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23.27 Parenting Capacity and Learning Disabilities

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Last review Jan 2019

Next review Jan 2023




The term "learning disabled" does not describe a homogenous group. For the purposes of these child protection procedures, "learning disabled parent" refers to those who are or may become parents / carers for children and who meet the following three core criteria which describe an individual as "learning disabled":

  • Significant impairment of intellectual functioning: i.e. individuals with an IQ of 69 and below (reference: British Psychological Society and legal system). This is not a hard and fast rule. Overall IQ scores can be subject to interpretation either way for a variety of clinical reasons. Interpretations of psychometric test scores are the remit of a chartered psychologist;
  • Significant impairment of adaptive/social functioning: i.e. how an individual copes with the everyday demands of living in the community. Impairment of adaptive/social functioning might be considered to be present if the individual needs assistance with regard to their own survival (eating, drinking, clothing, hygiene and provision of basic comforts) or with social problem solving and social reasoning;
  • Age of onset before adulthood: in order for an individual to be considered as "learning disabled", impairment i.e. of intellectual adaptive/social functioning usually needs to have been present before the age of 18 years.

Additionally these procedures apply in circumstances where parents / carers lack mental capacity and decision-making abilities as a result of injury or disease e.g. brain injury, pre-senile dementia.



The following can provide evidence of learning disability:

  • Reference to medical records;
  • Reference to educational records (where it is less than 5 years since leaving school) can provide evidence of a learning disability (Education, Health and Care Plans);
  • Personal history involving attendance at special schools, severe difficulties with literacy, numeracy;
  • Enquiries made of the Learning Disability Register maintained by Adult Social Services.



Where a learning disabled parent appears not to be able to meet her/his child's needs, a referral should be made to Children's Social Care under the Making a Referral Procedure.


Children's Social Care has a responsibility to assess need and where justified, offer supportive or protective services.


The response is the same as for any other child, namely to consider the extent of vulnerability of the child(ren). Part of the social services assessment should address the needs of the parent/carer to enable them to parent effectively and resources to achieve this should be provided. Additional specialist assessments may be helpful in determining how best to help support parents. The paramount consideration will be the welfare of the child(ren).


The Assessment Framework remains the primary tool for assessing the vulnerability of children living in households with parents/carers who have learning difficulties.


Additional support to child protection professionals in the way of consultation and/or supervision may also be available from specialist adult services both within Children's Social Care and health in particularly complex cases.


Assessments of families with parents / carers with "learning disabilities" will need to integrate specialist assessment functions provided by Adult Services. Where evidence of a learning disability is present in one or both parents, the paramount consideration of all the agencies will be the welfare and protection of the child(ren) with each service providing assessment and support directed at the family members identified as the primary focus of that service's provision. Assessment planning, implementation and evaluation, and the provision of services to the family, when and where necessary, will be undertaken with regard to the principles outlined in 'Working Together to Safeguard Children' (see Underlying Policy, Principles and Values).


When a child is deemed to have suffered or is likely to suffer Significant Harm, or there are detrimental effects on the health or development of a child, a referral must be made to the Children's Social Care - see the Making a Referral Procedure. A decision will be made if a Child and Family Assessment is undertaken, a Strategy Discussion held and/or immediate action required.


The Strategy Disucssion will then decide whether the threshold has been met for:

  • Section 47 Enquiries as part of a Child and Family Assessment, leading to a possible Initial Child Protection Conference; or
  • A Child and Family Assessment to be discussed at a Section 17 Child In Need meeting; or
  • Services provided for a vulnerable child as part of the Early Help Plan.

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This page is correct as printed on Wednesday 19th of January 2022 01:51:41 AM please refer back to this website ( for updates.