Judging parental competence: A cross-country analysis of judicial decision makers’ written assessment of mothers’ parenting capacities in newborn removal cases

By Jenny Krutzinna and Marit Skivenes (University of Bergen, Norway)

Child and Family Social Work, volume 26, issue 1, pages 50 – 60

Review written by Dr David Wilkins

What question does this study focus on?

This paper reports on a study from England, Germany and Norway, in which the authors looked at how mothers’ parenting capacity was assessed, understood and justified in relation to the removal of new-born babies. 

How did they study it?

The data consists of written court judgements from the three countries, made in relation to new-born babies. In total, the paper includes 117 such cases – 27 from Germany, 76 from Norway and 14 from England. The authors looked at these written judgements and sought to analyse the information and justifications they contained relevant to the final decision. They also interviewed a small number of judges (or other court decision-makers) to help ensure that their analyses were reasonable. Using the court judgements, they i) mapped the characteristics of the cases, ii) identified discussions of parents and parenting capacity, iii) coded them for parent-related risk factors and iv) looked for discrepancies and took steps to ensure their analysis was reliable. They focused only on mothers, and not fathers, due to their “relative importance with regards to newborns and the widespread absence of fathers [from the court cases]” (p. 53). 

What did they find?

Many of the mothers were very young, with nearly-half (41%) being aged 21 or less. Nineteen of the mothers had a previous child already in care, and over one-third (36%) had a history of child protection involvement of their own. One hundred of the cases (86%) resulted in the removal of the new-born baby. A mean average of more than three ‘risk factors’ were identified in each case (3.6 in England, 3.3 in Germany, 5.6 in Norway). These included a lack of empathy for the child (in 60.7% of cases), poor parenting competency (59%), mental illness (58.1%), abuse in childhood (53%), lack of compliance (50.4%), denial of problems (47%), substance misuse (28.2%) and learning disability (28.2%). A number of ‘risk-reducing factors’ were also identified, including willingness to engage with services (58.1%), competence in some areas (24.8%) and recognition of problems (23.1%). The court judgements overall contained more information about risk factors, than risk-reducing factors, and there were clear differences between the countries in relation to which factors were most often and rarely mentioned. The judgements often lacked an attempt to balance between the risk-increasing versus the risk-reducing factors when justifying the decision. 

What are the implications?

It may be that in most, if not all, of these cases, the risk to the new-born was so high, that a balanced consideration of risk-reducing factors was impossible or irrelevant. It is also the case that because the baby was new-born, the decision was made necessarily on the basis of predicted future harm, rather than an evidenced-based assessment of actual parenting capacity. Nonetheless, the authors do invite practitioners to consider the importance of risk-reducing factors and the interplay between parenting problems and social support measures that are or could be provided. Of course, in the short-term there may be little option but to prioritise child-safety – whether the same applies to longer-term planning, or indeed when the child is older, may be less obvious.  

Review written by

Dr David Wilkins

New book: The Children of Looked After Children

This blog post is originally posted at Leicestershire Cares.

A new book by Dr Louise Roberts, ‘The Children of Looked After Children: Outcomes, Experiences and Ensuring Meaningful Support to Young Parents In and Leaving Care’, was released in March 2021. The book brings together the findings of a five-year Children’s Social Care Research and Development Centre (CASCADE) research study that was funded by Health and Care Research Wales.

The book is important, I think it will shock people. Not many people know what it’s like for parents who have grown up in care. It can be so hard to get help. The numbers of children that get taken is shocking. Parents should definitely have more help.
The stigma is shocking. I think I’m like any other parent but I still have that label. I’ve lost count of the times professionals have said ‘because you were in care we need to think about this …’, ‘because you were in care we need to do this…’. I hope this book will help people understand the stigma we face and see how unfair it is.
Everyone who works with children and parents should read it! Social workers, personal advisors, managers, advocates, Welsh Government people, teachers, judges, midwives… everyone. We hope students will read it too as they can help change things for the future.
I really hope parents will read it. The book is good because you get to hear about other parents’ experiences. It can feel like you are the only person going through this and you are on your own. It really helped me when I knew this is a bigger problem. You feel less like a failure and less like a victim. By sharing experiences you realise that you can support each other and help change things. This group came about as part of the research. It would be great if the book helped make this group bigger or started new groups so parents knew they weren’t on their own.
It’s great that the book is free. Everyone likes free stuff and hopefully that will mean more people will read it.

Dr Louise Roberts

The idea for the study came from Voices from Care Cymru (VfCC), an independent organisation dedicated to upholding the rights and promoting welfare of care-experienced children and young people. The book provides some much-needed evidence about children born to young parents in and leaving care and explores the support available when young people become parents.   

