Being in child protective services impacts mental health

August 16, 2019

Children who have experience with child protective services may be more likely to experience mental health events, according to a recent Australian study.

Children who have experience with child protective services (CPS) may be more likely to experience mental health events, according to an Australian study published in BMJ Open.

The researchers used records for all children born in Western Australia between 1990 and 2009. They looked for mental health diagnoses, mental health contacts, and any mental health events from birth to 2013 that were found using International Classification of Diseases codes in Western Australia’s Hospital Morbidity Data Collection and Mental Health Information System.

When compared with children who had no child protection contact, children who had substantiated maltreatment were found to have a higher prevalence of mental health events (37.4% vs 5.6%). They also had a higher prevalence of mental health diagnoses (20% vs 3.6%). Following an adjustment for all background risks, researchers found that all types of maltreatment had a link, including an almost twofold to almost threefold increased hazard for mental health events.

Mental health events were higher across all protection groups including children who entered care (hazard ratio [HR]: 3.54 [95% confidence interval {CI}, 3.28 to 3.82]) to unsubstantiated allegations (HR: 2.31 [95% CI, 2.18 to 2.46]). Additionally, living in a socially disadvantaged neighborhood, young maternal age, the mother’s mental health, and being an Aboriginal child were linked to a higher likelihood of mental health events.

The researchers concluded that children and adolescents who are involved in the CPS system are more likely to experience mental health events and receive mental health diagnoses. They argue that the findings illustrate how important services that work on improving mental health outcomes are for children who are involved in the child protection system.