When is it right to remove a young learning disabled adult from their family’s care?

The Court of Protection appears ready to intervene create a better caring environment for young learning disabled adults where family carers will not provide it themselves, says Ed Mitchell

Protective care for vulnerable adults: role of the Court of Protection

Meeting needs begins with understanding needs. If a carer for a young vulnerable adult cannot understand their needs, there is a real risk that the adult’s quality of life will be unacceptably low. This seems to cause the Court of Protection real concern. A recent example was the decision in A Local Authority v WMA (July 2013), a local authority was allowed to remove a young vulnerable adult from the care of a mother who could do no more than meet the most basic of needs.

What happened?

A young man with autism lived with his mother. She seemed incapable of providing sanitary living conditions. Over a long period, the home had been squalid and the young man’s mother had neglected his personal hygiene, leaving him unwashed and wearing dirty clothes. She had also done very little to help the young man achieve his potential. The mother had not co-operated with many local authority attempts to improve the young man’s quality of life and he remained socially isolated. Despite all that, the young man said he did not want to live with anyone other than his mother.

The young man’s local authority thought it was in his best interests to live apart from his mother in a supported residential unit. The authority applied to the Court of Protection for orders authorising them to remove the young man from his mother’s care and, if need be, deprive him of his liberty at the unit to stop him being taken away.

Why did the Court authorise removal of the young man from his mother’s care?

Having heard evidence from a consultant psychiatrist that the young man had an IQ of 64 and could not see the consequences of his decisions, the Court of Protection concluded that he lacked the mental capacity to make decisions about where to live and who to see. He could not use or weigh the information relevant to those decisions.

The Court then looked at whether it would be in the young man’s best interests to live away from his mother in a specialist residential unit. It decided that it would. Basic sustenance and shelter was all the mother had provided. The family home was unsanitary despite repeated offers of help from the local authority and nothing meaningful had been done to help the young man realise his potential. As a result, it was in the young man’s best interests to be separated from his mother.

Is there an underlying theme?

Every Court of Protection case turns on its own facts. However, it is always concerned where young adults with learning disabilities have family carers without the skills necessary for them to realise their potential and lead a more fulfilling life. Where these family carers persistently refuse to take advantage of the help offered by statutory services, the Court of Protection appears ready to intervene and forcibly create a better caring environment.


Ed Mitchell is a solicitor and general editor of the Journal of Community Care Law

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4 Responses to When is it right to remove a young learning disabled adult from their family’s care?

  1. Edna October 8, 2013 at 12:15 pm #

    This is a disgraceful situation in some respects. Many adult children ‘choose’ to live with parents for numerous reasons, this is not something that requires state interference in privarte family lives. Manyt humans for numerous reasons never reach their potential, for many the inability to ‘break the umbilical cord’ may be one such reason in some cases.

    Although it is a positive to try and reach ones potential, it is no way a necessity for a meaningful life. The CoP is acting to support local authorities because judges in these courts and solicitors have a very narrow and paternal view of someone who is ‘deemed’ to lack mental capacity. Infact such peoplr by the MCA have effectively taken on a ‘non humans’ perspective because their own wishes can be over ridden.

    How people live should never be the reason to separate humans, unless they want the separation. Neither the judge or Local authority will guarantee that the young learning disabled person will have a better life with enhanced personal ability to meet his potential in residential care.

    Also these places are places often of abuses in many cases- and the local authorities turn a blind eye to this as we all know from failures to safeguard.

    • Graham October 9, 2013 at 3:33 pm #

      Whilst I agree that the track record for some authorities in protecting vulnerable adults is sometimes poor. I have first hand experiences of developing and monitoring placements for young adults with learning disabilities. I understand that removing a person’s right to choose with whom they wish to live seems overbearing, however if you are discussing a young child forced to live in such conditions would that be considered acceptable ?

      The mental capacity act ensures that any person needs to be assessed to ensure they can make choices or a decision in a consistent manner. Of course this young person is emotionally attached to his parent. Lets not forget there are often financial implications to families for the careered for person leaving the family home.

      However, they could also live in a community home with the appropriate support. Access activities outside of the community house. They would not necessarily loose the right to have contact with the parent just that it would not be in their best interest to continue to live with them.

      I find the fact that a previous comments suggests local authorities fail to safeguard, yet seems upset that in this case the court of protection are working in young persons interest to actually safeguard them from a person that should ensure their safety, encourage and promote skills and provide them with the opportunity to engage in activities which are meaningful to them.

      • Edna October 10, 2013 at 9:33 am #

        It is clear you are a social worker- my comments have not been understood as your response is based on your necessarily limited experience and views / judgements. This problem is going to become an increasingly difficult position for the social work workforce as the inconsistencies of attitudes, behaviours and actions will become known to more people who have willing or unwilling contact with adult social care.

        Many people are already aware that ‘best interests decisions’ are either arbitrary or paternalistic and about denying usual life risks.- including those in relationship. Social engineering is what some social work now has become.

        Denying people their emotional bonds – good or bad- developed over long periods of their life and re-locating them to live with strangers can be more traumatic and harmful than the conditions at home. Unless the vulnerable has proven health problems caused from their way of living there is no excuse for the separation.

  2. cazzy October 10, 2013 at 8:05 pm #

    And yet here I am fighting to get my children returned back home to my care after the local authority’s false claims that I am “fabricating my childrens disabilities” because 2 of my children have additional needs and I asked for a carers assesment (I was in receipt of DLA for the 2 children and carers allowance) because my pleas for social services help for 18 months went ignored.