Judge urges national eligibility guidelines for children’s social care

A High Court judge has called for new national guidelines on eligibility criteria in children’s services after finding a council used criteria unlawfully to reduce the care offered to a disabled child.

Mrs Justice Black said determining access to services was a “very complex area” requiring compliance with a number of legal duties.

She said there was a “pressing need” for equivalent guidelines to those already available in adult social care – the Department of Health’s Fair Access to Care Services – published in 2003.

Islington Council’s actions “unlawful”

The judgement came in a judicial review against Islington Council’s eligibility criteria, brought by the family of a disabled child, whose care package was drastically cut.

The London borough’s application of a new set of criteria in 2007 was found to be unlawful after it resulted in the family’s home care and short breaks services being halved from 24 hours a week to 12.

Poor assessment

Mrs Justice Black ordered Islington Council to re-assess the 14-year-old’s needs and urged a review of the authority’s “fundamentally flawed” criteria. The judge concluded they were not compatible with either the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970 or the Disability Discrimination Act 1995.

She found that in the case of the child, known as JL, social workers failed to make a genuine assessment of his needs by sticking to the eligibility criteria so rigidly.

Mrs Justice Black added that national guidelines would ensure that the role of eligibility criteria in children’s social care was “better understood”.

Campaigner urges action

Christine Lenehan, director of the Council for Disabled Children, one of the interested parties in the case, endorsed the recommendation, and urged every local authority to re-consider their criteria in the light of the judgement.

She said: “In our experience, all local authorities use eligibility criteria to limit access to disabled children’s services. Yet I have never met a local authority officer who could tell me what the legal basis was for their criteria.”

DCSF to consider judgement

A spokesperson for the Department for Children, Schools and Families explained that there were already guidelines covering this area – The Framework for the Assessment of Children in Need and their Families, published in 2000. The spokesperson added that the DCSF would consider whether any further action was necessary in the light of Mrs Justice Black’s judgement and Lord Laming’s progress report on child protection in England, published last week.

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Commission for Social Care Inspection wants eligibility criteria to be replaced

External information

Council for Disabled Children

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