Researchers at Uppsala University are developing a parenting programme using the RealityCare baby doll, an infant simulator that is set to signal to its owner when it is upset, needs to be fed, changed or comforted.
“How did the person react when the baby screamed? Did they try to pick it up, to make sure it was content? How the person acted and everything they do with the baby doll is electronically registered,” Berit Höglund explains. She is a researcher at Uppsala University and heads the RealityCare baby project, which is launching in 2015.
The doll will be lent out to young people who are intellectually challenged and who want to become parents. It will also be given to couples who are expecting a child. The idea is that they will get to try out parenting with the doll, which simulates a real baby’s behaviour. They willl also get to talk about that hands-on experience in evaluation meetings with researchers.
Höglund has previously done a study that showed that many midwives distrust parents who are intellectually challenged. According to that survey, many midwives fear that these people won’t cope with parenting, that their families will become dependent on social care. And so many midwives said they believe those children would be better off in foster homes.
“This is a group which, on an individual level, has the least amount of involvement in caring for their own children,” says Höglund.
Up until 1975, Swedish law prescribed forced sterilisation for some individuals. Around 64,000 people were sterilised and many of them were mentally ill. Since the forced sterilisation law was abolished, people with intellectual challenges have received the least amount of help to cope with parenting, according to researchers. At the same time, there are no figures showing how large that group is and there is no national study charting their needs.
In Uppsala county, which has 300,000 residents, there are around 1,000 children living with parents identified as suffering from intellectual challenges. Those figures are from 2008. And Höglund says there aren’t enough resources or awareness of this group.
“The fact that you are intellectually challenged means that you have lower education levels, lower income, poorer finances and less potential to care for a child… And there are so many potential dangers in a home,” says Höglund.