Parents with a learning or physical disability are significantly more likely to have their child taken into care, according to an investigation based on reports from more than 100 local authorities in England.
The investigation by Channel 5 News reveals that of the 72,154 children who entered care between April 2020 and April 2022, 8.1% of children were removed from their family home after social workers identified their parent’s learning disability as a factor of concern.
Since such a small number of adults with learning disabilities are a parent (0.15%), this means they are 54 times more likely to have their child removed compared to nondisabled parents.
Less children would be taken into care if better support was available in the community
Channel 5 News spoke to several parents with a learning disability whose children were put into care, including ‘Anna’. All three of Anna’s children were adopted and she will now be unable to see them until they reach the age of 18. Her youngest child was adopted at just nine months old.
Anna said if there was better support for mothers with learning disabilities in the community, not as many children would be taken into care.
“I feel like there is a lot of people out there that have got their kids and got a chance because of the support they got, so I wish I had the right support,” she explains. “I wouldn’t have any more children, because since having my third child I’ve realised I can’t keep putting myself through it, it’s too much pain.”
Tracey Norton, coordinator for the Disabled Mothers’ Rights Campaign, run by campaign group WinVisible and Support Not Separation coalition, told Channel 5 News that more funding for parents with learning disabilities would help to prevent the “trauma” parents experience when their child is taken away.
She said: “A Social worker is automatically looking for safeguarding, and disability is seen as a safeguarding issue when it shouldn’t be.
“Our message is that we want money for mothers, particularly disabled mothers, so that they can care for their children in the community, so that they can get the right resources that they need, and the children don’t need to be taken into care. And it causes trauma that’s never ending. It will never, ever go away for either the child or the mother. It’s lifelong. “
Social workers concerned children of parents with learning disabilities will come to “emotional harm”
During a two-year period (April 2020 to April 2022), 5,820 children were taken into care due to social workers’ concerns that the parent had a learning disability and 5,405 cases were due to social workers’ concerns that the parent had a physical disability.
In 17.5% of cases that a parent had a learning disability and 22.2% of cases that a parent had a physical disability, the child was taken into care due to concerns of “emotional harm” (including future emotional harm).
The Department for Education told Channel 5 News they are aware that any instance of a child being removed from their parents is “deeply distressing” and courts will only remove children “as a last resort”.
A spokesperson said: “In most cases, children are best looked after by their families and courts will only remove children as a last resort, when it is in the child’s best interests. These decisions are based on the needs of the child, and local authorities cannot discriminate based on any protected characteristic, including disability.
“We are bringing forward wide-ranging reforms to children’s social care to ensure families receive appropriate and timely decisions from family courts and to make sure we have a system that works for all.”
The investigation will air on Channel 5 News on Wednesday 25th January at 5pm.