Thousands of mothers have had more than one child removed by the family courts over the last seven years, according to new research.

English court records show that 7,143 mothers were involved in repeat care cases - affecting 22,790 children in total.

Some women have apparently had 15 offspring taken away from them by judges.

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.

Half the women involved were aged 24 or under at the time of the first care application, with the youngest being 14.

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% 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 that the research demonstrated the need for family courts to change their approach, and 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.

Judges have long highlighted the danger that many mothers become stuck in a destructive cycle of pregnancies and care proceedings. Misuse of drink or drugs and abuse are common causes.

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."