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Child in need

This page explains the duty of Children’s Services under section 17 Children Act 1989 to provide services to children in need in their area. It explains the definition of a child in need, the assessment process and child in need plans and the types of services available.

All children and young people are unique and have differing needs. Similarly, parents also differ in their capability to respond to and meet their child’s needs.

Children’s Services (the body responsible for carrying out child protective services in your local authority) are expected to provide help and support to children in their area as part of a continuum:

  • Early Help services
  • Section 17 Children Act 1989 support for more complex needs
  • Action under section 47 if there is reasonable cause to suspect that a child is suffering or likely to suffer significant harm. 

A 'child in need’ assessment under section 17 will identify the needs of the child and ensure that the family are given the appropriate support in enabling them to safeguard and promote the child’s welfare.

What is the legal definition of a child in need?

Under Section 17 Children Act 1989, a child will be considered in need if:

  • they are unlikely to achieve or maintain or to have the opportunity to achieve or maintain a reasonable standard of health or development without provision of services from the Local Authority
  • their health or development is likely to be significantly impaired, or further impaired, without the provision of services from the Local Authority;
  • they have a disability.

Disability includes blindness, deafness or dumbness, mental disorders and permanent illnesses, injuries or congenital deformities.

Children in need may be:

  • children with SEND;
  • young carers (see our page on Young Carers);
  • children who have committed a crime;
  • children whose parents are in prison; or
  • asylum seeking children.

What is the duty of Children’s Services under section 17 to a child in need?

It shall be the general duty of every Local Authority:

  • to safeguard and promote the welfare of children within their area who are in need; and
  • so far as is reasonably consistent with that duty, to promote the upbringing of such children by their families, by providing a range and level of services appropriate to those children’s needs.

Local authorities are only under a duty in relation to a child within their area. However, ‘within their area’ simply means that a child has to be physically present in the geographical area of the Local Authority to trigger the section 17 duty.

Any service provided by a Local Authority may be provided for the family of a particular child in need or for any family member, if it is provided with a view to safeguarding or promoting the child’s welfare (section 17 (3)).

How can a request be made for a child in need assessment?

We advise that a request for a section 17 assessment be made in writing and that the correspondence make particular reference to the child’s needs and the type of support which is required.

Each Local Safeguarding Children Board must produce a threshold document which sets out the criteria and level of need for when a case should be referred to social care for an assessment.

A parent or child can also ask a doctor, GP, health visitor to contact Children’s Services on their behalf.

What will be considered as part of a child in need assessment?

 The assessment will address the following questions:

  • What are the developmental needs of the child?
  • Are the parents able to respond appropriately to the child’s identified needs?
  • Do the parents have the capacity to respond to the child’s needs?
  • Are the parents able to promote the child’s health and development?
  • What impact are the family functioning and history, the wider family and environmental factors having on the parents’ capacity to respond to their child’s needs and the child’s developmental progress?
  • Is there any evidence of domestic violence?
  • Are there any other children in the household or elsewhere who should be included in the assessment?

What is a child in need plan?

A child in need plan will contain the support which is being provided to a child and/or family by Children’s Services.

The plan should set out:

  • what is working well within the family;
  • what support is required and why;
  • which agencies will provide the required services;
  • what the child and/or family agree to do;
  • what the expected outcomes are;
  • what the timeframe of the plan is and when it will be reviewed. The first review should be held within 3 months of the start of the child in need plan and further reviews should take place at least every 6 months thereafter.

Which type of support can be provided to a child in need?

The Local Authority can provide a range of services for a child in need. These can include:

  • day care facilities for children under 5;
  • advice, guidance and counselling;
  • occupational, social, cultural and recreational activities;
  • assistance for the child and family to have a holiday;
  • family centres, where parents can receive family support and practical parenting advice, while children have a safe space to play;
  • financial assistance, which may be in the form of a loan, a cash payment, or payment in kind, for example, vouchers for a particular shop, or an item of food, clothing or furniture;
  • respite care (temporary relief care for the family, where the children are placed with a carer on a regular or one-off basis); and
  • accommodation.
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