7.1 Children At Risk Where A Parent/Carer Has a Learning Disability


Anyone working with children who are young carers and whose parents are receiving support from Adults Social Care should also refer to Norfolk’s Memorandum of Understanding and the Supporting Parents with Disabilities Protocol.

1. Introduction

A learning disability is a permanent life-long condition, which is defined by the Department of Health as:

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

The learning disability of a parent or carer does not necessarily have an adverse impact on a child but it is essential to assess the implications for the child. If any agency has concerns that a child is at risk of harm because of the impact of the parent/carer’s learning disability they should check whether the child is subject to a Child Protection Plan – see Recording that a Child is the Subject of a Child Protection Plan Procedure.

Where it is believed that a child of a parent with a learning disability may be suffering or likely to suffer Significant Harm, a Strategy Discussion/Meeting should be held and consideration should be given to undertaking a Section 47 Enquiry.

In circumstances whereby a parent/carer has a learning disability it is likely there are a number of professionals involved from different services. It is important that these professionals work together within enquiries and assessments to identify any links between the parent’s learning disability, their parenting, and the impact on the child. Any assessment should include an understanding of the needs and strengths of the family and children and an understanding of who is in the family's network and what support they could/already offer.  Consideration should be given to how the family and professional networks can work together to meet identified needs. The assessment should be produced in a format that the parent can clearly understand and appropriate support and time is given to allow the parent to fully understand the findings of the assessment.

2. Implications of Parent/Carer Learning Disability

To determine how a parent/carer’s learning disability may impact on their parenting ability and the child’s development the following questions need to be considered within an assessment:

  • Is a child or young person living in or visiting the household regularly? If so, do they provide physical or emotional care or support which is inappropriate, excessive or harmful to their health, education or overall development?
  • Does the parent/carer neglect their own and their child’s physical and/or emotional needs?
  • Does the learning disability adversely impact on chaotic structures within the home with regard to meal and bedtimes, etc?
  • Is there a lack of the recognition of safety for the child?  Is there a lack of appropriate supervision?
  • Does the parent/carer misuse alcohol or other substances?
  • Does the parent/carer’s learning disability have implications for the child within school, attending health appointments etc;
  • Does the parent/carer’s learning disability result in them rejecting or being unavailable to the child?
  • Does the child witness acts of violence or is the child subject to violence?
  • Does the wider family and natural network understand the learning disability of the parent/carer, and the impact of this on the parent/carer’s ability to meet the child’s needs?
  • Is the wider family and natural network able and willing to support the parent/carer so they can successfully ensure the child’s needs are met?
  • Does culture, ethnicity, religion or any other factor relating to the family have implications on their understanding of the learning disability and the potential impact on the child?
  • How the family functions, including conflict, potential family break up etc.
  • Does the parent have a limited network of informal support i.e. isolated?
  • Is the parent/carer vulnerable to being exploited by other people e.g. financially, providing accommodation?
  • Does the parent/carer have difficulty developing and sustaining relationships or have relationships that may present a risk to the child?
  • Does the parent have a limited understanding of the child’s needs and development including pregnancy, childbirth, and caring for an infant?
  • Does the parent have an understanding of the changing needs of the child i.e. able to transfer skills/knowledge to different stages of development?
  • Does the parent/carer have poor parenting experiences from their own parents as a child?
  • Does the parent/carer have other difficult experiences that could impact on their parenting i.e. difficulties in their schooling, stigma, bullying (trauma-informed approach to the assessment).
  • Does the parent/carer have difficulty accessing health care and other support for themselves or the child?
  • How do other factors impact on the parenting role i.e. housing; employment; finances?
  • How best to communicate with the parent i.e. are they literate; and what they find to be the most effective way to work with them?

Professionals undertaking assessments must recognise that a learning disability is a lifelong condition. Assessments must therefore consider the implications for the child as they develop throughout childhood. Children may exceed their parent’s intellectual and social functioning at a relatively young age. Early identification and intervention is therefore essential.

3. Guidelines for Joint Working

It is essential that staff working in adult learning disabilities and children and family services work together within the application of child protection procedures to ensure the safety of the child and, where appropriate, provide support and guidance for the adult’s learning disability.

Joint work will include learning disability workers providing any information with regard to the parent/carer’s:

  • Cognitive ability and functioning;
  • Ability to attain and sustain change.

Professionals working with the children must assess the individual needs of each child and within this incorporate information provided by adult learning disability workers and other professionals working with the parent.

Methods of assessment and intervention with regard to parenting must take into consideration the parent/carer’s learning disability and be informed by learning disability professionals.

Adult learning disability professionals must attend and provide information to any meeting concerning the implications of the parent/carer’s learning disability on the child. These will include:

Children and family services professionals must attend meetings related to the management of the parent/carer’s learning disability.

All plans for a child including Child Protection Plans will identify the roles and responsibilities of adult learning disability and other professionals, as well as the family and natural network. The plan will also identify the process of communication and liaison between professionals and family, including their network. All professionals should work in accordance with their own agency procedures/guidelines and seek advice and guidance from line management when necessary.

4. Contingency Planning

Professionals need to consider carefully the implications for children when closing their involvement with parents with a learning disability. Consideration should be given to informing the appropriate Children’s Social Care Services team in order that the implications for the child are assessed.

When closing their involvement, Children’s Social Care should consider how the family and their network can continue to monitor and plan for the child’s safety and wellbeing.  A family network meeting might be an option to support this or working with the parent(s) to put in place an Early Help and Assessment Plan (EHAP).