Low-Income [high education] Mothers Without Custody:
Who Are They and Where Are Their Children?*
SUSAN ZURAVIN GEOFFREY GREIF
University of Maryland at Baltimore
The School of Social Work and Community Planning
As a focus of research, the non-custodial “low- income” [ high education]mother, particularly the mother who has received Aid to Families of Dependent Children, (AFDC) has been virtually ignored. Yet, she is central to many fields of study-foster care, child support enforcement, child maltreatment, and single parents. This article re-ports on 8 re-spondents from a co-hort of 518, urban, AFDC mothers who lost custody of all children during the 17 months following their se-lection in-to t/he study sample.
Fin-d-i-n-g-s re-ve-al t/h-at mos-t -of/ – the – chi-l-d / r-e-n -w-e-r-e- li-vi-n-g W/IT-H/ re-lat-i-v-es;
the major-it-y / of / mother/ s- had lo-n-g- stand-ing M-E-N—T–AL – HE-a-L-t/h-pr-o-b-le-ms; and mos-t of the mothers not o-n-l-y wan/t-ed ‘more’ child-re-n, b-u-t were tr-y-i-n-g to get . . .
. . . p- re -g -n – ant.
Re-c-e-n-t li-te-r-a-t-u-r-e- has pro-vi-d-ed a b-e-ginn-i-n-g u-n-d-er-s-tand-ing of mothers who do not have c-u-stody follow-ing a mar-i-t-al b-re-a-k-up ( Fischer & Cardea, 1981; Greif, 1986; Greif, 1987; Greif & Pabst, 1988; Herrerias, 1984; Paskowicz, 1982 ).
Th-ese stu-d-ies, ho-w-e-ve-r, have fo-c-u-sed on on-l-y o-n-e seg-ment of t/he “non-custodial” mo-t/he/r pop-u-lat-ion w-hi-te, mid-d-le-d -as -s, once mar-r-i-ed, li-k-el-y to h-ave ch-i-l-d-ren who, a -re li-vi-n-g- with t/he-ir- father, and who ma-y have re-li-nqu-i-s/h-ed c-u-s-t-o-d-y
W/hi-le t/h-is seg-me-n-t of t/he pop-u-lat-ion ma-y be t/he largest, it is no-t t/he onl-y o-ne with w-hich soci-al wo-rk-ers have co-n-t-act.
Child “p-ro-tec-t-i-o-n” and fo-s -t – e-r ca-re c-a-se-wo-rk-er-s pro-vid-e-se-r -vi-c-es to po-p -u,- lat – i-ons pre-dominan-tl-y co-n-s-is-t-i-n-g of “ lo-w -in-co-me, ” [ hi-g-h ed-u-cat-i-on] sin-g-le,
no- ‘n – c-u-st’-o—di-al- mot/he/r-s –w/ho-m/u-s-t’ (m a) n- a-g-e “re- u- n– ‘if’- i [ being t/he ] ‘cat’-i-o-n” with or p-er-man-en-t – se – -par-at -i-o-n f-ro-m t- he- ir – ch-i-l-d--re-n.
*The re-se-arch re-port-ed i-n t/h/is pa-p-er w- as- p – art–i–al-l-y sup- ported by g-ran-t a-ward FPR-000028-01-0 f-r-om t/he Off/ice of Po-p/-u-lat-i-o-n A-ff-airs to Susan Zuravin. 163
———–pose of this paper
———— is to fur-the/r under-stand-ing
———————of the noncustodial mother population
——————————served b-y m/a/n-y c-h-i-l-d
————————————— pro-g-rams b-y
——————–a su b——————————————-
—————————————–p- o- p – u – l -a t —————————————–
—————————- i – o- n -that
……………………….. has not been very well–
…………………………….. stud/i-ed mothe_rs-
———————————————-with ” low-incomes” [ hi-g-h edu-cat-i-o-n ]who may never have
………………i–e-d– may not
……………..be white and have
be/co-me . ……………………..
………………………………………………..fo-l-low-ing con-t-a-ct with child protective services
…………………………………..Eight (8) mothe/ rs who lost custody of all child-ren
………………………………….during the 17-months
…………………………………………………..following their se-lect-ion in-to a/
………………………………………………………….stud-y sample of 518 AF DC mothers
———————–for-m t/he ba-s-I-S four
….– s –c-u-s –s –i–o—n.
