UW News

November 15, 2004

Black mothers who gave up custody of a child sought for study

While society expresses great respect for mothers, there is often little social or emotional support, let alone preparation, for the role of mothering. More often than many people might think, lack of social support or other conditions result in mothers giving custody of one or more of their children over to someone else. While this phenomenon occurs in all racial and ethnic groups, a study currently underway at the University of Washington is looking at this issue from the perspective of black women.

“The number of women living away from their children is far more prevalent than most people think,” said Mae Henderson, a University of Washington graduate student in women studies.

“I know of people who were raised by their grandparents, extended family, or family friend who later learned that someone else was their mother. Additionally, many children are currently in the social service system and disconnected from their mothers,” she said.

This situation, whether voluntary or involuntary, has often been surrounded by secrecy, but it is now more openly discussed. Still, Henderson said, there is little information on how such separations impact the lives of the relinquishing mothers.

To help improve understanding of the lives of such women, Henderson is seeking black women, 18 or older, living in the Puget Sound area who have given up custody of one or more of their children for at least six months at some point in their lives. The women may or may not have regained custody of their children and may have other children who have always remained in their custody. Women who become part of the study will participate in an in-depth, two-hour interview that will explore such topics as their perceptions of motherhood and being a woman, their experiences in being mothered and in mothering, and the circumstances involved in giving up a child temporarily or permanently.

“I know there are some women who have gotten their kids back but are still beating themselves up for giving up their children in the first place. I want women to be able to tell their own stories without being stigmatized. I want to know who they are, how these women view themselves and the factors that make them see themselves that way. We need to eliminate the secrecy that still exists and gain an understanding of these women’s lives that goes beyond blame.”

Women who are interested in participating in the study or have questions may contact Henderson at 1-800-357-4027 or blackmom@u.washington.edu