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The Social Services Disabled Children and
their Human Rights

Disabled Children the Social Services and Human Rights  
Some pages/links included on the Fassit UK site are in PDF format. Download the Free Acrobat Reader

Please also look to Children Act 2004 Chapter 31 Ref: Joseph Rowntree Foundation is one of the largest social policy research and development charities in the UK, spending about £7 million a year on a research and development programme.

Social Services - March 1998 - Ref 378

Disabled children and human rights full PDF Doc Download

Disabled children and the Children Act

The Children Act 1989 lays down certain regulations to safeguard all children undergoing periods of care ('accommodated' or 'looked after' children). Research into how social services departments are fulfilling their duties under the Children Act to disabled children found that:

There was some misunderstanding and confusion about how the Children Act regulations on care plans and reviews apply to children placed in respite care services.

Some disabled children were spending time away from home in short-term placements without any knowledge or involvement of the social services authority.

Some disabled children on long-term placements were not being accorded the protection of the Children Act.

There was little evidence of disabled children's "wishes and feelings" about their placements being "ascertained" (as stipulated by the Act).

There was evidence of reviews of placements being overdue in a significant number of cases.

There was a lack of information about how many disabled children are spending time away from home in order to give their parents a break, and in what kind of service provision.

There was often very little social work input with children whose parents use respite care services

The majority of the children whose parents approached the social services departments requesting support were below the age of 10, had learning difficulties and/or 'challenging behaviour', and were boys.

The Social Services Disabled Children and their Human Rights

1.Introduction
2.Interpretation of the Children Act
3.Unsupervised placements Short-term
4.Long-term
5.Getting the child's view
6.Reviewing placements
7.Keeping records
8.Contact with social workers
9.The age of children
10.Conclusion


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1. Introduction

This study examined the way that three social services departments (a London Borough, City Council and County Council) were implementing the Children Act as it applies to disabled children. The most common reason that parents of disabled children approached social services departments was to request a break from caring for their disabled child. The relationship between social services departments and disabled children was dominated by the provision of 'respite care' services. Sections 20 and 22 of the Children Act require that children be consulted about their needs and services to be provided. If they are placed in 'respite care' settings, the social services has a duty to draw up a care plan for the child and to review placements at regular intervals.

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2.Interpretation of the Children Act

Confusion about how the Children Act regulations on care plans and reviews applied to children placed in respite care services was evident at both senior management level and amongst social workers. Firstly, there was a 'mindset' within the social services departments which treated disabled children and looked-after children as if these were two mutually exclusive categories. The structure of the department (i.e. whether there were specialist Children with Disabilities Teams, whether generic child care teams dealt with disabled children, or whether Disability Teams dealt with children as well as adults) seemed to make no difference.

Secondly, there was evident misunderstanding about how the regulations on short-term placements apply to disabled children. Many disabled children whose parents receive respite care were not recognised as 'accommodated' and 'looked after' under the terms of the Act. This meant that care plans and reviews were not carried out as legislation requires.

The manager of a residential unit run by a voluntary organisation reported that none of the users of her service received statutory reviews from the social services department (although social services were involved in funding all the placements). She said: "Social services say they are not accommodated and therefore don't come under review regulations."

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3. Unsupervised placements Short-term

Across the case study areas, there was evidence of children spending time in hospices and other health-based facilities without any input from social services in the general planning of their care. The health trust facilities in City and County reported that few of the children who used their services had allocated social workers. One consequence was that there was little planning or co-ordination of the various forms of care which a child might be receiving.

The manager of the hospice used by parents of disabled children in City highlighted this issue: "We do worry about some of the children we provide respite for. We're quite worried that we're part of a much wider network of respite and the question is raised for us about how much time do these children actually spend at home? We seem to be alongside other units offering respite to some children. We have conversations sometimes with other units about, 'if you can offer this weekend then we'll offer the next'. If children are at school all day and then getting respite every other weekend or every weekend, they are spending little time at home."