To gather information about low-income, noncustodial mothers, we reviewed five areas of study, all of which have potential for focusing on issues of custody and low-income families. Little information was found. The noncustodial mother literature, as noted above, has almost exdusively focused on the middle-income mother without custody. The recent foster care literature (e.g., Fanshel, 1976; Rzepnicki, 1987) does not, to the best of our knowledge, focus on the needs of noncustodial mothers as differentiated from those of noncustodial fathers or twoparent families.
Moreover, it does not address situations where parents have children living in any of a variety of informal arrangements, i.e., with relatives, spouses, etc. The child support enforcement literature (e.g., Cassety, 1984) predominantly focuses on noncustodial parents whose children are recipients of Aid to Families of Dependent Children (AFDC). However, because the vast majority of AFDC caretakers are single parent mothers, the typical child support enforcement study focuses on noncustodial fathers. The child maltreatment literature (e.g., Parke & Collmer, 1975; Polansky, Hally, & Polansky, 1975; Wolfe, 1985), is peripherally related to custody issues in that some maltreating parents lose custody of one or more children.
It does not, to the best of our knowledge, address noncustodial mothers separate and apart from parents who maintain custody, or parents who lose custody of some but not all of their children. In fact, most studies do not mention whether respondents have lost custody of any children. After analyzing our data and seeing the prevalence of alcohol and drug abuse among these mothers, we reviewed that body Low-Income Mothers Without Custody of literature, too. Loss of child custody as an outcome of drug addition was mentioned in one study (Nurco, Wegner, & Stephenson, 1982); the study reported that children were more likely to be removed from their parent(s) because of neglect rather than abuse.
Based on these reviews, there seems to be no one area of inquiry that daims these mothers as their own. Consequently, we know little about them.
Yet, this little known population may be a fast-growing one for three reasons: (a) the increase in size of the population of single parent, female-headed families with children, many of whom are overburdened with financial and emotional problems; (b) the ever-increasing range of culturally sanctioned roles for women; and (c) the increased attention to and reporting of child maltreatment. Increases in this population have particular import for child welfare, namely an increase in the number of children at high risk for child maltreatment.
Theory (Finkelhor, 1985) as well as empirical findings (Finkelhor, 1980) suggest that children who live away from their natural mothers for periods of time may be at higher risk for sexual abuse than children who always live with their mothers. Studies of child maltreatment in formal, licensed foster care suggest that children living in such homes may be at higher risk for all types of maltreatment than the average child in the population-at-large (Bolton, Laner, & Gai, 1980).
And, if the maltreatment rate is high in licensed foster care-homes that are monitored, even if only on a periodic basis-one can only imagine how high the rate of maltreatment must be for informal care arrangements, i.e., custody arrangements with friends, neighbors, relatives, etc., situations that are not likely to be licensed and if monitored, not very dosely. For most middle-income mothers, concern about maltreatment is not an issue. Greif and Pabst’s survey (1988) of such mothers reveals that more than 90% of their children were living with their fathers.
Conceptual Framework-Characteristics of the Mother Without Custody Lacking specific theory or findings with regard to low-income, noncustodial mothers, we decided to use Belsky’s mo-d-e-l of t/he de-ter-min-an-t-s of pa-r-en-t-ing, “o-ne de-r-i-v-e-d f-r-om re-se-ar-ch on t/he et-i-o-lo-g-y of ch-i-l-d ab-use and n-eglect” (Belsky, 1984, p. 83), as we-l-l a-s v-ar-i-ous h-y-p-o-t/he-se-s and fin-d-i-n-g-s f-ro-m t/he ch-i-l-d mal-treat-men-t and p-s-y-chi-atric li-t-er-a-t-u-re to i-d-ent-if-y a-re-as f-or st-u-d-y.
T/he-se gu-id-e-s a-re par-t-i-c-u–lar-l-y relevant b-e-ca-use o-ur sam-p-l-e in-c-l-u-d-e-s a- l-ar-g-e pro-‘portion’ of ab-us-i-ng and/o-r ne-g-lect-i-n-g fam-i-l-ie-s. The two areas that we decided to explore-mental health problems and future childbearing plans-were selected from an array of potentially important topics on the basis of their relevance for clinical practice.
