Experiencing motherhood and fatherhood with learning difficulties in Austria
The need for self- determined support
Many parents with learning difficulties face high rates of child welfare intervention and child removal. In contrast to other high-income countries, there hasn’t been any published research on the lives of mothers and fathers with learning difficulties from an Austrian perspective. After presenting an insight into the international literature and the Austrian context, original empirical findings relevant to providing professional support for parents with learning difficulties are introduced.
As part of a larger qualitative study, ten individual parents with learning difficulties (six mothers and four fathers) were interviewed to gain insight into their experience of mother- and fatherhood. During the interviews, participants were asked to visualise their social networks through network maps that were then included into analyses. The current paper primarily engages with parents’ experience of professional practice based on a hermeneutic analysis of latent and manifest meanings.
The study results reinforce the relevance of social networks, including (a lack of) professional parenting support, and gendered parental self-understandings in relation to barriers for parents with learning difficulties in Austria. Parents often experienced surveillance from child welfare professionals and referred to “being checked on” as well as receiving “the wrong support”. Only one study participant experienced the (flexible and self-determined) support provided to her family as helpful. Mothers and fathers with learning difficulties face, at times, quite different challenges in the parenting role. The findings highlight a maternal self-understanding as primary caregiver to their child, whilst fathers often felt excluded from their child’s live.
Support services need to acknowledge the relevance of gendered parenting roles and intersections of multidimensional disadvantages. The parenting support currently available to mothers and fathers with learning difficulties (if available at all) needs radical improvement and nationwide support structures need to be installed in collaboration with families.
Parents with learning disabilities, Gender, Social services, Family support, Parenting
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