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ORIGINAL ARTICLE: Referrals to a learning disability social work team 1996 to 2005



Accessible summary

  •  This research is about people with learning disabilities who were referred to the North Belfast social work team.
  •  There were 252 referrals between 1995 and 2005 but only 127 cases were closed.
  •  Over a third of the people being referred had behaviour problems.
  •  There were more people with autism referred in the second half of the 10 years.
  •  A fifth of the people who were referred only found out they had a learning disability when they were aged 16 or over.
  •  People with learning disabilities often have health problems but these were often not mentioned when people were referred.
  •  This research matters to people with learning disabilities because it is important to know what problems people have and what help they need.


In order to understand better the needs of clients and to inform the delivery of services, referrals to the North Belfast Learning Disability Social Work Team between 1 January 1996 and 31 December 2005 were studied. The documentary analysis of all 252 referrals during the 10-year period included referral books, social work files and the electronic client-based system Soscare. There were increases in referrals with recorded autism and in those aged 18–25, and high levels of recorded behavioural difficulties. There were low levels of recorded visual impairment, hearing impairment and mental health problems. Twenty-one per cent of referrals were likely to have been diagnosed with a learning disability at age 16 or over. Child referrals showed a broad spectrum of identified need whereas adult referrals were predominantly identified as needing daytime occupation. There was an increase in the team caseload from 364 to 489 over the period caused by the number of referrals exceeding the number of closures every year except 1997. We recommend a greater focus on health status in social work assessments, a review of case management practice and greater inclusion of ‘newly diagnosed’ adolescents and adults in service planning.