Supporting parents who have learning disabilities: Strategic Briefing (2018)

Published: 25/04/2018

Author: Turney D, Tarleton B, Tilbury N



The exact number of parents with learning disabilities is not known but it is likely that, as a result of moves away from institutional living over recent years, more people with learning disabilities are becoming parents. There is a wider group of parents who do not have a formal diagnosis but are considered to have learning difficulties, as a result of which they may struggle with some aspects of parenting.

While individual circumstances vary, overall parents with learning disabilities/ learning difficulties are a significantly disadvantaged group. In addition to any needs for support directly linked to their learning disability, they may also be facing a range of other challenges including poor health, poverty, unemployment, social exclusion and/or social isolation; any or all of which will impact on their capacity to cope with the ongoing challenges of parenting. It is critical, therefore, that services are cognisant of the needs of this group of parents and are geared to providing relevant and accessible support.


There are a range of different terms used in practice, research and literature, including learning disabilities, learning difficulties, intellectual disabilities and cognitive impairments. Broadly these terms are all used to refer to people who have:

A significantly reduced ability to understand new or complex information, to learn new skills (impaired intelligence); with a reduced ability to cope independently (impaired social functioning); which started before adulthood, with a lasting effect on development.
Department of Health (2001)

In the UK, the term ‘learning disability’ is commonly used in social care policy and practice and is usually diagnosed with reference to an IQ score of less than 70. The wider group of people who have learning difficulties do not meet the criteria for diagnosis of a learning disability but struggle with similar issues in their everyday lives.

In this briefing, unless there is a reason to be specific, we will refer to ‘parents with LD’ to cover both parents with a diagnosed learning disability and those with a learning difficulty as strategic leaders and commissioners will need to be mindful of the needs of parents across this spectrum. When directly citing research or other texts we use the terms found in the original source.

Professional Standards

PQS:KSS - Adult mental ill health, substance misuse, domestic abuse, physical ill health and disability | Child and family assessment | Promote and govern excellent practice | Lead and govern excellent practice | Designing a system to support effective practice

PCF - Diversity and equality | Rights, justice and economic wellbeing | Intervention and skills

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