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The importance of being a Dad: Supporting all fathers, including those with learning difficulties

Press release issued: 12 June 2019

New report highlights the need for services working with families to recognise and build on the value of fathers as good male role models.

“Being a father with learning disabilities is hard, and it’s difficult to get people to listen to you and take you seriously.”

Fathers are important. They can play a crucial role in a child’s life. But fathers are often overlooked, especially when they have learning difficulties.

Parents with learning difficulties are over-represented in the child protection system, typically due to concerns regarding neglect by omission. In addition to having a learning difficulty, they often face a wide range of barriers to ensuring positive outcomes for their children.

The ‘Fathers to Fathers’ project, led by researchers from the School for Policy Studies (Nadine Tilbury, Jon Symonds, Beth Tarleton), aimed to find out from fathers with learning difficulties what it meant to them to be a dad, what their experiences had been, and what advice they would give to other fathers with learning difficulties.

A new briefing paper published by Policy Bristol today summarises the key findings from this project and its implications on policy and practice. These include:

  • Both parents should be treated equally as principal carers, wherever possible.
  • Professionals should build and maintain mutually trusting relationships with fathers, as well as mothers.
  • As with mothers with learning difficulties, fathers also need early, pro-active, tailored support.
  • Adult services should work productively with children’s services to ensure a human rights compliant, effective, whole-family approach.
  • Fathers should be specifically addressed in policies, as well as mothers, rather than simply ‘parents’, which is commonly understood to mean mothers.
  • Referral and recording systems should include information about fathers, including fathers’ personal contact details.

Further findings from the project, including guidance on working with groups of fathers and advice ‘About being a dad – for dads, by dads’ has been produced in leaflet form, including an Easy Read version, and in audio form on YouTube. These are available on the Working Together With Parents resource page.

Policy Briefing 70: April 2019

The importance of being Dad: supporting fathers with learning difficulties (PDF, 323kB)

Further information

The term learning difficulties is used here to include parents with a diagnosed learning disability and those without, who often don’t meet the threshold for support from the adult learning disabilities team, but who struggle with everyday life and ensuring the welfare of their children.

The Working Together with Parents Network supports professionals working with parents with learning difficulties and learning disabilities, and their children. The 2016 Working Together with Parents Network (WTPN) update of the DoH/DfES Good practice guidance on working with parents with a learning disability (2007) is available on their Policy Essentials page.

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