Listening to parents’ views and experiences was a key priority of the study. The study included parents with different experiences: some were new parents, others were looking back on their experiences, some felt they had people to support them, others felt isolated and alone, some were living with their children, while others were separated from them. An advisory group of parents supported the study. Work is on-going and parents are currently developing a good practice charter based on the book’s recommendations. To mark the release of the book, we asked the group what they thought about the book and who they hoped would read it.

To find out more about the parents’ support group, please contact Voices from Care Cymru.

International perspectives on #BuildBackBetter

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May 26, 2021

“Covid-19, like an X-Ray, has revealed the ways in which systems and institutions exclude people, and those people hurt the most. Drawing on examples from USA, Africa and India, I’ll suggest ways one can build back better by listening to those who have been left out”

As part of the continuing partnership between Leicestershire Cares and the UNAI SDG16 Hub at De Montfort University we are delighted to welcome Rakesh Rajani to give a keynote speech about international perspectives on #BuildBackBetter. Rakesh brings three decades of experience in human rights, education, governance and philanthropy in his role as Vice President, Programs at Co-Impact, where he is based in New York City.

Until 2018, he served as the Director of Civic Engagement and Government at the Ford Foundation, responsible for US and global programs on democratic participation, taxes and budgets, and protecting civic space. Previously he founded and served as the Head of Twaweza, an East African organization that promotes citizen agency and open government, and led/’ the establishment of Uwezo, Africa’s largest program to assess basic literacy and numeracy. Prior to that he served as the founding executive director of HakiElimu, Tanzania’s leading citizen engagement and education advocacy organization.

Rakesh is also a founding member and past co-chair of the Open Government Partnership, which seeks to restore the social compact between people and governments in over 75 countries covering more than two billion people. He has played key roles in establishing several civil society and media platforms in Tanzania, and consulted on global development for Google.org, the Hewlett Foundation, Hivos and UNICEF, among others.

The session will be chaired by Kieran Breen CEO of Leicestershire Cares.

Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic education report welcomed by Minister

Please note: This press release was originally posted by the Welsh Government. Family & Community external events listings are posted to inform the wider community about external events including workshops, opportunities for families, children and young people, and helpful resources.

The Education Minister, Kirsty Williams, has accepted all of the recommendations of a report on Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Communities, Contributions and Cynefin in the new school Curriculum.

The Minister has also confirmed £500,000 will be provided to support the implementation of the report’s recommendations, as part of the delivery of the new Curriculum for Wales.

The report, by the Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Communities, Contributions and Cynefin in the New Curriculum Working Group, chaired by Professor Charlotte Williams OBE, makes 51 recommendations in total.

The recommendations focus on a number of key areas, including improving educational resources, workforce training and professional development, and Initial Teacher Education.

The report also makes recommendations on issues such as sustainability and the importance of a ‘whole school’ approach, involving parents, governors and wider communities.

In the new curriculum, due to be taught to younger learners from 2022, the history of Wales and its diversity will be mandatory within Humanities, one of the curriculum’s six Areas of Learning and Experience. The Humanities What Matters Statement, the ‘big ideas’ and key principles in each Area, refers to a common understanding of the diverse history, cultural heritage and ethnic diversity of Wales and the wider world.

On the publication of the final report, Professor Williams said:

‘This work is unprecedented and much needed and the review represents a ground-breaking trajectory in curriculum reform in Wales. What happens in schools across Wales, the way in which they engage, take forward and sustain the concerns of this report is critically important to the wellbeing of all children and young people in Wales, to the wellbeing of those from minority backgrounds and to the wellbeing of society as a whole.

Education alone cannot address the social, cultural and structural factors that sustain racial inequality. However, education can take us a long way forward in producing the ethical and informed citizens of the future. I am confident that the proposals in this report will provide the education community with the means to address more systematically and coherently engagement with this priority area.’

In her response to the final report, the Education Minister, Kirsty Williams, said:

‘I am very grateful to Professor Williams and the Working Group for the report, which is thorough and thought-provoking, offering hard truths and clear recommendations. As the report states, our new curriculum can only be enriched by revealing the diversity of perspectives and contributions made by the ethnic minority communities to the development of Wales across its history and in the present.

If we are to achieve one of the core purposes of our new curriculum, to develop young people who are “ethical and informed citizens of Wales and the world”, we must ensure children’s experiences are expanded though engagement with ethnic minority perspectives, themes and contributions. I am delighted to accept all of the report’s recommendations and put financial support in place to ensure these recommendations are fully implemented.

Complementing the work of the education report, the Welsh Government will publish its Race Equality Action Plan next week, ‘An Anti-racist Wales’, which outlines the Welsh Government’s commitment to tackling structural and systematic racism and create a Wales that is anti-racist by 2030.’

