Infants are at the greatest risk of being killed during their first six months of life, especially if their parents have a previous psychiatric disorder or mental illness, study findings suggest.
An assessment of infant homicides in England and Wales found that 44 percent happened during the first three months of life, and 78 percent occurred during the first half year.
More male perpetrators
Sandra M. Flynn, at the University of Manchester, and colleagues further found that of the 112 people convicted of killing an infant over a five-year period, 56 were the fathers and 35 were the mothers.
The 38 female and 74 male perpetrators were 24 and 25 years old on average.
"Seventeen perpetrators had symptoms of mental illness at the time of the offense," the researchers report in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. Ten women were diagnosed with depression, and 25 men had a history of substance abuse.
"Parenting in the context of high-risk behaviours and psychological illness requires proper support, understanding, and a willingness for society to take some responsibility for the needs of young, unsupported and often ill new parents," Flynn told Reuters Health.
Only six of the perpetrators had made use of mental health services during the previous year, the investigators note.
"This study highlights the need for increased perinatal assessment and parenting support," Flynn and colleagues conclude. "Parents should be encouraged to seek help and normalise their feelings without the fear of the baby being removed from their care."
SOURCE: Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, October 2007. – (Reuters Health)