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Placing a child with learning disabilities into out-of-home care: Parents’ and caregivers’ decision making processes and ‘breaking point’: A grounded theory exploration

Andrews, Rebecca


Rebecca Andrews


Research suggests that parents of children with learning disabilities are particularly vulnerable to stress and that parental distress impacts negatively on family functioning, parenting roles and relationships, behaviours, socialisation and the psychological well-being of both parent and child; as a consequence many parents reach ‘breaking point’ and will choose to place their child in out-of-home care. However, the research literature outlining this process is limited.
The purpose of this research was twofold: to explore the process leading to ‘breaking point’ in parents and caregivers of children with learning disabilities and how this impacted on the decision making process leading to out-of-home care, and secondly, to formulate a grounded theory of this process and its consequences.
The study used a social constructionist grounded theory methodology. Fourteen participants were interviewed and three participants completed a qualitative survey. The sample included two birth fathers, twelve birth mothers, one adoptive mother, one sibling and one guardian. The level of their child’s learning disability varied from mild to severe. In all cases, the child had additional diagnoses, such as autism, fragile-X syndrome and Down’s syndrome.
A grounded theory was constructed from the data outlining the basic psychosocial process which led to ‘breaking point’ and the decision to place the child in out-of-home care. Parents developing awareness of their child’s disability combined with social prejudice, contributed to the development of a negative parental identity. To defend against this, parents created a compensatory good parent identity and in doing so convinced themselves that they could cope with the 24/7 child. This increased stress, caused relationship breakdowns, financial difficulties and mental health problems. Parents faced additional stressors when screaming to be heard by professionals as they sought guidance, diagnosis and support. Eventually breaking point was experienced as they became overwhelmed. This initiated the decision making about out-of-home care. Once the move occurred, a process of adjusting and managing the loss of role was entered, linking to evaluation and constant monitoring of care. In this sense parental responsibility was never relinquished and parental roles were redefined.
The findings outline a lack of support, information and guidance for parents and families based on their experiences of prejudice and dismissal of concerns by society, professionals and on occasion family and friends. Suggestions for future research and research limitations are explored. The implications for practice and more generally for counselling psychology are also considered.


Andrews, R. Placing a child with learning disabilities into out-of-home care: Parents’ and caregivers’ decision making processes and ‘breaking point’: A grounded theory exploration. (Thesis). University of the West of England. Retrieved from

Thesis Type Thesis
Keywords children, learning disabilities, care, grounded theory
Public URL
Additional Information Patent Applicant : Rebecca Andrews


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