Faculty Author Type

(Current Faculty), (In Memoriam), (Emeritus Faculty)

Published In

University of British Columbia Law Review

Document Type

Working Paper

Publication Date



Child Protection; Child Welfare; Motherhood; Mental Disability; Mental Illness; Family Law


This paper is concerned with how courts in British Columbia adjudicate applications by the state to remove children permanently from their parents, usually their mothers. Overwhelmingly, these cases are about single mothers who experience mental disability and addiction, domestic violence, and poverty. Indigenous women are over-represented in our sample. The intergenerational effects of the child protection system also are clear as many of the mothers in our study were themselves raised in state care. The paper highlights the degree to which judges blame women for the precarious circumstances in which they live, which are often a product of austerity measures adopted by states. Courts describe these circumstances as being a function of poor “lifestyle choices”, thus obscuring the role of the state in protecting women from violence, providing safe housing and supporting mothers and children with disabilities. Particularly troubling is the finding that courts are appear to be more willing to sever the relationship between mothers and their children where those children are themselves identified as having “special needs”. Judges are quick to assume that a child will be “better off” in state care even in the face of evidence that the child protection system in British Columbia has woefully failed both children and their mothers.

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