“A loving and concerned young mother lost her parental rights to her two youngest children after a psychologist testified that she had a personality disorder, a diagnosis that she had never before received. The psychologist, whom the 29-year-old mother of three had never met prior to their two-hour interview, had ignored her request that he interview the people whom she had offered as references; these included her employer as well as the mental health professionals who had been successfully treating her depression. Although she has retained joint custody of her 9-year-old son, “my heart is broken,” she says. She vows to continue fighting until she is reunited with her 4-year-old son and her 8-year-old daughter, who was returned to foster care by the family that had planned to adopt both her and the young boy, apparently because the little girl developed emotional problems when she was no longer allowed to see her mother. “My attorney says that I was a victim of the system,” she says. The children are also victims, since they were wrenched from their mother’s arms, separated from all the people they love, and thrust into a system that cannot provide the care they need.”

This young mother fell victim to the myth that parents with mental illnesses tend to maltreat their children. In reality, a mental illness is only one of many potential risk factors for child maltreatment, which includes all types of abuse and neglect that occur among children under age 18. The four common types are physical, sexual and emotional abuse, as well as neglect.

Experts agree that determining who is at increased risk of child abuse and neglect is a complex task, and a parental mental illness alone does not indicate an increased likelihood of child maltreatment. Poverty and unemployment are two major factors that have been repeatedly linked with greater rates of abuse and neglect. Additional risk factors include a lack of decent, affordable housing; inaccessible healthcare; community violence; social isolation; substance abuse; parental illness; and criminal involvement. Risk factors should be assessed across multiple domains, which include risks within the family and in the community. The presence of multiple risk factors should raise a red flag.

(2008). Myths about parents with mental illnesses. The UPENN Collaborative Retrieved from