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Study highlights inequalities between women and men in their chances of having their children taken into care

23 April 2024

Mother and daughter sitting back to back

A new study recently published by researchers at Children’s Social Care Research and Development Centre (CASCADE) highlights the inequalities between women and men in the likelihood of their children being taken into care.

The research demonstrates that when the same risk factors are present such as drug and alcohol misuse, single mothers are more likely to have their children taken into care than single fathers.

Using existing data collected by social services and health services in Wales, the study looked at households children lived in before entering care.

The study analysed the problems adults living in those households had. Drug and alcohol misuse, learning difficulties and mental health problems were cited.

Lead author of the study, Dr Nell Warner said:

These findings are both striking and really concerning, as they highlight serious inequalities relating to the circumstances in which children are likely to enter care. There are cases where single mothers with certain levels of problems have had their children placed into care, whereas single fathers with similar levels of problems have not. That is really worrying.
Dr Nell Warner Research Associate, CASCADE

Dr Warner added, “While our study was able to highlight that this is happening, it doesn’t explain why, and there could potentially be lots of explanations.

“It could, for example be related to practice within social services and different attitudes to working with mothers and fathers, or it may be related to how much social services are likely to be made aware of different issues in mothers and fathers.

“It may also be related to things going on more widely in society, and differing attitudes for single mothers and fathers which might affect who gets referred to social services. So, it’s really important we find out more about why it is happening.”

Professor Jonathan Scourfield, a social work professor from Cardiff University also involved in the study highlighted how the findings may reflect previous studies about attitudes towards mothers and fathers. He said:

It’s well known that social workers tend to focus more on mothers than fathers, for a whole host of reasons. This is powerful new evidence on the topic, looking at the whole Welsh population. It needs to be taken seriously by services working with children and families across the UK, as similar trends may well be found elsewhere.
Professor Jonathan Scourfield Professor

Dr Nell Warner concluded, “We know that social workers are under real pressure due to high caseloads and local authority budgets being squeezed, but in my experience they are very keen to tackle the inequalities that the people they work with face, and these findings should help pinpoint areas for change.”

Find out more about CASCADE and research at Cardiff University’s School of Social Sciences.

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