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One in 20 babies born to mothers with intellectual and developmental disabilities are taken into child protective services


One in 20 newborns of women with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) in Ontario, are discharged to child protective services directly from the birth hospitalization, according to a new study by researchers at ICES; this is 30 times the rate in newborns of women without IDD.

Although previous research has suggested that as many as 40 to 60 per cent of women with IDD lose custody of their children at some point, this study, published in Pediatrics is amongst the first to identify rates of newborn discharges to child protective services from hospital.

“The early newborn period is important for maternal-infant bonding and breastfeeding, and maternal-infant separation is associated with increased risk of maternal suicide and later child developmental problems,” says Hilary Brown, lead author of the study and adjunct scientist at ICES.

Intellectual and developmental disabilities affect one in 100 adults and are characterized by cognitive limitations and problems with social and practical skills. Some diagnoses include Down syndrome, fetal alcohol syndrome, and autism, but many people with intellectual and developmental disabilities have non-specific diagnoses with unknown causes.

The study identified 3,845 newborns of women with IDD in Ontario from 2002 to 2012. Among newborns of women with IDD, those born to women who had a comorbid psychotic disorder, who were receiving social assistance, and who had poor access to prenatal care were at greatest risk of being discharged to child protective services.

“Our findings suggest that evidence-based interventions to avoid preventable maternal-infant separations at delivery and to support women who retain custody of their children after delivery are warranted, especially for women in the high-risk subgroups we identified,” says Brown.

Surrey Place in Toronto offers a unique program that educates and supports parents who have intellectual and developmental disabilities to help them raise their children as successfully as possible.

“The Parenting Enhancement Program (PEP) at Surrey Place, provides an interdisciplinary, multifaceted approach which emphasizes individualized, home-based child care instruction, education in child development, and advocating in support of the family to help reduce risk to the child in order to help families stay together where possible," says Deborah Bluestein, therapist for PEP. “Research demonstrates that individuals with developmental disabilities can parent successfully with appropriate and effective supports.”

This study is part of the Healthcare Access Research and Developmental Disabilities (H-CARDD) Program (www.hcardd.ca).

Author block: Hilary Brown, Lynne Potvin, Yona Lunsky and Simone Vigod.

The article “Maternal intellectual or developmental disability and newborn discharge to protective services,” is published in the November 6, 2018 issue of Pediatrics.

ICES is an independent, non-profit organization that uses population-based health information to produce knowledge on a broad range of healthcare issues. Our unbiased evidence provides measures of health system performance, a clearer understanding of the shifting healthcare needs of Ontarians, and a stimulus for discussion of practical solutions to optimize scarce resources. ICES knowledge is highly regarded in Canada and abroad, and is widely used by government, hospitals, planners, and practitioners to make decisions about care delivery and to develop policy. For the latest ICES news, follow us on Twitter: @ICESOntario

For more information, please contact:

Deborah Creatura
Media Advisor, ICES
[email protected]
(o) 416-480-4780 or (c) 647-406-5996

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