Article Summary: Maternal Intellectual or Developmental Disability and Newborn Discharge to Protective Services

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Intellectual and developmental disability (IDD) includes challenges in intellectual functioning (learning, problem solving) and/or everyday skills and social skills, beginning before the age of 18. IDDs can include Autism Spectrum Disorder, Down Syndrome, and other genetic conditions.

It has been shown that roughly 50% of mothers with intellectual and developmental disabilities will lose custody of their child at birth or shortly afterward, and this study looked at the various factors that contribute to this loss of custody. 

Rates of Newborn Discharge

  • 1/20 newborns of women with IDD are transferred to child protective services
  • 1/100 women have an IDD
  • 40-60% of women with IDD will lose custody of their child
  • The rate of discharge of newborns from birth to child protective services from women with IDD is 5.7% vs 0.2% in women without IDD

Increased risk factors of women with IDD losing custody

  • Women with comorbid psychotic disorder, women in poverty, and poor parental care
  • Social isolation and mental illness
  • Among women with IDD whose child(ren) were discharged to child protective services, they were more likely to live in low-income neighbourhoods, have chronic medical conditions, mental illness, substance use disorders, receive social assistance, not have had an ultrasound by 20 weeks, and have less than 4 prenatal care visits by 36 weeks
  • Separation of the newborn from the mother directly after birth increases the risk of developmental problems in the child


  • Women with IDD at higher risk of losing custody of their child should be provided support in bonding with their newborn, breastfeeding, and parenting their child
  • Many of these separations of child from mother are preventable, and more research should be done on improving interventions after the child is born

Take Home Message:

Teaching parenting skills to mothers can decrease the risk of their child being separated from them at birth. These interventions would be beneficial before and during pregnancy. In order for the interventions to be effective, further research should be done on how to improve and tailor interventions to the individual, so that they are specific to the learning style of the mother.

For more information:

Authors: Hilary K. Brown, Lynne A. Potvin, Yona Lunsky, & Simone N. Vigod

Journal: Pediatrics

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