A new report published today (21st July) has found that most English Children’s Services Authorities operate a ‘one size fits all’ approach to disabled children and their families, creating a culture of ‘parent-carer blame’.

The report analysed findings from a survey of 92 English parent-carer-led support organisations and the assessment protocols of 143 English children’s services authorities.

The research underpinning the report considers – from a legal perspective – the experiences of disabled children and their families of the process by which their needs for care and support are assessed by children’s services authorities in England.

Social care policies in England create a default position that assumes parental failings

The findings show the ‘one size fits all’ approach was applied to families regardless of whether it is a parent-carer seeking support for a disabled child or a family where the evidence suggests there to be neglect or abuse.

The vast majority (86%) of the parent carer-led support groups who responded to the research survey considered the assessment process to be extremely unsatisfactory and intrusive.

Many highlighted the invasive nature of the process, with families reporting that assessment visits could take place with little (or no) notice and that they were often placed in impossible positions. For example, some felt they had no real choice about whether the assessor inspected their child’s bedroom and interviewed their children in their absence.

Others said the assessment process was intimidating and focused on parental ‘fitness’ rather than addressing the additional support needs that resulted from their child’s disability.

The research cites many comments made by parent carers, including those who felt the process to be ‘humiliating’; ‘bullying and ‘devastating’. One parent carer likened it to ‘the police turning up at your door and [saying] we’ve got a warrant to search your house’.

The report concludes that the effect of this approach is to create an institutional culture of ‘parent blame’, stating that both national and local social care policies in England create a default position that assumes parental failings.

The report found that the national guidance that directs the process by which disabled children are assessed by English children’s services departments (‘Working Together 2018’) is not fit for purpose and is arguably unlawful. This is due to its focus on safeguarding children from parental neglect and abuse, failing to address the distinct assessment and support needs of disabled children for whom there is no evidence of neglect or abuse.

Furthermore, according to the guidance laid out in ‘Working Together 2018’, there is no requirement that those assessing the needs of disabled children have any disability related expertise, skills or experience.

Policies of this nature interfere with the fundamental rights of families

The report’s analysis of the 143 local authority assessment protocols painted a similar picture of parent-carer blame. Of the identified protocols:

  • None contained a clear explanation that a different approach should be taken concerning the assessment of the needs of disabled children where the referral was not accompanied by evidence of neglect or abuse.
  • 80% required the assessor to confirm if the ‘child’s bedroom has been seen’ regardless of whether there was any evidence to suspect that the child was being neglected or abused.
  • 87% referred to the need of seeing (or communicating with) the children alone regardless of whether there was any evidence to suspect that the child was being neglected or abused.
  • None gave guidance to assessors concerning the need for cogent grounds to exist before seeking to see a child’s bedroom or seeking to interview a child in the absence of their parent.

The report states that policies of this nature interfere with the fundamental rights of families to respect for their private and family lives, and their home – and are discriminatory in that they treat disabled people and their families in the same way as people whose circumstances are materially different.

The researchers are now calling on the Education Secretary to address this issue

As a result of these findings, the researchers are now calling on the Department for Education to publish – as a matter of urgency – separate statutory guidance to address the specific needs of disabled children and their families.

In relation to these findings, the Rt. Hon. Sir Edward Davey MP Patron of the Disability Law Service said: “I am very concerned to hear of the continued problems with the way many Children’s Services Departments in England are treating parents caring for disabled children: a problem that was highlighted in a Disability Law Service report last year.

“The current report points to defective Department for Education guidance as a root cause of this problem, which is leading to parents being blamed when they ask for care for their disabled children, instead of receiving the help and support they deserve. I call upon the Education Secretary to address this issue as a matter of urgency”.