Key case in child care assessments examined

In the case of AB and SB v Nottingham Council judgement was
given by the high court. SB was a child (the initials of the
claimants are used to preserve their anonymity) in need with many
difficulties (including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder,
challenging behaviour and learning difficulties), and the council
was seeking an anti-social behaviour order against the family.

However, AB (SB’s mother) claimed that the council had itself
acted unlawfully by failing to follow Children Act guidance
(Framework for the Assessment of Children in Need and their
Families, issued in March 2000) in relation to the assessment of

In SB’s case there had been a series of child protection
meetings and reviews since December 1999. In January 2001 the
council produced an assessment purported to be based on the
framework document, which identified continuing support for the
family, including support in “accessing safe and appropriate

However, the court decided that the council had failed to follow
the three stage process of assessment, care planning and service
provision set out in the framework and in case-law. As the court
said: “There was no clear identification of needs, or what was to
be done about them, by whom and by when”. In particular, the
approach in relation to housing needs was criticised as not
assessing “whether there is a need to move and, if so, to where and
to what kind of accommodation”. The council was ordered to carry
out a care assessment that complied with the framework within 35

Comment: This case should be essential reading for all those
involved in the assessment of children in need. It sets out the
main requirements of government guidance and analyses what must be
done for an assessment under the framework guidance to be lawful.
It also underlines the importance that the courts will place on
government guidance (such as the framework) issued under section 7
of the Local Authority Social Services Act 1970 (which states that
social services authorities shall “act under” such guidance).

Stephen Cragg

Doughty Street Chambers

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