Mothers with learning disabilities develop personal narratives to explain experiences of when children taken into care


We have posted previously on these pages about the barriers that people with learning disabilities face as parents. We have also though pointed to the evidence that suggests that timely and appropriate support can help parents to provide a loving environment for their child.

The authors of this Australian study point out that mothers with learning disabilities are much more likely to have their child removed than those without learning disabilities, but that there has been little work on trying to understand the mothers’ perspectives on this. There have been some studies which report the mothers having feelings of grief and loss as well as a sense of powerlessness when faced with the child protection system.

The researchers in this small qualitative study set out to look at how mothers develop a narrative around their experiences. They worked with seven mothers with learning disabilities who had had their children involuntarily removed and taken into care. They spent time building up this picture and analysed the material to identify the key themes.

They found that for most of the seven mothers, having a child removed and taken into care was not a one-off experience. The researchers found three different narratives that explained this serial experience. In some cases, the women told a different narrative for each of their removed children. Unsurprisingly perhaps, all the women in the study continued to be focused on their children in care.

The authors suggest that their findings add to the development of a richer picture of the experiences of mothers with learning disabilities whose children are taken into care. The fact that there are several different narratives developed around these experiences by the mothers concerned suggests a range of different potential support needs. They suggest a need for more research

to identify any adverse health and social consequences for mothers with children in care as well as the effects on their children.

Mothering differently: Narratives of mothers with intellectual disability whose children have been compulsorily removed, Mayes R & Llewellyn G, in Journal of Intellectual and Developmental Disability, 37, 2 , 121-130

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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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