This chapter was reviewed and updated in November 2019.
Mental ill health difficulties are proportionately common in the overall population, the term does not in itself have one clear definition, and therefore the existence of mental illness should not be taken as a risk factor without contextual information.
Parental mental illness does not necessarily have an adverse impact on a child's developmental needs, but it is essential to always assess its implications for each child within the family. Professionals from both Children's Services and Adult Mental Health Services must share information and work jointly in any assessments undertaken to ensure that everyone is working in partnership with the children and the parents/carers.
The state of a person’s mental illness is usually not static and can vary according to several factors, correspondingly their capacity to parent safely may also be variable, and therefore, an understanding of the factors which may increase risk is an important part of any assessment.
Many adults who suffer from mental ill health also have substance misuse issues, which is described as Dual Diagnosis and there may be several agencies and services, for both adults and children, who are working with the family.National Serious Case Reviews and Domestic Homicide Reviews have identified domestic abuse, parental mental ill health and drug and alcohol misuse as significant factors in families where children have died or been seriously harmed. Where all three concerns are present they have been described as the ‘toxic trio’ or ACE (Adverse Childhood Experiences), which practitioners should be alert to and consider in any assessments.
The majority of parents who suffer significant mental ill health are able to care for and safeguard their child(ren) and/or unborn child, but it is essential always to assess the implications for each child in the family.
Practitioners must also take into consideration that the absence of a formal diagnosis does not mean there is an absence of risk.
A child who has suffered, or is likely to suffer Significant Harm or whose well-being is affected by parental mental illness could be a child:
To determine how a parent/carer's mental illness may impact on their parenting ability and the child's development the following questions need to be considered within an assessment:
Where it is believed that a child of a parent with mental ill health may have suffered, or is likely to suffer significant harm, a referral to Children's social care should be made in accordance with the Referral, Investigation and Assessment Procedures. If there are concerns, it may be the case that the child and family will find early help services supportive and an assessment of the needs of the child should take place at an early stage for example by an Early Help Assessment (EHA) taking place.
It is essential that staff working in adult mental health services and Children's social care work together collaboratively to ensure the safety of the child and management of the adult's mental ill health.Joint work will include mental health workers providing all information with regard to:
Children's social care must assess the individual needs of each child and within this incorporate information provided by mental health workers.
Mental health professionals should be invited to and must attend to provide information to any meeting concerning the implications of the parent/carer's mental ill health on the child including Child Protection Conferences and Child in Need meetings. Children's social care professionals should be invited to and must attend Care Programme Approach (CPA) and other meetings related to the management of the parent's ill mental health. The Adult Mental Health professionals must ensure that priority is given to attending and participating in Strategy Discussions and Child Protection Conferences.
All plans for a child including Child Protection Plans and Child in Need Plans will identify the roles and responsibilities of mental health and other professionals. The plan will also identify the process of communication and liaison between professionals. All professionals should work in accordance with their own agency procedures / guidelines and seek advice and guidance from line management or the organisation safeguarding lead, when necessary.
Where there are child welfare concerns regarding visits to patient a joint assessment should be undertaken to establish whether it is in the best interests of a child to visit their parent or family member in a psychiatric hospital.
Adult and child mental health professionals, children's social workers, health visitors and midwives, school nurses and education services must share information in order to be able to assess risks.
Discharge planning arrangements and any associated meetings about parents who have mental ill health difficulties must include consideration of any needs or risk factors for the children concerned. Children's Services along with other relevant agencies should be involved in planning discharge arrangements by Adult Mental Health Services professionals.
Contingency Planning. Child care and mental health professionals should always consider the future management of a change in circumstances for a parent/carer and the child and how concerns will be identified and communicated.
If a parent/carer disengages from mental health services, or is non-compliant with Treatment and the professional judgment is that there is on-going risk to the child in these circumstances, this should be referred to Children's social care.
Professionals need to consider carefully the implications for children when closing their involvement with parents with a mental illness. Consideration should be given to informing the appropriate Children's social care team in order that the implications for the child are assessed.
Mental health services should always use 'respectful uncertainty' and not readily accept parent / carer's assertions that their mental illness are not affecting the care they provide to their children. Where there is any doubt in these situations, services should always err on the side of caution.
Confidentiality is important in developing trust between parents with mental ill health and practitioners in agencies working with them, however, practitioners must always act in the best interest of the child and not prioritise their therapeutic relationship with the adult.
Only valid for 48hrs