Headlines: September 25th, 2003

A new report is calling for social services departments, the health service and schools working with disabled parents and their children to re-think attitudes and procedures which, it is claimed, are undermining family life. The report from a task force set up by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, found that inadequate support, unequal access to services and the negative views of staff were as much a barrier to good parenting as disability itself.The task force was made up of representatives from Government, social services, voluntary groups and disabled parents’ organisations. Its members spent two years taking evidence from parents, professionals and researchers and their final report identifies examples of good practice, but also lists a catalogue of policy and practice failures that placed disabled parents and their families under stress.

The report says disabled parents commonly face assumptions that their impairment or illness is placing their children at greater risk of deprivation, potential harm or abuse. Many social care professionals, it says, appeared to assume that disabled parents needed care rather than support and that their children would be better off with a non-disabled parent.

The task force says advice from the Association of Directors of Social Services that disabled parents are entitled to assistance with parenting tasks from adult community care services is being ignored. In some areas the only help offered to families was through children who looked after their parents. The group also found cases where children whose parents had learning difficulties or mental health problems were taken into care by local authorities without any assessment of parenting support needs.The report says that parents with ‘mild to moderate’ learning difficulties, who are ineligible for many adult support services, face particular problems and that disabled parents face significant barriers in accessing health services, including ante-natal and maternity care. Schools and education authority policies, it says, focus on the needs of ‘young carers’ rather than building a relationship with their disabled parents. Some schools were physically inaccessible and parents felt that teachers who labelled children as ‘young carers’ held low expectations of their potential.

The report calls on the Government to consult with disabled parents and to issue a national protocol and practice guidance for assessing their needs. It also proposes changes in child protection guidelines to ensure that disabled parents’ support needs are assessed before decisions are made about their capacity to care for their children. Other recommendations include giving disabled parents better access to information, advice and advocacy services, and to direct payments that would enable them to manage their own assistance.

The full report and a summary of its findings can be downloaded in pdf format from www.jrf.org.uk.