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Supporting people with learning disabilities to make and maintain intimate relationships

Choice Support's Quality Analyst/Researcher, Claire Bates together with Louise Terry and Keith Popple, publish their joint paper in the Tizard Learning Disability Review



The purpose of this paper is to understand some of the barriers people with learning disabilities experience with regards to relationships and consider the possible changes professionals could make to address these.


The current paper will draw on case studies extracted from Bates et al. (2016), using them to illustrate a number of themes/issues that relate to the support that people with learning disabilities received and needed from staff to develop and maintain relationships.


People with learning disabilities continue to experience barriers with regards to relationships. Their rights and choices are not always respected and a climate of risk aversion persists in areas such as sexual relationships. The research highlighted the balancing act staff must engage in to ensure that they remain supportive without being controlling or overprotective of individuals in relationships.

Research limitations/implications

Professional/support provider views were not included but these could have lent an additional perspective to the issues discussed.

Practical implications

An increased understanding of human rights entitlements should be encouraged among people with learning disabilities so they know when their freedom is being unlawfully restricted. Sexuality and relationship training would be beneficial for support staff. This could cover a wider range of areas such as contraception and supporting individuals who have experienced sexual/domestic abuse in starting new relationships.


This paper explores the barriers to relationships from the perspective of people with learning disabilities and offers practical solutions to address them.

Joint authors

Claire Bates, Choice Support  Quality Analyst/Researcher (School of Social Policy Sociology and Social Research, University of Kent, Canterbury, UK)

Louise Terry (Department of Health and Social Care, Adult Nursing and Midwifery, London South Bank University, London, UK)

Keith Popple (London South Bank University, London, UK)

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Tags in this document: Safeguarding



Supporting people with learning disabilities to make and maintain intimate relationships

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