Children's social care

Local authorities have a duty under Section 17 of the Children Act 1989 to safeguard and promote the welfare of 'children in need' in their area, including disabled children, by providing appropriate services to them.

These services might include short breaks for parent carers, equipment or adaptations to the home. The courts have held that local authorities have to assess all children who are or may be 'in need' - so there is a duty to assess any child who is or might be disabled (broadly defined).

Section 17 does not impose a duty to provide services to every individual child 'in need'. However there is a duty to provide services to individual disabled children under section 2 of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970. This duty arises where it is 'necessary' to provide services to the child - a question that can only be answered once there has been a proper section 17 assessment. In deciding whether support is 'necessary' a local authority is allowed to take into account its resources, so that more children will get support when more money is available. However there will be some cases where the needs are so great that it is obviously 'necessary' for the local authority to provide services no matter how little money it has. Also, once a local authority accepts that it is necessary to provide support under section 2 then it must fund a sufficient level of services to actually meet the needs identified through the assessment. 

Following acceptance of a referral by the local authority children's social care service, a social worker should lead a multi-agency assessment under section 17 of the Children Act 1989. For a deafblind or multi-sensory impaired child, the person carrying out the assessment must have specific training and skills in deafblindness.

The purposes of social care assessments are:

  • to gather important information about a child and family
  • to analyse their needs and / or the nature and level of any risk or harm being suffered by a child
  • to decide whether the child is a child in need (section 17 of the Children Act 1989) and/or is suffering significant harm (section 47 of the Children Act 1989), and
  • to provide support to address those needs to improve the child's outcomes

The statutory guidance ‘Working Together to Safeguard Children’ (PDF on the UK Government website) sets out the process for managing individual cases which are referred to and accepted by children's social care.g days from the point of referral.

Children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities - EHC Plans

Under the Children and Families Act 2014  Act, Statements of special educational needs for children in schools and Learning Difficulty Assessments (LDAs) for young people in further education and training, have been be replaced with a single combined Education, Health and Care Plan (EHC plan). An EHC plan covers children and young people from birth to age 25 and will include information about their health and social care needs, as well as special educational needs, in one single document.

If your child has an EHC plan, they are still entitled to a full deafblind guidance compliant social care assessment.

For a more in depth view of SEND issues, please see our factsheets in the Special Educational Needs section of our website.

Direct payments

Local authorities must offer direct payments for social care services. Personal budgets must also be offered for the provision named in an EHC plan.  For both education and social care the local authority must be satisfied that the person who receives the direct payments will use them in an appropriate way and that they will act in the best interests of the child or young person.

Direct payments can be made directly to a child's parent or guardian, a young person or their nominee. Children's direct payments can be made for social care, health care and for special educational provision. There are separate rules governing each of these, but the rules are broadly similar.

If the child or young person has capacity to consent, then they (if they are aged 16-17) or a nominee may receive direct payments.

If a child does not have capacity, then a person in a position of parental responsibility may receive direct payments, or may give their consent for a nominee to receive them.

There is currently a power but not a duty to make direct payments for certain health provision. Direct payments for health require the agreement of a care plan between the CCG and the recipient.

Direct payments must be sufficient to meet the needs identified in the EHC plan of personal health budget care plan.

You must not, in any circumstances, be forced to use direct payments if you do not want to. The local authority or NHS authority must manage you or your child's care for you if you do not want to receive direct payments.

Visit direct payments for SEND provision for more information.

First published: Tuesday 31 March 2015
Updated: Tuesday 22 December 2015