New research from the Tilda Goldberg Centre for Social Work and Social Care at the University of Bedfordshire, has found that social services often assume having a disability is a child protection risk. The research also confirms that social services often monitor families rather than provide meaningful support that would keep families together and avoid a crisis later on.

In an interview with the BBC, one parent with a condition that limits her mobility and strength explained how she chose to hide her pregnancy from social services, fearing they would refer her to the borough’s child protection team and then take her baby away from her, once she was born. The mother, who already had a care plan in place with adult social services for her disability, was also aware that councils try to refer cases away from their departments in order to avoid having to pay for further assistance, making a referral to a child protection team more likely.

The mother told the BBC:

“The fear you carry with you…cannot be understated.”

“Every disabled person I spoke to, when I was pregnant, had a concern.

“There is always some implication because you have an impairment, that you may not be a fantastically good parent.”

She went on to say:

“For the first 10 to 12 months while Sally wasn’t mobile, my existing day-care package and support was enough.”

“Once she moved on from milk and was mobile, it wasn’t.”

One of the things the mother needed help with was making her baby’s food.

“It seems like such a little thing to make your child something to eat, but if you can’t stand for long, and your hands don’t work very well, it can be one of the most distressing things.”

“It was as if because I couldn’t provide that, I wasn’t competent as a mother.”

In the end the mother felt she had no choice but to call for help:

“When that contact came back, I remember ringing my health visitor and just sobbing hysterically. It was devastating.”

“I don’t think that any parent sees being transferred to children’s services as a positive thing.”

The mother goes on to tell the BBC that this kind of prejudice is reserved only for disabled people, however this is not the case. Legal Action for Women have been highlighting discrimination against single, poor parents for some time, and we know that parents home schooling their children have also been targeted by social services across the country.

Unlike most cases, the social worker the mother was allocated agreed her need was because of her disability, not her ability as a mother, and promised to fight her manager’s intention to pass her on to children’ services. The issue of how parenting capacity is determined has begun to be viewed as controversial, with emerging research in America suggesting that this kind of assessment is in fact outdated and unhelpful.

Crucially, the social worker in this instance successfully argued that the service user’s needs as a mother should be met by adult social services.

This argument is hugely important, as it highlights a different way of thinking which allows for both mother and child to be cared for. 

The mother makes the following observations about her daughter and the care they now both receive:

“She’s the greatest joy of my life – she’s wonderful, happy and loved… And having social care support in her life means she is loved by lots of adults. The care staff are like our extended family.”

And that’s how it’s done.

(We’ve asked the Centre whether they would mind sharing the research with us, as we can’t seem to find it on their website, and will let you know when they reply).

Many thanks to Dana for alerting us to this development.