The government will “strongly encourage” councils to appoint social work leads for special educational needs and disability (SEND) provision, it said today.
It confirmed its support for authorities appointing designated social care officers (DSCOs), in its improvement plan for SEND and alternative education provision (AP).
As set out in last year’s consultative green paper on SEND and AP, it said it would do this by proposing an amendment to the SEND code of practice, the statutory guidance for working with children with special educational needs aged up to 25.
In the improvement plan, the government said the role would “provide the capacity and expertise” to improve social care input into SEND provision. This would include both strategic planning, such as the commissioning of short breaks for disabled children, and operational input, such as overseeing social care contributions to education, health and care (EHC) assessments, plans and reviews for children with SEND.
Lead roles in post or being recruited to in 40 councils
The development of the role will be based on pilots run by charity the Council for Disabled Children (CDC). Its assistant director, Caroline Coady, said it welcomed “the continued focus on strengthening the role”.
“DSCO’s can improve outcomes by ensuring that systems of social care and SEND support are better aligned with other services in education and health, so that children, young people and families have their needs identified earlier and they get help in a joined-up and streamlined manner,” she added.
“With over 40 local authorities either having a DSCO in post or actively recruiting, it is vital we better understand how to structure their work through a formal evaluation of the impact of the role on outcomes for children, young people and families.”
Review of social care law for disabled children
As set out in its recently published draft children’s social care strategy, the SEND improvement plan confirmed that the government would ask the Law Commission to review social care legislation relating to disabled children.
This is in response to a recommendation from last year’s final report of the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care.
The care review said the existing legal framework “[made] it hard for families and professionals to understand what support they should receive”
This was because it involved “a patchwork of duties” spread across the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970, which requires councils to provide support for disabled children where this is assessed as necessary; the Children Act 1989, which provides for support for children in need, including disabled children; and the Children and Families Act 2014, which governs SEND.
The review said some legislation included “outdated definitions”, while there was also “poor alignment” with the Care Act 2014, which deals with the assessment of young people before they turn 18 in preparation for receiving adults’ services.
In the SEND and AP improvement plan, the government said it intended the Law Commission review to “improve clarity for families about the support they are legally entitled to, ensuring that families know how to access support and local authorities know what they are expected to provide”.
Aligning social care and SEND reforms
The government said there would be close alignment between its SEND and children’s social care reforms, with both emphasising the importance of early support and intervention to prevent children and families’ needs from escalating.
The children’s social care strategy includes plans to test the development of multidisciplinary family help services – incorporating current targeted family help and children in need provision – in 12 pathfinder areas. This would enable practitioners other than social workers to hold children in need cases, including for disabled children.
In the SEND and AP improvement plan, the government said one objective of this would be to test how family help services could “[reduce] handovers that are unhelpful for families and [avoid] the stigma which some families with a child with SEND currently experience”.
In response to the plan, CDC director Christine Lenehan said: “CDC welcome the focus on early intervention and providing families support at the earliest opportunity which is key to ensuring needs are met effectively. It will be vital to provide strengthened accountability routes and to continue to focus on the improved experiences of children and families to ensure outcomes are met.
“We look forward to continuing to engage children, young people and their families as well as practitioners across the SEND sector in ongoing opportunities to input into the plans moving forwards.”