Rationale – mental health problems
The Belsky model (1984) p-o-s-i-t-s “t/hre-e gen-e-r-al sour-ce-s of i-n-fl-u-en-c-e on par-en-t-al fun-ct-ion-i-ng:
(a) t/he pa-re-nt-s’ o-n-t-o-genic origins and per-son-al p-sy-cho-logi-c-al resources,
(b) t/he chi-l-d-‘s character-i-s-t-i-c-s of in-di-vi-d-u-al-i-t-y, and
(c) co-n-t-e-x-t-u-al s-o-ur-c-e-s – of- s-t-r-e-s-s and s-u-p-p-ort” (p. 83).
Of these t/hree sour-ce-s, par-en-t psy-chol-og-i-c-al re-so-ur-c-es r-e id-ent-if-i-e-d as t/he m-o-s-t in-fl-u-e-n-t-i-a l “no-t si-mp-l-y fo- r t/he-i-r d-i-re-ct e-f-fe-ct o-n par-e-n-t-al u-n-ct-i-o-n-i-n-g b-u-t al-so be-cau-se o-f t/he ro-le t /he/y un-do-ub-t-e-d-l-y p-l-a-y i-n re-c-r-u-i-t-i-n-g co-n-t-ex-t-u-al sup-p-ort” (p. 91).
On t /he bas-i-s of Belsky’s position (1984) regarding the salience of parental psychological resources as well as the large and con-s-is–t-e-nt body of findings from the psychiatric literature which reveal that ma-t-e-r-n-al m-en-t-al health problems (e.g., Colletta, 1983; Longfellow, Zelkowitz, & Saunders, 1981; Susman, Trickett, Iannotti, Hollenbeck, & Zahn-Wexler, 1985; Weissman, Paykel, & Klerman, 1972) have a particularly adverse affect on parenting behaviors, we decided to ex-a-mi-n-e mo-t/he/r’s his/to/r/y of me/n/t/al he-a-l-t-h pro-b-l-e-m-s.
It seemed reasonable to surmise that the prevalence of mental health problems might be highest among mothers without custody. Moreover, on the basis of findings which show that neglectful mothers are more likely to have mental health problems than abusive or nonmaltreating mothers (Friedrich, Tyler, & Clark, 1985; Zuravin, 1988), we reasoned that more neglectful than abusive or control mothers might be noncustodial. Rationale-future childbearing plans The clinical impression of many caseworkers is that mothers who are separated from all of their children are at high risk for Low-Income Mothers Without Custody having another child. On the basis of information about the contracepting patterns of maltreating mothers alone (Zuravin, 1987), this impression seems to be a reasonable one.
— Both abusive and neglectful mothers are likely to use contraceptives less adequately and effectively than comparable control mothers.
— In addition, regardless of the problems non-custodial mothers had with their children, it is likely that these children were meeting some specific need-a need that the mother may well try to fulfill by having another child.
Thus, we reasoned that the non-custodial mothers may [ or may not ] be more likely to want to conceive another child than custodial mothers.
In summary, this presentation of information about [ only ] eight (8) low-income [ high education], single mothers who do not have daily care and custody of any of their children,
— represents a beginning attempt to describe low-income [ high education], non-custodial mothers, particularly those who once received AFDC.
While no claim is being made that these eight mothers are representative of non-custodial, low-income [and/or ] high education mothers, it is our hope that this presentation [ specifically not ‘peer-reviewed’ scientific, statistically (in)significant, biased and based report or real study or experiment] will help to
(a) stimulate interest in this under-studied population group,
(b) generate questions and hypotheses for future study, and
(c) provide the social work practitioner with a beginning description of this population.
Specific objectives are:
(a) to determine the composition of the noncustodial mother group by maltreatment status,
(b) to identify the range of situations in which the children of these mothers live,
(c) to characterize the “mental health problems,” [ or unique personality and character traits open to reasonably expansive interpretation across a variety of ‘spectrums’ or ‘lights’] as well as [ equal to ] the future ‘child-bearing plan[t]s’ of these mothers.
