Fathers of learning disabled children ‘excluded by services’

Fathers of children with learning disabilities are suffering emotional and health problems because of a lack of support from health and social care professionals, according to research today from the Foundation for People with Learning Disabilities.

In a survey of more than 250 fathers of children with learning disabilities a majority said they played a significant caring role.

However, the report warned that services focused primarily on mothers, with six out of ten fathers surveyed saying that health and social care practitioners made more of an effort to communicate with mothers than fathers.

Poor health

The result, according to the report, was increased health problems and a lack of employment opportunities for fathers.

Ninety three per cent said that they had experienced stress ‘most or some of the time’ and more than 50% said that their physical health had suffered, yet two-thirds said they had never talked with a professional about their troubles.

This was despite half of respondents saying that they needed more help.

Social isolation

Social isolation was also identified as a major problem, with around 40% of fathers admitting that they had no close friends to talk about their situation with and more than half reporting that they had lost touch with their friends because they had a child with a learning disability.

It also found half of fathers had experienced a loss of income because of their caring role, while many felt they wanted to spend more time with their children but were prevented from doing so by work.

Lack of information on employment rights

The report also found information on flexible working for fathers was “seriously inadequate”, with more than half unaware of their right to request flexible working arrangements as a result of their caring responsibilities.

The charity called on children’s trusts to introduce peer group support for fathers and on health services to offer annual health checks.

It also said that the government’s carers strategy, which was launched last year, should be amended to “explicitly address” the role of fathers as carers.

Focus is primarily on mothers

Report author Christine Towers said that although fathers were heavily involved in the upbringing of their child, support services still focused primarily on mothers.

She added: “Although some progress has been made, fathers of children with learning disabilities continue to go unrecognised for their caring roles. The vast majority of fathers want to be involved and make the effort to take their share of caring responsibilities.”

Adrienne Burgess, director of research at the Fatherhood Institute, said: “This research report is a vital piece of work that must inform national and local policies such as the carers strategy, and the development of services so that they are inclusive towards fathers of children with disabilities.”

Philippa Russell, chair of the Standing Commission on Carers, set up to advise the government on carers issues, said: “Families for disabled children are too often narrowly interpreted as mothers alone but as this study shows, fathers also have a critical role to play in their children’s health and well-being, and want to be active in their upbringing.”

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Fathers need more support

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