Exploring learning disabilities: supporting belonging
Exploring learning disabilities: supporting belonging

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Exploring learning disabilities: supporting belonging

4 Managing the risks – avoiding harmful relationships

When asked what really matters in their lives, people with learning disabilities say that love, relationships and having friends are all important. But people with learning disabilities are sometimes prevented from developing relationships because of fears about their safety. Family and support workers may be concerned that the person is vulnerable and may worry that a relationship puts them at risk. Sometimes family members feel embarrassed talking to people about sex and relationships; at times staff may worry that they will be blamed if things go wrong (Choice Support, 2019).

Listen to this short clip of support workers discussing some of the challenges of helping people to be in loving relationships.

Download this video clip.Video player: Video 8
Skip transcript: Video 8

Transcript: Video 8

[MUSIC PLAYING]
KATIE WEBB
I think there needs to be more training for staff because staff are worried, aren't they? They don't know where the boundaries are--
PHOBE TATUM
We don't know where we stand, yeah.
KATIE WEBB
--with capacity and with safeguarding.
CLARE BATES
Do you think some of the people you work with are lonely?
PHOBE TATUM
Yes.
KATIE WEBB
Yeah. Very lonely, yeah. Yeah, it's a big issue, I think. People want relationships, but they don't know how to go about it or where to find somebody. They feel maybe they're not worthy of a relationship.
CLARE BATES
So one of the things that comes up as a theme-- nightclubs were often places people said that they met potential partners.
KATIE WEBB
Unless they know other people from other places, then they tend to just stick together.
PHOBE TATUM
Yeah.
CLARE BATES
Yeah.
[INTERPOSING VOICES]
KATIE WEBB
Yeah, so I think they need more staff support. Maybe staff need to network more so they know each other. So then they find it easier to go up and introduce to different people.
CLARE BATES
What do you think would be the most important things to train staff on?
PHOBE TATUM
Again, where we stand legally--
[INTERPOSING VOICES]
AMY CLIFFORD
Yeah.
KATIE WEBB
Yeah.
AMY CLIFFORD
Yeah, because it takes away, like I say, the anxiety of, am I doing my job properly or am I potentially--
PHOBE TATUM
Am I putting this person at risk?
KATIE WEBB
Yeah.
PHOBE TATUM
Yeah. Is it going to come back on me, as well? Because that really worries the staff.
[INTERPOSING VOICES]
AMY CLIFFORD
Yeah. It's almost taboo, isn't it, to talk about it?
[INTERPOSING VOICES]
AMY CLIFFORD
I mean, it's true because certain things might make certain people uncomfortable. So just normalising it and making it a more comfortable topic for staff to talk about because--
PHOBE TATUM
I think, yeah, staff training might make the older staff as well-- not necessarily just the older staff, but just the people who are slightly less comfortable with talking about sex, Give them more of an idea of actually where they stand and where the people we support are with it.
KATIE WEBB
Yeah, and things that you can say, and things that you can't say, and I suppose, putting yourself in that person's shoes and thinking how you'd feel in that situation.
PHOBE TATUM
Yeah, and maybe reminding staff that just because they might have a problem with it doesn't mean that can affect how they are supporting the person.
AMY CLIFFORD
Yeah, it's differentiating your opinion versus what you need to be doing within your profession that's--
[INTERPOSING VOICES]
AMY CLIFFORD
And I think that will come from training.
AMY CLIFFORD
Yeah.
PHOBE TATUM
Yeah.
KATIE WEBB
Yeah.
AMY CLIFFORD
Yeah, I think the important thing to remember is that we are here to support them, not control them.
KATIE WEBB
Yeah.
PHOBE TATUM
Yeah, I think that's where there’s little bit of confusion, isn’t there?
AMY CLIFFORD
Yeah, you need to keep reminding we're here to support them and what they want as an individual.
CLARE BATES
Have you had anyone go on dates with anyone from-- or meet anyone off the internet here? Because that was something people worried about, people meeting people off the internet.
PHOBE TATUM
I don’t think we have, have we?
KATIE WEBB
No. Another service I work at, there's a lady there. She goes on Facebook a lot. And she will arrange to meet people that she's spoken to on Facebook, which is a bit scary because obviously, she doesn't know who they are or anything.
So we've tried dating sites with her, but it's really difficult to find one that's aimed towards her disabilities, especially in this area. There doesn't seem to be anything, really. We've had a good look, haven’t we?
CLARE BATES
So what do you think would be helpful in this area?
KATIE WEBB
We could do with a specialist dating agency. I keep saying it.
PHOBE TATUM
Yeah.
KATIE WEBB
Yeah, to help people connect and meet.
CLARE BATES
Do you think people would use one?
PHOBE TATUM
Yeah.
KATIE WEBB
Yeah. I think they would, yeah.
End transcript: Video 8
Video 8
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One support worker talked about ‘normalising’ the conversation about people with learning disabilities being in relationships. Another spoke of thinking about how it would feel to be in the shoes of the person with learning disabilities. One support worker emphasised that their job was about support and not control. They all identified the need for better training to help support workers understand their role when it comes to relationships.

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