For any parent, finding social services involved with their children, and facing the prospect of going to Court, is very daunting. However for parents with learning difficulties, without the right support and guidance, it can be absolutely terrifying.
I work with lots of learning disabled parents and sadly, all too often, I am struck by the lack of support they have received to date. Sometimes the fact that they have a learning difficulty hasn’t even been identified at all, despite years of social services being involved with their children. This is particularly sad as I believe that, in many cases, had the learning difficulty been identified early enough and support put in place, families may have been able to avoid Court proceedings altogether.
Where a learning difficulty is suspected, it is vital that an appropriate assessment is undertaken by a psychologist. This will identify not only the level of learning difficulty but also make recommendations as to how professionals should work with parents, to ensure that information is given to them in a way that makes it accessible. All too often communication breaks down because the parent sometimes simply doesn’t understand what is being asked of them.
Furthermore once a learning disability is formally identified, there is a lot of support that it potentially available to parents. However, very often parents are not made aware of this. Sometimes this is due to the professionals involved with the family not being aware themselves, either of the support that is available, or of the professional duties they may be under.
For instance, the Care Act 2014 places a requirement on Local Authorities to carry out assessments of adults to identify whether they have a need for care and support and, if so, what those needs are. This could lead, for example, to the provision of regular enabling support for parents. Local Authorities must produce documents and letters in easy read format, so that parents are able to properly understand the concerns that social services may have. There is also Good Practice Guidance on working with parents with a learning disability, which professionals should be aware of.
Learning disabled parents are also often entitled to an independent advocate, whose role is to assist parents to understand the processes involved and to make information accessible to them. The role advocates play can be absolutely invaluable in giving parents a voice and supporting them through child protection processes.
Where there are Court proceedings, any special measures required may be dependent upon the severity of the learning disability. For instance, some clients may lack capacity to instruct their solicitor and will require the assistance of a litigation friend. In less severe cases, intermediary services can assist to ensure that Court hearings are conducted in such a way to be fair and accessible.
Whatever the particular circumstances, it is essential that learning disabled parents are assisted to access legal advice at the earliest possible stage in the child protection process. Our friendly and approachable team ensure that all meetings are conducted in such a way as to be properly accessible. All letters and documents sent to parents are in an easy read format. Furthermore we are able to advise in relation to the availability of specialist assessments and tailored support services. If such support is put in place early enough, this may just enable more families to stay together.