facts about parents with a learning challenge

  • Adults with learning difficulties can learn and apply adequate parenting skills
  • Children may or may not have a learning challenge
  • Parents with developmental disability (including Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and brain injury) are over-represented in child intervention files in Canada
  • A reason given for taking a parent’s children away is that the parent grew up in foster care. It is presumed they did not experience a good example of parenting.
  • Parents with developmental disability are less likely to neglect or abuse their children compared with the total population
  • Teaching parenting skills may have to be adapted to learning challenges such as: difficulty following complex instructions; problems with short- or long-term memory; limited ability in adapting parenting principles as baby grows and changes.
  • Parents who have had a child taken away are told that if they have another child, he/she will automatically be taken away
  • Focus on ‘good enough’ parenting is key. It’s not about being a perfect parent but ensuring a child is loved, safe and nurtured.

What is a developmental disability?

Dr. David McConnell, University of Alberta, heads up a special research area: Supporting Parents with Intellectual Disabilities

Of particular interest, Dr. McConnell’s study of Child Welfare files in Canada showed that parents with developmental disabilities are disproportionately represented in child intervention files. Child Welfare Process and Outcomes: Caregiver Cognitive Impairment

“The [US] National Council on Disability (2012) maintains that the parent assessment processes of the child welfare system are designed in such a way as to guarantee the failure of parents with developmental disabilities.”
“Barriers to Successful Parenting: Identifying the Needs of Parents with Developmental Disabilities”, Jaime Zehner, spring 2013.

Links to resources and research:

Alberta Government-funded support for adults with developmental disabilities

Alberta Government list of Disability Services (adults and children)

Association for Successful Parenting

Eugenics to Newgenics: Dr. Claudia Malacrida, University of Lethbridge

Family and Disability Studies Initiative

Parental cognitive impairment, mental health and child outcomes in a child protection population

IASSID Special Interest Research Group on Parents and Parenting with Intellectual Disabilities (PDF – not available at this time)

Rocking the Cradle: Ensuring the Rights of Parents with Disabilities and Their Children (PDF – not available at this time)

“Service delivery to parents with an intellectual disability: Family-centred or professionally-centred?”