Section 17 Children Act 1989 states:
It shall be the general duty of every local authority to
(a) to safeguard and promote the welfare of children within their area who are in need; and
(b) so far as is consistent with that duty, to promote the upbringing of such children by their families, by providing a range and level of services appropriate to those children’s needs …
(6) The services provided by a local authority in the exercise of functions conferred on them by this section may include [providing accommodation and] giving assistance in kind or … in cash.
Under Section 17 Children’s Services have a duty to provide services to children in need in their area. S17 explains the definition of a Child in Need (CIN), the assessment process and CIN plans and the types of services available.
A child is considered “in need” if they need local authority services to “achieve or maintain a reasonable standard of health or development, or to prevent significant or further harm to health or development”. Children with a disability, including mental ill-health, long-term illness or injuries, young carers, children who have committed a crime or whose parent/s is in prison, asylum seeking children and those who have been in hospital or a residential care home for longer than 3 months are automatically classed as a Child in Need (CIN).
You can ask for your child/ren to be assessed under S17, or if Children’s Services are already involved you can insist that they carry out a S17 “needs” assessment which should be based on the child’s immediate circumstances; they should also consider if there are likely to be any imminent changes in those circumstances. The assessment must be done within 45 days of the initial referral and must take account of all aspects of the child’s life and needs, including accommodation and support needs. You can take legal action if the local authority refuses to carry out the assessment or if you think that the assessment was not done properly or thoroughly.
Before meeting the threshold for a CIN, Children’s Services might use another process of Early Help service which does ultimately form part of the CIN assessment. This is called Team Around the Family (TAF).
Team around the Family
If your child has a social worker or family support worker they should produce a ‘Common Assessment Framework’, (CAF, or it might also be called an EHA – Early Help Assessment). This is a document which is completed by a social worker/family support worker assigned to work with a family to support a child with additional needs including physical, emotional, or learning needs. They may also be completed if a child is living with any family member who has a disability, long term illness, serious addiction, or mental health issue. The social worker will meet with you to discuss all areas of your child’s development and they should decide with you on the support your child or your family may benefit from. This will be completed into a document.
Once the document is completed, regular meetings will be organised – every 6 to 8 weeks. These are called Team Around the Family (TAF) meetings and professionals who are supporting your family, or who may be able to offer some extra support, meet together with you to discuss how things are going and what they can do next to help. You are in control of who attends, and who has access to the Common Assessment Framework (CAF) document.
You can insist on having a copy of the CAF and have had chance to read and understand what is being suggested before you agree to a date for a meeting. Don’t be pressured into a meeting that you have not prepared for. If there is anything in the CAF that you don’t agree with, put this in writing to the social worker and ask for it to be addressed before the meeting takes place. The meetings can only go ahead with the full agreement and permission of the parent. If English is not your first language, you are entitled to ask for an interpreter. You can take a friend/advocate with you and record these meetings.
Keep in mind that like these meetings can be used as a stepping stone to collect evidence against families to push them into Child Protection. So, if during your meeting “Safeguarding” is mentioned, it means they are trying to use this meeting to move to child protection. They can do this if safeguarding concerns have been mentioned in the Common Assessment Framework. However, if they have not mentioned it in their assessment, they may not suddenly bring it into the meeting. Immediately ask them where in the CAF they have brought this subject up? They do not have the right to introduce additional things after the assessment has been completed other than a professional suddenly raising serious safeguarding issues. You can politely ask them to refrain from using extreme, inflammatory or misleading language and ask for your request to be minuted and say you will accept an apology. Remind the social worker that this is about working together to support the child and that this is not the correct type of meeting to be making allegations.
During the meeting, an “Action Plan” will be agreed between everyone which should include what support is needed.
If the local authority decide in the course of their CAF or if you insist that your child meets the Child In Need (CIN) criteria then the same assessments already described as part of TAF will take place.
A CIN is supposed to mean that Children’s Services will help your family with services but they may instead use this process to gather evidence against families when they do not have enough information to move to Child Protection.
The local authority can provide a range of services for CIN, including: daycare facilities for children under school age; after-school and holiday care or activities for school age children; advice, guidance and counselling; occupational, social, cultural or recreational activities; home helps and laundry facilities; assistance for the child and family to have a holiday; respite care. Financial assistance can be in the form of a loan, a cash payment or payment in kind, for example, vouchers for a particular shop for food, clothing or furniture. If you want to apply for financial assistance, this is called Direct Payments  and you can fill in the form online.
When your child is designated as a CIN, there should be a Care Plan prepared by the social worker which outlines what help and support you and your child need and which agencies should be providing that help. You will then be invited to a meeting to discuss the situation and everyone involved with your family is supposed to get together to agree a plan to agree what help is needed. Usually that is: parent(s), child/ren, social worker, social work team manager (or senior social worker), health professional (midwife/health visitor/school nurse), education (nursery key worker/school teacher/learning mentor), anyone else who is involved with your family or may be able to offer support.
Before the meeting, the social worker must visit you and your child/ren to seek your views and help you to understand the conduct of the meeting. A social worker does not have the legal right to see a child alone no matter what they might say. We suggest that someone you trust should be with your child at all times. Social workers are not trained in disabled children’s conditions such as autism and might misinterpret your child’s reaction or answers to questions.
You should receive written reports from the social worker and education and health. These reports will be broken down into sections and should give a full view of the plan for your child/ren. If you are not sure about what they are proposing at this stage, it is very important to speak to the social worker and we suggest that this is followed up by an email so that you always have written evidence. Don’t leave it until the morning of the meeting, act as soon as you receive the report/s. If you don’t receive a report until the start of the meeting, you are entitledt to ask for the meeting to be delayed while you read the report/s and are in a position to reflect and respond. Don’t feel as though you’re holding anyone up; it is good practice to ensure you have the report/s beforehand.
You are also entitled to take an advocate to these meetings for support and to take minutes for your records. You must inform the social worker ahead of the meeting with the name and contact details of the person attending and who they are. They might be a trained advocate from a charity or support group but they can also be a family member or a friend. It is important that you discuss with the family member or friend in advance how you are approaching the meeting so that they back you up and don’t speak about things that you have not agreed to that might be personal to you.
Think about what you want to get out of the meeting. For example, you might feel that your child needs extra support in school, or you might be concerned about aspects of your child’s health, or you might need a bit of practical support within the home. Make a list of your child’s needs and why they are important for her/his welfare and raise them in the meeting. Ask for a copy of what they call “local offers” which will give you an idea of the services that can be provided in the area to CIN.
Children over 10 are entitled to attend the CIN meeting, preferably with an advocate to help them with the process. Remember that this meeting is supposed to be about working together, the social workers are not in charge. You should not feel ordered to do things or made to feel that you are not doing a good enough job as a mother. You or your child has the right to chair the meeting.
Children might be on a CIN Plan for 6 months or longer, and even if you are not getting any practical help during this time, you are still being monitored and you may be expected to allow the social worker to make unannounced visits to your home to check on how things are going, or to make appointments to see you regularly. There should also be regular review meetings, the first one at 3 months and after that every 6 months, with the social worker and other relevant professionals (eg a health visitor if the child is young) which you should attend. If you have tried to get help but none is being offered, either complain about it (see the relevant Children’s Services complaints procedure) or be very positive about how well your children are doing with a view to ending social work involvement with you and your children (unless they have a disability).