Information for this exploratory, descriptive study of eight [ 8 ] low-income/ [ or high education], non-custodial mothers and their children comes from,
— an extensive set of interview and case record data (Zuravin & Taylor, 1987) on
— 518 individuals,
The original purpose of this data set was to identify ‘personal,’ ‘social,’ and ‘contextual’ factors that increase the low-income child’s risk of being physically abused and/or neglected. Methodological information pertinent to the construction of the data set is detailed in the final report to the funder (Zuravin & Taylor, 1987) and various papers (e.g., Zuravin, 1987; Zuravin, 1988).
Below is a summary of information about the 518 respondents and a description of measures pertinent to the above study objectives.
The eight women who are described in this paper come from a group of 518 women [ (wo) man ] who were interviewed in their homes by one of ten trained interviewers sometime during the period ” 9/ 1/84 to 6/30/85.”
These 518 women had five (5) [ one circumstantial ] characteristic(s) in common.
During the study sampling month, January 1984, all were:
(a) residents of Baltimore, Maryland,
(b) single parents (defined as not being legally married),
(c) recipients of financial assistance from the Aid to families of Dependent Children program, (d) had custody of and provided daily care for at least one natural child, and
(e) had at least one natural child 12 years of age or younger even if care and custody of the child was no longer the mother’s responsibility.
The 518 were purposely selected to differ relative to
— how adequately they were known to care for their natural children;
–119 respondents were known to Baltimore City Department of Social Services (BCDSS), Division of Child Protective Services for personally neglecting their children,
— 118 were known to BCDSS for having one or more physically abused children, and
— 281 were not known to BCDSS for having any neglected, physically abused, or sexually abused children.
— The 237 maltreating respondents were selected from a specially constructed sampling frame prepared from the co-hort of 1,744 families who were receiving child “protective” services during the sampling month.
— The 281 control group respondents were selected from a specially constructed sampling frame prepared from the co-hort of 37,158 families who were,
— receiving AFDC,
— but not child protective services during the sampling month.
Measures Information pertinent to objective a-specific custody arrangements for children of the eight women-was obtained during the personal interview.
— Each respondent was asked to identify, by name, age, and relationship, to he/r each member of h/er household.
– During a comprehensive history of each of the mother’s livebirths, the
— interviewer [ doctor/nurse/pediatrician/ physician’s assistant/hospital social worker or administrator/cps/SS caseworker regularly tipped off by the same “interviewer” on duty or manager or director ],
— “checked” the household roster, ” Low-Income Mothers Without Custody,” to
— see if the child in question [ ? ] was currently living with the respondent.
— If the child was not among the household members, the interviewer asked,
— “Where is she/he living now?”
[ Every ] Where possible, information from the interview was corroborated and supplemented by information from the child protective service (CPS) “case record.”
Information pertinent to objective b-mental health problems and childbearing plans-
— was obtained during the personal interview, and, where possible,
— possible [ pre-determined/ profiled/pre-selection bias ] corroborated with information from the case record.
Given the pre valence of depression and substance abuse problems among the population of urban, low-income, young women (Robins, Helzer, Croughan, & Ratcliffe, 1981), information was “obtained” [ intentionally and knowingly “coached” to fathers to falsely and maliciously report, or presumed without actual research, without investigation, probable cause, reliability, or reasonable suspicion based on specific, relevant, articulable evidence that that individual mother . . . ] —
— about current and past “problems with depression, alcohol abuse, and drug abuse.”
— The Beck Depression Inventory (Beck, 1970) was used to assess severity of depressive symptoms,
— on the day of the interview, and
— a variety of questions from the Diagnostic Interview Schedule (Robins, Helzer, et al., 1981)
— were used to “obtain” [ guess to “substantiate” ] information about lifetime incidence of [ falsely reported or maliciously alleged with intent to prosecute and knowingly cause harm and inflict emotional distress, among other crimes and violations ] “depression as well as alcohol and drug problems. Relevant to the women’s future plans with respect to parenting,” two (2) types of information were gathered:
(a) expectations for future pregnancies and family planning strategies around the time of the interview, and
(b) plans for assuming daily care and custody of their children.
