‘It takes a village to raise a child’ is a common proverb which emphasises the importance the local community as a whole plays in the lives of children and giving them a safe environment to thrive in. A safe environment to thrive in is what most families want to provide for their children, but sadly, circumstances don’t always allow it. This is where the village – which is to say, the local authority – can step in with a child in need plan.
Being subject to a child in need plan is understandably concerning, with many parents worrying that it could lead to the removal of their child from the family home. While this may well happen as a last resort under a child protection plan, a child in need plan is not enacted when the child is believed to be at risk of harm. It is a less serious category of case and the plan offers, quite simply, an extra helping hand to ensure all the child’s needs are met. But what is, by law, a child in need?
What is the criteria for a child in need?
The Children Act 1989 defines a ‘child in need’ as a child who is disabled, or “unlikely to achieve or maintain, or have the opportunity of achieving or maintaining, a reasonable standard of health or development without the provision for him/her of services by a local authority”, or whose health or development “is likely to be significantly impaired, or further impaired, without the provision for him/her of such services”.
There are many reasons why a child can be classed as ‘in need’. Examples include children with behavioural and emotional difficulties, those with special education needs, and children or teenagers who found themselves in the position of becoming a young carer for a family member. Child in need status can also be attributed to unaccompanied child asylum seekers.
The local authorities can be alerted to a child in need in a number of ways. A parent, guardian or carer may share their concerns, as could a teacher, other professional or even the child themselves. If the child is found to be in need, the local authority has a duty to help under Section 17 of the Children Act 1989 in order to ensure the child’s welfare needs are met.
The section reads, “It shall be the general duty of every local authority (in addition to the other duties imposed on them by this Part) – (a)to safeguard and promote the welfare of children within their area who are in need; and (b) so far as is 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.”
How long does the child in need plan last?
As every child has different needs and challenges, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. After a child in need planning meeting including the child and family members, a personalised plan will be created. This is based on that child’s individual needs.
The plan may include counselling and guidance, financial assistance, help finding more suitable accommodation, access to day care facilities for young children, or access to family centres to provide support to the entire family.
The level of support will depend on the complexity of the child’s needs. The plan is reviewed at regular intervals to confirm it’s still meeting the child’s needs.
Most child in need plans will span a period of around12 months. It could be in place for a shorter period if a review finds that the child’s needs have been met and no ongoing support is required. Likewise, it may remain in place much longer, sometimes until the child turns 18, at which point the duty of care is passed on to adult social services.
While the local authority is obliged to offer help, there is no obligation for the family to accept the assistance offered. Families also can’t be compelled to adhere to a child in need plan or submit for an assessment in the first place.
It is, however, important to give the matter careful consideration before refusing. An offer of help is not an attack on the family’s ability to meet a child’s additional or complex needs, and there is no shame in accepting additional support. After all, it does take a village.
You can speak to a National Legal Service family solicitor if your family is subject to a child in need plan to discuss your options and next steps.