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Mothers on the Margins: perinatal mental health support for mothers at risk of having their infants removed from their custody

The first year of life is a critical time of development, but it is also the most common age for children to be brought to court by social workers in care proceedings. These infants' mothers often have contact with mental health services. They may also be parenting amidst issues such as poverty, lack of social support, and sometimes domestic violence or substance use. When social services become involved, it can put more pressure on mothers’ mental health, causing difficulties to spiral.

Having a baby is a big transition, but it can also be a ‘window of opportunity’ to offer support to families facing difficulties. However, practitioners say they find it hard to engage with families at risk of custody removal and lack guidance on this. Mothers with infants involved with the child protection system say they are less satisfied with the support they receive from services and have more needs left unmet than other mothers. Those who have their infants removed from their custody describe this as a time of acute crisis but struggle to get therapeutic support.

This novel study uses quantitative and qualitative methods and co-design to explore these families’ experiences further and identify how mental health services can work with them better.


The overarching aim of this project is to identify ways to improve the provision of perinatal mental health services for mothers at risk of having their infants removed from their custody, both to help meet their needs and support mother-infant dyads.

The research will explore mothers’ characteristics, needs and service use experiences, including how their needs are understood and framed in this context, what influences their engagement with services, how different needs may cluster together, and how this can affect outcomes. The project will produce creative resources designed to amplify the voice(s) of this population and support practitioners working in this area.

Project status: Ongoing

Principal Investigator


Funding Body: National Institute for Health Research (NIHR)

Amount: 816,343

Period: February 2024 - February 2029