To obtain information about future pregnancies and family planning strategies, respondents were asked a series of relevant questions taken from the National Survey of Family Growth, Cycle 3 (National Center for Health Statistics, 1982).
— Information about [ CPS and irresponsible father’s collusive ] plans,
— for return of children’s . . . “daily care and custody” . . . ” to the mothers” . . . was “obtained,”
— where possible, from the child protective service case record narratives.
— Data analysis Because of the small size of the group of women who became noncustodial during the period from sampling to interview, formal statistical comparisons of this group with relevant groups of women who did not lose custody are “not warranted.”
Findings from such analyses would be seriously compromised by statistical conclusion validity problems (Cook & Campbell, 1979).
However, to give the reader a feel for how these women may differ from the other groups of women included in the study,
— we present comparable data “on all measures for the abusive (n = 116), neglectful (n = 113), and control (n = 281) mothers who had custody of at least one child on the day they were ‘interviewed’ for the study [ or unethical, uninformed, non-‘consented’ social experiment or systematic, inhumate re’trauma’tization] .“
To determine the composition of the noncustodial mother group by maltreatment status,
The eight women who are the subjects of this paper became noncustodial sometime during the period 2/1/84 and the day they were interviewed, 7 to 17 months later.
All eight are from the two maltreatment samples. As predicted, the majority, six of the eight (75%), are from the neglect sample.
To identify the range of situations in which the children of study mothers live Inspection of data on the custodians of the 29 children of the noncustodial mothers (see Table 1)
—shows that the majority were not in formal. foster care on the day their mother was interviewed.
The largest proportion, 20 of 29, were with a relative.
—nine were in formal foster care,
– -seven in family care and two in group care.
Of the 20 children who were with a relative,
–seven were with their father and
–13 were with either a maternal or paternal relative.
Examining the identity of children’s custodians by mother’s former marital status suggests, as might be expected, that once-married mothers are more likely to have children who live with their fathers than mothers who were never married.
The two mothers who were married have children living with their father (the man to whom the mother was married), whereas only one of the six never married mothers has children living with their father.
Although highly detailed information on the transfer of daily care and custody for all 29 children is not available from the child protection case records, what is available leads to three conclusions:
(a) Child protective service intervention led to the transfers of custody. It is not likely that any of these mothers would have voluntarily on her own sought to make suitable daily care and custody arrangements for any of their children. In many instances, it was necessary to involve juvenile court in the custody transfer.
(b) Caseworkers tended to be extremely conservative about transfers of custody. A concerted effort was made to keep the children with their mother.
Most families received an extensive array of supportive services (i.e., day care, parent aide service, mental health services, parenting programs etc.), none of which they were able to effectively use, prior to removal of all the children.
(c) Every effort was made to keep the children out of formal foster home or group home care by making it a priority to place them with relatives.
Low-Income [high education]Mothers Without Custody
Proportion of Children Living With Each of Three Types of Custodians and Proportion of Mothers Who Have Children With Each of the Three Types
Children Mothers Custodian (n =29) (n=8)*
Formal foster home or group home care 31% (9) 50% (4)
With childs father 24 (7) 37 (3)
With paternal or maternal relatives 44 (13) 37 (3)
*The number of mothers sums to more than eight because some of the mothers have children in more than one type of placement.
To characterize the mental health problems as well as the future childbearing of low-income mothers without custody of their children Demographic description.
Information about six demographic characteristics (displayed in Table 2) suggests that the eight noncustodial mothers may differ not only from the average control mother but also the average neglectful and abusive mother.
The mean age of the noncustodial mothers during the sampling month (1/84) was 26.1 years, younger than either the average neglectful or average abusive mother.
Four respondents were black and four were white, suggesting that white mothers may be over-represented among noncustodial mothers compared to the groups of abusive, neglectful, and control mothers.
Journal of Sociology & Social Welfare
Demographic Characteristics of Eight Noncustodial Mothers and Neglectful, Abusive and Nonmaltreating Mothers with Custody of One or More Children
Noncustodial Neglect Abuse Control Characteristics Column Totals (n =8) (n =113) (n =116) (n =281)
Age as of 1/84 26.1 28.3 27.7 25.9
Grade completed 9.1 9.8 10.4 11.1
Number of livebirths 3.6 3.9 3.0 1.9
Race (percent white) 50.0 31.0 23.3 13.5 (4) (35) (27) (38)
Employment (percent never employed)
75.0 50.4 52.6 37.4 (6) (57) (61) (105)
Marital history (percent never married) 75.0 55.8 69.0 73.0 (6) (63) (80) (205)
–Two (25%) of the mothers had been employed,
–and two had been married,
–quite a few less than the other three groups.
