Part of the social worker’s responsibility during the assessment is to decide, with the help of others, whether or not the child is a ‘child in need’ under the definition contained in Section 17 of the Children Act 1989.
The definition is very broad and is based upon whether
- the child is unlikely to achieve or maintain a reasonable standard of health or development without the provision of services by a local authority; or
- their health or development is likely to be significantly impaired, or further impaired, without the provision of such services; or
- they are disabled.
This definition would seem to cover many children, but Government statistics suggest that only approximately 3 per cent of all children are ‘in need’. This is because a child is here defined as ‘disabled’ only if their disability is permanent and substantial.
How to do it
The social worker’s decision will be based on talking to others (particularly the family and the child and other people who know them) as well as their own observations and judgements. It can be helpful to think of the parent as ‘expert’ about their own circumstances. There may also be written or recorded information that is available from previous assessments or service involvement.
Lessons from research
Mothers often feel ambivalent towards the social worker because of their focus on the child’s needs. This can lead to them feeling isolated or feeling that their requests for help are being ignored. Fathers (or father figures) are often left out of information-gathering or parenting assessments. There are often difficulties with interviewing men and workers may be reluctant to deal with them, especially if there are concerns about violence or aggression.
There are about 17,000 families in the UK with more than one disabled child and they may face many disadvantages. They may for example be single parents, in unsuitable rented accommodation, reliant on benefits or low paid, semi-skilled jobs, or with limited social support networks.