Greater Manchester SCB Logo

Top of page

Size: View this website with small text View this website with medium text View this website with large text View this website with high visibility

4.3.2 Children of Parents with Learning Difficulties


  1. Introduction
  2. Implications of Parent/Carer Learning Disability
  3. Guidelines for Joint Working
  4. Contingency Planning

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.
2. 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 Record of Children with a Child Protection Plan Procedure.
3. Where it is believed that a child of a parent with a learning disability may be at risk of Significant Harm, a Strategy Discussion/Meeting should be held and consideration should be given to undertaking a Section 47 Enquiry.
4. 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 of the family and children and an identification of the services required to meet these needs.

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 the parent able to meet the emotional needs of the child?
  • Does the child take on roles and responsibilities within the home that are inappropriate?
  • Does the parent/carer neglect their own and their child's physical and emotional needs?
  • Does the learning disability result in chaotic structures within the home with regard to meal and bedtimes, etc?
  • Is there a lack of the recognition of safety for the child?
  • 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 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 able and willing to support the parent/carer so that 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.;
  • 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/carer have poor parenting experiences from their own parents as a child?
  • Does the parent/carer have difficulty accessing health care and other support for themselves or the child?
6. Professionals within 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


The most effective response to children of parents with a learning disability comes through all agencies adopting a holistic whole family approach.

It is essential that staff working in adult learning disabilities and child care work together within the application of safeguarding procedures to ensure the safety of the child and, where appropriate, support and guidance for the adult's learning disability.

Fundamental to this approach is good inter-agency practice characterised by:

  • Routine enquiry;
  • Robust inter-agency communication and information sharing;
  • Joint assessment of need;
  • Joint planning; and
  • Action in partnership with the family.
8. CAF processes should support this and, where necessary, Child in Need and child protection assessment and planning processes.
9. In any situation where there is a perceived conflict between the interests of the adult and those of the child, all agencies must treat the child's needs and safety as paramount. Agencies also have a responsibility to adopt a non-discriminatory, open and supportive approach and ensure adequate advocacy is provided to the parent. Services should recognise diversity and respect an individual's ethnic, religious and cultural needs and personal preferences.
10. Most children with additional needs due to an adult's learning disability are considered under the CAF processes and without the intervention of Children's Social Care. However, all agencies must be alert to the potential risks to children of parental learning disability and must consider its impact on the safety and well being of the children and the need for specialist assessment, consulting other agencies as necessary.
11. Agencies should also be sensitive to the fact that learning disability may be only one of the factors affecting parenting and the children's well being.

Professionals working with adults with learning disabilities who are parents/carers or their partners should establish:

13. Where there is a Lead Professional or social worker, professionals working with the parent/carer or their partner should provide any additional information they may hold and contribute to the child's plan, including by attending relevant meetings.
14. Where there is no existing Lead Professional or social worker and the professional believes that the child has additional needs requiring some level of support from other agencies, they should consider the need for a CAF or a referral to Children's Social Care. In some cases, the child or young person may have additional needs because their life is in some way restricted as they are young carers.
15. If a CAF is required, professionals should seek the parent's/carer's consent and follow the CAF process.
16. Where a non-urgent referral to Children's Social Care is being considered, professionals should discuss their concerns with Children's Social Care and proceed as agreed.
17. In any case where there is believed to be an imminent risk of Significant Harm, Children's Social Care must be contacted immediately in accordance with the Making Referrals to Children’s Social Care Procedure.
18. Please note that under this procedure, any telephone referral must be followed up within 24 hours with a written referral.
19. Professionals should follow their own agency's safeguarding procedures. They should consult their line manager or agency safeguarding lead if they are uncertain about the need to refer to Children's Social Care. Children's Social Care offers a consultation service about the appropriateness of making a referral.
20. Throughout their involvement with the adult and children, professionals must continually review the impact of learning disability on parenting capacity and the safety and well being of the children.

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

  • Cognitive ability and functioning;
  • Ability to attain and sustain change.
22. Professionals working with the children must assess the individual needs of each child and within this incorporate information provided by adult learning disability workers.
23. 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:

25. Child care professionals must attend meetings related to the management of the parent/carer's learning disability.
26. All plans for a child including Child Protection Plans will identify the roles and responsibilities of adult learning disability and other professionals. The plan will also identify the process of communication and liaison between professionals. 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

27. 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 team in order that the implications for the child are assessed.