Services accused of failing parents with learning difficulties

Parents with learning difficulties are losing custody of their children because they are not being given enough help and what help they do receive is often too late, experts have warned.

A new report by the University of Bristol’s Norah Fry Research Centre, launched this week at a conference organised by learning difficulty charity Mencap, highlights the ongoing problems parents with learning difficulties face, including negative stereotyping and a lack of awareness of their needs among professionals.

Researchers found that, where the children of parents with learning difficulties were taken into care, this was “rarely” as a result of abuse and “almost always” due to a perceived risk of neglect.

They also warned that the growing divide between adults’ and children’s services was working against the desire of some practitioners for a more “holistic” approach to the needs of these parents.

“We hope as a result of this study more parents with learning difficulties will be given the right support, so they can be good parents to their children and stay together as a family,” said report co-author Linda Ward said.

Welcoming the report, Foundation for People with Learning Disabilities co-director Alison Giraud-Saunders said: “It is well understood that a child will usually do best when kept with its parents, and social care teams make every effort to ensure this happens in a range of situations, including when parents are in the penal system or suffering from chronic illness.

“But it is clear that there are problems in many areas when it comes to supporting parents with learning disabilities.”

Mencap chief executive Jo Williams added: “By supporting parents and sharing best practice among professionals Mencap hopes the stigma attached to having a learning disability, which will often colour people’s judgement leading to the view that they will make bad or abusive parents, can be shifted and parents with a learning disability will be given a chance.”

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