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The neonatal health and family situation of infants admitted for institutional care were evaluated retrospectively. Based on the criteria for admission they were classified into four groups: handicapped infants; infants of mothers with psychiatric illness or mental retardation; infants of alcoholic or drug-addicted mothers; and infants of mothers with various social dysfunctions. Mentally disturbed and addicted mothers were to a large extent multiparae. One-fourth of them already ad children in foster care. The mentally disturbed mothers had a raised frequency of pregnancy and delivery complications. Compared to the general population, the gestational age and birth weight were significantly lower in all groups, and the number of preterm babies was twice as high. The majority of infants at risk for parental failure due to mental disturbance or addiction can be identified in the maternity ward. Deficient maternal behaviour in the maternity ward and the occurrence of previous children in foster care are important risk factors in predicting maternal incapability for parenting.