Parents with learning difficulties: successful support

Beth Tarleton, Danielle Turney, Wendy Merchant, Nadine Tilbury

Despite UK legislation and policy (Children Act 1989; DH/DoE, 2007), parents with learning difficulties are more likely than others to have their children removed from their care. Parents are seen as neglecting their children because they do not have the resources, knowledge, skills, experiences and support they need while professionals are regarded as not having the necessary time, skills and support to work with them (DoH/DoE 2007). Previous research has underlined the tension between child protection in these families, and support for the parents. The result is that some of these families have reported a high level of emotional distress, especially where children were removed, and a consequent distrust of social services in their lives. However, there is an increasing awareness and guidance about how parents with learning difficulties and their children can be positively supported via adapted materials, support services and additional time.

This project aimed to investigate in detail what ‘successful’ support for parents with learning difficulties looked like in three Local Authorities which had specialist teams for parents with learning difficulties.  A  case study approach was used, with structured interviews with  nine parents and the 37 professionals/practitioners they had each worked with.  We also interviewed eight service managers and one commissioner.  Data were analysed thematically, by group and across the dataset, with an important feature of the analysis being the discussion of themes within a diverse research team, which included perspectives from health services, learning disability services, children’s social work, and policy, modelling in a small way the different perspectives that would exist in multi-agency teams.

The sites included were recommended as sites of ‘successful practice’ by professionals involved in the Working Together with Parents Network ( which supports professionals working with parents with learning difficulties.

This project has used the terminology ‘learning difficulties’ to signal that these parents did not have a diagnosed ‘learning disability’; nor did they have support from the Learning Disability team.

Finally, two advisory groups worked with this project. One was a group of professionals and academics, and the other was a parent advisory group who guided our approach to working with parents and provided really insightful questions for professionals which helped us uncover professionals’ ‘meanings’ about parents. The parents group was instrumental towards the end of the project in producing a video to make these findings accessible to other people with learning difficulties.


Support for parents with disabilities/difficulties and their children
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