Parents without power

As increasing numbers of people with learning difficulties are able to live independent lives, it is only natural that more of them want to become parents. So the new report from the Norah Fry Research Centre, suggesting that far too many are having their children taken into care because of a lack of parenting support, is a matter of serious concern. It is also rather depressing that after years of campaigning for the rights of people with learning difficulties, including the Valuing People pledge to support their right to family life, we appear to be not much further forward.

Many child protection professionals are highly sensitive to the charge that they are over-zealous when it comes to resorting to care proceedings. But who can blame them in the face of the unceasing onslaught from the tabloid media where they are damned if they do take children into care but also damned if they don’t and something goes wrong. Vitriolic articles in the Daily Mail last year, accusing social workers of snatching children from people with learning difficulties to hand to middle class childless couples, were hardly designed to encourage reasoned debate.

But the profession cannot ignore the issue. In fact, it looks like it may even get worse. The Norah Fry researchers are to be congratulated on highlighting the fact that now children’s and adults’ services are splitting there is a danger that people with learning difficulties could fall through the gap.

Those working in children’s services must ensure they approach people with learning difficulties with the right mindset and fully acknowledge that with adequate support they can make good enough parents.

Training is a key issue here as is adequate funding. Good support for families with learning difficulties costs money but it is far cheaper than the emotional and financial costs of removing a child.

So will this new report make a difference? It is hard to say. It seems that while there have been strides in tackling discrimination in other areas, prejudice against people with learning difficulties is proving a particularly hard nut to crack. Of course, not everyone with a learning difficulty will be able to become a good enough parent.

But the fact is that having a learning difficulty does not make you an incompetent parent in itself. Equally, not having a learning difficulty is no guarantee you will make a competent parent.

See Children removed from parents who fail to qualify for support, says study Children removed from parents who fail to qualify for support, says study

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