Supporting parents with learning disabilities

Parents with learning disabilities can be just as good at parenting as anyone else, but sometimes need extra help. Research indicates that between 40 and 60 per cent of parents with learning disabilities will have their children taken into care as a result of being assessed as unable to meet an adequate standard of parenting. Meanwhile, only two per cent of children across Scotland are looked after or are on the child protection register. That means that parents with learning disabilities are at least twenty times more likely to have their children taken into care.

Aberlour has been delivering the family support service for parents with learning disabilities in South Ayrshire since May 2013, providing parenting assessments and delivering flexible, strength based, whole family support to families in which one or both parents have learning disabilities. By focussing on increasing parenting capacity to provide a safe and nurturing home environment the service improves outcomes for children and their families. Our team carries out regular visits to family homes to ensure children are thriving and being well looked-after, helping parents with learning disabilities in South Ayrshire to provide the best care for their children.

Supporting parents to fulfil their potential means children are less likely to be taken into care as a result. We focus on increasing parenting capacity in order to provide a safe and nurturing home environment and improve outcomes for children and their families. This community-based model includes regular visits to family homes to ensure children are thriving and being well looked-after, assessments that help to identify the different types of extra help families might benefit from, and a plan of support for the whole family. This can include boosting life skills through cooking lessons, budgeting support and parenting sessions. In addition, we hold regular parents’ forums supported by staff, which allow parents to get together in a relaxed setting, to share their experiences and learn from one another. We take referrals from professionals and agencies working with families.

However, provision of this type of family support for parents with learning disabilities across Scotland is almost non-existent. Aberlour provides some of the only dedicated family support services of this kind anywhere in the country – in South Ayrshire and Aberdeen.

People with learning disabilities have the same rights to family life as anyone else. But in practice this is not the case. Learning disabled parents face wide-ranging challenges and experience discrimination every day – we have a duty to provide this vulnerable group of parents, and their children, with the flexible and personalised help and support they not only need but are entitled to.

There is a huge benefit to society in providing early and ongoing support to parents with learning disabilities, for example by reducing the number of children referred to children’s hearing systems and the associated financial implications for local authorities of placing children in care.

With the correct support in place, many parents with learning disabilities can improve their skills and knowledge and learn to parent more effectively and keep their children safe. Although people with learning disabilities face a myriad of challenges when they become parents, we know that with the right support and a strengths based, whole family approach they can provide loving and stable homes for their children.

If we can get it right for parents with learning disabilities, we can get it right for all parents.