The independent review of children’s social care, which published its final finding this week, has been criticised for not including details on how disabled children and their families can access social care support.

It was hoped the review would make specific recommendations about disabled children especially as the recent Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) Green Paper said it would "explore opportunities for streamlining EHC and social care assessments" following its publication.

Under section 17 of the Children Act 1989, disabled children are automatically considered to be “children in need”. This means they are entitled to have their social care needs assessed, and to receive any support they are eligible for. 

Now campaigners say the ball is back "in the court of the Green Paper programme". 

According to IPSEA (Independent Provider of Special Education Advice) many disabled children depend on social care services to enable them to participate in their communities, live ‘normal’ lives and avoid social isolation. 

Before the publication of the report it said it was concerned that the independent review team, led by Josh MacAlister, was not looking closely enough at why there are so many obstacles to disabled children and young people and their families getting the social care support they need. 

Giving evidence on the SEND Review this week to the House of Commons Education Committee, chief executive Ali Fiddy added that the SEND Review and children’s social care review relied on the other to focus on social care support for disabled children – with neither doing it.

A reset of the social care system for children

The independent review of children’s social care was announced in January 2021 and began its work in March 2021. The review aimed to identify the challenges facing children’s social care in England. 

The 278-page final report includes a small section on children with SEND. It stated that throughout the review they heard consistently from families of disabled children about their struggle to access support and their frustration navigating services.

It made three recommendations in this section. That the Law Commission undertakes a review of children’s social care disability legislation to bring more coherence to the existing patchwork of legislation. 

That disabled children’s experiences of transitions into adult services were improved by supporting planning well in advance of transitions. Finally, that the strategic integration of children’s social care with the SEND system was improved.

The Disabled Children's Partnership said it was pleased that the complex and patchwork legal framework for services for disabled children was highlighted as was the needs of disabled children and their families differing from other children and families accessing social care.

Yet, it was disappointed the review did not make did not make more specific recommendations to ensure that families living with childhood disability can access the support they need from social care to be able to live a life which is as fulfilled as possible. 

It added: "This action is urgently needed – our research has revealed an annual funding gap of £573 million for disabled children’s social care, and 43% of families with disabled children have to wait over a year to get respite care."

Government response to the review

The government is now setting out initial new measures in response to recommendations with families most at risk being supported to stay safely together, with a focus on early help and preventing them from reaching crisis point.

Seven areas of England will receive funding to set up family hubs, which offer early help and intervention, in recognition of the importance of strong, joined up local services as a foundation for an improved social care system.

Local authorities will also receive funding for schemes that support vulnerable children to remain engaged in their education and strengthen links between social care and education.

Funding will also be provided to LAs for continued delivery of the social workers in schools and designated safeguarding lead supervision programmes.

Steve Crocker, President of Association of Directors of Children's Services (ADCS), said: “Whilst there is much to support, we do need further detail to fully understand how some of the reforms would work in practice, such as a national advocacy service for children in care and regional care cooperatives. Careful trialling and evaluation may be needed before wider implementation of some aspect of the recommendations to ensure children’s best interests are not lost despite best intentions.

“The report rightly notes that a number of other significant reform programmes are currently taking place in relation to schools, SEND, youth justice and the early years with only children’s mental health services not now having been reviewed – something that ADCS has called for as a matter of urgency. A clear vision for children and a plan for childhood to draw together these important pieces of work backed by cross government commitment and bold investment by the Treasury is needed so all children and young people can thrive.”