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Mothers on the Margins: perinatal mental health support for women at risk of losing custody of their infants

Mothers with mental health diagnoses are more likely than other mothers to find themselves in contact with child protection services. Contact with children’s social services often happens during pregnancy or postnatally, with infants under one the most common age group to be brought to court in childcare proceedings. Their mothers may also face 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 loss and lack guidance on this. Mothers with infants involved with the child protection system say they are less satisfied with their care and have more needs left unmet than other mothers. Those who lose custody describe this as a time of acute crisis but struggle to get therapeutic support.

This novel study will use quantitative and qualitative methods and co-design to explore these families’ experiences further and identify how mental health services can support 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 custody loss, 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: Starting

Principal Investigator


Funding Body: NIHR Maudsley Biomedical Research Centre

Amount: 816,343

Period: February 2024 - February 2029