A Meta-Synthesis of Filicide Classification Systems: Psychosocial and Psychodynamic Issues in Women Who Kill Their Children

Marie E. Mugavin


J Foren Nurs. 2005;1(2):65-72. 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction

Filicide is the killing of a child by a parent. To protect potential homicide victims, it is necessary to examine and identify intrapsychic and interpersonal dynamics that result in filicide. The current filicide classification systems have intended to yield better etiological understanding of the crime and ultimately lead to prevention strategies and accurate death certification. A framework of motives and precipitating factors that lead to filicide by mothers offers a starting point to examine this emotionally evocative and complex phenomenon.

Filicide classification systems began with the seminal work of Resnick (1969), a review of the world literature on child murder by parents. Other investigators have furthered the research presented in Resnick's article, clarifying terms and outlining features and incidence rates for the crime (Bourget & Bradford, 1990 as cited in Kunst, 2000). Scott (1973), Bourget & Bradford (1990), and Guileyardo, Prahlow, & Barnard (1999) also produced parental filicide classification systems, but it was d'Orban (1979) who first fashioned a framework specifically for women who kill their children. Bourget & Gagne (2002) followed several years later, offering a more refined approach based on maternal filicide in Quebec.

The purpose of this paper is to provide a meta-synthesis of the filicide classifications and categorizations put forth by Resnick (1969; 1970), Scott (1973), d'Orban (1979), Bourget & Bradford (1990), Bourget & Gagne (2002), and Guileyardo, Prahlow, & Barnard (1999). Psychodynamic and psychosocial aspects of filicide that emerge later in the literature and provide context for the frameworks will additionally be reviewed. Preventing all categories of filicide is the ultimate goal of researchers, thus a synthesis of related strategies presented by the authors will also be briefly discussed.

To enhance the focus of this manuscript, the analysis of established classification systems was restricted to foundational sources of filicide literature. Data related to the psychodynamic and psychosocial aspects of filicide were derived from extensive data mining of classic literature sources.


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