Good Practice Guidance on working with parents with a learning disability must be updated and placed at the heart of practice
The Good Practice Guidance on working with parents with a learning disability must be moved from the archive to the desktop.
About the research
Parents with learning difficulties often struggle with everyday life and with meeting the needs of their children. Concerns for the children’s welfare usually relate to unintentional neglect by omission (rather than deliberate abuse) resulting from the parents’ learning difficulties, lack of knowledge and support and the impact of the social and economic deprivation they commonly experience.
The term ‘learning difficulties’ is used to include parents who have a diagnosed learning disability as well as parents with a milder impairment but who often struggle. The number of parents with learning difficulties involved with children’s services in England is unclear as the disability may not be recognised or recorded, but research has found that 12.5% of the parents involved in care proceedings, in England & Wales, have learning difficulties. These parents need appropriately tailored, timely support if they are to be given the chance to show whether they can become good enough parents.
The 2007 Good Practice Guidance (GPG) on working with parents with a learning disability sets out how children and adults’ services can and should work together to improve support to parents with a learning disability. However, this Guidance requires urgent updating.
- The Government’s 2007 Good Practice Guidance (GPG) on working with parents with a learning disability refers to now out of date laws and policies, which deters practitioners from using the Guidance and applying the key principles. The GPG urgently needs to be updated and followed. Failure to do so is leading to breaches of children and parents’ legal rights to family life.
- “All social workers, and family support workers, working with children and families need to be trained to recognise and work with parents with learning disabilities.” (Kent CC case [201 1])
- 26-week timescales and restrictions on expert evidence in care proceedings make it essential that assessments, training and support are timely and tailored to parents with learning difficulties.
- Parents must be given every opportunity to show that they can parent safely with appropriate support. Failure to build in, from the outset, the extra time that a parent with learning difficulties needs to learn and understand, puts that parent at a significant disadvantage.
- Communication with parents with learning disabilities must be appropriate, enabling them to participate fully in processes.
- Joint working across all agencies, in particular adult and children’ s services, is vital.
1. The 2007 Good Practice Guidance (GPG) sets out how childrens’ and adults’ services can and should work together to improve support to parents with a learning disability. The Guidance outlines five features of good practice:
- accessible information and communication;
- clear and co-ordinated referral and assessment processes and eligibility criteria;
- support designed to meet the needs of parents and children based on assessment of their needs and strengths;
- long-term support, if necessary;
- access to independent advocacy.
2. Some members of the judiciary have called for compliance with the principles of the GPG; others remain unaware of it. Similarly, health, social care, legal and advocacy practitioners are often unaware of the Guidance. Out of date references and being archived on the Government website also inhibits its use.
3. The University of Bristol’s Working Together with Parents Network (WTPN) has produced an update to the Guidance which is to be launched through a series of seminars in September 2016. There is an urgent need for the Guidance to be current and relevant and to be used by all practitioners working with parents with learning difficulties.
Working Together with Parents Network www.wtpn.co.uk
Good Practice Guidance on working with parents with a learning disability (2007) DH / DfES
Tarleton, Ward and Howarth (2006) Finding the Right Support. A review of issues and positive practice in supporting parents with learning difficulties and their children. London, Baring Foundation.
Masson, Pearce and Bader with Joyner, Marsden and Westlake, (2008) Care Profiling Study. Ministry of Justice Research Series 4/08
Kent CC v A Mother  EWHC 402 (Fam)
Medway v A & Others (Learning Disability: Foster Placement)  EWFC B66 (2 June 2015)
Policy Briefing 34: 2016
Contact the researchers
Senior Research Fellow, Norah Fry Centre for Disability Studies, University of Bristol
WTPN Policy Officer, Norah Fry Centre for Disability Studies, University of Bristol
Beth Tarleton, Norah Fry Centre for Disability Studies, University of Bristol
Nadine Tilbury, Norah Fry Centre for Disability Studies, University of Bristol