Curriculum for Wales: guidance for education other than at school

Please note: This consultation is being hosted externally and not through Exchange Wales. Family & Community external events listings are posted to inform the wider community about external events including workshops, opportunities for families, children and young people, and helpful resources.

This post was originally created by the Welsh Government.

Consultation description
We are consulting on the following 4 principles:

  • nurturing the well-being of each learner
  • systematic collaboration between learner, parents/carers, school and EOTAS providers 
  • access to an inclusive curriculum which focuses on the individual needs of each learner
  • support for the reintegration of learners receiving EOTAS into mainstream or specialist provision, enabling them to progress towards further education, training or the world of work.

Consultation documents

Additional information

A series of on-line consultation workshops on EOTAS  are taking place during March 2021 to capture more in-depth views of stakeholders on the draft guidance.

If you would be interested in participating in one of these workshops, please contact Kerry KilBride for more information via: Kerry@miller-research.co.uk

How to respond
Submit your comments by 29 March 2021, in any of the following ways:



Download the response form.

Complete and return to: curriculumforwales@gov.wales


Download the response form.

Complete and return to:

Curriculum Realisation Unit
Curriculum and Assessment Division
The Education Directorate
Welsh Government
Cathays Park
CF10 3NQ

Exchange Wales is not responsible for any external content or resources. 

Implementing Routine Outcome Monitoring in Statutory Children’s Services

By Thomas Mackrill and Idamarie Leth Svendsen 

Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal, doi: 10.1007/s10560-020-00734-9

Review written by Dr David Wilkins

What question does this study focus on? 

This paper reports on a study from Denmark, in which one service implemented the use of routine outcome measurement. Such measurements are often used in counselling services but are much less common in social work.  

In this case, social workers were asked to gather two types of feedback every time they met with a family member. At the beginning of each session, the worker completed an Outcome Rating Scale, to monitor well-being, and at the end of each session, a Session Rating Scale, to obtain feedback on how the meeting went. You can watch a short 1-minute video of how these scales were used in practice here (the video is in Danish but has English subtitle).   

How did they study it? 

The study ran for two years. The researchers observed training and supervision sessions and helped develop a manual for implementing the new approach. They also interviewed social workers and managers about the perceived benefits and challenges of measuring outcomes in this way.   

What did they find? 

They found that social workers were more used to thinking of themselves as case managers, rather than considering how their interactions with the family could be an important mechanism for facilitating change. By obtaining regular feedback, workers become more aware of their practice, of their strengths and their areas for improvement. Workers also found they were having more conversations with family members about whether things were getting better for the child or not.  

Some workers worried that by asking parents directly and more often about their views, this could undermine their statutory authority. Some were also concerned that if the outcome measures showed things were not getting better for the child, this would reflect poorly on them and on the wider service. Workers also felt that the outcome measures were too simplistic to accurately measure the complexity of family life, and that they could detract from a focus on risk and on structural problems such as poverty.  

What are the implications? 

These findings show the potential benefits of implementing routine outcome monitoring in social work, and some of the challenges. The study also shows how making these kinds of ‘simple’ changes is not always straight-forward and can have unintended consequences too.  

Review written by

Dr David Wilkins

Understanding and responding to trauma – in the context of COVID-19

09:30 – 12:30

A one-day course
This online course delivered in real time to a limited number of participants, will offer the essentials of a trauma informed response in the context of the current situation. For most people, COVID-19 will be associated with increased uncertainty, anxiety and stress. Stressful and frightening events can create threats to our sense of security, feelings of grief, and loss of power and control in our lives. As the UK is in and out and will gradually start to come out of the lockdown, practitioners from all settings will be reconnecting with the children and young people that they work with. A priority at this time must be to try to help children make sense of what has happened in their lives over the past few months, and for professionals to be able to plan for easing of restrictions.

Safer recruitment

09:30 – 16:30

A one-day course
Gain the skills to protect children and young people through safer recruitment. Organisations and individuals who work with children and young people, or are involved in providing services for them, have a duty to safeguard and promote their welfare. Having the right staff working in your setting is an essential element of your safeguarding duties. If you recruit staff and/or volunteers into the children and young people’s workforce, you should be trained in safer recruitment practices.

Teenage development and how to engage them and their brains

09:30 – 16:00

A one-day course
This course compliments that on Child Development and looks at children as they develop into adolescents. This course examines the teenage years in terms of physical, psychological, emotional and social development. Examining the issues and looking at how that understanding can help with engaging with and affectively supporting young people.

Child Development

09:30 – 14:30

A half day course
A sound knowledge of child development is essential for everyone working with children. Having an underpinning knowledge about typical patterns of overall development helps practitioners identify where there are concerns that a child may be ‘off track’ and may need additional support to achieve progress across the different domains. A good understanding of development can help keep children safe, promote their wellbeing, assist in assessment, and inform which interventions/support is most suited to their needs.