From individual problem to family centred practice: the challenges for social workers in supporting parents with learning disabilities

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    Social workers are under pressure to support an increasingly diverse range of families, despite having less resources to draw on as a result of austerity measures. One such group of families is those where one or both parents has a learning disability. While we do not have accurate data on the number of families affected, it is estimated that there are currently around 5000 families in Scotland (Stewart and MacIntyre, 2016). These families face significant disadvantage and are likely to be living in poverty, in poor housing and without employment (MacIntyre and Stewart, 2012). They are also far more likely to be subject to child protection measures than other families and around 40% will have their children removed (Emerson, et al 2005). Over the last ten years, evidence has suggested (Stewart and MacIntyre, 2016) that taking a ‘family focused’ approach that acknowledges the needs of both children and parents is the most effective way to support such families. The research argues that taking a ‘whole family’ approach is essential when working with families where there is parental learning disability. Despite this families continue to fall between the gap of children and families and adult social work services. It is argued that conceptualising these families as ‘vulnerable’ directly contributes to their marginalisation. While being labelled as vulnerable is essential to access services given the increasingly stringent eligibility criteria in operation, the label impacts negatively on assumptions about the capacity of parents with learning disabilities to parent. This leaves social workers with a significant ethical dilemmas as they consider how best to support families going forward.
    Original languageEnglish
    Number of pages2
    Publication statusPublished - 18 Apr 2018
    EventEuropean Social Work Research Conference: Social Work in Transition: Challenges for Social Work Research in a Changing Local and Global World - University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh , United Kingdom
    Duration: 18 Apr 201820 Apr 2018


    ConferenceEuropean Social Work Research Conference
    Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


    • family centred practice
    • social workers
    • learning difficulties
    • child protection
    • poverty


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