Society for Social Work and Research

Sixteenth Annual Conference Research That Makes A Difference: Advancing Practice and Shaping Public Policy
11-15 January 2012 I Grand Hyatt Washington I Washington, DC

73P An Exploratory Study of the Parental Supports Needed and Received by Parents with Disabilities

Saturday, January 14, 2012
Independence F - I (Grand Hyatt Washington)
* noted as presenting author
Elizabeth Lightfoot, PhD, Associate Professor, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, St. Paul, MN
Traci LaLiberte, PhD, Executive Director, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, St. Paul, MN
Renee Hepperlen, MSW, Doctoral Student, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, Saint Paul, MN
Purpose: Over the past several decades there have been several calls for attention to the need of parental supports for parents with disabilities (Booth & Booth, 1996; Llwewellyn & McConnell, 2002), yet there are currently few formal sources of support to assist parents with disabilities in parenting their children. Many parents with disabilities have to rely on informal supports and are at high risk for interaction with the child welfare system (Swain & Cameron, 2003; Llewellyn, McConnel & Ferronato, 2003). Recent changes in state level child welfare policies in a handful of states are now requiring assessments of parental supports for parents with disabilities (Lightfoot, Hill & LaLiberte, 2010), however there is currently no research enquiring into the types of supports typically needed or received by parents with disabilities in the United States. This exploratory study aims to fill this gap by examining the parental supports needed and received by parents with disabilities, as well as the modifications to child welfare services needed and received by parents with disabilities.

Methods: Thirty structured face-to-face interviews with both closed- and open-ended questions were conducted with twenty-four mothers and six fathers with children under age 18 who self-identified as having a physical, sensory or intellectual or developmental disability. A subset of interviews were conducted with parents with disabilities who had been involved with the child welfare system (n=8). Parents were asked about the parental supports that they needed and received and the helpfulness of these supports, as well as the types of modifications to child welfare services that they needed and received. Descriptive statistics were used to examine frequencies of the parental supports and child welfare modifications needed and received and the helpfulness of these supports. Qualitative data regarding the need and helpfulness of parental supports was coded for themes.

Results: The top parental supports parents with disabilities identifying as needing were informal supports, parenting classes, daycare, housing and respite care. The supports parents with disabilities most often received included informal supports, parenting classes, reminders for meetings, daycare, housing, respite care and in-home parent training; and those most helpful were money management, activities for children, housing, safety plans, and calendars. Of the parents receiving child welfare services, the most frequently needed modifications were assistance reading materials and in-home parenting instruction. A key theme emerging from the data was that parents strongly preferred informal to formal supports because of their potential for emotional support and their flexibility.

Implications: This study provides baseline information for the child welfare system to use when assessing parental supports for parents involved in the child welfare system, as well as information to help aid in the development of parental supports for parents with disabilities in general. When developing and/or assessing parental supports, it is crucial to recognize the importance of informal as well as formal supports. In addition, this study demonstrates that modifications to child protection services required under the Americans with Disabilities Act can be ‘low technology', inexpensive, and easy to implement.