Parents with a Disability

There are around 1.7 million disabled parents in the UK, mostly with physical and sensory impairments.

Health and social services have a legal duty under the Disability Discrimination Act 2005 to make reasonable adjustments to ensure their services and any information are accessible to disabled people with disabilities.

Early intervention improves outcomes. Parents with a disability can improve their parenting skills with additional support tailored to their needs. For example childcare skills can be taught through behavioural modelling, using visual manuals and audiotaped instructions, and using simple behavioural instructions. Parents learn more effectively where they are given praise and feedback, and where complex tasks are broken down into simpler parts.

Equal opportunities

Research shows that assessments are sometimes influenced by stereotypes about the capacity of parents with a learning disability to parent. When approaching any assessment it is important to be reminded that:

“People with learning disability have the same rights and are entitled to the same expectations and choices as everyone else, regardless of the extent or nature of the disability, their gender and ethnicity; and, ”

“Parents with learning disability can in many cases be supported by family and supportive networks and professionals, enabling them to respond effectively to the needs of their children.”

Professionals should bear in mind the implications of the Human Rights Act 1998 and guard against treating parents with a Disability less favourably than others.

Parents with disabilities have the right to be supported in their parenting role, just as their children have the right to live in a safe and supportive environment.

The ability of parents with a disability and in particular those with a learning disability need to provide a reasonable standard of care, this will depend on their own individual abilities, circumstances and the individual needs of the child.

The issues which most frequently give rise to concern in relation to parents with disabilities arise from a lack of skills, understanding or knowledge of the child's needs, rather than deliberate abuse. Consequently learning disabled parents may need considerable support to develop the understanding, resources, skills and experience to meet the needs of their child.

Such support is particularly important if they also experience additional stressors e.g. having a disabled child, domestic abuse, poor physical or mental health, substance misuse, social isolation, poor housing, poverty or a history of growing up in care.

Children of parents with learning disabilities are at increased risk from inherited learning disability and more vulnerable to psychiatric disorders and behavioural problems.

Such increased stressors, when combined with parental learning disability, may lead to concerns about the care of children.

Disabled parents are sometimes targeted by individuals who may pose a risk to children and the children could in these situations be vulnerable to abuse and neglect.

Professionals should be alert to the possibility of significant harm and signs of neglect in children cared for by parents with disabilities. Children who may be more vulnerable are:

  • Unborn babies or infants under one year old;
  • Toddlers;
  • Children with a disability or special educational needs;
  • Children in a caring role;
  • Children experiencing domestic abuse;
  • Parents with a history of violence or sexual abuse. 

Due to the increased vulnerability of this group of children they may require a rapid multi agency response to assess parent's disability and potential for adequate parenting.

The impact of the level of the disability of parents needs to be formally addressed at appropriate stages in the management of a case that involve neglect.

Ultimately, regardless of whether or not the parent has a learning disability, the quality of care experienced by the child determines whether or not a referral should be made for assessment by Children's Services.

Teenagers may be more able than their parents, if the parent(s) have a learning disability, and are likely to take on the parenting role, becoming responsible for housework, cooking, correspondence, dealing with authority figures, and the general care of their parents and younger siblings.

Many parents with learning disabilities do not meet eligibility criteria for Adult Services. However it is important to remember that any safeguarding issues escalate eligibility status (see specific section for support services)

If you have any concerns about the children or adults you should contact Care Direct for Adults and for Children First Response.

Pre and post- natal check up

With Parents that have a learning disability, specific concerns apply to the pre and postnatal periods. It is vital that there is joint working between GPs, Midwifery, Health Visiting and if involved, specialist Learning Disability Services. It is essential to identify needs, assess and, if necessary, prepare safeguarding plans for both mother and child.

Parents with a learning disability will require additional support before the baby is born to understand what is happening, with easy read information, understandable antenatal classes and support at check-ups

Parental learning disability may impact on the unborn child because it affects parents in their decision-making and preparation for the birth. The quality of the woman’s ante-natal care is often jeopardized by late presentation and poor attendance. When women with learning disabilities do attend antenatal care they may experience difficulty in understanding and putting into practice the information and advice they receive.

Parents with a learning disability may struggle to adjust to developmental changes in the child, i.e. eating solid food, walking and may need additional support at these times.


With Parent with learning difficulties the assessment process should cover the following:

  • 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 emotionally 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?
  • In relation to pregnant women, should a pre-birth assessment be arranged?


The guidance indicates ‘Five Key Features of Good Practice in working with parents with learning disabilities’:

 Accessible information and communication

  1. Clear and co-ordinated referral and assessment procedures and processes, eligibility criteria and care pathways
  2. Support designed to meet the needs of parents and children based on assessments of their needs and strengths;
  3. Long-term support where necessary;
  4. Access to independent advocacy.

Professionals undertaking 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 and will need to re-evaluate the child's circumstances from time to time. Children may exceed their parent's intellectual and social functioning at a relatively young age.

Where a parent with learning disabilities appears not to be able to meet her/his child's needs, a referral should be made to Children's social care in line with the Referrals procedure and they have a responsibility to assess need and where necessary, offer supportive or protective services.