Research focus & rationale:
There is substantial evidence that mothers with a learning disability are more likely to lose custody of their children. They are also at an increased risk of adversities that affect perceived parenting capacity including victimization, poverty, substance use and mental ill-health.
Research from the perspective of mothers themselves highlights challenging experiences with statutory services. These are often characterised by misunderstanding, frustration, fear and helplessness. Additionally, there is a sense that mothers with a learning disability feel a need to work much harder to “prove” themselves in the eyes of professionals and others. However, despite this extra work, acceptance as a mother remains elusive.
While much of this existing research alludes to stigma – at both structural and interpersonal levels – as a significant feature of women’s experiences, this has not been explicitly explored.
My research seeks to address this gap. It will explore stigma as a force in the lives of mothers with a learning disability as they navigate interactions with statutory services. It will look at this structurally and intersectionally, considering how mothers experience and resist hostile social conditions.
Provisionally, my research will answer the following research questions:
• To what extent does stigma play a role in the experience of mothering with a learning disability?
• How can stigma in this context be understood structurally?
• What strategies do mothers with learning disabilities use to resist stigma?
I am hoping to conduct my research within either a parental advocacy service or a social work pre-birth assessment team.
I will use a mixed-methods approach which will include:
• Narrative life-story work with mothers/parents with learning disabilities
• Ethnographic observations of professionals in their discussions with each other and practice with mothers with a learning disability
• Multi-sensory methods as a means of increasing accessibility
• Documentary analysis of case-notes and court reports
• Questionnaires which consider stigma in experiences of mothering – looking at access to services, networks & resources as well as attitudes encountered and modes of resistance.
While the nature of a PhD means that I cannot commit to a fully co-produced piece of work I will seek to involve the learning disability community meaningfully. This will include input from a paid Research Assistant with a learning disability.