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A study out of the University of Manitoba says mothers whose children are taken into the child welfare system see a significant deterioration in their mental well-being.

The study looked at 1,591 mothers whose first child was born in Manitoba between April 1, 1998 and March 31, 2011.

It compared outcomes for mothers whose children were taken into care after the age of 2 and mothers whose children were not taken into care.

The outcomes the study looked at included rates of depression, anxiety, substance abuse, physician visits for mental health, hospitalizations, prescription drug use, income assistance usage and residential mobility.

The study analyzed these outcomes two years before a child was taken and two years after.

“What we found was mothers whose children are taken into care have much higher rates of most of these outcomes in the years after their child is taken,” said Elizabeth Wall-Wieler, a PHD Candidate at the University of Manitoba who conducted the study with her colleagues. “That would indicate there is a worsening of mental illness and an increase of treatment in the years after.”

Wall-Wieler says the gap between mothers whose children go into the foster system and mothers whose children don’t grows more in the years after the child is taken.

The study also found mothers affected by the child welfare system typically already had high rates of these outcomes due to many of them living in poverty, and those rates grew stronger after their children were taken.

The comparison showed a 19 per cent increase in depression, a 36 per cent increase in anxiety and a 97 per cent increase in substance use disorder in the years after a child was taken as opposed to the years before. It also showed physician visits increased by six per cent, doctor visits specific to mental illness increased by 51 per cent and prescription drug use jumped by 42 per cent.

“In Manitoba we have one of the highest rates of children in care in the world and one of the challenges is we don’t have a lot of preventative services or supports for families to help them before a child is taken,” Wall-Wieler said.

In the middle of October, Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister said the child-welfare system is going to go through an extensive overhaul. The province’s most recent Families report said Manitoba had 10,741 kids in care in 2016-2017 and Pallister said 90 per cent of those children are Indigenous.

Wall-Wieler says there needs to be more supports in place to help families avoid having their children taken away in the first place. She says that could remedy some of the issues mothers face after their children are taken away.  

“If children don’t get placed in care the mental health deterioration doesn’t happen to mothers,” she said. “And if a child is in a situation where they have to be taken we need supports to make sure mothers are fit to get custody back as soon as possible.”

The study was published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health. You can find it online.