Fathers with learning disabilities and their experiences of adult social care services

Jon Symonds Completed   2018


With the right support, parents with learning disabilities can bring up their children in a caring and loving environment, but how this support is best provided is debated. Good practice guidelines recommend that adults’ and children’s services are joined up to support parents with learning disabilities, and Think Family guidance recommends that adults’ as well as children’s services should work with family members to improve outcomes for children. The Care Act 2014 recently introduced an eligibility outcome for adults in relation to their caring responsibilities for a child. However, most of what is known in this field focuses on and reflects the experiences of mothers.


The aims of this study were to:

  • Understand learning disabled men’s experiences of being fathers
  • Gain insight into learning disabled fathers’ experiences of accessing adult social care services
  • Investigate the experiences of adult care practitioners in providing services to learning disabled fathers including how they work with their counterparts in children’s services
    Identify how practice can be improved to best meet the needs of learning disabled fathers.


Eight fathers were interviewed for the study, recruited through social media, advocacy organisations and the network. The ages of the fathers ranged from 26 to 60 years. They had 18 children between them and three of them had become grandfathers.

Nine practitioners were also interviewed from three different adult learning disability services. They worked in different parts of the country from the fathers to avoid them recognising each other in the findings.

The study took place between October 2015 and November 2016.

The research team worked with four fathers with learning disabilities from the Elfrida Society who acted as consultants to the study, giving advice on the easy read versions of materials and the topic guide.


  • Being a father was important to all fathers in the study; they had a strong desire to prove people wrong about their perceived abilities as men and as fathers
  • Practitioners should be mindful of the high probability that fathers with learning disabilities have experienced discrimination throughout their lives
  • Fathers spoke about the stresses of being a parent which sometimes had a direct impact on their mental health. They need to be included in family-focused social care practice
  • Fathers rarely received support for their parenting and felt that they were left out of support provided to mothers. Practitioners should insist on referral information about the father to help to talk to him separately about his role in the family and needs for support.



Fathers with learning disabilities

Fathers with learning disabilities and their experiences of adult social care services
( https://www.sscr.nihr.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/SSCR-research-findings_RF076.pdf )
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