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Speech by the President of the Family Division: Parents with intellectual impairment in public law proceedings – the need to be alert

Date:27 FEB 2023
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On 7 February Sir Andrew McFarlane, the President of the Family Division, gave the keynote speech at the Aspire Conference: Parents with Intellectual  Impairment – Promoting Best Practice in  Public Law Proceedings.

Sir Andrew talked about a previous case he had been involved with with a mother, "a very personable young woman. She was very chatty and engaging. No one who knew her, or was working with her, had given any thought that she might have a learning deficit. Indeed, I think that I am right, the idea that someone might be ‘learning disabled’ was seen as something as a stigma then and might, of itself, rule a parent out from future care of their child."

He mentions how an expert gave evidence on how to support this mother, and  "This evidence turned the case round. After some months the mother, with skilled support, was seen to be succeeding, where previously she had failed. In due course, she moved out into the community with her child. The insight gained from the evidence in that case was so striking because it was ‘new’. Hitherto, a finding of significant learning disability, or simply a low IQ, would have probably spelled the end of a parent’s hopes of being permitted to care for their child. From that time on, I, and, of course, many others hearing similar evidence in other cases, came to view intellectual impairment in a far more sophisticated way. A way that was to have an impact not only on the potential outcome for care cases, but also on the way in which we in the court system perform our respective roles."

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He concludes: "The good news for professionals working in this field is that the guidance is clear and all in one place. None of it is ‘rocket science’. It is simply sound good sense, borne of experience. Detailed knowledge of the guidance, coupled with a continuous awareness of the need to be alert to the issue of intellectual impairment, should enable one and all, be they judges, magistrates or social work professionals to meet the needs of the children in these important cases."

The full speech can be read here.