Working together to support disabled parents
Principles of good practice
The following principles underpin the development of good practice in the support of families affected by parental disability or ill health:
- 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 or drug and/or alcohol problems.
- Support needs should be addressed by enabling parents to access universal and community services wherever possible and appropriate.
- Additional support needs should be met by the timely provision of specialist assessments and services.
- Agency responses should be needs-led, aim to support family and private life and prevent unnecessary problems from arising.
- Agency responses should address the needs of parents and children in the context of the whole family and not as individuals in isolation from one another.
- Inappropriate tasks and responsibilities undertaken by a child or young person which adversely affect their emotional, physical, educational or social development should be prevented by providing adequate and appropriate support to the parent(s) and their family.
- Diversity should be valued and fully considered in agency responses.
The following key features or distinguishing characteristics of the relationship between agencies and families were evident among the examples of good practice surveyed for the SCIE Knowledge review 11:
- Needs arising from impairment/illness and/or disabling barriers were addressed before making judgements about parenting capacity.
- There was clarity about the rights of individuals and the responsibilities of organisations.
- There were good working relationships between agencies and disciplines.
- Service development and delivery were characterised by a partnership approach between agencies and disciplines.
- There was a continuum of prevention.
Needs arising from impairment/illness and/or disabling barriers should be addressed before making judgements about parenting capacity
Good practice is underpinned by an approach that addresses needs relating to a parent’s impairment or illness and the disabling barriers of unequal access and negative attitudes. This approach recognises that if a problem is seen as entirely related to impairment and personal limitations it can sometimes be difficult to understand how to effect positive changes for parents and their children.
If the focus is, instead, on things that can be changed, such as inadequate housing and on support needs that can be met then there are many more possibilities for positive improvements.
Therefore, a key feature of good practice is that adults’ services take a lead role in responding to parental support needs. This requires that eligibility criteria for adults’ services take parenting needs into account so that significant problems are prevented from arising and adversely affecting children’s welfare. In addition, the parent should be a key partner in the process of planning the provision of services.
There should be clarity about the rights of individuals and the responsibilities of organisations
Good practice is underpinned by clarity about the responsibilities of statutory agencies which are set out in legislation and guidance. This means:
- providing parents and children with accessible information about their rights and entitlements
- ensuring that local policies and practices comply with current legislation and guidance
- promoting knowledge among children’s and adults’ services about the statutory framework within which each are working.
There should be good working relationships between agencies and disciplines
The process of developing joint protocols provides an opportunity for agencies to establish a shared understanding of their respective roles and responsibilities. The good practice examples of joint protocols surveyed for the SCIE knowledge review exhibited the following key features in their relationships with families where a parent or parents were disabled or had additional support needs:
- There was recognition that if an adult’s parenting needs are responded to within the adults’ social care framework then children are less likely to be in need.
- There was collective ownership across adults’ and children’s services and across health, education, social care, housing and the non-statutory sector of the need to provide early support.
- Children’s social workers were brought in when necessary and worked in partnership with adults’ services to prevent further problems from arising.
- Joint assessments were undertaken, when required, to meet a child’s and family’s needs.
- Joint commissioning and joint working was conducted to provide flexible, ongoing support and to anticipate changes in needs resulting from changes to impairment and/or illness and family circumstances.
- Training was undertaken within and across agencies, and particularly across adults’ and children’s services.
- There was recognition that adults’ services have a continuing role of supporting parents when children’s services carry out their responsibilities under Section 47 of the Children Act 1989.
- There was a coordinated approach to assessment and service delivery for individual families.
Service development and delivery should be characterised by a partnership approach
A partnership approach to service development and delivery means:
- children’s and adults’ services working together to develop joint protocols
- developing collaborative and trusting working relationships across the range of statutory and voluntary sector services
- consultation with and the involvement of parents and children in developing policies, protocols and services
- positive action to overcome parents’ potential distrust of and disengagement with services.
There should be a continuum of prevention
A key feature of good practice is the recognition that a preventative approach needs to be taken at all stages of the relationship between services and families. This means:
- preventing unnecessary problems from arising by addressing specialist low-level parenting support needs
- preventing harm to children and family crises which could lead to children being looked after by the local authority
- supporting parents whose children have been removed from home, with a view to reuniting families where possible
- providing post-crisis support aimed at anticipating and preventing future difficulties.
A preventative approach is also key to overcoming the stigma and fear which parents often associate with statutory social services.
The key mechanism for promoting these principles and features of good practice is the collective development by relevant agencies of protocols for responding to the needs of families affected by parental disability or additional needs.
The next section of this guidance looks at the development of local protocols, drawing on lessons learnt from areas that have adopted protocols.
The guide also provides a template for developing joint protocols.