Professionals talk about parents with learning disabilities
Although parents with learning disabilities have attracted academic and professional attention because of concerns about their ability to care adequately for their children, there has been little systematic development of services for these families. This study seeks to understand the barriers to progress by investigating the issues faced by professionals who work with these parents. I investigate how professionals understand these parents, and clarify how these perceptions link to broader socially defined categories of competence, childhood, parenting and professional practice. I show how social constructions of disabled recipients of professional interventions, and of children, shape and constrain practice, with emphasis on the dilemmas and contradictions that practitioners face. I use a discourse analysis approach informed by discursive psychology and Foucault to examine transcribed interviews with twenty health and social care professionals who have had experience of working with learning disabled parents and their children. Dominant discourses emphasise, on the one hand the incompetence of learning disabled people as social actors and as parents, and on the other children's vulnerability and dependence. I investigate how practitioners attempt to reconcile what they perceive as their responsibility to promote 'normal' family life backed up by expert knowledge with an expectation that they acknowledge conceptions of human rights and client 'empowerment'. I challenge polarised views of professionals as either altruistic public servants or all powerful oppressors of disabled people. I argue that their options for action are limited by a professional climate preoccupied with risk and accountability. Nevertheless I identify examples of resistance to these dominant discourses, suggesting that further progress will be made when practitioners are encouraged to adopt a more critical approach to often taken-for-granted assumptions about disability, parenting and children.