To become a parent – and to keep your child
Being a parent poses specific problems for those with learning disabilities, says Ali F Jabeen. The Elfrida Society’s specialist advocacy service is enabling confident, successful parenting
Every significant right of passage in the life of one human being requires adjustments. One of these is becoming a parent.
It is said that ‘it takes a village to bring up a child’. What village does the parent with learning disabilities live in? What support and learning does the village have in place to support the new parent?
As Iva Strnadová wrote in Community Living (2017) ‘no one is born knowing how to parent’. We all need to learn. The adult who happens to have a learning disability is no different.
To create and maintain a fair, equal society, work begins here. What we learn, we teach our children through our actions and reactions. If adults with learning disabilities have had a life of alienation, segregation and negative judgment, and have internalised these attitudes and adopted behaviour that supports them, our work is to undo this learned behaviour.
We must ensure people can learn they do not need to feel this way, be themselves and share their learning as parents.
Through peer support, parents with learning disabilities can become confident for their children and ask for the support and guidance they need.
Unfortunately, many parents with learning disabilities are afraid of asking for support or advice from professionals such as their children’s social worker, teacher or doctor. They fear they will be judged to have failed to parent their child, and that the child will be taken away.
This becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy as, in most cases, parents do not receive the support they need to prove they can become good enough parents.
My role as an advocate in the specialist service involves working with parents so they can face their fears and get support to communicate on an equal footing with social workers – and helping one to understand the other.
Our peer support group helps parents recognise the changes that need to be made, become more aware of their rights, and learn the perspective of the social worker, becoming more aware of their need for a social work support system designed for families where at least one parent has a learning disability.
The Elfrida Society’s specialist advocacy service for parents has attracted attention from all over the UK. Referrals from all areas have given the society a unique perspective on best practice in this complex area.
A common awareness and consistent approach across the UK needs to be established, covering all from family support workers to barristers. As a first step, our parents have created a Parenting Toolkit to support professionals in their work.
Our goal is a brighter and fairer future, creating positive outcomes for parents and children and removing obstacles to successful parenting. In the long run, it will be less cost to the public purse.
Strnadová I (2017) Parenting as a human right: is there justice for people with learning disabilities? Community Living 31:2, 9
Ali F Jabeen is operations manager for the Elfrida Society Parents Project, which provides a specialist advocacy service. www.elfrida.com/parents
This is the first of two articles. In the next issue, Ali F Jabeen will discuss the good practice the specialist advocacy service is developing, and challenges to achieving this