Mental illness can be treated to ensure that the child does not come to harm. It is when the mental illness affects a parent’s ability to parent a child to a standard that is considered acceptable that concerns are usually raised.
However, statistically speaking, where a parent is suffering with chronic or severe mental health problems, the children are more likely to be at risk of significant harm: a study of 100 child deaths as a result of abuse or neglect showed clear evidence of a parent suffering with mental illness in one-third of cases.
When considering if a child is considered to be at risk of significant harm or of having their wellbeing adversely affected as a result of the parent’s mental illness the child may:
- Feature within parental delusions;
- Be involved in his/her parent’s obsessive-compulsive behaviours;
- Become a target for parental aggression or rejection;
- Have caring responsibilities inappropriate to his/her age;
- Witness disturbing behaviour arising from the mental illness;
- Be neglected physically and/or emotionally by an unwell parent;
- Not live with the unwell parent, but has contact.
Where a pregnant mother has previously been diagnosed with a severe mental illness, the unborn child may be equally considered to be at risk where the mental illness may results in a known risk or harm to themselves and/ or others, including the unborn child both in utero and after birth.
The fundamental issue is whether the mental illness causes risk or harm to a child and if that risk or harm can be managed or not to reduce that risk to ensure that a child is safe.
It is important that any mental illness is identified and appropriate treatment provided.