TASP follows the work of key researchers in the field. Some of the pivitol research on supporting parents with disabilities can be obtained through our contributors in the drop-down menu for this section.

TASP board member and contributor, Dr. Maurice Feldman, compiled a list of seminal peer-reviewed journal articles on parents with learning difficulties and their children These articles from the public domain provide a foundation for understanding research on parents with intellectual disabilities: Seminal Peer-Reviewed Research-based Journal Articles on Parents with ID and Their Children. He notes the list of 32 articles is by no means exhaustive, and does not include influential books and book chapters.  In looking at the list of articles, Dr. Feldman points to themes and areas where more research is needed.

These include:

  • Teaching Parenting Skills

What we know: Many people still assume that parents with learning difficulties cannot benefit from parent education. Research since the 1980s show support for an effective parent training approach to teaching child-care skills and parent-child interaction skills to parents with learning difficulties, including those with intellectual disabilities. Effective instruction includes breaking down the skill into small steps, using simple verbal instructions and modeling, allowing the parent to practice with the child in the setting in which they need to use the skill, and providing positive and correct feedback. Group instruction in artificial (e.g., classroom) settings is not as effective as in-home parent training.

What we need to find out: More research is needed on strategies that encourage parents to use the skills whenever and wherever they are needed (generalization). We need to find out more about the long-term benefits of early parent education for the family and children, and how to teach parents to promote the wellbeing of older children.  Interventions need to move past just training parenting skills and should include teaching parents how to develop and manage a social support network, promote self-advocacy and protection skills and resolve any mental health issues.

  • Context Matters

What we know: For years (and still today), many people assume that any difficulties seen in parents with learning difficulties are due to their cognitive impairment. Recent research with large numbers of research participants now shows that other factors need to be considered when predicting the abilities of parents with learning difficulties, child protection decisions and child outcomes. One overriding factor is that many of the concerns noted in families led by parents with learning difficulties is more a function of poverty than their cognitive impairments. Parents with learning difficulties are more likely to have poverty-related physical and mental health issues, be highly stressed and socially isolated, all of which may affect their ability to parent. The parents own upbringing, exposure to traumatic events and ongoing stigmatization and discrimination may also make it more difficult to parent and increase the chances of them having their children taken away.

What we need to find out: Much of the research has focused on what factors predict failure. Researchers should be looking at what factors predict success and resilience in the face of difficult situations that many families led by parents with learning difficulties encounter on a daily basis.

  • Child Protection Services Need to Step Up

What we know: Research in several developed countries, including the U.S., UK and Australia, show systemic discrimination in child protection and the court systems against parents with learning difficulties.  The characteristics, experience and training of child protection workers, psychologists, lawyers and judges play a role in predicting whether parents with learning difficulties get to keep their children.  The current parenting capacity assessment process appears to be flawed and biased. There is a great need for a national strategy, such as Healthy Start in Australia, to help support and train professionals involved working with these families.

What we need to find out: Do worker and professional attitudes, perceptions, practice and decisions change with more training? Will a systematic, large-scale effort to support and train professionals working with families headed by parents with learning difficulties make a meaningful difference in retention of families and the well being of the parents and children?

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