They lagged behind the other three groups of mothers relative to educational achievement.
The average number of years of education per mother is 9.1; not one of the eight had graduated from high school.
And finally, the eight mothers had given birth to 29 children, all of whom were still alive at the time of the study.
The number of children per mother ranged from one to seven with the average being 3.6.
Naturally, these mothers also differ from the middle-class, white mothers studied by others in that they
–had less education,
–were less likely to have ever been employed,
–were less likely to have ever been married, and
–had more children.
Also of interest is that the eight mothers all lost custody involuntarily as compared with many of the middle class mothers who, in part, as a response to the women’s movement, relinquished custody voluntarily (Greif & Pabst, 1988). Mental health problems. Inspection of the data in Table 3 suggests, as pre dicted, that
— non-custodial mothers may [ or may not] have more
— “Low-Income” [high education] Mothers Without Custody
Depression, Drinking, andDrug Problems Characteristic of Eight Noncustodial Mothers and Neglectful, Abusive and Non-maltreating Mothers with Custody of One or More Children
Noncustodial Neglect Abuse Control Characteristics (n =8) (n =113) (n =116) (n =281)
Mental health problems 100.0% 85.0% 81.9% 66.9% (8) (96) (95) (188)
Two weeks depression 75.0 69.0 60.3 47.3 (6) (78) (70) (133)
Prenatal depression 62.5 58.4 46.6 35.6 (5) (66) (54) (100)
BDI > 13 62.5 47.8 47.4 23.8 (5) (54) (55) (67)
Drinking problem 62.5 21.2 14.7 6.1 (5) (24) (17) (17)
Hard drugs 25.0 10.6 5.2 2.1 (2) (12) (6) (6)
— most apparent with respect to alcohol and drug problems, and
— least apparent with respect to depression.
— the non-custodial mothers differ most from the custodial, non-maltreating mothers, and
— least from custodial neglectful mothers,
— suggesting that perhaps some of the custodial neglectful mothers may be at high risk for losing custody of their children.
— eight (8) of the custodial mothers (100%) reported problems with at least one of three
— “mental health problems”
— -depression, alcohol, and/or drug usage.
— High percentages (87% and 82%)
— of the neglectful and abusive mothers also
— reported one,
— or more
— of these three problems.
— Of the three (3)
— “mental health problems,“
— “depression” [a “state” . . . of mind ] was
— by far [ = ] the most pre valent.
— All eight of the non-custodial mothers
— gave a positive response
— to at least one
— of the three (3)
— “indicators of depressive symptoms:
(a) five (5) (63%) were
— moderately or severely
— de-pressed on the day of the “interview,”
— according to their Beck Depression score (scored 14 or greater) (Beck, 1970);
(b) six (6) (75%) “re-ported” a life-time
— incidence of two or more weeks of depression; and
(c) five (5)(63%) were [ also ] de-pressed after the birth
— of at least one child even
— though the child was “wanted and planned.”
— Of the eight (8)t mothers, five (5) (62.5%)
— had serious enough
— depressive symptoms to
— obtain “formal help: three (3) (37.5%)” had been “hospitalized”
— at least overnight [ for at least the birth delivery in hospital ],
— and two (2)
— had received help
— on an outpatient basis
— from a “mental health professional.”
— Comparison of the non-custodial mothers with the three (3) groups of custodial mothers,
— on the three, depression measures, reveals that they differ, most from the non-maltreating mothers.
— Drinking and drug problems.
— It is with respect to these two (2) problems that the non-custodial mothers differ the most
— from the remaining “abusive and neglectful mothers.”
