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Personal profile

Research interests

Current research projects

How do Adult and Learning Disability social workers engage with parents with learning disabilities? 


Parents with learning disabilities (LD) often require support to ensure their children’s wellbeing. Parents who have a diagnosed learning disability are eligible for support from a Learning Disability team. They are also entitled to support under the Care Act (2014) from Adult Services alongside parents who have a milder intellectual impairment and/ or no formally diagnosed learning disability.   

 These parents are often over-represented in the Child Protection System and are disproportionately likely to have their children removed from their care. Literature focusing on children’s social workers’ response to these parents indicates that they find working with them difficult and that they are concerned about their lack of knowledge about parents’ needs, a lack of appropriate services and communication between workers/services.   There is no specific literature that focuses on Adult and LD social workers’ response to these parents. It is not known if parents are provided with support by Adult Services or if, when and how LD teams work with parents with diagnosed LD.     

This research aims to investigate how Adult and LD social workers identify and engage with these parents and if, how and when they provide them with support.     

In five Local Authorities (LA) in England, three areas with a specific policy or protocol regarding the expected LA response to parents with LD and three LAs where there is no specific policy or guidance, we will:   

  • Analyse LA Policies to understand how practitioners are expected to respond to parents.  
  • Interviewmanagers from the LD team and Adult  Services, a commissioner and other key stakeholders (25).  We will discuss how parents with LD are identified, responded to and referred between services and how their local policies say these parents should be supported. 
  • Carry out focus group interviews (15),in each area, with groups of:  
  • Adult social workers  
  • Learning Disability social workers  
  • Children's social workers
  • The professionals will discuss vignettes (fictional short stories) to compare their responses to a vulnerable parent (without LD), a parent who has a diagnosed LD, and a parent suspected of having a milder/borderline learning disability to investigate if workers have different responses to parents with and without LD or different ‘levels’ of learning disabilities. They will also be asked how they think other professionals ‘see’ these parents and respond to them, how they work with other professionals and how policies guide their response. 
  • Carry out interviews with parents, four in each area (20), including those with and without a diagnosis, which will focus on how Adult and LD social workers have engaged with them.  

We will be guided by a parents from Speakup Self Advocacy (a support/advocacy group of parents with LDs) and a professional advisory group so that the recommendations we make will: 

  • enable the development of clear policies and pathways regarding support for these parents;  
  • influence practice in Adult Social Care;  
  • enable parents to access support for their parenting. 

We will produce practice guidelines, run two webinars and share our findings in collaboration with the organisation Research in Practice. This organisation supports professionals to improve their practice. 


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.


  • Parents with learning difficulties
  • Parents with learning disabilities
  • Accessible information


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Collaborations and top research areas from the last five years

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