Narratives of mothers whose children have been compulsorily removed

Narratives of mothers whose children have been compulsorily removed

Professor Gwynnyth Llewellyn

This research aimed to understand the responses of mothers with intellectual disability following removal of their child/children


Mayes, R., & Llewellyn, G. (2012). Mothering differently: Narratives of mothers with intellectual disability whose children have been compulsorily removed. Journal of Intellectual & Developmental Disability, 37(2), 121-130.

Publication/Completion Year:

Research Focus

  • Support for vulnerable and at-risk families
  • Other child protection issues
Research Question:

To explore the daily lives of mothers with intellectual disability following removal of their child/ children recognising that they had been through a significant grief event.

Major Findings:

The 7 mothers in the study had multiple experiences of children being removed. Despite this loss of responsibility for one child or more, and although they were less involved in their care, the mothers' daily lives continued to focus on their children. Central to their narratives was their active engagement with their mothering role on a daily basis. Five mothers were engaged with their children sharing a narrative of "living as the mother I am". Their stories were characterised by engagement in another kind of mothering: as a mother who did not have custody of her children. A second narrative told by three mothers was "living as the mother I should be". For these mothers neither they nor their child benefitted by the child being cared for by someone else. Their focus was on trying to regain custody of their child or children. One mother no longer felt like a mother at all. All had experienced significant grief and loss. Critically, the life narratives of the mothers demonstrate grief that is ambiguous and ongoing. The circumstances of their grief continued to change following the initial loss, and this was typically outside their control. Access orders were altered allowing mothers more or less time with their children. Restoration plans were made and rejected, giving increased or diminished hope of the child returning home.


Understanding that mothers with intellectual disability experience feelings of grief and loss and that this is ongoing due to their powerlessness in circumstances beyond their control and which change unexpectedly and abruptly. The power imbalance between mothers and the child protection authority was most apparent in the mothers' reliance on support for access to their children. This needs to be transparently confronted and addressed in honest and open communication with mothers. For the mothers of this study, being supported to see their children was more important than how frequently they could visit.This was because, when they were supported, they could evaluate their child's wellbeing and actively engage with their role as non-custodial mother. Lack of support was evident in many of the narratives, perhaps because care and protection regarded the likelihood of re-unification to be very slim indeed. Changing supervisory approaches and behaviours to becoming the best support of access visits by biological mothers would benefit both the mothers mental health status and the children over the longer term.

Child Abuse Type(s):
  • Type not specified

Further Citations

Mayes, R., Llewellyn, G., & McConnell, D. (2011). "That's who I choose to be": The mother identity for women with intellectual disabilities. Women's Studies International Forum, 34(2), 112-120. Related publication that formed the foundation for the present study

Commencement Year:
Project Completed?:
Completion Year:


Information obtained from:
Added to Register: 30 June 2016
Last updated: 30 June 2016

Publication meta

Project location(s):
  • New South Wales
Project Type:
Research only
Participants/Data Sample:
  • Families with parents with a disability
Sample Size:
Small (1-19 participants)

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