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What is Supported Loving?

Dr Claire Bates (right) offering free hand massages while volunteering at the Big Meet, which is a conference run by and for people we support.

In 2009 Choice Support sponsored me to start a PhD. I understood then that the amount of work involved meant that I would be thinking of little else for years, so I knew I had to choose a topic that was important to me.

The thing I value most in my life is my relationship with my husband, and as I reflected on this I realised that most people with learning disabilities never have the chance to form close intimate relationships like that, marked by trust and years of shared experiences. In 2016 Mencap published a study highlighting that just 3% of people with learning disabilities live with a partner, compared to 70% of the general population. Yet there is clear evidence indicating that people with learning disabilities want what most of us want – somebody to love (for example, see Valuing People Now).

So I decided to use my PhD to explore this crucially important issue with people with learning disabilities. I interviewed eleven people with learning disabilities over several weeks. They were all in relationships, and the depth of love each expressed towards their partners was no different to how I feel about my husband. It became apparent as the interviews went on the role that support staff played in the development and maintenance of these relationships. It was clear that without good support from staff, many people would not have found love or may have had difficulty sustaining a long-term relationship.

I continued with my research and was awarded my PhD in 2015. I’ve also since published several research-based articles. But coming from a social care background, I was determined that the research would have a practical application and the findings not be confined to peer review journals read predominantly by other academics. I wanted to make sure the message about the importance of good support was heard by everyone who can help make a difference to the lives of people with learning disabilities. I also wanted to engage directly with people who use services to make sure they knew their rights, and to highlight the types of poor support they should not tolerate.

And so Supported Loving was born – a campaign to highlight the importance of good support in helping people with learning disabilities find love. The name came from a recurring typo in my PhD thesis – I meant to say supported living. That typo summed up the aim of the campaign perfectly, which is to share what people with learning disabilities think makes good and poor support around relationships. Find out how you can get involved here. And keep an eye here, on the Choice Support blog, as we’ll be publishing Supported Loving blogs every few weeks, written from different perspectives such as dating agencies, people with learning disabilities and family members.

Dr Claire Bates, Quality Analyst/Researcher

The views expressed in the Supported Loving blog are not necessarily those of Choice Support.

Contact Dr Claire Bates for more about the Support Loving Campaign. 

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