Skip to main content

Canada Study finds newborns of Ontario women with developmental disabilities are more likely to be taken into protective custody

Newborns of Ontario women with intellectual and developmental disabilities are 30 times more likely to be taken into protective custody than the rest of the population, according to a new study that says these separations can be harmful to both babies and their mothers.

The study, published in the journal Pediatrics on Tuesday, found more than one in 20 babies of women with intellectual or developmental disabilities, or 5.7 per cent, are discharged to child protective services directly from hospital after birth, compared with 0.2 per cent of newborns of women who do not have such disabilities.

“We know that this is quite a high rate, and we also know from other research, that maternal-infant separations have negative consequences both for moms and for babies because what they do is they disrupt maternal-infant bonding and breastfeeding,” says the study’s lead author Hilary Brown, an assistant professor at the University of Toronto and adjunct scientist at the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences (ICES).

Story continues below advertisement

She and her team point to previous research that shows such separations may lead to an increased risk of suicide among mothers and developmental problems among children.

Their findings suggest a need to provide support for mothers with intellectual or developmental disabilities, both for those who lose custody of their infants, as well as for those who go home with their newborns, Dr. Brown says.

One in every 100 women has an intellectual or developmental disability, which is a group of conditions that affect cognitive abilities, including problem-solving, and adaptive abilities or social skills and communication, the researchers note in their study. Examples of disabilities they identified include autism, Down’s syndrome and fetal alcohol syndrome.

While previous studies have suggested between 40 per cent to 60 per cent of women with these disabilities lose custody of their children at some point, Dr. Brown and her team focused on the newborn period, for which little was known.

The researchers analyzed health and social services data from ICES for the newborns of 3,845 women with, and nearly 380,000 women without, intellectual and developmental disabilities in Ontario, between 2002 and 2012. They found women with these disabilities, who also had a mental illness, lived in poverty or had poor prenatal care, were at particularly high risk of having their newborns removed from their care.

Since mothers who are separated from their babies at birth often suffer from mental health problems, Dr. Brown says, services are needed to support their mental health when such separations occur. For the women with disabilities who do go home with their newborns, she says, "we need to make sure there are supports in place that can help them with breastfeeding, infant care, parenting, that sort of thing.”

Moreover, high-risk subgroups of women with intellectual and developmental disabilities who also experience poverty, social isolation or poor mental health may benefit from existing, evidence-based programs designed to address their needs, Dr. Brown says.

Story continues below advertisement

An example of such a program, she says, is the Parenting Enhancement Program at Toronto’s Surrey Place, which helps parents with developmental disabilities.

Deborah Bluestein, a therapist with the Parenting Enhancement Program, says clients often lack positive social support, such as friends and family members who can help them with parenting. The program is customized to each client, and connects them with the services they need, which can include family doctors or childcare. It also teaches them basic parenting skills by taking a task, such as preparing infant formula, and going over it, step by step, she says.

“They might need to be shown how to do that, hands on, multiple times, until they’ve learned it. But we found they can learn it in that manner, and quite effectively,” she says.

Ms. Bluestein says there is a real demand for programs such as hers. Surrey Place is the only centre in Ontario that offers such support for parents with intellectual and developmental disabilities, she says, noting that the waiting-list for a spot in her program is more than a year long.

She says a common misconception is that individuals who have a developmental disability lack the ability to parent.

“That’s actually quite false,” she says. “Many of these parents can successfully parent their children as long as they have the appropriate and effective support.”

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Comments

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • All comments will be reviewed by one or more moderators before being posted to the site. This should only take a few moments.
  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed. Commenters who repeatedly violate community guidelines may be suspended, causing them to temporarily lose their ability to engage with comments.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.
Cannabis pro newsletter