Differences in perspective still exist between parents with learning disabilities and professionals employed to support them


The researcher in this study set out to explore the differences in perspectives that exist between parents with learning disabilities and the professionals employed to support them. Parents with disabilities may report having little say in the nature of the support they receive and may feel as though they are being coerced into accepting whatever services are offered, whether they find them useful or not. Professionals report that they can find the parents difficult to engage with and often not receptive to suggestions or offers of help.

The researcher carried out a qualitative analysis of discussions carried out in focus groups by professionals supporting parents with learning disabilities.

The professionals who took part in the study described their work with client families as fraught with difficulty. A key variable in the descriptions which affected the nature of the relationship was whether the child was still living with the parents or had been placed in care out of the parental home.

When describing the first situation, professionals often empathised with parental limitations and their inability to meet the needs of their children, with parents failing to recognise their own high support needs. In the latter situation, professionals described the parental role as important, indeed vital to continue to provide proper support which might enable the parents’ ongoing contact with their child.

The author suggests that the organisations in which the participants worked did not always offer appropriate support to the workers which was a major factor contributing to stress in the workers. Study participants often doubted the capacity of parents to care for their children and were uncertain about how best to support them.

The author suggests that the study shows clear gaps in the way in which knowledge about families with a parent with a learning disability is produced and used by professionals.

Supporting families with parents with intellectual disability: views and experiences of professionals in the field, Starke M, in Journal of Policy and Practice in Intellectual Disabilities, 8: 163–171

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John Northfield

After qualifying as a social worker, John worked in community learning disability teams before getting involved in a number of long-stay hospital closure programmes, working to develop individual plans for people moving into their own homes. He worked for BILD, helping to develop the Quality Network and was editorial lead for the NHS electronic library learning disabilities specialist collection. This led him to found the Learning Disabilities Elf site with Andre Tomlin as a way of making the evidence accessible to practitioners in health and social care. Most recently he has worked as part of Mencap's national quality team and also been involved in a number of national website developments, including the General Medical Council's learning disabilities site.

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