A friendly ear. A shoulder to lean on. A helping hand. Sometimes, we just need a little extra support.

For someone with a learning disability, having the right support can make all the difference in leading an independent life; who you love, where you live, and whether to have children.

This may surprise some people. Many parents with learning disabilities face stereotyped beliefs that they could never be ‘good enough’ parents.

As a result, families where a parent has a learning disability are over-represented in the child protection system. Yet parents with learning disabilities can and do become successful parents when the right support is in place.

Key to this is professionals, family, and community all working in partnership, and taking a ‘whole family’ approach. In Grace Eyre’s Shared Lives Kinship model we work closely with professionals in adult and children’s social care to make all the difference for one young family.

Kelly has a learning disability and has been in a loving relationship with her partner Foysol for many years. After the birth of their son Matthew*, Kelly lived for a whole year in a Mother and Baby Unit where there was professional 24/7 support during a difficult time. But, like any family, they wanted to be together.

Eventually, they moved into rented accommodation. Foysol worked hard decorating, painting, and laying carpets to make a bright and comfortable home.

Shared Lives Kinship means that someone with a learning disability can live in their own home but they can count on comprehensive support from a professional carer who lives close by. They can call upon the carer as and when they need to, so it has an ‘extended family’ feel.

This is how Val came into the lives of Kelly, Foysol and Matthew. Val visits the family once a day, talks often on the phone, and is on call whenever they need her.

‘I’m around for all the things that just pop up in everyday life. I help with benefits and other complicated things but it can be as simple as going out for the day or borrowing a drill to put up a shelf!’

It’s this kind of personalised support that is helping Kelly to grow more confident in her parenting skills. At first, it was condition of the family staying together that Foysol remained at home too, to support Kelly and Matthew and not go out to work. Kelly was only able to support her son for 30 minutes at a time on her own. Now, they can spend hours together, just the two of them.

‘Matt is my first priority. We go to the park, the beach. We went to a farm but he wasn’t bothered about the animals, just the tractors!’

Val has noticed that, by taking small steps, Kelly and Matt’s bond as mother and son has really grown.

‘I offer support but leave space for Kelly to develop as a parent’. Val, carer

Kelly agrees that having this support in place has helped her ‘to have a family life, it’s allowed me to live independently for the first time’.

Now, Foysol is back at work and is feeling good about supporting his wife and son. Kelly goes to see her Mum every week on her own, taking Matt on the bus.

Val knows that the journey is ongoing, ‘as Matt develops, new challenges will come up but Kelly is developing better ways to deal with things.’ But the future is much more certain. Kelly is excited, ‘Matt will have his own bedroom when he is two years old and we will decorate it with all Thomas the Tank Engine stuff!’

*not his real name

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