Referral Criteria – Emotional Support for Parents

A learning disability affects the way a person understands information and how they communicate. We can provide emotional support to the family of a child or young person diagnosed with a learning disability.

Conditions in scope

The Children’s Community Learning Disabilities Team will accept requests for service for:

  • Children and young people up to 18 years of age, registered with a Devon GP, who have a diagnosis of profound, severe (or moderate, where there are child protection issues) learning disabilities, including those children and young people who have acquired this status

Requests will be considered for

  • Children and young people who have been identified as having a cognitive impairment which is severe or profound and which limits educational and practical development
  • Children and young people attending other special schools or attending mainstream provision (or attached units) with a Statement of Special Educational Needs (or Education, Health Care plan equivalent), dependent upon the child/young person’s level of learning disability, the level of functional impairment and the nature and severity of the presenting problem.

Exclusion criteria

Requests for service will not be accepted for children and young people with:

  • Mild learning disability
  • Higher functioning Autistic Spectrum Conditions (for example: average or above average intelligence)
  • Acquired head or brain injury
  • Issues that are school based only, where the family does not require support – these should be supported by educational services such as Educational Psychology and Behaviour Support services

Consideration will be given on a case by case basis in regard to specific syndromes that do not necessarily mean there is an associated learning disability. The requester should first consider appropriate mainstream services that would better meet the child or young person’s needs or provide the evidence that the child or young person’s disorder meets the criteria. For example, if a child or young person with a learning disability presents with possible mental health problems, then a request should be made via the Single Point of Access to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS).

There are times when it might be more appropriate for a child and young person to access mainstream services, such as school and public health nursing, in line with the guidance around inclusive practices.

Pre-request requirements

A request for service is appropriate if there are significant concerns about the child’s development, health, well-being or behaviour and these are having a significant impact on the child’s functioning at home.

Before making your request:

  • It is important that the child or young person has been seen in person and assessed by the person making the request for service
  • Prior attempts have already been made by frontline staff to resolve the child or young person’s difficulties with mainstream support, and that evidence of this is included along with the formal request
  • Formal consent has been obtained for someone with legal parental responsibility for the child before a request is made
  • Information from the person making the request regarding what has been discussed and what is needed to support the child, young person and/or family to engage with the service

How can I support the family before making a referral?

At whatever stage a child/young person receives a diagnosis of a learning disability, parents are suddenly faced with new feelings and challenges, ranging from feelings of shock, denial, grief, loss and confusion, to worry about the future. These feelings may also re-emerge at each life cycle stage or transition. The disability impacts on not only the child but the whole family. It is important to make sure the family gets the right support to enable them to come to terms with their child’s needs and the adjustments they will have to make.

Different families experience different levels of stress when caring for a child with a learning disability. The amount of stress each family member might feel is individual and will change over time. Some family members will experience high levels of stress at times, while others say that they are coping well. The disability may impact on their life as a parent as they may need to attend more hospital or service appointments, and may need to take time off work. The child/young person may have to cope with multiple transitions and the family may have to work and liaise with many professionals from learning disability services. All of these experiences may impact on the time they have to refuel, recharge and can impact on family resilience.

Having a child with a learning disability has an impact on the whole family, and other relatives may also need support to deal with their feelings. There are lots of places you can direct the family to check online to find information and support that might help them come to terms with their situation.

Organisations such as Mencap can offer information, advice and services to people with a learning disability and their families. The child or young person’s siblings may find it helpful to access Young SIBS, a charity which helps brothers and sisters to come to terms with their sibling’s disability. Talking to other people in a similar situation can also be helpful. Contact a Family offer advice, information and support to the parents of disabled children and enable families to contact other families locally and nationally. Sharing their experiences with others can be valuable and very rewarding and can help to remind them that they are not alone.

If the parents need a break from their caring responsibilities they should contact their social worker or health visitor who will be able to offer advice and support. Ask them to check that they are getting the right support from their local authority.

If you feel that the family need additional support to understand their child’s diagnosis of learning disability, you should make request for service to Children & Family Health Devon for the Children’s Community Learning Disability Team.

The request should include information about services the child is currently involved with or has seen in the past, where this is appropriate. If the child has an Education, Health and Social Care plan (EHC) and/or a single assessment/My Pathway plan in place this should also be provided or referenced as supporting information.


Children and Family Health Devon
Single Point of Access Team
1a Capital Court
Bittern Road
Sowton Industrial Estate
Exeter EX2 7FW


t: 0330 024 5321