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Importance of supporting parents with learning disability highlighted in care case

Obligation does not extend to support that is ‘tantamount to substituted parenting’

The recent case of A Local Authority v G (Parent with Learning Disability) [2017] EWFC B94 has highlighted the importance that all families in which one or more of the parents has a learning disability are given the support that they require to be able to care for their children. In this case the judge concluded that such obligation does not extend to support that is tantamount to substituted parenting.

In A Local Authority v G (Parent with Learning Disability) HHJ Dancey was predominantly concerned with two children K and T, aged 3 and 19 months respectively (the living arrangements for the eldest child, A (aged 12) having been agreed outside of the family). The local authority's application was for care and placement orders in respect of both children, which was supported by the guardian. The parents opposed the orders sought.

The mother of the children had a mild learning disability with an IQ of 57 and was partly deaf in both ears. The mother's learning disability directly impacted upon her ability to care for the children unaided and to be able to undertake daily tasks without assistance. The mother required continuous support to meet the children's needs. She was unable to undertake many tasks unprompted. She had also suffered some difficulties with depression.
The father did not have any disability and was registered as the mother's carer. He too had suffered with depression over a number of years.

The court was tasked with deciding whether the children could safely be returned to the parents' care under either a child arrangements order with a supervision order or a care order, or whether their welfare demanded that they be placed outside of the family for adoption. The local authority's concerns were of chronic neglect.

On behalf of the mother, the local authority was heavily criticised for its lack of appropriate support provided to her in the light of her learning disability needs. The mother's case was, in essence, that the local authority and the adult learning disability team had let her down by their failure to follow the Good Practice Guidance on Working with Parents with a Learning Disability (updated September 2016) DoH/DfES and consequently had failed to provide her with timely and appropriately tailored training.

The judge identified a number of positives in the parents including their willingness to engage and accept help and support, but said that unless they have a good enough understanding of why they need to change and what they need to do, the prospects of achieving real and necessary change are remote.

This case highlights that it is essential that all professionals – legal advisers, social workers and guardians – are well versed in the Good Practice Guidance and the obligations upon local authorities to support families where one or both parents have a learning disability.

In an article for Family Law Week, Emma Harman of 3PB, who acted for the respondent mother, explains the obligations imposed by the Good Practice Guidance on Working with Parents with a Learning Disability and outlines the lessons to be learned from A Local Authority v G (Parent with Learning Disability). For the article, click here. For the judgment, click here. For the Guidelines, click here.