Methamphetamine use in pregnancy, child protection, and removal of infants: Tertiary centre experience from Western Australia

Angela O'Connor, Emma Harris, Carly Seeber, Dale Hamilton, Colleen Fisher, Mark Sachmann

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


The aim of this study is to explore factors that determine infant removal by Child Protective Services and placement in out of home care, for methamphetamine-using women receiving pregnancy care with Western Australia Women and Newborn Drug and Alcohol Service. Method: A prospective cohort study of 112 methamphetamine-using women attending Women and Newborn Drug and Alcohol Service for pregnancy care from 2015 to 2018 was undertaken. Maternal methamphetamine use was assessed during each trimester of pregnancy using a standardised assessment tool. Drug use was by maternal self-report. Involvement of Western Australia's Department for Child Protection and Family Support and removal from maternal care were recorded. Infant development was formally assessed at 12 months with Griffiths Mental Development Scales. The comparison was made between three groups: those women who had no involvement with Child Protection, those for whom Child Protection was involved but the child remained in maternal care and those women who had their infants removed from their care. A comparison between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal women was also undertaken. Results: Of the 110 infants born to 112 women, 33 (30.3%) of infants were removed from maternal custody after delivery. Overall 60 (53.5%) of women had Child Protection involvement. Aboriginal women were overrepresented in our population 59 (52.7%) and 24 out of the 33 infants were Aboriginal were removed and placed into out of home care. Infants were removed from women with a high level of risk factors associated with MA use including those who were homeless, in prison, unemployed or continued high use of MA, mental health issues. Aboriginal infants were at increased risk of removal. Children removed from maternal care had a trend towards poorer developmental attainment at around 12 months compared to those who remained with their mother. Infants who were removed by the Child protection had lower general quotients (p = 0.132) than infants who had no involvement or some involvement. Conclusion: Infants removed from maternal care were more likely to be from women with high use, adverse social factors and born to mothers who identified as being Aboriginal. Resources are required that work intensively with families to reduce the number of infants being removed from maternal care to overcome the risks and challenges of addiction. Implications for practice: Resources that provide long term support and community-based models that offer a comprehensive range of maternal-child services and in-home-support would be more effective in keeping families together.

Original languageEnglish
Article number102641
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2020


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