Even when social services departments are not funding short-term placements, there is still a requirement (under Section 62 of the Children Act) for social services to visit such children 'from time to time, in the interests of their welfare'. There was little evidence in any of the three case study areas of this duty being carried out. It also proved very difficult to track down who received notifications, required under Sections 86 and 87 of the Act, of children accommodated in residential or nursing homes, or in educational establishments for a period of more than three months. None of the case study areas was able to provide details of how many notifications had been made or of what happened as a result of any notifications.

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4. Long-term

Disabled children on long-term placements also have an entitlement to care plans and regular reviews of their placements. However, the research found:

There was a lack of information about disabled children accommodated on a long-term basis.

Sometimes there was a failure to recognise disabled children placed in long-term foster care or residential care as 'accommodated' and 'looked after'.

Disabled children on long-term placements were more likely to be in residential placements than in foster placements, and less likely to be the subject of care orders, than non-disabled children.

Some disabled children were accommodated on a long-term basis in education and health care settings but there was a lack of information about how many and their circumstances.

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5. Getting the child's view

The decision-making process of City's Resources Panel was analysed over a six-month period. In only 12 out of a total of 66 cases presented to the Panel had the social worker attempted to find out the child's views. In at least 5 cases, the social worker had not even seen the child. Typically, the section of the form headed 'Child's view' was left blank or the social worker made comments such as, "She is unable to verbally communicate and therefore her view is not available"; "It is not possible to know what his views are owing to his level of disability". There were a number of occasions when the child was already spending some time in a residential unit but in only one instance did the social worker observe him there in order to find out whether he was happy.

Sometimes social workers recorded that the child was too young to state a view. However, parents were also relied on to represent the views of older children when the social worker felt that the level of impairment prohibited communication between themselves and the child: "She is unable to express her viewpoint. Her mother says she can tell she enjoys going to [residential respite unit] from her body movements."

Papers presented to a Resource Panel in County were also analysed. Of 24 cases submitted, in 11 instances the social worker wrote "Not applicable" in the section headed 'Child's perception of need' and in another 9 cases the section was left blank. In one case, the social worker had written "No communication but appears to dislike change", while in another she had written "Although T is very verbal he doesn't perceive himself to be any different from his brother. I observed this when I spent time both at home and in T's class." In the remaining 2 cases no assessment form was presented.

The majority of disabled children in contact with social services have communication impairments, yet social workers rarely have specialist training to help them. Only 27 per cent of the caseload of City Council's Children with Disabilities Team used speech to communicate while another 25 per cent used limited speech. Amongst a sample of London Borough's specialist team's caseload the percentage with speech was even lower (7 per cent), while 14 per cent had limited speech. In about 3 out of 10 cases allocated to each Team, social workers were of the opinion that the child's communication and/or cognitive impairment prohibited any communication.

Social workers themselves identified that they needed training and support if they were to involve children fully in assessments and decisions.

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6. Reviewing placements

There was evidence of reviews of placements being overdue in a significant number of cases. Only one of the case study areas, City Council, had even a partial database which would make monitoring of reviews possible. Here a Review Clerk to the Children with Disabilities Team compiled a database of children accommodated on long- and short-term placements (but not including those placed with Link carers). Before she started there was no monitoring system for reviews of short-term placements and she had to construct a database by going through over 800 files. She was hampered by the fact that the form used by City to record when a period of care begins was often not completed. A number of workers in this authority (and in the other two authorities) were of the opinion that "care episodes for disabled children are not taken seriously".

In September 1996, out of a total of 159 children from City who experienced short-term residential placements, reviews were overdue for 141 children. Only thirty-three of these children had an allocated social worker. Of the 18 children whose reviews were not overdue, 16 had an allocated social worker.

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7. Keeping records

None of the case study areas had easily accessible comprehensive information on disabled children who were accommodated on a short-term basis. City Council was the only case study area to keep a register but this only covered placements in residential units and did not include those with Link carers (i.e. short-term family placements).

