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Judge reminds councils of importance of following guidance on working with parents with learning disability

A Family Court judge has said it is "imperative" that local authorities follow guidance on working with parents with a learning disability, and expressed "serious reservations" as to whether a borough council did so in a case concerning the welfare of three children.

In a ruling published on Bailii this week, HHJ Greensmith said the case of PQR (Supported Parenting For Learning Disabled Parents) (Rev 1) [2018] EWFC B72 related to children aged eight, six and two, whose mother has a learning disability.

The judge noted that one child had sustained injuries, probably from lack of adequate supervision and the mother had not sought medical attention.

There were also instances of domestic violence witnessed by the children, poor home conditions, developmental delay in all three children - which the mother had been unable to address or manage adequately - and allowing contact with the father of two of the children “in direct conflict with advice given by police and the local authority and at a time when the children were subject to a child protection plan”.

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Manchester City Council Child Protection Lawyers

The judge said the key issue was whether Wirral could provide the mother with the support she needs and if that would serve the children's welfare.

HHJ Greensmith said a report prepared for the court made it clear that the support needed for the children to live with their mother was so great that it was beyond what Wirral could reasonably be expected to provide.

“It is, in my judgment, wholly unreasonable to expect the local authority to provide a care package such as would enable the return to the mother,” he said.

“The court has to recognise that the resources of a local authority are finite…the resources required to implement the care plan necessary to secure the return of the children in this case is disproportionate to what could be achieved, having regard to the other commitments of the local authority.”

He said that the circumstances meant the only option which would serve the welfare of the children was long term foster care.

The judge did though criticise Wirral over the Good Practice Guidance on Working with Parents with a Learning Disability, saying that he had "serious reservations as to whether the guidelines have been followed in this case”.

HHJ Greensmith added: “A review of the chronology of the local authority's involvement reveals that the local authority was able to identify key aspects of the mother's personality which should have put it on notice that the mother potentially had a learning disability.

“The children were not accommodated until 12 February 2018 which was under Children Act 1989 s20 at the request of the mother – nine years after the first involvement of the local authority.”

One child was born after Wirral became involved but the older two were not and “the local authority should, in my view reflect on how different these boys early years would have been if the mother's disability had been recognised earlier and the recommendations contained in the guidelines had been followed”.

Mark Smulian

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