It seems quite reasonable to have children removed from dangerous circumstances, which have been attributed to parental mental illness. Numerous studies have revealed that such an environment can correlate to child abuse and neglect. It hinges on the premise that a parent who isn’t mentally stable enough to look after himself or herself, may exhibit outrageous and harmful tendencies that could impact negatively on their child.
And while in a lot of cases this may certainly be the case, in other instances, children are being taken away from secure homes based on an unfair rationale that goes under the banner of “parental mental illness”.
Angelo Clement spoke candidly to the Guardian about his horrific experience of being the latter.
“I was removed from a safe environment at home with my mom where I wasn’t abused or neglected to a situation where I was very much unsafe,” said Clement.
It all began one night when Clement was 14-years-old and received a phone call from a teacher whilst he was home alone. Following this, the teacher made a report to the authorities, which claimed that Clement was being neglected by his mother.
The days and weeks that followed descended into hell for Clement and his mother. When the investigation was finally concluded, no evidence was found to indicate that any abuse had occurred. The case was, however, taken to court where it was argued that his mother, who had a past history of bipolar disorder, was not mentally fit to have Clement in her custody.
Within a short space of time, Clement's entire world unravelled before his eyes; he was snatched from his happy home, and placed into a foster care system that caused a lot of psychological and emotional trauma. As soon as he turned 18-years-old, Clement signed himself out of the foster care system.
A watchdog report revealed that the Administration of Children’s Services had misused and breached policies in family courts, and wrongfully removed children from their families in many similar cases such as Clement’s.
The harrowing reality is that some states view parental mental illness such as anxiety or depression, as a reason to take a child away. As a result, more and more parents avoid seeking out the mental health services that they may need, due to their worry that it may spell a visit from social services.
I knew a girl who, after giving birth to her first child, battled through postnatal depression. As a young and single mother, there was no doubt that she felt an insurmountable amount of pressure to be the best mother that she could be.
When I asked her why she did not want to seek out help for her postnatal depression or ask for further assistance in any area that she was struggling in, she said simply:
“I can’t risk social services thinking that I might even have a day where I feel sad or overwhelmed. They have the authority to turn up at my house and take my baby away–and it would mean that I would love everything.”
It may appear ludicrous that women in her position are unable to get the support that they need from a government whom they have paid taxes to–taxes which should be redistributed back to them in such times. Yet, her concerns were not completely unfounded.
Healthy Place states that custody loss rates for parental mental illness range as high as 70-80 per cent, and a higher proportion of parents with serious mental illnesses lose custody of their children than parents without mental illness.