In County and London Borough, there were a number of possible sources of information but no Divisional or Departmental collation of statistics on looked-after children accommodated on short-term placements, either with Link carers or in residential settings. A senior manager in London Borough said, "At the moment there are several sources of information, some more accurate than others".

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8. Contact with social workers

Generally the picture across the case study areas was one of very little continuing contact between social workers and disabled children using respite care services. Many parents accessing respite care services do so on a 'direct access' basis or through a duty social worker and they or their child do not have an allocated social worker.

An inter-agency (health and social services) panel in London Borough provided a source of funding for out of borough residential respite care for children with complex needs yet few of these children had an allocated social worker. The Chair of the Inter-Agency Panel stated: "with the way things currently work, there is no social work being done with the family or child".

A residential service (run by a health trust) within County, which provides both long-term placements and short breaks, reported that only one of the 31 users has a social worker. The manager commented: "We're told this is because they're in NHS accommodation. We have difficulty getting community care assessments for them when they grow older and need other services."

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9. The age of children

The majority of the children whose parents approached social services departments requesting support were below the age of 10, had learning difficulties and/or 'challenging behaviour', and were boys.

To focus on just one of these findings, in City three out of every four parents who wanted respite and whose cases were presented to a Resources Panel had disabled children under the age of 10. In County, it was 58 per cent of parents. There were not equivalent statistics available for London Borough but 50 per cent of disabled children currently in contact with the social services department were under the age of 10.

Both City and County Council had policies that children under the age of 10 should not be placed in residential respite units but were often not able to keep to this policy. In City 58 per cent of children staying at the residential respite facility run by a voluntary organisation were aged 10 or under (20 per cent were aged between 3 and 6). Thirty-eight per cent of children who stay in City's own residential respite units were aged 10 or under. Almost one in four of current users of the main residential unit used by County were aged 10 or under.

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10. Conclusion

The project had a Reference Group of disabled young people who had spent most of their childhood away from their families. This group identified that disabled children and young people need:

An independent advocate who finds out what the disabled child needs. They should be separate from the system.

Someone whose only desire is to support the child. They need training and listening skills and they should gain satisfaction from supporting the child.

Someone who treats the child as an equal but who has the power to sort out problems.

About the study

The research was commissioned by the Who Cares? Trust and carried out by Jenny Morris, an independent researcher. It had two parts: an exploration of the experiences of 30 young disabled people who spent most of their childhood away from home; and an examination of how three social services departments were implementing the Children Act as it applies to disabled children.

How to get further information

Two reports are published by The Who Cares? Trust, Still Missing? Volume 1: The experiences of disabled children and young people living away from their families and Still Missing? Volume 2: Disabled children and the Children Act. Both are available from The Who Cares? Trust, Kemp House, 152-160 City Road, London EC1V 2NP (Tel. 0171 251 3117), priced £7.50 each or £12 for the two volumes ordered together (inclusive of p&p).

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Disabled children, the Children Act and Human Rights

Disabled children, like all children, have important rights under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. These rights can be summarised as follows:

Disabled children have the human right to be included in their local community and to do the kinds of things that non-disabled children do. They have the right to support to help them do this.

Disabled children have the human right to take part in play and leisure activities and to freely express themselves in cultural and artistic ways. They have the right to equal access to cultural, artistic, recreational and leisure activities.

Disabled children have the human right to live with their parents unless this is not in their best interests. They have the right to services to make it possible for their families to look after them.

Disabled children have the human right to express their views and for these to be taken into account. They also have the right to freedom of expression.

Disabled children who spend time away from home because they need care or treatment have the human right to a review of the placement at regular intervals

Disabled children who do not live with their families, temporarily or permanently, have the human right to special protection and assistance

Disabled children and human rights full PDF Doc Download

Ref: Joseph Rowntree Foundation is one of the largest social policy research and development charities in the UK, spending about £7 million a year on a research and development programme.

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