drop-down menu

'Maternal Deprivation'

Dr John Bowlby described the theory of 'Maternal Deprivation' in his book 'Maternal Care and Mental Health' (1952) in which it is stated,
What is believed to be essential for mental health is that the infant and young child should experience a warm, intimate, and continuous relationship with his mother (or permanent mother substitute) in which both find satisfaction and enjoyment. The mother cares for and comforts the child whereas in the young child's eyes father
plays second fiddle.
A cornerstone of family law in this country is the court authority or 'precedent' set by the former Master of the Rolls Lord Donaldson in 1992,
'At the risk of being told by academics hereafter that my views are contrary to well-established authority, I think that there is a rebuttable presumption of fact that the best interests of a baby are best served by being with its mother, and I stress the word 'baby'. When we are moving on to whatever age it may be appropriate to describe the baby as having become a child, different considerations may well apply. But as far as babies are concerned, the starting point is, I think, that it should be with its mother.'
Although Lord Donaldson specified 'babies' the principle that children should be raised by their mothers can be applied at any age.

In the same year as Lord Donaldson made his precedent the 'academic' Professor Sir Michael Rutter was knighted for his work in children's welfare including his seminal book, 'Maternal Deprivation Reassessed, Second Edition' (Penguin, 1981) which contradicts Dr John Bowlby's research.
i.   Investigations have demonstrated the importance of a child's relationship with people other than his mother.
ii.  Most important of all there has been repeated findings that many children are not damaged by deprivation.
iii. The old issue of critical periods of development and the crucial importance of early years has been re-opened and re-examined. The evidence is unequivocal that experiences at all ages have an impact.
iv. It may be the first few years do have a special importance for bond formation and social development. (page 217)
In her judgment in the Court of Appeal in the author's proceedings (8 June, 2000), Lady Justice Hale (Baroness Richmond), described the difference between these two approaches in the following way;-
15.  Sir Michael qualified the original theory of maternal deprivation which had been developed by John Bowlby and expressed for popular
consumption in a book called  'Child Care and the Growth of Love'. That theory was that children were damaged by separation from their mother or mother figure. Sir Michael Rutter pointed out that children were not invariably so damaged and that, in any event, other people, including their fathers, are also very important to children.
As Lady Justice Hale states Dr John Bowlby's theory holds that children are 'damaged' by separation from the mother. Professor Sir Michael Rutter pointed out that in reality children are not so damaged. 

These two principles are not mutually compatible and according to Clare Dyer, the Guardian legal correspondent, although, 
'Under the present law, mothers who defy court orders can be jailed for contempt the power is rarely used because judges are loath to deprive small children of their mothers.'  ('New law may boost rights for fathers', 29 October, 2001). 
Whether it is called 'Maternal Deprivation' or the 'Tender Years Theory', it is still the view of the former Master of the Rolls, who is the most senior judge with civil responsibilities, which still prevails.