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Newborns of women with disabilities overrepresented in children’s services


Toronto, ON, July 4, 2024 – A new study has found newborns of mothers with disabilities were more likely to be discharged into social services care immediately following their birth.

Researchers from ICES, the University College London, and the University of Toronto Scarborough have reviewed health records of over 1.4 million mothers and babies in Ontario to investigate the involvement of children’s social services at birth.

“Women with disabilities often face more discriminatory practices and assumptions about their capabilities as new mothers,” says lead author Claire Grant, a PhD candidate in the department of Epidemiology and Public Health at University College London. “We wanted to explore the rates of social service discharge following birth among women with different types of disabilities, and to determine how long mothers and babies are separated.”

Published in the International Journal of Population Data Science, researchers examined health and social data from all singleton livebirths between 2008 and 2019 in Ontario, Canada. There were over 1.2 million births to women without disabilities, and 163,122 births to women with physical, sensory, intellectual/developmental, and multiple disabilities.

Key Findings include:

  • Compared to newborns of women without disabilities (0.2%), newborns of women with physical (0.5%), sensory (0.4%), intellectual/developmental (5.6%), and multiple disabilities (1.7%) had an increased risk of being discharged to social services after the birth.
  • Rates in newborns of women with intellectual/developmental and multiple disabilities were more than five times higher than for women with other types of disabilities.
  • Across all groups, the strongest predictors of newborn discharge to social services were young age, experiences of poverty, mental illness or substance use disorders, inadequate prenatal care, and newborns complications.
  • Newborns of mothers with disabilities also had an increased risk of separation that was sustained at 12 months of age.

Although data were available on a range of sociodemographic variables, the researchers note that they were unable to measure race or ethnicity (as a proxy for experiences of racism), as those variables were not recorded in the data.

Lack of supports available

In an ICES report released in May, it was found that women with all types of disabilities frequently reported experiencing judgement and discrimination from their health care provider during pregnancy and faced barriers accessing supports that could help them following the birth.

“Discharging newborns to social services at a young age can have a significant impact on mother-baby bonding and breastfeeding,” says Grant. “It’s also concerning to see the higher risk for sustained separation, which may further disrupt the parent-child relationship.”

The compelling findings underscore the critical role of meaningful, tailored supports for mothers with disabilities, both within the home and the community.

“Many of the challenges faced by women with disabilities could be supported through better parenting supports and social policies that address broader structural issues such as poverty,” says senior author Hilary Brown, Adjunct Scientist at ICES and Associate Professor in the Department of Health and Society at the University of Toronto Scarborough. “Mothers with disabilities were most at risk of having their newborn discharged into care if they were young, living in poverty, received inadequate antenatal care, or had a mental illness or substance use disorder. These issues need to be addressed as part of wraparound services.”

Such efforts require health and social service providers with good knowledge of disability, underscoring the ongoing need for better provider education and training.

The article, “Maternal disability and newborn discharge to social services: a population-based study,” was published in the International Journal of Population Data Science.

ICES is an independent, not-for-profit research and analytics institute that uses population-based health information to produce knowledge on a broad range of healthcare issues, leading cutting-edge studies and analyses evaluating healthcare policy, delivery, and population outcomes. ICES knowledge is highly regarded in Canada and abroad and is widely used by government, hospitals, planners, and practitioners to make decisions about healthcare delivery and to develop policy. For the latest ICES news, follow us on X, formerly Twitter: @ICESOntario

Founded in 1964, the University of Toronto Scarborough is an anchor institution in the eastern Greater Toronto Area. Situated in one of Toronto’s most diverse and multicultural neighbourhoods, the campus fosters a vibrant culture of community engagement. Here, students cross academic and geographic boundaries in their pursuit of knowledge. Experiential learning is one of the hallmarks of our approach to education. We are proud to be part of the University of Toronto, recognized as the most sustainable university in the world and Canada’s top university. U of T has a long history of challenging the impossible and transforming society through the ingenuity and resolve of its faculty, students, alumni and supporters. We are part of one of the top research-intensive universities, bringing together top minds from every conceivable background and discipline to collaborate on the world’s most pressing challenges. Together, we continue to defy gravity by taking on what might seem unattainable today and generating the ideas and talent needed to build a more equitable, sustainable and prosperous future. Our campus is celebrating its 60th anniversary and 50 years of co-operative education this year. Follow us on X, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram and TikTok.


Misty Pratt
Senior Communications Associate, ICES
[email protected]
613-882-7065 (cell)


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