with Liz Walker, Care Services Emergency Care Co-ordinator and Safeguarding Lead for Newlife the Charity for Disabled Children
Social care can conjure lots of different images in parents' minds. Often we relate it to "social services" and the fear that someone will swoop in and take our child away- and for parents unjustly accused of Fabricated or Induced Illness (FII), the fear has good cause. However, if your child is disabled, they may qualify for services from the local authority's children's social care department that would benefit the whole family.
When you're at breaking point because of the stress and exhaustion that comes with fighting for services to help care for a disabled child, being able to access respite, or short break services, or get help from a paid carer, can literally be a lifeline. If your child is going through an Education, Health and Care process, your child is entitled to an assessment for social care services, though many parents find their child is refused (unlawfully), with a curt "not known to social services" note.
The disabled children's charity, Newlife has recently produced a helpful booklet about social care. Today on SNJ, Liz Walker, Care Services Emergency Care Co-ordinator and Safeguarding Lead for Newlife the Charity for Disabled Children provides an insight to help you understand your rights, what services and support you’re entitled to and how to access them.
Your child's social care rights, by Liz Walker of Newlife
Having worked in Children’s Services for over 15 years I have seen first-hand how changes to social care have impacted on disabled children and their families. Reducing budgets and increasing demand for services, together with rising eligibility criteria, have resulted in families having to take the lead in sourcing services that may have previously been offered as standard for their child.
This can often mean that those families most in need of services don’t have the support they need until they’re at crisis point. Through our helpline we regularly provide support to families pushed to the brink due to sleep deprivation as a result of their child’s additional needs throughout the night. Families often approach organisations like Newlife as a last resort because they simply don’t know where else to turn, or because they were directed to our services by their frontline professional who is limited by the restraints of their role.
One way a disabled child and their family can receive essential care services is through an assessment of needs by social workers, but this route is often overlooked or discounted due to the stigma attached to child protection which leads to families missing out on support.
Newlife the Charity for Disabled Children often speaks with families who don’t know what social care services are available or what they are entitled to. They are also unaware of how social workers can support their family’s health and wellbeing.
We have seen how assessments can work to the benefit of a family and the positive changes they can experience such as referrals for respite, adaptations to the family home or support for siblings in caring roles. The local authority have 45 days to complete your assessment but if the needs are urgent support can be implemented with immediate effect.
Newlife can support a family requesting a social care assessment
Newlife will direct families to their local authority, where appropriate, and supports them in making a request for an assessment. This is often the first step in gaining access to long term support but it can be a lengthy process that requires significant input, both physically and mentally, from parents already at breaking point. As a charity we can meet the immediate need through the provision of specialist equipment giving families the breathing space they sometimes need in order to pursue the long term solution.
It is not uncommon for us to hear from families who have been declined a social care assessment because their child is not ‘disabled enough,’ or who have been told that beds for behaviour needs are not provided through statutory services. In many cases we are able to successfully support families to challenge these statements and ensure they gain the services they are entitled to; services the local authority have a legal duty to provide in response to an assessed and identified need.
First steps to help under Section 17
Don’t be afraid of talking to Social Services. In terms of safeguarding, the role of a social worker is much broader than focusing on protecting children from maltreatment and suspected abuse. It also includes ensuring the full needs of a disabled child and family is met and can be a vital member of the team around the child.
Asking social workers for a Section 17 assessment (under the Children’s Act 1989) can be the first step to accessing a wide range of help, such as practical assistance in the home, help with travel or access to leisure opportunities, which can improve life for your child and the entire family.
Social workers can also support applications to charities, like Newlife, in order to help you receive essential disability equipment to keep your child safe, be more comfortable or help them fulfil their true potential. However, while local authorities have a legal responsibility to help families of disabled children with health and social care needs, knowing your rights, what to expect and any potential pitfalls from the start can be hugely beneficial.
What to remember when applying for a Section 17 assessment:
- You can ask the duty social worker on your local authority’s Disabled Children’s Team for an assessment.
- The local authority should get back to you in one working day.
- If your child is disabled, they are legally entitled to a Section 17 assessment and there is no minimum age requirement.
- You don’t need to provide a formal diagnosis and this can’t be used as a reason for refusing to carry out an assessment.
- Blanket bans on any statutory provided service are unlawful
- Criteria allowing you access to services varies from one local authority to another.
- If you aren’t happy with the outcome of the assessment, you can appeal if you feel they have made a mistake.
Once an assessment has been carried out there are several outcomes to consider. It may be decided there is no need for services and your case may be closed. If it’s decided there is a need and services to meet this should be provided, then a care plan should be agreed between social services and you and your family to meet those needs.
Eligibility and complaints
However, it may be that although a need is identified, you don’t fit the local eligibility criteria. In this case, the local authority has no actual obligation to provide or arrange the service – but they should still try their best to meet the need, for example by contacting a local charity or voluntary agency for help.
You should be given clear reasons for their decision which can help if you want to challenge their decision using the local authority’s complaints procedure.
If your complaint isn’t resolved at the first stage, you can request an investigation be carried out. The next step after this is to request that a panel consider your complaint, but if you are not happy with the outcome you can request a review panel to consider the complaint and make recommendations.
If you are unhappy with the outcome you can then contact the Local Government Ombudsman at www.lgo.org.uk / 0300 061 0614. They will look to see if the local authority is at 'fault' and has done something wrong such as ‘maladministration’, which can be seen as causing injustice. A few examples of what this could include are delays, failure to provide information, inadequate consultation, misleading or inaccurate statements.
If you have exhausted the complaints procedure you can pursue a judicial review – but this will require legal assistance. For information about legal aid visit www.gov.uk/legal-aid Other avenues which may be able to offer support include your local MP or Healthwatch England, the consumer body for users of health and social care services. Visit www.healthwatch.co.uk/complaint for more information.
Newlife have produced Social Care Revealed, a guide to requesting a section 17 assessment, which can be downloaded at www.newlifecharity.co.uk/uploads/SocialCare_FINAL.pdf
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She is also an experienced broadcast and print journalist & author. Tania also runs a PR, web & social media consultancy, SocialOro Media. She is a Rare Disease & chronic pain patient advocate with Ehlers Danlos syndrome.
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