— “Having periods
— of drinking for a couple of days and [ then ] not,
— being able to sober up”
— was characteristic [ as opposed to a “mental illness” ]
— of 63% of the non-custodial mothers,
— as opposed to
— 24% of the “neglectful,” and
— 15% of the “abusive” mothers. Using hard drugs (cocaine, PCP, heroin, or LSD) for two
— or more weeks [ with “questionable ‘ child'” }
— was characteristic
— of 25% of the non-custodial mothers
— compared to
— 11% of the neglectful, and
— 6% of the abusive mothers.
— Three of the five (60%) women with drinking problems and
— both of the women [ (wo) man }
— with drug problems
— had received some sort of “formal” help “from a mental health professional.”
Unfortunately, this help seemed to have little impact on their serious substance abuse problems. Future childbearing plans.
Just as the non-custodial mothers differed from the custodial mothers with respect to alcohol and drug problems, they also differed with respect to their future childbearing plans.
— Despite the many serious [ series of ?} child,
— care problems experienced by these women and the very high
— incidence of behavioral, physical, and emotional problems characteristic of their children, all six of the women who were not sterile (either because of tubal ligation or hysterectomy) wanted to have at least one more child.
All six (6) answered “yes” to the question, “Looking to the future, do you intend to have another baby at some time” (National Center for Health Statistics, 1982).
–Five wanted one more child and
–one wanted two more children.
–100% of the noncustodial mothers who could have another child wanted another child,
–only 43% of the neglectful (n = 67),
–54% of the abusive (n = 59), and
–57% of the control mothers (n = 202) wanted another child.
–And, not only did the six women want more children, all six had a steady boyfriend and
–all except one were trying to get pregnant by that boyfriend during the two week period prior to the interview.
In response to the question, “Did you use any method of birth control the last time you had intercourse?” (National Center for Health Statistics, 1982)
–all five answered “no.”
The descriptive statistics provide some information about these eight low-income, noncustodial mothers; however, due to the size of the study group, the picture is an abbreviated one.
To fill in this picture, we dose with a detailed description of ‘Roberta,’ a mother who is’ typical’ of the eight women who form the basis of this study.
The story of Roberta.
Roberta is a 32-year-old, never-married, mother of three children.
All three are living with relatives:
–John, age 14, and Mary, age 12, live with one family while Brenda, age 3, lives with another.
Roberta was first reported to child protective services during 1975 for severe neglect of John and Mary.
Since the time of this report, daily care and custody of these two children has been provided by their maternal aunt.
During 1982, Roberta was reported to child protective services for failure to make appropriate child care arrangements for Brenda, a complaint very similar to the one that had lost her custody of John and Mary.
Several days prior to the complaint, she had been found guilty of shoplifting and required to serve 9 days in city jail.
Rather than make appropriate arrangements for the care of Brenda (two years old at the time), she left Brenda with her current boyfriend, Bobby, a known heroin addict.
Bobby contacted a friend of Roberta’s who not only came and got Brenda but reported the problem to child protective services.
Problems with depression, drinking, and drugs have repeatedly punctuated Roberta’s life. She was positive for all three depression measures:
(a) depressed after the birth of each of her three children even though the first two were planned conceptions,
(b) felt sad, blue, and depressed for at least two consecutive weeks during the six months preceding the interview, and
(c) moderately depressed on the day of the interview, according to her Beck Depression Inventory score. And, as if the problems with depression were not enough, Roberta also had long-standing Welfare ing problems with substance abuse.
As recent as six months prior to the interview she had periods of drinking for a couple of days or more without sobering up and of “shooting herself with heroin.”
The case record narratives describe heroin and alcohol addiction problems dating back as far as 1975-the year when she was first reported for child neglect.
Despite the long-standing mental health problems, the repeated encounters with child protective services for child neglect, and the loss of custody of all her children, Roberta not only planned to have two more children before she reached 35, she was working on getting pregnant.
At last intercourse (the night before the interview), neither she nor Bobby had used any method of birth control.
During the year preceding the interview, they used birth control about half the time.
The data describe these mothers as having more problems than their counterparts either in the low-income [high education] population (maltreators and controls) or in the “non-custodial” mother literature.
The questions we sought . . .
. . .answers . . . to . . .
. . .and their findings–
. . .point
. . .in many . . .
. . .directions.
1. Overrepresentation of neglect– as opposed to abuse– among the eight non-custodial mother situations directs attention to the adequacy of services for intact neglectful families.
