Support or Substitution? A Local Authority’s Duties Towards Parents with Learning Disabilities

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A Local Authority v G (Parent with Learning Disability) [2017] EWFC B94

A recent judgment considered the correct approach in care cases where one or both of the parents suffer from learning disabilities.

The court was concerned with a girl aged 3 and a boy aged 19 months. The mother suffered from mild learning difficulties, with an IQ of 57 and partial deafness. The father was the mother’s registered carer but suffered himself from depression and stress.

His Honour Judge Dancey considered the authorities and derived the basic principles [at paragraph 35] that adults with learning difficulties can often be ‘good enough’ parents with sufficient support and that professionals and family law courts must focus on providing that support rather than removing children from their parents’ care.

The Judge warned against both direct and indirect discrimination in care cases and emphasised the importance of scrutinising the support provided by local authorities to ensure that the parents’ supposed inability to change is not a result of inappropriate or insufficient help.

The Judge considered, however, that the support required by the parents in the instant case (said to be between 12 and 16 hours a day) would ‘amount to substituted parenting’ [at paragraph 220]. Such extensive support for parents with learning disabilities went beyond that which a Local Authority could be reasonably expected to provide [at paragraph 248].

It seems, therefore, there is a line to be drawn between support on one side and substituted parenting on the other. It can only be hoped that local authorities and courts alike will scrutinise each case involving parents with learning difficulties on its facts to ensure that one is not mistaken for the other.

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Our family law barristers dutifully follow pivotal cases like A Local Authority v G (Parent with Learning Disability) [2017] EWFC B94 above to inform their approach to advice and representation for clients and other professionals. This understanding helps in planning a particular case in pursuit of the best possible outcome.

If you are a parent or Local Authority representative involved in a similar situation, or require effective guidance in any child protection case, contact our experienced team for bespoke support. Call us today on 01245 605040 or email

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