What is it about?

Having a child removed by child protection services is one of the worst things imaginable for any parent, but it is all too common for mothers who live with serious mental illness. While this puts mothers' mental health at further risk, they often receive little help or support. The findings indicate that mothers experience the trauma of child removal within the context of already chaotic lives. Their identity and role of mother does not disappear but is radically changed. Because of the intensity of their pain and loss, they use strategies to protect themselves from overwhelming negative emotions. These strategies can be adaptive, such as managing their thinking, keeping busy and using emotional supports. However the strategies can also be maladaptive, reducing mothers' opportunities to stay connected with their children. Mothers need support to develop adaptive strategies to manage their suffering and positive new ways of mothering within their new circumstances.

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Why is it important?

To date, the literature has not investigated the experiences of mothers who live with both mental illness and child removal. Understanding what they go through is critical for developing services that can support these mothers when they are at their most vulnerable.


In mental health care, parental status is often not considered or even recorded, especially when the daily, 'hands on' aspects of parenting have been taken away. Yet this is a major role for mothers that does not disappear when their children are removed. The ability to fulfill that role in a positive and sustainable is likely to be crucial for recovery.

Anne Honey
University of Sydney

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: Living with mental illness and child removal, Advances in Mental Health, May 2019, Taylor & Francis, DOI: 10.1080/18387357.2019.1614884.
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