What we aimed to achieve through our research with fathers:
Fathers are no longer the 'invisible parent'
They are valued in their role as carers
Policy and practice responds to the needs of both fathers and mothers who are raising a child with learning disabilities
'Recognising Fathers' leads to a better life for all the family
We know that fathers often respond differently to mothers when they get a diagnosis that their child has a learning disability.
At the time of diagnosis, and in the years ahead, support in their caring roles is usually geared more to mothers than fathers.
Fathers say they sometimes feel like an ‘invisible’ parent.
So we started this work by interviewing fathers to learn from them about their experiences.
Interviews with Fathers
During 2005-2006 we interviewed 21 fathers who had children under the age of 11 with learning disabilities.
These interviews showed that fathers valued being involved in their children’s lives but sometimes things worked against this, such as:
We wrote a report about what we found out from the interviews. A summary of the report is also available.
The findings made us realise the need to carry out further research which led to a national survey of fathers.
In 2007/2008 we carried out a national survey of fathers who have children with learning disabilities up to the age of 19.
The questionnaire asked fathers questions about:
What kind of care they gave and activities they were involved in
Impact on their relationships with family and friends
Changes in employment
Support in employment
Looking after their health
Attitude of services and involvement in meetings
Reports and Information
The report, 'Recognising Fathers: A national survey of fathers who have children with learning disabilities’, presents the findings from 251 fathers who completed a questionnaire. The report highlights that current policies and practices often fail to acknowledge or support fathers in their role as carers.
There is a Need2Know briefing for policy makers, commissioners and services.
We have also produced guidelines for practitioners in education, health, social care and family support settings to involve fathers in meetings and appointments.
What we Found out from the Research
Fathers’ Involvement with their Children
Fathers have a strong sense of responsibility about providing care for their child and supporting their partner. Many are trying to spend more time with their child to meet these responsibilities, but their main motivation is that they enjoy their child’s company. They also feel that their involvement has a positive impact on their child’s life.
Services Involving Fathers
Many services encourage fathers to attend and participate in meetings about their child and fathers welcome this. However, some meetings are arranged in ways that make it difficult for them to attend. For example, giving short notice means that fathers in employment are not able to take time off. Sometimes, when fathers go to a review meeting they are not asked for their views.
Balancing Paid Work and Caring Responsibilities
Fathers need flexibility at work in order to be involved in their child’s care. In order to get this flexibility they often have to change either the kind of work they do or move to part-time work. These changes can lead to a loss of career opportunities and income. Some fathers have stopped working altogether because of these difficulties.
Fathers talked about experiencing high levels of stress and stress related illnesses. A major cause of worry is their child’s future. Fathers are receiving very little help from GPs or other health workers with looking after their own health. Almost half said they need more help and they were often those on lower incomes.
- We want to see fathers encouraged and supported to be involved through:
Education, health and social care services including fathers in meetings and in decision making about their children
Employers giving more support to fathers to combine their caring responsibilities with their paid work
GPs and other health workers giving fathers help to look after their health
- Opportunities for fathers to meet and provide peer support
For more information about Recognising Fathers contact Christine Towers on 020 7803 1158 or email email@example.com.
Christine has over 25 years' experience in developing and managing services for people with learning disabilities. Her interests include older people with learning disabilities, planning with families and developing social and community networks.