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Our advice service

We provide advice to parents, grandparents, relatives, friends and kinship carers who are involved with children’s services in England or need their help. We can help you understand processes and options when social workers or courts are making decisions about your child’s welfare.

Our advice service is free, independent and confidential.

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By phone or email

To speak to an adviser, please call our free and confidential advice line 0808 801 0366 (Monday to Friday 9.30am to 3pm, excluding Bank Holidays). For Textphone dial 18001 followed by the advice line number. Or you can ask us a question via email using our advice enquiry form.

Discuss on our forums

Our online advice forums are an anonymous space where parents and kinship carers (also known as family and friends carers) can get legal and practical advice, build a support network and learn from other people’s experiences.

Advice on our website

Our get help and advice section describes the processes that you and your family are likely to go through, so that you know what to expect. Our webchat service can help you find the information and advice on our website which will help you understand the law and your rights.

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What support is available for a disabled child or a child with special educational needs, and their family?

There are different ways a disabled child or a child with special educational needs and their family can access help and support.

First, families may want to see what support is available in the local area without an assessment. They can find information about this support on their council’s website. This will usually be in the local offer section.

An assessment is often the gateway to more types of help and support. There are different types of needs assessments available.

Early help

A disabled child or a child with special educational needs can have an early help assessment. Early help aims for agencies to work together to provide support as soon as problems emerge. This is because tackling a problem early can stop things getting worse. Government statutory guidance called Working Together 2018 says that  ‘Practitioners should, in particular, be alert to the potential need for early help for a child who:

See our Early help page for more information about early help assessments and services, including how to ask for an assessment.

If a child’s needs are not being met even though early help services are provided, a parent or carer can ask for a child in need assessment.

Child in need assessment

The law says that a disabled child will be a child in need (section 17 of the Children Act 1989). And the courts have said that a disabled child and their family have a right to some form of assessment of their needs (paragraph 32 of House of Lords R (G) v Barnet LBC and others) But:

  • This does not mean that a disabled child has an absolute right to a child in need assessment. It means children’s services can, if appropriate, decide a different kind of assessment is more suitable. For example, an Early help assessment
  • This also does not mean that there is an absolute right for a disabled child and their family to be given support under the Children Act 1989. Local children’s services departments have their own measures for deciding which children in their area are enough in need to get help and services.

Where children’s services do offer a child in need assessment should follow:

  • Government guidance about how to do high quality assessments
  • Their local protocol about how assessments in their area are to be done
  • Their local threshold document.

The local threshold document should explain the measures used in the local area to decide what help children can receive. The threshold document (or the measures in it) may be called eligibility criteria in some local areas. And it is the local threshold document that helps social workers decide if a child is likely to get any help or services. Slightly different measures or ‘thresholds’ apply in different parts of England.

See our Child in need page for more information about child in need assessments.

If children’s services say that they will provide help and support, this help can be given directly to the child, their parents, or another adult in the family. This can happen so long as the help is being given with the aim of keeping the child safe and well cared for (see section 17(3)).

Services under the Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970

When children’s services do a child in need assessment of a disabled child they must also look at whether to provide support under section 2 of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act (CSDPA).  Services available under CSDPA include:

  • Practical assistance in the home
  • Equipment for a recreational need, such as a computer
  • Leisure facilities
  • Travel and other assistance
  • Home adaptations and disability equipment
  • Holidays
  • Meals
  • Telephone equipment.

If the help and support needed can be provided under section 2 of the CSDPA and it is necessary in order to meet a disabled child’s needs, children’s services must arrange for it to be put in place. The child has a right to this support.

If help and services are provided, then the courts have said that children’s services must clearly state which legislation this is being given under (see JL v Islington (2009) EWHC 458 (Admin)). This is important. Having this information allows children and families to clearly know how their needs have been considered. And how decisions have been made.

Parent carer needs assessment – parents and carers with parental responsibility

A parent carer is someone with parental responsibility for a disabled child and is providing (or intends to provide) care for that child (see section 17ZD of the Children Act 1989).

Children’s services have a general duty to take steps to identify parent carers in their local area who may need support section 17ZD(14). The law says that children’s services must carry out a ‘parent carer needs assessment’ if:

  • They think a parent carer may have support needs
  • Or a parent carer requests an assessment
  • And the disabled child’s family are people for whom they can provide section 17 support or services (see section 17ZD(4)).

The things that a parent carer assessment must consider and do are all listed out in sections 17ZD (9), (10) and (12).

The assessment should consider:

  • The wellbeing of the parent carer
  • The need to safeguard and promote the welfare of the disabled child
  • The need to safeguard and promote the welfare of any other child the parent carer has parental responsibility for
  • Whether, having looked at their needs and wishes, it is appropriate for the parent carer to provide, or continue to provide, care.

The assessment should involve the parent carer, the child and anyone else the carer asks to be involved. And at the end, the parent carer must be given a written copy of the assessment.  Children’s services must also send a copy of the assessment with anyone the parent carer asks them to.

Parents and carers without parental responsibility

Adults who do not have parental responsibility, but who are caring for a disabled child, have a right to be assessed on:

  • Their ability to provide care for that disabled child
  • Or their ability to continue to provide care for that disabled child.

This right is set out in section 1 of the Carers (Recognition and Services) Act 1995.

The results of this kind of assessment should be looked at when children’s services decides whether to provide services to a disabled child. A parent and carer can contact their local council and ask for an assessment.

Whatever type of assessments take place it is important to remember that a child’s needs may change over time. Support put in place at one time, may not continue to be the right help for the child and family at a later point.  Parents and carers may therefore need to request reassessment if their child’s needs change.

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