NAAPS CEO Alex Fox used his latest Community Care column to tackle what he called the ‘hidden national scandal’ of support services for parents with learning disabilities. Whilst documents such as Think Local, Act Personal set out a vision in which people who have support needs are entitled to pursue ordinary lives and enjoy equal rights, choice and control can be in short supply when people with learning disabilities want to have children.
Whilst children’s services can be swift to identify risk, neither adults’ nor children’s services are well equipped to assess that risk without prejudice nor to provide timely, accessible support and buck-passing is common. Parents with learning disabilities are routinely asked to demonstrate their parenting competence in the alien and stressful environment of an assessment centre and given information which they cannot read or understand.
One parent was taught to bottle-feed her baby, but not about weaning, with the result that nutrition and neglect concerns arose later on: she was still bottle feeding exactly as she’d been instructed.
Traditional services are usually deemed too expensive to provide the out of hours support which would allay children’s services’ safeguarding concerns. Parents with mild learning disabilities may wrongly be deemed ineligible for adults’ services. Shared Lives has been shown to have the potential to end that catch-22 situation, because it is an affordable way of providing support to both parent and child within an ordinary family household. Support can be on hand around the clock and parents can keep custody of their children whilst receiving support to develop their parenting skills and confidence. The support is paid for partly through the parent’s housing and other benefits, without the need for a huge new investment from adult services’ teams in round the clock support.
NAAPS and user-led organisation CHANGE have developed training materials as part of an ongoing partnership to support the development of Shared Lives as a widely-accessible form of support to parents and their children. We are also exploring links with the work of Homestart, another national organisation which also has an ethos of drawing on unpaid support in empowering parents under pressure.