Opposition is beginning to surface to the Government’s draft Working Together regulations. The Every Child in Need Campaign says the proposals are “… wrong-headed, dangerous and will place the most vulnerable children at risk”.
The core of the campaign’s concern seems to be that the Government’s proposals remove national minimum standards for child-in-need assessments. The campaign’s website points out that while the Working Together proposals are focused on ‘children at risk,’ the changes will apply to all children in need. There is concern that removing the requirement that a child in need (for example a disabled child) must be assessed within 35 working days, will allow local authorities to get away with leaving such children “… to languish, without the assessments and services they desperately need – and are statutorily entitled to”.
It is very sad that we have to think about things in this way – that local authorities will only respond appropriately to need if they are required to do so through meeting a Government imposed deadline. But if this is the realpolitik of modern children’s services, then the campaigners’ points deserve to be taken seriously.
The problem with the imposed deadline in child protection work is that it ties the hands of social workers, possibly distracting them from work necessary to complete the Section 47 enquiry and from work necessary to take protective action. Rather than doing what is best for the child, the aim becomes one of completing the paperwork in time. So I am very much in favour of a more flexible approach where a child is at risk of significant harm.
On the other hand I can see the campaigners’ point, that families who ask for a child’s needs to be assessed do have a right to have an assessment in reasonable time.
My own view is that the rigid format of the Framework forthe Assessment of Children in Need is a significant part of the problem. Assessing the needs of a disabled child, for example, could be a much more focused (and briefer) activity, looking specifically at the impact of the disability on the child’s life-style and development and her/his entitlement to services. While ‘holistic’ assessment is high sounding, its downside is that disabled children and their families neither need nor welcome a wide-ranging enquiry into their circumstances and history. They do not want ‘assessment’; they want services and support.
So I would suggest that where families request an assessment under Section 17 of the Children Act 1989, that they should be entitled to a decision from the local authority about services and support within a fixed timescale. Whether that should be 35 working days is difficult to say. Personally I would prefer it to be less.