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Parents with Mental Illness: Decision‐making in Australian Children's Court Cases Involving Parents with Mental Health Problems

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Mental illness is listed as a child protection concern for a number of families reported to child protection agencies in Australia. Parents with mental health problems are more vulnerable, as are their children, to having parenting and child welfare concerns. Studies undertaken in the Melbourne Children's Court (Victoria) have found that the children of parents with mental health problems comprise at least one-quarter of all new child protection applications brought to the Court (Sheehan, 1997; 2001). This paper reports on a study undertaken in 2002, in the Melbourne Children's Court, to examine (a) the extent to which the children of parents with mental health problems are involved in child protection matters, (b) the contribution by mental health professionals to resolving these child welfare concerns, and (c) the difficulties which confront the Court in deciding these matters. The study considered in this article found that, although parents with mental health problems are a significant group coming to Court, there is negligible involvement by mental health professionals in the child protection system. It was apparent that there was very little co-operation between adult mental health and child protection services in this field. The Court was, therefore, given little appreciation of a parent's mental health functioning and its contribution to, and impact upon, the child, and thus may not have all necessary information about the needs of, and likely outcomes for, these children and their parents.

Keywords: Australia; Child Protection; Children; Children's Courts; Judicial Decisionā€Making; Mental Health; Parental Mental Illness; Parenting; Parents

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Department of Social Work, Monash University, Victoria, Australia 2: Children's Court of Victoria, Victoria, Australia

Publication date: March 1, 2005

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