Lost Mothers Study Project

How women and professionals involved with the criminal justice system

experience enforced separation of newborn babies

This research project is funded by Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)


In the UK, numbers of pregnant women are not routinely collated, but estimations suggest that 6-7% of the female prison population are at varying stages of pregnancy and approximately 100 babies are born to incarcerated women each year. There are no exact data of the numbers of newborn babies removed from their mother at or soon after birth. There are six Mother and Baby Units (MBU) in the 12 women’s UK prisons in the UK, currently, all underutilised. Accounts from qualitative research of women being mandatorily separated from their new-born babies demonstrate a deep sense of loss, yet surprisingly little research has examined experiences of the process of separating mothers from their babies. The study is the first project to link the professions of social work, Health Visiting, midwifery and criminal justice staff, with the experiences of women who have been in prison at the heart of the research.

Recommendations arising from this research has the potential to build upon and further improve understanding of women’s experiences and the procedures involved in removal of new-borns from their imprisoned mothers. The project will benefit academic and health research, notably the sociology of health and illness, criminology, midwifery, health visiting and social work.

“The lost mothers project is something very close to my heart.  I am very grateful to be able to be a part of it and use my lived experience to make an impact with this project and have a voice to try and make change for all the other mothers that have been through the criminal justice system and the mothers that are currently in it.”

– Lived experience team member


This project will comprise qualitative semi-structured interviews of the key professionals involved with pregnant women who have Criminal Justice System (CJS) involvement.

Women who have been or who are in the process of being separated from their babies will be offered an in-depth face-to-face interview. The charity, Birth Companions and their Lived Experience Team will act as consultants to the project helping with recruitment, introductions, advising on participatory information, interview questions and consent forms. Non-participant observation of the processes involved will take place.


To accumulate qualitative data of the effects of mandatory separation of babies from women who have CJS involvement through in depth, semi-structured interviews with midwifery, social work, criminal justice professionals and women.

To observe the procedures involved in the decision-making process that mandates separation of an imprisoned woman from her newborn baby.

To analyse the qualitative data collected in order to dissect approaches to mandatory separation from a midwifery, HV, social work and criminal justice perspective.

To disseminate the overarching findings to women with lived experience, the third sector, health, CJS and social work sectors.

To provide evidence of the experiences of women with CJS involvement, compulsorily separated from their babies, alongside experiences of midwives, health visitors, social workers and criminal justice professionals to inform and enhance current policy.





Lost Mother Study Blog

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