April 2022

IPSEA has provided information to the independent review of children’s social care, which was set up by the Government to advise on how children and young people can get the support they need. Alongside the SEND Review, it’s an important opportunity to look at why disabled children often don’t receive the support they’re entitled to by law. 

Social care is not just for children who are at risk of harm or neglect

We have responded to each stage of the review (the call for advice, call for evidence and call for ideas), each time emphasising that social care is not just for children who are considered to be “at risk”. It’s also essential for children who are “in need”, according to the law. 

Under section 17 of the Children Act 1989, disabled children are automatically considered to be “children in need”. This means they are entitled to have their social care needs assessed, and to receive any support they are eligible for. 

Many disabled children depend on social care services to enable them to participate in their communities, live ‘normal’ lives and avoid social isolation

We are concerned that the independent review team, led by Josh MacAlister, is not looking closely enough at why there are so many obstacles to disabled children and young people and their families getting the social care support they need. 

It’s vital they understand how important social care is to the wellbeing and safety of many children and young people with SEND who are not looked after within the care system or considered to be at risk. We have urged them to consider the experiences of disabled children, and the extent to which their legal rights to social care assessments and support are currently not being upheld. 

In our response to the ‘call for ideas’, IPSEA proposed the following things: 

Introduction of separate local authority teams and processes for assessing and supporting disabled children where there is no evidence or suspicion of abuse or neglect

The current social care system is set up for child protection, not support – despite what the Children Act 1989 says. In practice, the law is routinely not applied and families have to fight for the support their children need. 

Disabled children and their families have distinct assessment and support needs. This should be spelled out clearly in local authority policies. Social workers should receive training in what the law requires in relation to social care support for disabled children, and in the particular challenges facing disabled children. 

Action to tackle widespread failure of joint working between education, health and social care

Many children and young people with SEND have social care needs as well as education needs. Education, Health and Care (EHC) plans were introduced to make it simpler for families to access support across different services – recognising that children’s education needs can’t be considered in isolation from their health and social care needs.  

But the EHC needs assessment process frequently fails to include social care. Too often we hear that requests for social care input for individual children are met with the response that the child is “not known to social care”. 

When a child or young person is receiving an EHC needs assessment, we would like to see a social care assessment under the Children Act 1989 carried out at the same time. Local authority SEND teams need to work in a much more joined-up way with their social care colleagues. Both ‘sides’ should be equally accountable for making sure that children’s legal entitlements are upheld and their needs met.  

Introduction of national eligibility criteria for children’s social care services. 

There is currently a national threshold for assessment of children’s social care needs – but thresholds for support vary (sometimes unlawfully) between local areas. This is in contrast to adult social care, where the criteria for both assessment and support were unified under the Care Act 2014 and associated regulations. 

We believe it would benefit disabled children and their families to have clear national criteria for accessing services that would provide support, safeguard and promote children’s welfare, and keep disabled children at home and out of the care system.