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Celebrating positive practice: a better deal for parents with learning disabilities

1 February 2010

The University of Bristol’s Norah Fry Research Centre celebrated the success of a groundbreaking initiative that supports parents with learning difficulties at a recent party hosted by the Baring Foundation in London.

Parents with learning disabilities, staff from the Norah Fry Research Centre at the University of Bristol and representative of affiliated organisations in England, Scotland and Wales, gathered to raise a glass to celebrate the successes of the Working Together with Parents Network and to launch a new publication by the Norah Fry Research Centre. The publication, entitled Supporting people with learning disabilities and difficulties: Stories of positive practice, is a collection of real-life stories of parents with learning disabilities who have had the right support to enable them to look after their children.

Funded by the Baring Foundation and the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, the Working Together with Parents Network was the brainchild of Tessa Baring, CBE, former chair of trustees of the Baring Foundation, who was concerned that parents with learning disabilities did not always get the support they needed to be parents, and so lost their children to the care system.

‘To lose a child for whatever reason always seemed to me to be one of the most tragic things that could happen to any parent and other trustees agreed,’ Tessa Baring said at the celebration event. This led to the Baring Foundation commissioning the Norah Fry Research Centre to find out more about how to provide better support to parents with learning disabilities and their children.

The resulting research report, Finding the right support?, was published by the Baring Foundation and the Norah Fry Research Centre in 2006. The Working Together with Parents Network was launched the same year, involving partners such as Family Action, CHANGE, Scottish Consortium on Learning Disability and Learning Disability Wales, and now counting over 500 parents and professionals in its membership, with many more making use of the advice and resources provided by the network.

Finding the right support? made 40 recommendations to government and health and social care professionals about helping parents with learning disabilities get the support they are entitled to, so that they can look after their own children. Those present at the Baring celebration heard real-life stories of positive practice and accounts of how effective the network, and everyone involved in it, had been in bringing about much-needed changes.

Professor Linda Ward from the Norah Fry Research Centre and chair of the national taskforce set up to spearhead the recommended changes launched Stories of positive practice at the celebration.

Professor Ward said: ‘These stories provide a powerful testimony – in the words of the parents themselves – to the difference it can make for parents to get the “right kind of support” from professionals – and from other parents like themselves. This is the kind of support that the network has been able to foster and provide.’

One of the attendees was Agnes Briggs, a parent and trainer with CHANGE, the equal rights organisation run by disabled people. Briggs, who has supported other parents  through the network, said that, for many parents, ‘knowing they’re not alone in facing their disabilities, and being able to talk and link with other parents through the network, has been an enormous support’.

John Tattershall, another parent and trainer, said: ‘It’s very important that parents with learning disabilities continue to train professionals. This helps professionals to understand how parents feel and find better ways to support parents.’

Tessa Baring added: ‘We don’t always celebrate initiatives we support. This is a special case as there is a lot to celebrate. The initiative has genuinely succeeded  in bringing about change for a group of people whose needs were not adequately understood or catered for.’

David Cutler, chief executive of the Baring Foundation, described the celebration as ‘a fantastically successful evening – the perfect culmination to what has been a hugely successful initiative’.

Copies of Supporting people with learning disabilities and difficulties: Stories of positive practice are available from the Norah Fry Research Centre, University of Bristol, 3 Priory Road, Bristol BS8 1TX, cost £5 to cover post and packing. The publication (PDF, 469kB) can also be downloaded.

Further information

The terms ‘learning disabilities’ refers to a person who has a diagnosed learning disability. Where a parent has difficulties with their learning, but does not have a diagnosed learning disability, the term ‘learning difficulties’ is used. The Baring Foundation was set up in 1969 to give money to charities and voluntary organisations to improve the quality of life of people suffering disadvantage and discrimination. The Baring Foundation was joint funder of the Working Together with Parents Network through its Special Initiative for parents with learning disabilities. The Esmée Fairbairn Foundation was established in 1961. It is one of the largest independent grant-making foundations in the UK, and funds charitable projects that break new ground or help disadvantaged people play a full part in society. CHANGE is a leading national equal rights organisation led by disabled people. CHANGE believes that people with learning disabilities should have the same rights and choices as everybody else, and campaigns for better support for parents with learning disabilities. Partners in the Working Together with Parents Network included: Norah Fry Research Centre, University of Bristol; Family Action (formerly the Family Welfare Association); CHANGE; Scottish Consortium on Learning Disability; Learning Disability Wales; Dr Jenny Morris, independent consultant.