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

Blended Classification Specific to Filicidal Mother

Before d'Orban's (1979) efforts, the most complete classification of parental filicide was done by Resnick (1969; 1970) and Scott (1973). D'Orban used Scott's five categories as a foundation and made minor modifications in his efforts to identify women at risk for killing their children. He focused on 89 women charged with the murder or attempted murder of their children during a 6-year period (1970-1975). The types of filicide were compared in terms of social and psychiatric characteristics, their offense patterns, and court disposals.

The killing was an impulsive act characterized by loss of temper with the immediate impulse toward aggression arising from the victim. This is equivalent to Scott's (1973) group 5.

Includes all mothers suffering from psychotic illness, acute reactive depression associated with a suicidal attempt, and cases of personality disorder with depressive symptoms of sufficient severity to require admission to psychiatric hospital. This is equivalent to Scott's (1973) group 3 with the acute depressive reactions precipitated by loss of a love object or avoidance of censure aligned closely with Scott's (1973) group 4.

This category applies to women who killed or attempted to kill their children within the first 24 hours of birth (Resnick, 1970).

Aggression directed against the spouse was displaced onto the child. This category is equivalent to cases in Scott's (1973) group 4 in which the stimulus to kill was revenge and Resnick's (1969) spouse revenge filicides.

This category includes women who killed an unwanted child by passive neglect or active aggression. Scott's (1973) group 1 is the equivalent of this category.

This category includes cases in which the victim is truly suffering and there is an absence of secondary gain for the mother. This is equivalent to group 2 in Scott's (1973) classification.

The concept of illness threaded through both the battered and unwanted child categories. The large majority of battered children in d'Orban's (1979) study suffered from ill health at the time of their death. Illness-related changes in the child's behavior were the immediate precipitating stimuli for 20 of the 32 battering cases. The triggers included persistent crying, screaming, feeding problems, vomiting, and incontinence or "messy" behavior. The mother perceived the child's behavior as disobedient, defiant, or emotionally unresponsive. In the unwanted child group, 4 of the 8 victims suffered from illness including gastroenteritis and respiratory infections.

There was some association with ethnic origin in the battering group. The problem, especially among Asian families, was thought to be social isolation due to cultural differences, language difficulties, and marital stress with unsuccessful arranged marriages. There were also several absent spouses and a lack of kinship support among many of these women.


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