April 2019

Last year, IPSEA responded to the Department for Education’s call for evidence about children in need of help and protection. The review is ongoing, but the government’s initial response has fallen short of addressing the key concerns raised.

A child may be classed as ‘in need’ because there are child protection issues, or because they have a disability. The initial response identifies that approximately half of all children currently classed as ‘in need’ have identified special educational needs and/or disabilities. However, there is no acknowledgement of IPSEA’s key concern. We know from our advice services that the parents of children with disabilities often struggle to access even an assessment for social care support, due to local authorities restricting services beyond what the law requires. It seems the number of children in need is far higher than recorded because of the barriers to assessment and support. Despite this, local authorities are still struggling to meet children’s needs.

Our recommendations included:

  • Children’s social care should be funded adequately in order for it to comply with the duties set out in the law. Currently, local authorities are not meeting all of their legal obligations, and even so are struggling to fund the vital services they provide to families.

The initial response contains no discussion of funding, save for reference to funding a programme linked to the Government’s domestic abuse consultation. While the Government may not agree that there is a crisis in social care funding or a crisis in SEN funding, we hope in the further stages of the review it acknowledges that this is widely seen to be the case. Research by the Local Government Association has shown that local authorities are facing a £2 billion funding gap for children’s services by 2020.

  • Families of children with SEND should be able access anticipatory support rather than left to reach crisis point. Linked to this, we emphasised the fact that a request for EHC needs assessment can and should be a trigger for a social care assessment. The law states that the duty to assess is triggered wherever a child appears to be ‘in need’, which includes if they are disabled.

The initial response contains little consideration of this issue. As described above, the children currently classed as ‘in need’ may well be only a fraction of those who meet the legal definition, due to unlawful restrictions on accessing social care assessments and social care support.

There is also no consideration of the interaction between EHC needs assessments and child in need assessments. The initial response is specifically focused on improving educational outcomes for children in need, and so it seems a significant oversight not to identify the importance of EHC needs assessments in identifying children in need and addressing their education, health and care needs in a holistic manner.

  • A national system of eligibility for support from children’s social care should be put in place, to change the current unjust system where a child in need might get support in one local area but not another.

There is no mention of the inequalities in support between different local authorities.

We hope that there is a greater focus on disabled children and young people in the final part of the review.