Our Approach

Healthy Start is based on the following principles:

  • Thinking about the whole child, whole family and whole community to ensure safe and supportive environments for young children of parents with learning difficulties.
  • Being aware of critical periods in the life-course, to provide effective and timely support for parents with learning difficulties and their children from the antenatal period and early childhood development onwards.
  • Recognising  and acknowledging the strengths of parents with learning difficulties, and appreciating that these are the foundations for learning new parenting skills.
  • Valuing an evidence-based approach, which means using and sharing research-based programs, contributing to new knowledge, and evaluating outcomes.

What do we mean by parents with learning difficulties?

Healthy Start uses the term ‘learning difficulties’ in a specific way: as indicating a need for education of skills that most people learn incidentally to enable them to participate fully in the community, without supervision. Other terms that are commonly used include ‘learning disability’ and ‘intellectual disability’.

Healthy Start defines the following groups of mothers and fathers as having learning difficulties:

  • parents with a diagnosed intellectual impairment
  • parents who self-identify as having learning difficulties
  • parents who are identified by a practitioner as having a cognitive impairment that affects their learning.


Learning difficulties can affect independent participation in daily life to different degrees. Services can support parents to succeed in the parenting role when the focus is on helping parents find solutions to problems and on developing parents’ existing strengths. Programs are most effective when they have the following qualities:

  • family-centred
  • involve parent participation
  • focused on strength and ability
  • involve parents in goal-setting and decision-making
  • focus on performance rather than knowledge.

The Parenting Research Centre acknowledges and respects the diverse Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people of this country and the Elders of the past, present and future.