13.1 Learning disabled parents/ carers

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Please note this policy is under review following the publication of Working together to safeguard children, 2023.

 Last review April 2022

Next review April 2024




Those with a learning disability are not described as a homogenous group. For the purposes of these child protection procedures, the term learning disabled parent is used.

Valuing People says that a learning disability includes the presence of:

  • A significantly reduced ability to understand new or complex information, to learn new skills (impaired intelligence), with;
  • A reduced ability to cope independently (impaired social functioning);
  • which started before adulthood, with a lasting effect on development.

Learning disability does not include all those who have a ‘learning difficulty’ which is more broadly defined in education legislation.  


If there is concern about a parents/carers ability to look after their child as a result of an acquired injury e.g brain injury, or due to any impairement or dysfunction of the main or brain,  in the first instance an assessment of their parenting needs and abilities should be undertaken by Children’s Services.



The following can provide evidence of learning disability:

  • Inclusion on the GP learning disability register.
  • Educational records including the attendance at a special school.
  • Specific syndromes and chromosomal disorders that are associated with having a learning disability.
  • Known to local authority teams who support people with a learning disability.



Where a learning disabled parent or carer appears not to be able to meet their 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 assessment should address the needs of the parent/carer to enable them to parent effectively and resources to achieve this should be provided in a format that is understood.  The assessment process should be adequately reasonably adjusted, and professionals should seek support from specialist learning disability teams. Specialist cognitive/functional/other assessments may well be needed to inform and assess a parent’s ability to parent. The paramount consideration will be the welfare of the child(ren).

 You can read more about helping parents with learning disabilities in thier role as parents here - SCIE Research briefing 14: Helping parents with learning disabilities in their role as parents


If during an assessment of a person’s parenting abilities/needs,  there is cause for concern about  their mental capacity to make a specific decision (s)  (care /treatment) which is/are  relevant to their parenting role, Practitioners must refer to the Mental capacity Act 2005 and  accompanying Code of Practice.



The Assessment Framework remains the primary tool for assessing the vulnerability of children who have learning disabled parents or carers. 


Additional support to child protection professionals in the way of consultation and/or supervision should be sought from specialist adult services both within Adult  Social Care and Specialist NHS Trusts particularly in cases where there are multiple agencies and professionals.


Consideration should be given to both child and parent or carer advocacy. The child may be deemed a young carer - see also  8.48 Young Carers | Sussex Child Protection and Safeguarding Procedures Manual


Assessments of families with learning disabled parents or carers need to integrate specialist assessment functions provided by Adult Services. Where in one or both parents or carers are learning disabled, 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 Family Assessment (also referred to a Child and Family Assessment or Strengthening Families Assessment) , leading to a possible Initial Child Protection Conference; or
  • A Family Assessment (also referred to a Child and Family Assessment or Strengthening Families 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.
This page is correct as printed on Tuesday 16th of July 2024 07:17:15 AM please refer back to this website (http://sussexchildprotection.procedures.org.uk) for updates.