Abstract: A Systematic Review of the Literature on Parents with Intellectual Disabilities Involved with Child Welfare Systems (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

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A Systematic Review of the Literature on Parents with Intellectual Disabilities Involved with Child Welfare Systems

Wednesday, January 20, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Noor Toraif, MA, Doctoral Student, Boston University, MA
Astraea Augsberger, PhD, Assistant Professor, Boston University, Boston, MA
Wendy Zeitlin, PhD, Assistant Professor, Montclair State University, Montclair, NJ
Background and Purpose: Parents with intellectual disabilities (ID) are overrepresented in child welfare systems. Historically, the rights of people with ID have been limited as a consequence of the eugenics movement and institutionalization of individuals with psychiatric and developmental disabilities. While the transition from institutionalization to community-based care contributed to the integration of people with ID into mainstream society, available and accessible parenting programs and other mandatory services were not tailored to the learning capacities of parents with ID. Parenting with ID remains a fairly underdeveloped area in the social work literature. Our study examines the following research questions: 1) What are the risk factors of child welfare involvement among parents of ID? 2) What are interventions used to promote positive parenting skills for parents with ID? and 3) What are recommendations for assisting parents with ID in parenting and childcare?

Methods: This paper is part of a larger mixed methods study on parents with ID involved with the child welfare system. A systematic review was conducted to better understand the risk factors, interventions, and recommendations for supporting parents with ID involved in child welfare. Data from the larger study, in addition to consultation with child welfare experts, were utilized to generate search terms such as “parents with intellectual disabilities OR learning disabilities and child welfare,” and “parents with intellectual disabilities AND children with intellectual disabilities AND child welfare.” A comprehensive search was then conducted on five databases: Google Scholar, ProQuest Central, PsycINFO, and ERIC. Inclusion criteria included articles written in the US, in English, and between the years 1987 to 2019.

Results: Based on the key terms and inclusion criteria, we located 54 articles that were analyzed using content analysis. Results suggest that parents with ID are more likely to become involved with the child welfare system if they are female, Black or American Indian/Alaska Native, or experiencing poverty. They are also more likely to experience higher rates of housing instability, substance use disorders, mental illness, interpersonal violence, and lower levels of social support. Available interventions for parents with ID include parent support groups, navigation services, and home visiting programs. Recommendations for assisting parents with ID include developing and validating ID assessment instruments, providing targeted and intensive parenting services, and building child welfare professionals capacity and social supports to serve this population.

Conclusions and Implication: Supporting parents with ID who are overrepresented in the child welfare system requires more specialized and targeted support, accurate ID assessment instruments, and comprehensive training for child welfare professionals serving this population. The provision of these recommendations requires broad interagency and interdisciplinary collaboration. Future research on parents with ID and the child welfare system should include randomized control trials (RCTs) to assess the most effective parenting interventions, as well as the optimal frequency and duration of services required to illicit positive outcomes for parents with ID.