Methods: The study sample consisted of 10 parents with intellectual, developmental and/or physical disabilities with at least one child age 18 or younger, who participated in a goal setting intervention aimed at improving supports for parenting. Parents had a range of 1 to 5 children per household, and three-quarters had a co-occurring mental health diagnosis. Qualitative data was collected from interviews with participants and their key support people, as well as document analysis of intake paperwork, materials used during the goal-setting intervention meetings, including a goal-mapping diagram, and progress notes completed by the study social worker. Data was analyzed using thematic analysis.
Results: Common themes emerged in the areas of participants’ beginning quality of supports, their goal directed activities, and quality of supports after participating in the project. Notably, although all participants reported at least a minimal level of social support for parenting, these supportive relationships were often limited in number or helpfulness, and were often very fragile. During and following participation in the intervention, most parents took action towards their identified parental goals, which also resulted in increased connection to social service programs for many families. Moreover, although some participants reduced the number of supportive relationships identified, they reported an increase in satisfaction and quality of the supports that they did have, as they terminated friendships that they deemed unhealthy and stressful, and reported improved communication and support within the relationships that they did have.
Conclusion and implications: This qualitative analysis indicated that participants reported improvements in their supportive relationships for parenting following participation in the Parent-Centered Planning intervention. With few interventions developed that specifically target the support needs of parents with disabilities, results from this intervention can potentially guide practitioners working with parents with disabilities in for increasing and improving the quality of informal supports for parenting. Moreover, the high rate of co-occurring mental health diagnoses highlights an under-met service need, which has implications for practice and policy. Research implications include further testing of the effectiveness and feasibility of the Parent-Centered Planning intervention.