Learning disabled fathers feel ‘let down’ by adults’ services, research finds

Interviews with fathers found the lack of parenting support on offer was exacerbating stress and in some cases contributing to mental illness

Photo: nadezhda1906/fotolia

Fathers with learning disabilities feel let down by adults’ services, according to research.

A study carried out by the University of Bristol found that statutory services were failing to provide parenting support for fathers, and interventions were often focused only on mothers.

The lack of support was exacerbating the stresses fathers’ already felt about parenthood, and in some cases was contributing to serious mental illness, the study found.

The research was based on interviews with eight fathers with learning disabilities, aged between 26 and 60, and nine adult social care practitioners.

The fathers, many of whom had already experienced difficult lives, said the support from adults’ services tended to focus on housing, finance, and independent living.

They also viewed children’s services as being motivated mainly by safeguarding concerns, and said any interventions on offer tended to focus support towards mothers.

‘Not routinely engaged’

Social care practitioners interviewed for the study acknowledged that services viewed mothers as the ‘primary carer’ and fathers were not routinely engaged with support.

Most said they saw their role as supporting the adult, but felt that parenting support fell under the responsibility of children’s services. However, they felt that children’s services were only able to deliver short-term interventions, which were not sufficient for learning disabled parents.

Only one practitioner interviewed was aware of the outcome in the Care Act 2014 eligibility criteria that relates to an adult’s caring responsibilities for a child. This means that a person is eligible for care and support, where they are unable to carry out their caring responsibilities, and to achieve least one other specified outcome, as a result of their care and support needs, resulting in a significant impact on their well-being.

The research concluded that learning disabled fathers needed to be much better included in “family-focused social care practice”, in order for their needs to be met.

It recommended that adults’ services identify fathers at the point of referral and discuss how they could best be supported with the practicalities of parenthood.

‘Fulfil parenting role’

Jon Symonds, who jointly led the research, said: “The fathers we spoke to really wanted to be included in support to help them fulfil their role as loving parents to their children.

“Practitioners can support fathers with learning disabilities in the same way they do mothers – by including them in conversations about being a parent, and offering emotional, as well as practical support with parenting tasks.”

The study was carried out by the School for Policy Studies at the University of Bristol, and funded by the National Institute for Health Research’s School for Social Care Research.


More from Community Care

4 Responses to Learning disabled fathers feel ‘let down’ by adults’ services, research finds

  1. Tom J October 24, 2017 at 1:41 pm #

    Its tragic but our Prime minster’s ‘No Magic Money Tree’ mantra has now taken hold.

    Care Act 2014 offering long term expensive support to parents with learning disabilities? Good luck with that.

    • Maharg October 25, 2017 at 11:27 am #

      What you mean there is no magic money tree! I thought the Prime Minister had access to this as part of her Fantasy Cabinet Team.
      As a social worker probably not be able to sleep again tonight, again!.

      • londonboy October 31, 2017 at 11:00 am #

        We should all be challenging what is happening to the most vulnerable in our society.

        When there is unmet need there may be a temptation for service providers ‘cut the cloth to suit the pocket’ and ignore the ‘system wide’ implications of unmet need when other services have to pick up the tab. This a sort of ‘brutalisation’ of society in my view. Unmet need, if that is what it is, should b logged as such, in every area, by every service. When this is not happening then service providers are colluding with policymakers propping up failed policies by atrophied Government departments that are not fit for purpose in the C21.

  2. Planet Autism October 26, 2017 at 1:29 pm #

    “A study carried out by the University of Bristol found that statutory services were failing to provide parenting support for fathers, and interventions were often focused only on mothers.”

    It’s far *worse* for many autistic mothers, even without learning disability. Children are often taken away!


    “Positive and Negative Experiences of Mothers with Autism”

    “Disturbingly, approximately 1 in 5 mothers of a child with autism, regardless of maternal diagnosis, were assessed by social services; of those, 1 in 6 had their child compulsorily placed for adoption. Finally, rates of allegations and investigations of suspected fabricated illness amongst children with autism and their siblings were two orders of magnitude higher than the known incidence the UK.”

    “Allegations of fabricated illness, and high rates of surveillance by social services suggest there may be discrimination towards mothers with autism.”

    It is in complete breach of duties on LAs:

    “A manual for good social work practice Supporting adults who have autism”


    “Parenting stigma

    It’s important you have grounded knowledge around the significance of past and current
    parental influence. Plenty of myths abound in this practice area and some adults with autism
    who themselves are parents often hear criticism of how they care for their children. One
    practitioner stated, ‘… parents don’t cause autism, but their reactions can impact it’.

    It is a good idea to unpick the reasons behind behaviours from carers that you or your
    colleagues identify as ‘protective’, ‘colluding’ or unhelpful, because they may serve as a
    protective function, for example to avoid a meltdown. Help them find alternative ways of
    dealing with this, perhaps considering a stepped approach to challenge current patterns of
    behaviours/interactions, or the use of family therapy/group work.

    When interacting with a carer of someone with autism, whether or not they themselves have
    autism, engagement needs to be positive. Your practice should move away from the negative
    on all levels. You should not assume anything about parenting capability whether the parent
    is autistic or not. You should consider assisting the carer to care via the ‘SPELL’ technique
    (Structure, Positive (approaches and expectations), Empathy, Low arousal, Links), if this is
    suitable for the person for whom they care (see resources link below)”


    “2.21 Where a parent is disabled it is important that they are receiving support to meet their own needs, and are supported in their parenting role so that they are able to fulfil their responsibilities. Information is available on working with parents with a learning disability in Good practice guidance on working with parents with a learning disability (DoH and DfES, 2007) (available to download from http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20090217020108tf_/http://www.dh.gov.uk/en/Publicationsandstatistics/Publications/PublicationsPolicyAndGuidance/DH_075119). LSCBs should work collaboratively with adult services to ensure that children are not put at risk of harm because of a lack of support to their parents. Where a disabled child has been subject to abuse or neglect, perpetrated by someone other than a parent, the impact of such abuse on the parents needs to be acknowledged and appropriate support made available.”

    Statutory guidance for LA’s towards autistic adults: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/422338/autism-guidance.pdf

    Assessment of need as your autistic child’s carer: https://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/social-care-and-support-guide/Pages/carers-assessment.aspx