Parents With Learning Difficulties

The fact that parents with learning difficulties are raising a child does not necessarily mean that the child’s welfare and development will be adversely affected and that they are at risk of harm. It is when the learning difficulties affects a parent’s ability to parent a child to a standard that is considered acceptable that concerns are usually raised. 

Social services will need to assess the implication of a parent suffering with a learning difficulty for each child in the family and what this means.  As part of the assessment consideration will have to be given to what, if any, additional support will be necessary for the development of a parent’s understanding, resources, skills and experience to meet the needs of their children.  Each family is individual and should be treated as such. 

Consideration must be given to a multi-disciplinary assessment which may include social services, health services, adult social care services and other agencies.  It is important that those involved in the assessment are suitably qualified in learning difficulties and able to work with the parent and assess them at the appropriate level. 

Parents with learning difficulties may be considered as vulnerable adults and so if additional support is required it is important that this is identified. 

The purpose of an assessment is to determine whether or not support is required for parents with learning difficulties to enable them to care appropriately for their child.  It will also assist in determining if the level of learning disability is such that the child’s health or development may be significantly impaired with the parent as the primary carer.

Where additional factors are present, support is particularly necessary:

  • Social exclusion;
  • Having a disabled child;
  • Experiencing domestic abuse;
  • Having poor mental health;
  • Having substance misuse problems;
  • Having grown up in care.

Generally speaking, it is a combination of the above factors with the parent’s learning difficulties that give rise to concerns about the level of care a child is likely to receive.

Where a parent with learning difficulties is struggling to meet the needs of their child, social services have a responsibility to assess the child’s needs and offer supportive and protective services as appropriate.

Where the learning difficulties are severe, then the likelihood of a child suffering or being at risk of significant harm through emotional abuse or neglect, but also through physical or sexual abuse, is raised.