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Personal profile

Research interests

Current research projects

Substituted parenting: What does this mean in the family court context?

This project will investigate the concept of 'substituted parenting' and what it means in the family court context.

Parents with learning disabilities (LD) are legally entitled to support from statutory services. Long-term support may be needed to keep some families together and to help parents raise their children safely. However, while courts are confirming the right to parental support, a shift in thinking about that support seems to be emerging.

The term ‘substituted parenting’ is being used by local authorities when they believe the parental support needed is excessive. They assert that the level of support is detrimental for children as it confuses them as to who the parent is.

It is unclear how the use of the term developed and there is no clear guidance on what the courts understand by the term. There is no research on this issue or on the potential for support being labelled ‘substituted parenting’ becoming a discriminatory policy based on cost, prejudice, or other inappropriate factors.

The project’s overall aim is to build consensus about the term ‘substituted parenting’ and how it is used and understood by legal and social work professionals and parents with LD, with a view to ensuring that policies and practices are transparent and fair – in the interests, ultimately, of the children’s welfare.

Collaboration will guide the research as professionals and parents’ views will be relied upon through advisory groups. A series of interviews will be conducted with a range of professionals and parents. These answers will be subject to thematic analysis to identify patterns and then discussed in the advisory groups to further draw out their understanding of the data.

The project team will develop a range of outputs to disseminate among legal and social welfare professionals as well as parents with LD. Emerging findings will be shared with the professional advisory group alongside an open access report, briefing papers, journal articles and webinars. A short film and an easy read briefing will be produced in conjunction with the parent advisory group. Outputs will be shared via social media to ensure they reach as wide an audience as possible.

You can also find out about the project here: Substituted Parenting | School for Policy Studies | University of Bristol


Working Together with Parents Network – This is a free network for professionals working with parents with learning disabilities and their children.  The network provides professionals from a wide variety of backgrounds with up-to-date information on policy and practice as well as access to support from a regional group and email discussions.  There are 4 regional practitioner networks England and national networks in Wales and Scotland. See wtpn.co.uk for more details.



Recent projects


Getting things changed project - Beth led a strand of work on Successful practices in supporting parents with learning difficulties in this unique project.  Getting Things Changed (Tackling Disabling Practices: Co-production and Change) was a three year research study funded by the ESRC (Economic and Social Research Council) in the UK. The project was completed in 2018.  http://www.bristol.ac.uk/sps/gettingthingschanged/

Evaluation of the Parent Pioneers/Mellow Futures projects.

Mellow Futures is a programme of ante antal and postnatal support for mothers with learning difficulties.  The programme enables mothers with learning difficulties to attend Mellow Bumps (an antenatal programme) and Mellow Babies (post-natal parenting programme) while also being supported by a volunteer mentor.  In England, this programme is also known as Parent Pioneers.

Beth was the sole evaluator of the Parent Pioneers Project in England which was piloted in two sites.  With support form Raq Ibrahim, Mellow Parenting Evaluations Assistant, Beth  evaluated the piloting of this programme in 4 sites in Scotland.


Evaluation of the Valuing Parent Support Service.  This evaluation was of a specialist support services for parents wtih learning difficulties in Medway.  The project was innovative and jointly funded by Adults and Children's services and was shown to be having a positive impact on the outcomes for the children in the families.

Methoidst Chaplaincy Development Project evaluation using the Mug of Tea Stories methodology.

The current stage of the project (August 2016 - July 2019) is focusing on 'Strategic change'.  We are aiming to ensure that policy and practice respects parents and children's rights while supporting parents to fulfill their responsibilities to their children.

This evaluation of two local voluntary chaplaincys and the Methodist Chaplaincy Development Project was undertaken with Sue Porter.  It developed a narrative evaluation method called 'Mug of Tea stories' in which stories showing the impact of the Chaplaincy/CDP were told in the length of time it takes to drink a mug of tea.  This methodology was shown to provide in-depth understanding of the significance of these projects and to be useful for the evaluation of a wide range of church projects.

Beth has a long-term interest in easy information for adults with learning difficulties.  Prior to her current focus on research around positive support for parents with learning difficulties, Beth has undertaken work in a wide range of areas relating to service provision for adults with learning difficulties and disabled children.  These include transition, supported housing, short breaks for disabled children.


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