot, there were, and remain, few other interventions in England for pregnant mothers who have already had children removed. An adaptation of the evaluated FDAC model suggested itself because of the overlap with families in public law care proceedings and emerging evidence that FDAC delivers a better experience of justice for families and professionals, better outcomes for children and families and better use of public money. Pilot families were engaged as soon as possible in the pregnancy (hence ‘Early’), and continued to receive support for up to two years. The process started in pre-proceedings with the aim of avoiding court. Where proceedings were necessary, cases were heard in an FDAC court, with provision for a post-proceedings phase. There were problems with recruitment and engagement and families had fewer ‘solvable problems’. Nevertheless, outcomes were promising, with 18 families keeping their children. This represents one-third of the referred families and almost two-thirds of the families who undertook a ‘Trial for Change’. Full article
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