The guidance provides (at Page 14 Paragraph 18) that local authorities should produce Threshold Documents which cover the the process for early help assessments and the criteria, including the level of need when a case should be referred to the local authority for assessment and statutory services under the the Children Act 1989.
Any member of the public can make a referral to social services. Contact details for who to make a referral to should be signposted (page 14 paragraph 19). Feedback should be given to the persons making the referral on the decisions taken. Where appropriate this feedback should include the reasons why a case may not meet the statutory threshold to be considered the the council for assessment (page 14 paragraph 21)
The guidance sets out a summary of what constitutes “in need” in this context at page 17. In the context of homelessness it is reasonable to treat the threat of street homelessness as being such as to mean that the child is unlikely to achieve a satisfactory level of health and well being.
References is also made at page 17 to accommodating children under Section 20 of the Act. This is referred to as being appropriate where there is no one who has parental responsibility for them or because they are alone or abandoned. No reference is made to accommodating a child on their own under Section 20 where there is no accommodation available for the family. This should be referred to when social workers advise families that there is nothing that they can for for them other than that to take their children into care or otherwise house them on their own without their parents or family.
Reference is also made to Section 47 of the Act which places a duty on councils to make enquiries if they have reasonable cause to suspect that a child is suffering or is likely to suffer, significant. This section is more applicable to situations where a child is being mistreated. As such is it unlikely to arise in cases which only concern the need for housing and financial support.
The purpose of the assessment is summarised at page 18 as being:-
· to gather important information about a child and family
· to analyse their needs and/or the nature and level of any risk and harm being suffered by the child
· to decided whether the child is a child in need (section 17 and/or is suffering or likely to suffer significant harm (section 47); and
· to provide support and address those needs to improve the child’s outcomes to make them safe
The guidance sets out (at paragraph 32 on page 19) what are considered to be the parameters of a good assessment. These are only set out in vague terms and will often be observed in the breach. The items relevant to housing situations include the assertions that high quality assessments :-
· are focused on action and outcomes for children.
· are holistic in approach, addressing the child’s needs within their family…
· lead to action, including the provision and review of services
· are open open to challenge.
The framework diagram included at page 20 of includes housing and income as part of the Family and Environmental Factors to be considered. This can be referred to when social workers suggest that children act assessments or Children’s Services Departments are only concerned with parenting skills and do not cover housing or finances.
At paragraph 38 on page 21 it is stated that social workers should wherever possible meet with the child. Strictly speaking this is not really necessary where we are only asking for housing or financial support. However, the guidance and ethos behind it does place emphasis on assessments being “child centred” so that meeting with the child is important. Failure to meet with the child can be used as an additional ground for complaint or challenge where council’s refuse assistance summarily or without a proper assessment.
At page 23 it is stated (at para 55) that there should be a decision about the type of response within one working day and acknowledge receipt of the referral to the referrer. It is also stated here (at para 57) that the maximum timeframe for the assessment to conclude is 45 working days. If this is exceeded the social worker should record the reasons for this. At para 58 it is stated that where needs are identified during the assessment social workers should not wait for the conclusion of the assessment before providing services for the child and their family
At page Page 24 the guidance confirms that the old Initial and Core assessments are no longer needed
At para 61 on Page 24 the guidance states that authorities should determine their local assessment process through a protocol. Paragraph 62 states that these should be published. Solicitor and adviser helping homeless families and young persons should try and get copies of these.
Details of how to respond to a referral are set out at page 26. It is confirmed here that a decision as to how to respond to the referral should be made within one day. Interestingly it is also stated here that this should include determining whether the child is in need and should be assessed under Section 17 of the Act. This seems to be the wrong way round in that it is this assessment which determines whether the child is in need rather than being carried out once a finding has been made. Perhaps this should be treated as referring to the social worker deciding that they have reason to believe that the child is in need and that an assessment should be carried out. It is also stated her that the child and family must be informed of decision which is to be made within one working day. This does give us a lot of leverage to be making complaints very early on where there is no movement.
Reference is made at page 29 to requests being made for need for assistance from other parts of the local authority such as housing. It is hard to think what other assistance housing can provide other than accommodation. It might therefore be useful for us to be asking the Children’s Services Department to ask the housing department for accommodation from their stocks used for homeless families.
At page 30 it is stated that assessments should be carried out in a timely manner. This means that the 45 working day time limit should not be treated as the absolute maximum time for completing the report rather than as the target date.
At page 30 it is stated the assessment should determine whether the child is in need and that if services as to be provided then a child in need plan should be developed setting out measurable outcomes. This provision might be of use in challenging assessments where the service are only referred to in vague terms.
At page 47 the Guidance states that Section 11 of the Children Act 2004 places a duty on councils when discharging housing duties to do so with regard to the need to safeguard and promote the welfare of children. This is probably vague enough for housing departments to get away with doing nothing other than assuring anyone who asks that children’s welfare is always considered by the Housing Department.
An interesting requirement is that set out at Page 47 that all council departments should have a clear line of accountability for providing services for safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children. Solicitors and advisers should be asking housing departments what their line of authority and arrangements for protecting the welfare of children are and asking them to explain decisions against this.
At page 53 there is a reference to housing and homelessness services being subject to Section 11 duties and becoming aware of conditions that could have an adverse impact on children. Interestingly it does not refer to them creating such conditions themselves such as by terminating the provision of accommodation
At page 102 the Guidance deals with Section 213A of the Housing Act 1996. It states children of families who are not being housed under Part 7 of the Act may be in need if no further assistance is given under that Act. It goes on to say that where the children are in need social services may ask the housing authority for reasonable advice and assistance for helping the family to obtain accommodation and the housing authority must give reasonable advice and assistance. We can therefore be asking Children’s Services Departments to consider such requests to housing as part of the assessment process following a referral under S213A.