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Linking data on women in public family law court proceedings concerning their children to mental health service records in South London

Lay Summary



Maternal mental health problems and substance misuse are key risk factors for child neglect or abuse and court-mandated placement into care. Linkage between mental health records and family court data could raise awareness about parent mental health needs and inform approaches to address them.


To evaluate data linkage between administrative family court data and electronic mental health records for a population-based mental health service for 1.3 million people in South London.


We deterministically linked administrative family court data for women (n=5463) involved in care proceedings in South London with service user records from the South London and Maudsley NHS Mental Health Trust (SLaM). We restricted the cohort to women involved in proceedings between 2007 and 2019, in local authorities where SLaM solely provides secondary/tertiary mental health services and the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) (n=3226). We analysed the associations between match status and sociodemographic/case characteristics using multivariable logistic regression.


Two-thirds (2317/3226; 66%) of women linked to a SLaM service user record at some point; most (91%) who linked accessed secondary/tertiary mental health services, indicating serious mental illness. Accounting for possible missed matches, we estimated that 70-83% of women accessed SLaM services at some point. Older women at index proceedings (>35yrs OR: 0.69, 95%CI: 0.54-0.88vs <25yrs) and Black women or women from other ethnic groups (Black ethnic groups 0.65, 0.50-0.83; other ethnicity 0.59, 0.43-0.81 vs White ethnic groups) had lower odds of linking. Odds of linking were higher for women with an infant in proceedings (1.42, 1.18-1.71), or with curtailed/terminated parental responsibility (1.44, 1.20-1.73).


Our linkage supports growing evidence of a high burden of mental health problems and substance misuse among women whose children enter care in England, compared to the general population. Research using this linkage should inform strategies to address the considerable mental health needs of vulnerable women and their children


Pearson R, Jewell A, Wijlaars L, Bedston S, Finch E, Broadhurst K, Downs J, Gilbert R.

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