How do adult and learning disability social workers engage with parents with learning disabilities?

Beth Tarleton In progress  


Parents with learning disabilities (LD) often require support to ensure their children’s wellbeing. Parents who have a diagnosed learning disability are eligible for support from a Learning Disability team. They are also entitled to support under the Care Act (2014) from Adult Services alongside parents who have a milder intellectual impairment and/ or no formally diagnosed learning disability.

These parents are often over-represented in the Child Protection System and are disproportionately likely to have their children removed from their care. Literature focusing on children’s social workers’ response to these parents indicates that they find working with them difficult and that they are concerned about their lack of knowledge about parents’ needs, a lack of appropriate services and communication between workers/services. There is no specific literature that focuses on Adult and LD social workers’ response to these parents. It is not known if parents are provided with support by Adult Services or if, when and how LD teams work with parents with diagnosed LD.


This research aims to investigate how Adult and LD social workers identify and engage with these parents and if, how and when they provide them with support.


In six Local Authorities (LA) in England, three areas with a specific policy or protocol regarding the expected LA response to parents with LD and three LAs where there is no specific policy or guidance, the project will:
• Analyse LA Policies to understand how practitioners are expected to respond to parents.
• Interview managers from the LD team and Adult Services, a commissioner and other key stakeholders (30). We will discuss how parents with LD are identified, responded to and referred between services and how their local policies say these parents should be supported.
• Carry out focus group interviews (12), in each area, with groups of:
o Adult social workers
o Learning Disability social workers
• The professionals will discuss vignettes (fictional short stories) to compare their responses to a vulnerable parent (without LD), a parent who has a diagnosed LD, and a parent suspected of having a milder/borderline learning disability to investigate if workers have different responses to parents with and without LD or different ‘levels’ of learning disabilities. They will also be asked how they think other professionals ‘see’ these parents and respond to them, how they work with other professionals and how policies guide their response.
• carry out interviews with parents, four in each area (24), including those with and without a diagnosis, which will focus on how Adult and LD social workers have engaged with them.
The project will be guided by parents from Speakup Self Advocacy (a support/advocacy group of parents with LDs) and a professional advisory group so that the recommendations made will:
• enable the development of clear policies and pathways regarding support for these parents;
• influence practice in Adult Social Care;
• enable parents to access support for their parenting.
The project will produce practice guidelines, run two webinars and share its findings in collaboration with the organisation Research in Practice. This organisation supports professionals to improve their practice.