Even though neglectful mothers may suffer more frequently from mental health problems (Freidrich, Tyler, et al., 1985; Zuravin, 1988), it is important to pose the question-are we providing sufficient services, soon enough to these families?
Conceivably, neglectful situations do not receive services until the mother’s mental health problems have deteriorated to the point where they are virtually ‘intractable.’
According to Wolock and Horowitz (1984), “in spite of data showing that neglect is no less severe than physical abuse, there is some evidence that preoccupation with abuse [ or sexual assault, misconduct, or abuse of a child] may have led the protective service worker to view neglect as being of lesser severity, and, in the face of unmanageably high caseloads, to be more likely to screen out neglect cases” (p. 537) (also, see Selinske, 1984).
2. The fact that many of their children are not in formal foster care raises the question of who is caring for these children. Low-Income Mothers Without Custody Are they in adequate placements with relatives or are they as much at risk for maltreatment as they were when living with their mothers?
This takes us back to one of the possible adverse consequences, mentioned earlier in the paper, of an increase in the population of low-income, noncustodial mothers.
We may be seeing a growing number of unmonitored, unattached children, ones that are shuffled from place to place after having been maltreated by their mothers.
Who know what happens to children, who, for example,
–go with one relative, do not fit in there, and then move on to another and another informal placement.
–More than two-thirds of this group of 29 children could be in this situation.
Are these children at high risk for ‘maltreatment ?’
Do these children constitute a large proportion of a rather newly recognized American social problem,
–“runaway children and teenagers?” ? ? ?
3. Most troubling of the facts learned about these eight mothers is that
–the six who have not been sterilized want and are trying to have more children.
–While middle class mothers have also started families again after becoming “non”-custodial (Greif & Pabst, 1988), it appears to occur in a small proportion of cases.
We could, thus hypothesize that having a low income and becoming noncustodial as a result of child protective service intervention are linked to a desire to have more children in a way that may not apply to middle-income non-custodial mothers.
Will history repeat itself for these mothers and their new children?
If so, short of mandatory sterilization, what is the “[‘final’] ‘solution?'”
There are at least three directions for future research on non-custodial mothers.
The first direction centers on
–differences between low- and middle-“income”/ [education]/ non-custodial mothers.
–“Are non-custodial, low-income mothers, compared to non-custodial, middle-income mothers–
(a) a less prevalent phenomenon?
(b) less likely to voluntarily relinquish custody of their children than middle-income mothers?
(c) more likely to become non-custodial involuntarily because of intractable mental health problems including depression and substance abuse?
(d) more likely to want more children, and
— to try to have more children once they become non-custodial?
The second direction centers on
–differences between low-income mothers who are non-custodial and comparable mothers who have custody of some, but not all, of their children.
Do these two groups of mothers differ, and if so, how?
–Does a mother lose some children on the way to losing all of her children?
–And, if so, what could be done, preventively, to reverse this cycle?
–the third direction centers on low-income fathers.
When and under what circumstances do they become custodians of their children (Greif & Zuravin, in press)?
How do those fathers who assume daily care and custody of their children differ [maritally and martially, as in, by force of law in times of “domestic ’emergency'”] from those who do not?
Traditionally, foster care literature has focused on and documented the consequences for children of being in formal foster family and group care placements.
It has not, however, to the best of our knowledge, addressed the issue of children who are living in “informal foster care arrangements”, i.e., the child who lives with relatives.
Given the current crisis in the formal foster care system-not enough placements to meet demand-placement of children with relatives is likely to increase. The consequences of these placements need documentation. Is the population of children in “informal foster care” growing?
Are children in “informal foster care” at increased risk for child maltreatment of all types?
Do they constitute a large proportion of the “runaway minor” problem?
We have attempted to show that more research on the lowincome, noncustodial mother is needed.
The study of this population, which has been virtually ignored, can provide a key to unlocking many fields of study relevant to social service policy and social work practice. References Belsky, J. (1984).
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The research reported in this paper was partially supported by grant award,
— FPR-000028-01-0 from …… Affairs for Grant. FPR 000028-02-0.
Etiology of child maltreatment: A developmental€cological analysis.
By Belsky, Jay
Vol 114(3), Nov 1993, 413-434.
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