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Infanticide and Filicide:
Foundations in Maternal Mental Health Forensics


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by Gina Wong Ph.D. and George Parnham, J.D.

Maternal filicide -- the killing of a child by the mother -- is not a new phenomenon. Evidence of mothers killing their infant's dates back to at least 2000 b.c.e. and the ancient Chaldean civilization. When a mother kills her children, it breaks a cardinal rule that violates the natural course of life -- that is, the maternal instinct to safeguard the survival of her young. Andrea Yates captured public attention when she drowned her five children in 2001. Initially met with public shock and outrage, the Yates case also spotlighted postpartum psychosis and the intersection of maternal mental illness and the criminal justice system.

Coedited by George Parnham, the attorney who successfully defended Yates, this book includes his narrative account of how he first heard about the case and was ultimately hired to represent her. It also features more than 30 experts in the field representing eight countries and provides real case examples. In addition, the book includes a chapter on paternal filicide, an important subject that receives far too little attention in the literature. Firmly rooted in research, thorough in its description of theory, and packed with practical applications, this collection highlights the necessary competency areas for those involved in maternal mental health forensics, whether psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, or lawyers.

The book is organized along the four foundations of maternal mental health forensics: The legal aspects surrounding maternal infanticide and filicide The impact of perinatal psychiatric complications in maternal filicide The role of the expert witness in infanticide and filicide cases Sociocultural considerations and feminist approaches to prevention and treatment.

Each chapter culminates in a summary of main clinical/legal and cultural points and a section of practice questions and discussion prompts. A glossary at the end of the book provides key terms and concepts.

Useful as an educational and training resource for those involved in maternal infanticide and filicide cases -- either on the defense or prosecution -- or those simply interested in the field, this guide offers a comprehensive understanding of the legal outcomes, greater understanding of the multiple motivations for these crimes, their potential psychiatric underpinnings, the social and global contexts, and advanced understanding from a biopsychosocial perspective.

This volume also illuminates the consequences of untreated or poorly treated perinatal mental illness and further establishes maternal mental health forensics as a subspecialty field in its own right, even as it acknowledges differences in opinion, theory, and conceptualizations. In doing so, this book serves as an important and necessary step toward canonizing the field of maternal mental health forensics and continued understanding beyond filicide and infanticide -- which involves child custody disputes, other homicide cases, assault charges, criminal negligence causing bodily harm, and other offenses in which maternal mental disturbance may have played a key role.

About the Author:

Gina Wong, Ph.D., is a Psychologist, Professor, and Program Director of the Graduate Centre for Applied Psychology at Athabasca University, Alberta, and an Adjunct Professor in the Division of Counselling Psychology at the University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Dr. Wong is also the Founder and Director of Maternal Mental Health Progress in Canada and the Centre for Perinatal Psychology and Forensics International.

George Parnham, J.D., has over fifty years experience as a practicing attorney. He is Board Certified in the area of Criminal Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. His practice entails every aspect of the law where citizens find themselves accused of a crime. This firm handles offenses charged by both the State and Federal Court systems, not only within the State of Texas, but out of state jurisdictions as well. The firm's experience ranges from simple to complex litigation.