Bridging the Evidence Gap in Family Proceedings

Predicting which mothers who drink excessively will achieve and maintain the abstinence required to retain care of their children.

The President of the Family Division has stated that, where a mother’s excessive use of alcohol is a significant factor in care proceedings, a strong, evidence-based case must be made that she is both committed to abstaining from alcohol and able to maintain that commitment, if she is to retain ongoing care of her child. However, it is difficult to make such a case, owing to a lack of robust evidence on the factors associated with maternal abstinence from alcohol.  This is especially difficult given the introduction of reduced time limits (26 weeks) for care proceedings which mean that assessments need to be made earlier than previously. 

The first stage of this project is to identify a set of factors potentially linked to abstinence, based on a review of the available research evidence complemented by expert consultation. A sample of 120-160 mothers involved in care proceedings, who have been identified as misusing alcohol, will then be recruited via social workers for an empirical study. Information on the relevant factors will be collected soon after the initiation of care proceedings, and later analysed in order to explore associations with abstinence from alcohol (as determined by the court) at 26 and 52 weeks. If the project is successful, its main output will be a prototype prognostic tool, for which the researchers anticipate pursuing clinical validation in a separate future study. A validated tool could potentially be used in court to help make a robust case for a mother’s capacity to abstain.