New research reveals link between maternal mental health and children born into care

A new study uncovers the prevalence of mental health disorders in mothers whose children have been in care proceedings as authors “strongly recommend” that maternal mental health feature “far more centrally” in pre-birth assessments.

03/03/21

New research reveals link between maternal mental health and children born into care

New research from the Nuffield Family Justice Observatory (NFJO) has revealed the prevalence of mental health disorders and women whose babies have been in care proceedings in Wales.

The new paper, part of the Born into Care series, highlights findings by the Family Justice Data Partnership—a collaboration between the University of Lancaster and the University of Swansea.

Previous research by the NFJO had revealed the scale and rising number of babies subject to care proceedings in Wales, and new analysis published this week uncovers more about the types of disorders experienced.

The analysis found that over half of mothers involved (53%) self-reported an existing mental health disorder at their initial antenatal assessment, while three-quarters (77%) had a mental health-related GP or hospital contact or admission recorded in their health records prior to the child’s birth.

The relative difference during the pregnancy period was even more marked with an almost threefold increase in cohort mothers having a mental health-related GP or hospital contact.

Disorders experienced by mothers in the research include anxiety and depression, autism spectrum disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, development disorder, conduct disorders, eating disorders, and severe mental illness such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

The most commonly recorded disorder was depression, with around two in five mothers studied having suffered from depression in the two years before birth – more than three times higher than in a comparison group of mothers, the research found.

A quarter (25%) of mothers in the research had records to indicate anxiety disorders during the two years leading up to birth, compared to 11% in the comparison group.

Severe mental illness was found to be present in nearly 4% of mothers in the research – eight times the rate in the comparison group (0.5%).

“In our earlier work […], we indicated that it is critical to be able to identify and differentiate mental health disorders to enable birth mothers at risk of child removal to receive appropriate support and treatment sufficiently tailored to need,” the authors of the research said, adding: “The current descriptive analysis confirms this point.”

“In uncovering the specific categories of mental health need, it is clear that primary care is the most likely mental health contact and source of help for most of the mothers in the cohort group.

“What we cannot discern from this analysis however is the quality or intensity of service provision, both before and during pregnancy. Early identification and management are essential.”

Midwives were also said to play a “key role” in identifying women with complex social needs. However, the authors warned that the time community midwives have to spend with mothers is “very limited and may be insufficient to effectively link women with services or to follow up on service referrals.”

As a result of the research, the authors are “strongly recommending” that maternal mental health should feature “far more centrally” in pre-birth assessments.

The authors also stressed the importance that children’s services identify any mental health need “at the earliest opportunity” and that there is “proactive planning and support” around how appropriate services can be accessed, particularly for mothers with severe mental health difficulties.

Read the report in full: https://www.nuffieldfjo.org.uk/resource/born-into-care-maternal-mental-health

The authors of the paper are Lucy J. Griffiths; Rhodri D. Johnson; Karen Broadhurst; Ann John.

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