Councils should be “strongly encouraged” to appoint senior social work leads with responsibility for special educational needs and disability, the government’s SEND green paper has proposed.
It proposed amending the SEND code of practice to urge councils to appoint designated social care officers (DCSOs), who would be responsible for engagement between children’s social care and special educational needs teams.
The role would be equivalent to the designated medical officer (DMO), which NHS clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) are required to appoint to under the code. DMOs’ roles include providing health advice regarding children and young people with SEND to councils or education providers, and helping CCGs meet their statutory duties for the group.
Charity the Council for Disabled Children (CDC) has been piloting the DCSO role in 30 local authorities, said the green paper, which was published yesterday for consultation.
It said the role had the potential to improve joint working between social care and virtual school heads – who are responsible for the education of looked-after children in local authority areas – as well as support for families of children with SEND.
“We therefore propose to revise the code of practice to strongly encourage the adoption of DSCOs and use findings from the CDC work to establish what a high-quality standardised DSCO role would look like,” it added.
The CDC said that its pilots had shown “a range of emerging evidence on the potential positive impact” of the role.
Caroline Coady, its assistant director for social care, said this included:
- better alignment of the SEND and social care systems, providing a more joined-up experience for families;
- social care provision helping children and young people meet identified outcomes and aspirations;
- needs being met earlier, preventing avoidable crises;
- more proportionate and tailored assessments and decision making.
She added that the charity welcomed the opportunity “to explore these approaches in more depth with parents, young people and partners” during the consultation on the green paper, which closes on 1 July.
‘Poor outcomes’ in ‘financially unsustainable’ system
The green paper was based on a review of the SEND system commissioned in 2019. It found too many children and young people experienced poor outcomes, parents faced difficulties and delays in accessing support and the system was “financially unsustainable”.
To address this, the government proposed legislating to establish national SEND standards. These would set expectations on identifying and assessing need, where needs should ordinarily be met in mainstream education and where a special school would be appropriate, co-production with children, young people, parents and carers and transitions to adulthood.
It said the application of the standards to children’s social care would be informed by the government’s response to the forthcoming children’s social care review. But the green paper also said that the standards would “more clearly define the statutory requirement for social care input” into education health and care (EHC) assessments, which determine whether children and young people receive an EHC plan (EHCP), setting out how their needs must be met.
Currently, councils – in their SEND role – must seek social care advice and information on the child and young person when carrying out an EHC assessment, to help determine whether any social care provision should be included in their plan.
The green paper said its intended change would ensure that “at a minimum children and young people with SEND are signposted to appropriate advice and guidance when more formal social care support may not be necessary”.
The government also said it would “explore opportunities for streamlining EHC and social care assessments” following the care review’s publication.
In addition, it plans to review the necessity of the distinction in EHCPs between social care provision which must be provided for children under section 2 of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970 – such as assistance at home, adaptations, transport and non-residential short breaks – and “any other social care provision reasonably required” because of the child or young person’s needs. The latter includes, for those under 18, provision identified through early help, child in need or child protection assessments, or residential short breaks, and, for those over 18, adult social care provision.
On adult social care, the green paper pledged to improve transitions to adulthood for young people with SEND who need care services on turning 18.
“Where adult social care support is required, this should happen in good time so that young people are not left without support,” it said. “This can cause anxiety for the young person and their family and can also result in EHCPs being retained beyond the point at which a young person can achieve more within an education setting.”
Alongside the national standards, statutory local SEND partnerships, convened by councils, would be set up to assess population need, plan provision and co-ordinate its delivery, the green paper said.