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Thousands of mothers have multiple children taken into care by the family courts

The youngest mother on record was 14 years old

Thousands of mothers in England have had more than one child removed by the family courts over the last seven years, new research has revealed.

English court records show that some 7,143 mothers were repeatedly involved in care cases concerning separate children.

22,790 children in total were affected, and in some cases women had 15 of their offspring taken away from them by judges.

Half of the women were 24-years-old or younger at the time of the first care application, with the youngest being 14.

Judges have long stressed the dangers linked to mothers becoming stuck in a destructive cycle of pregnancies and care proceedings in which the misuse of drink or drugs abuse are common causes.

The research, seen by the BBC, was carried out by Brunel and Manchester Universities and funded by the Nuffield Foundation. It is thought to be the first time such data has been compiled from legal records.

 The lead author of the study, Dr Karen Broadhurst, of the University of Manchester, told the BBC that babies were often removed at birth or soon afterwards.

“We know that in 70 per cent of cases infants were subject to proceedings within the first year of their life, which obviously leaves the mother with very little time to turn her life around,” she said.

“We think there is an average of 17 months between the first time a mum appears in court with an infant and the second time she appears in court with another infant.

"It suggests to us there's a very short interval between pregnancies, which gives mums very little time to engage in their own rehab."

Dr Broadhurst argued the research showed that family courts needed to focus on helping women change their behaviour.

"We also need to get better at ensuring those young parents can access the treatment that's recommended within the family court," she added.

Nicholas Crichton, a recently retired family court judge, said: "The work of the family courts for years has been removing the second, the third, the fourth child from the same mother. Not infrequently the sixth, the seventh, the eighth.

"In one case I've removed the 14th and I know two judges that have removed the 15th child from the same mother."

In 2008, Crichton set up the Family Drug and Alcohol Court (FDAC) project in central London. Last month the Nuffield Foundation found FDAC had helped 35 per cent of mothers have their children returned to them, compared with 19 per cent in the ordinary family courts.

The president of the family court, Sir James Munby, told the BBC "FDAC is - it must be - a vital component in the new family court."

He added that there should be an FDAC in every family court in England.