Changing attitudes towards parents with intellectual disability

Posted on 27 February 2018
Changing attitudes towards parents with intellectual disability

Sonia Hume wants you to know that people with intellectual disability can make caring and capable parents. She knows, because she's one of them.

This is the message Sonia is sharing as part of her job with Mainstream and Me, a national project that has received more than $1 million through a National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) Information Linkages and Capacity Building (ILC) grant. Sonia is part of a team of four based in Tasmania, who are working to challenge sometimes commonly-held assumptions about people who have an intellectual disability, and break stereotypes about their parenting abilities. 

Mainstream and Me focuses on "mainstream" services – for Sonia and her colleagues, this means government and community services like Child Protection, schools and child health programs – and how they work with people with intellectual disability. The team are visiting services to deliver workshops, and share their own experiences of parenting.

Sonia is a Community Educator employed by Speak Out Tasmania. The mum to 12-year old Sophie-Lee is excited to be working on such an important project.

While around one out of every 10 parents have an intellectual disability, around six out of every ten child protection cases involves a parent with intellectual disability.

"People in the community need to know about parents with intellectual disability so they can offer more help and so they can better work with us," said Sonia.

"They need to have an understanding what parents with an intellectual disability sometimes face. It's about getting our point across."

Sonia is a living, breathing example of her cause. Sophie-Lee, who she describes as "my world", has recently started high school. She's lovingly raised by single mum Sonia and father Ian, who also has an intellectual disability. Despite Sonia and Ian no longer being in a relationship, they have a respectful and cooperative approach to parenting, and are even colleagues working side-by-side in Mainstream and Me.

"I'm really proud of myself because I've worked very hard to overcome things and give Sophie-Lee a good life," said Sonia.

"Having a job is building up my confidence. I look forward to the days I work, it gives me the motivation to do my job well.

"I'm now getting more courage and confidence to do what I'm doing."

Mainstream and Me has employed 26 people with intellectual disability as Peer Educators working across New South Wales, Tasmania, Victoria and Queensland. The Peer Educators are tackling issues facing the people with disability like unemployment, relationships, abuse, and accessibility of community facilities such as shopping centres.

Mainstream and Me is led by Inclusion Australia, and is being delivered by four of its members– Speak Out (Tasmania), NSW Council for Intellectual Disability, Parent to Parent (Queensland) and Valid (Victoria). The project was awarded the grant through the first ILC National Readiness grant round