Research shows that, like everyone else, people with learning disabilities want a loving relationship with a partner. Yet in the UK just 3% of people with learning disabilities live as part of a couple, compared to 70% of the general population. Watch this video to find out more.
We funded our Quality Analyst Dr Claire Bates to complete a doctorate researching why it is that forming and maintaining relationships is so hard for people with learning disabilities. She found that in many situations it was good staff support that made the difference.
Supported Loving is our response to these findings. It’s a social media campaign which aims to:
The campaign started in February 2017 and includes:
We believe people with learning disabilities have the right to fall in love and have relationships if they want to, and we recognise our responsibility to provide support that helps make this happen. But it’s challenging, because although relationships can be wonderful, enriching and life-enhancing, they are also sometimes difficult, painful and even abusive.
“Many people are still not recognising and accepting that people with learning disabilities, like anyone else, want and need personal and sexual relationships.” Valuing People Now
The Supported Loving network plan to continue sharing examples of best practice like this video and story for example:
Neval and Mark have been together for more than 10 years. They met at a day service for people with learning disabilities and formed a close friendship. At that time Mark was living alone following the death of his first wife. Neval was also living alone, with daily support from staff who provided 24-hour support to people who lived upstairs from her. She’d had other boyfriends in the past who did not treat her well and this had, in her words, ‘put her off a bit’. Mark said he did not expect to find love again after losing his wife. Neval often told staff how lonely she was, sometimes crying because she felt so alone.
When Neval and Mark began a relationship their time spent together was limited, because they lived some distance from each other and Neval does not travel alone. They were very much in love but their relationship could not really progress. Neval’s keyworker recognised this and suggested the possibility of the couple moving in together, and after some discussion they decided that this was what they wanted to do. Neval’s support staff worked hard to help her move into Mark’s flat in 2006.
Neval and Mark still live together and believe this was the best decision they ever made. They no longer feel lonely and each greatly values the companionship of a loving partner. Neval receives 18 hours support a week from Choice Support, while Mark receives support from another organisation. The couple have assistance with paying bills, completing forms, cooking, shopping, domestic chores, personal care, housing issues and making and attending appointments. This enables them to remain living together independently. Life at home is typical of many couples. Neval enjoys cooking for Mark and takes pride in making sure he eats well. Mark, once a boxer, is physically strong and helps carry home shopping and doing work around the home. They both say how much they enjoy spending time with their extended families, including many nieces and nephews. The pair are currently looking for a new home, as they need to move due to Neval’s increasing difficulty with the stairs. She says once they find one they can think about getting married, as this had been their long-term dream.
I used to work as a support worker myself and when I was doing my PhD research I was reminded that support staff have a difficult job. When they are supporting people to find and maintain relationships they end up taking on many different roles – protector, friend, relationship counsellor, mediator, sexual health advisor…. the list goes on. I saw the difficult challenges that staff faced when working with women with learning disabilities who had suffered sexual abuse yet wanted to find a new partner. Staff were providing both emotional support and practical advice on keeping safe. Staff were also the point of contact when something went wrong in a couple’s relationship. For example, one married couple I was speaking to for my PhD separated during the course of my research, and I saw how staff had to support both parties and mediate a separation and possible divorce. The role of support staff is also complex as often they are not just supporting the couple/ individual but other people who live in a shared home. During my research interviews numerous participants discussed their housemates’ jealousy about relationships, and how staff had to mediate the ensuing conflict. And what is already a demanding task is made harder, as we know that in times of austerity relationship and sexuality training is a luxury that many support providers cannot afford. One of my hopes for Supported Loving is that we can all share our experiences, and learn how to better support people to find and keep relationships.
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