July 2018

IPSEA has called for greater support for the families of disabled children in its response to the Department for Education’s call for evidence about children in need of help and protection.

Many children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) have social care needs as well as educational needs. The introduction of Education, Health and Care (“EHC”) plans aimed to unify provision so that it would be simpler for families to access support across services. Despite some progress, there is still significant work to be done in joining up education, health and social care provision across the country.

Under the Children Act 1989, children with disabilities are automatically classed as ‘children in need’. Our response to the consultation highlighted a number of areas of concern in relation to children in need (specifically those with SEND).

Any child who appears to be a child in need (for example, because they are, or appear to be, disabled) should be assessed to establish whether they have needs for social care support. In practice, higher thresholds are often applied. Through our advice services, we hear of families feeling that they need to reach crisis point before they can access the support from social care. Early intervention is vital for the wellbeing of children with SEND and their families, which is why the law sets the bar for assessment so low.

Local authority resources are not relevant in deciding whether to assess. However, local authorities are permitted to apply their own criteria when it comes to determining eligibility for support. This leads to an unjust situation in which a child may be eligible for support in one authority but not another. This is contrary to the situation in adult social care, where the same eligibility criteria must be applied across the country.

However, we know that social care services have stretched budgets. Even putting aside the failures to comply with the law as described above, local authorities are struggling to fund the vital services they provide to children and families.

IPSEA’s key recommendations are that:

  • Children’s social care should be funded adequately in order for it to comply with the duties set out in the law.
  • Families of children with SEND, wherever they live in the country, should be able to access anticipatory support to prevent crisis or family breakdown, rather than being left to reach that point.
  • Local authorities to be made aware that:
    • EHC needs assessments can and should be a trigger for a concurrent social care assessment under the Children Act 1989. Information needs to be shared correctly in order for social care to identify children in need.
    • Any child who appears to be a child in need (for example, because they are disabled) should be assessed.
    • ‘Not known to this service’ is not adequate advice and information for the purposes of an EHC needs assessment.
  • A national system of eligibility for support from children’s social care should be put in place.
  • Further steps should be taken to enable children’s social care to work in conjunction with education and health, and to look holistically at the needs of the child and their family.

You can read IPSEA’s full response here. For more information, see our pages on health and social care.