Care Proceedings can often be a daunting process for clients
This can be exacerbated for clients who have learning difficulties or disabilities. A learning difficulty relates to a specific learning issue (ie reading and/or writing) or a diagnosed condition (ie ADHD, dyslexia, dyscalculia, dyspraxia etc). Furthermore, a learning disability refers to a ‘’reduced intellectual ability affecting everyday activities’’. A client with a learning disability may therefore find it more difficult to understand and comprehend information and decipher instructions.
Clients with learning needs may also extend to physical disabilities, such as blind or deaf impairments. Without the necessary support or intermediaries, these individuals may be compromised in their ability to interact and communicate with court proceedings. WNC v NCT v KA  is a recent example of how the use of an intermediary was deemed necessary for a deaf mother in care proceedings.
Professionals’ duties to assist parents
It is advisable for law firms, such as ours to try and identify at an initial meeting whether a client has a learning difficulty or potentially a disability. Simple questions about whether a client has any difficulties reading or writing, whether there are any diagnosed conditions or pertinent information about a client’s educational background are likely to assist a firm in knowing how to interact with a client going forward. Overlooking this at very initial stages, places a client at risk of being at a significant disadvantage in their care proceedings.
Where an individual has a learning difficulty or disability, a Ground Rules Hearing (GRH) will often be used in order to accommodate an individual’s needs. Provisions may be included such as having longer pauses during a hearing, the use of an Advocate, more comprehensive choice of questions etc. to ensure legal instruction is understood and they have full access to information.
The ‘Good Practice Guidance on working with parents with a learning disability’ (updated in 2021) is a key document considered by many law firms, social services and of course the Court. It is the combined responsibility of working professionals to adjust their ways of working to ensure that parents with learning difficulties and disabilities are not placed at a disadvantageous outcome due to any difficulty or disability. A client should understand what is being asked of them during court proceedings, and fully understand the arguments put forward by other parties in order to give their own instructions to their solicitor.