Support for new parents who are disabled is rare. Sarah Bartlett reports on The Disabled Parents Network’s Support Service, the winner of Community Care’s 2005 Maureen Oswin Memorial Award
Everyday, hundreds of disabled people experience the joy of becoming a parent. Yet all too often that joy is tempered by the challenges of meeting their responsibilities in the face of inadequate information, advice and support.
The Disabled Parents Support Service is working to bridge that gap. A peer-led helpline service for disabled parents who want to gain support and advice, the service is open for two hours daily. It is run by the Disabled Parents Network, the only national organisation specifically for disabled parents and their partners.
The helpline is operated by volunteers who work from their own homes thanks to new technology. They log into the system from their own homes and open their telephone line to callers dialling the helpline.
Heather Andrew, support service development worker at the Disabled Parents Network says: “Using this technology is vital for tapping into the valuable resource of people who are housebound but have a wealth of knowledge to draw on.”
She says that being able to offer peer support is the most valuable aspect of the service. “Disabled parents who call for help often think they’re the only ones struggling and it’s really reassuring for them to hear that other people with the same impairments as them are successfully parenting. They’ve all been there and they empathise.”
Simone Baker, vice chair of the Disabled Parents Network, adds that disabled people often seek support when they are planning a baby. “They worry about how they will manage, what equipment is available to help them and what statutory services they can use,” she says. The helpline often receives calls from disabled people who say that while they would like to have a baby, their family has told them they are being selfish.
“We tell them it’s not selfish, but it would be wise for them to recognise what support they may need,” says Baker.
She says that difficulties often arise because social workers focus on the problem, and not the solution. “Instead of identifying that a parent will need help to change their child’s nappy they say ‘this disabled parent can’t change a nappy’ and question whether they can be a good parent.”
The key, she believes, is to equip disabled parents to be parents by providing them with the information, support and equipment they need to meet their parenting responsibilities. “In many cases there’s no real risk to a child – parents just need the right guidance and support.”
The service helps to put disabled parents in touch with others who can help. Andrew says: “There’s a lot of information out there but people don’t know how to access it. And, if they’re fighting social services for their child, they’re not going to approach them for help and information. We have at least one call a week where someone is fighting for custody.” She explains that problems usually arise because a disabled parent is not being adequately supported. “If their needs as a parent were being met, as they should under legislation, their children would be unlikely to be at risk.”
The Disabled Parents Network was particularly pleased to win the Maureen Oswin award, as this category was set up to reward projects that go the extra mile to involve service users. Baker says: “It’s the one we would have chosen to win if we could have chosen – it means a lot.”
The £5,000 prize money is being used to train more volunteers so that the service can expand and more calls can be answered.