In England and Wales, local authorities are under a duty to assess the social care needs of children who meet the definition of a ‘child in need’. As explained in more detail in our Parent Guides, Social Care in England and Social Care in Wales, all disabled children are classed as children ‘in need’ and are therefore entitled to an assessment of their needs.
The purpose of a ‘child in need’ assessment is to establish:
- your child and family’s;
- what, if any, social care services and support should be provided to meet those needs; and
- who is best placed to provide them.
You can read more about what issues should be considered as part of the assessment process and who should carry out an assessment in our Social Care Parent Guides.
Unfortunately, we have received reports from parents via our LEaP Project sharing negative experiences about the way in which these assessments are being carried out. One parent explained the assessment process was ‘nothing short of disgraceful’ and that it was ‘highly demeaning, intrusive and insensitive’. Rather than alleviating the stress on her child and the whole family, it actually added enormously to these stresses.
In this particular case, the parent self-referred for an assessment in the interest of getting support for her child and the whole family as they were struggling due to his disability. The family were well known to many public bodies (the school, CAMHS and various consultants in the NHS) none of whom had any cause for safeguarding concerns. However, five days later the parent received a phone call from the council insisting that the home visit had to be conducted urgently that afternoon despite her having a pre-planned dental appointment. On their arrival, she was pressured into signing consent forms with no adequate explanation as to what the process would involve or what she was consenting to. The social worker began carrying out in depth scrutiny of their personal lives including significant and uninvited intrusion upon the children’s bedsheets and bedrooms.
This behaviour is wholly inappropriate for a child in need assessment which should be carried out in a holistic and family focused manner. In this case, it seems that the social workers were heavily focused on whether there was a safeguarding issue (i.e. that the child is suffering, or considered likely to suffer, significant harm) despite no safeguarding issues being raised by a third party. Safeguarding is of course a very important issue and if established appropriate measures should be put into place. However, it should not be the sole purpose of a child in need assessment: it is essential that there is consideration of the child and family’s social care needs and what support can be provided to meet these needs.
The family were so distressed by the process that they terminated the assessment prematurely. Councils who act in this unacceptable way by adopting a ‘one size fits all’ approach to assessments can cause a barrier to families obtaining access to crucial support services.
Another equally concerning problem that has been reported to us is that the assessments are being carried out by social workers who have no knowledge or experience of working with disabled children.
The LEaP Project, together with Professor Luke Clements and law students at Leeds University, will be conducting further research, by way of a survey with parent carer forums and organisations, into this issue over the coming months. If you would like to be involved in this survey and are a member of a parent carer group, please ask the group administrator to contact us by emailing [email protected].