Working together to support disabled parents
The policy and legislative frameworks for adults’ and children’s services
Policy, legislation and guidance provide the framework within which services operate and establish that:
- Local authorities and all other agencies working or in contact with children have a responsibility to safeguard and promote children’s welfare
- Children’s needs are usually best met by supporting their parents to look after them.
- Professionals should respect and support the private and family lives of parents who have additional support needs associated with physical and/or sensory impairment, learning disabilities, mental health problems, long-term illness, and/or drug and alcohol problems.
- Local authorities and all agencies in contact with children have a responsibility to safeguard and promote children’s welfare.
- Disabled parents and those who appear to be in need of community care services have the right to an assessment of their needs and have the right to have their assessed needs met if they meet local eligibility thresholds. Assessments should gauge any assistance required with parenting roles and tasks.
- When determining eligibility for adults’ services, social services should take into account any risks in the short and long term which may affect the ability of a parent to carry out family roles and responsibilities.
- Decisions as to whether to provide support should also take into account the consequences of not meeting needs which fall outside eligibility thresholds.
- Adults’ and children’s services - across health, education and social care - should work together to improve outcomes for children and their families.
- Disabled parents are entitled to the same access to services as all parents, including parenting support and information services.
- All public bodies have a duty to actively promote equality of opportunity for disabled people.
- The NHS and local authorities have a duty to promote the health and well-being of their local populations.
For children and parents generally the policy aims set out in Every child matters: change for children are that every child, whatever their background or their circumstances, should have the support they need to:
- be healthy
- stay safe
- enjoy and achieve
- make a positive contribution
- achieve economic well-being.
Children’s Services Authorities are required to lead the development of strategic children and young people’s plans which should identify where outcomes need to be improved and how to achieve these improvements. The Childcare Act 2006 places a duty on local authorities to reduce inequalities in well-being between young children in their area and to provide accessible information to parents.
The policy background set out for adults’ social care sets similar goals as Every child matters about equality of outcomes for adults who have additional support needs. The White Paper Our health, our care, our say establishes the following outcomes for social care:
- improved health and emotional well-being
- improved quality of life
- making a positive contribution
- choice and control
- freedom from discrimination
- economic well-being
- personal dignity.
The Human Rights Act 1998 upholds the right of everyone to respect for private and family life, while the Disability Discrimination Act 2005 and the Northern Ireland Act 1998 require public authorities to promote equality of opportunity for disabled people.
More specifically, the National service framework for children, young people and maternity services recognises that some parents require:
- early identification of their support needs
- specialised forms of support
- collaborative arrangements between adults’ and children’s social care.
National service framework for children, young people and maternity services: core standards
Markers of good practice (8)
- Multi-agency working to support parenting is outlined in all local strategic and service plans.
- Information and services to support parenting (by mothers and fathers and carers) are available and coordinated through local multi-agency partnerships.
- Support for all parents with pre-school children is available from early years’ settings including nurseries, Sure Start local programmes and Children’s Centres.
- Parents whose children are experiencing difficulties (for example, because of learning disabilities and/or challenging behaviour) receive early support and evidence-based interventions. The requirements for local provision are identified in strategic planning.
- Collaborative arrangements are in place between services for adults and those for children and families to ensure effective joint assessment and support/treatment to enhance parent’s parenting capacity and protect and promote the well-being and welfare of children.
- Adults caring for looked-after children have early, accessible, multidisciplinary support.
- Primary care trusts and local authorities ensure that local parents are involved in the planning and delivery of services, with representation from all local communities and groups.
Where children are at risk of experiencing significant harm, a key marker of good practice is that:
'A broad range of integrated, evidence-based services are available: to prevent children and young people from being harmed; to safeguard those who are likely to suffer significant harm and; to address the needs of those children who have suffered harm. The services should, at the same time, provide support to their parents/carers.’ (9)
Parenting support: Guidance for local authorities in England (10) requires authorities in England to complete parenting strategies linked to the Children and young people’s plan and to identify a single commissioner in children’s services whose role includes that of:
'Developing a formal set of protocols which define how different agencies should work together in supporting parents including pooled or aligned budgets for programmes and staff training.’(11)
The policy framework also addresses particular support needs:
- The White Paper Valuing people included within its strategy for people with learning disabilities a specific policy aim of: 'Supporting parents with learning disabilities to help them, wherever possible, ensure their children gain maximum life chance benefits’.(12) In Wales the equivalent policy is called Fulfilling the promises, and in Northern Ireland it is called Equal lives: Review of policy and services for people with a learning disability in Northern Ireland. See also the Welsh Assembly’s Learning disability strategy: Section 7 guidance on service principles and service responses and the Bamford review of mental health and learning disability (Northern Ireland).
- Where a person with mental illness is a parent, health and local authorities should not assume that the child or children can undertake the necessary caring responsibilities. 'The parent should be supported in their parenting role and services provided so that the [child] is able to benefit from the same life chances as all other children, and have the opportunity for a full education, and leisure and social activities.’(13) For Northern Ireland see the Strategic framework for adult mental health services.
- Models of care for the treatment of drug misusers (14) includes a section on parents and pregnant women and sets out the care pathways that should be covered where a parent or an expectant parent is misusing drugs.
Supporting people is an organisation that provides housing-related support services. It has issued policy and guidance which plays an important part of the policy framework as some parents with additional support needs either live in or require supported housing to live independently in the community. Local authorities are required to analyse the need for such services in their area and to develop, with relevant partners, commissioning strategies to meet these needs. The policy and guidance is also intended to encourage the development of packages of care and support between housing, health and social care.(15) In addition, the Homelessness Act 2002 places a duty on housing authorities to work with other agencies to tackle and prevent homelessness. For Northern Ireland, see the Housing (Northern Ireland) Order 2003.