Press Office

Vulnerable children at risk from 'damaging' social service plans

Time running out to take a stand against changes

Monday 27 August

- August 27 at 8:00 AM

Social care specialists at law firm Irwin Mitchell are calling on the public to make their voices heard and get behind a campaign against proposed changes to legal frameworks which could place society’s most vulnerable children at significant risk.
The experts have joined forces with charities and campaign groups including the Down's Syndrome Association, Mencap and the National Autistic Society to form Every Child in Need, which is campaigning against Department for Education proposals aimed at reducing ‘red tape’ related to the protection of youngsters.
Now, with just days remaining until a consultation into the plan is closed on September 4th 2012, the lawyers are calling for people to join the fight against the changes before it is too late.
Alex Rook, a public law expert at Irwin Mitchell and one of the campaign co-ordinators of the Every Child in Need campaign, said: “The campaign’s supporters represent thousands of children in need, including disabled children, victims of trafficking and children suffering from domestic abuse.
“The Government has claimed that its proposals are based around cutting levels of bureaucracy to allow local authorities more freedom to ensure the needs of these children are met. However, we believe that the current framework in place provides an essential safety net which ensures that children receive the support and care they require, and these proposals will create another postcode lottery whereby the obligations on authorities to safeguard children in need will vary up and down the country.
“The minimum national standards in place are so important and their removal could have grave consequences, so we are calling on the public to get behind us and help us stop these changes – whether it is by signing our e-petition, writing to an MP or responding to the consultation before the deadline.”
As part of the Every Child in Need campaign, Irwin Mitchell’s Public Law team have four key concerns regarding the consultation:
1.    The proposed new guidance is heavily focussed on children at risk, meaning children who need social care input but are not presently at risk of harm could be ignored by local authorities. This undermines the purpose of section 17 of the Children Act 1989, which states councils should provide support to children and families at the earliest possible stage.
2.    Plans to abolish the maximum timescale for completing core assessments – which currently stands at 35 days – would mean that the length of time needed to examine a child’s needs will vary depending on where they live, creating another postcode lottery.
3.    Proposals to remove the distinction between an initial and a core assessments may result in immediate needs, such as urgent support or accommodation, being overlooked whilst the assessment process is undertaken
4.    A requirement for a ‘realistic plan of action’ to be put in place by the end of an assessment is being removed. The team is concerned that such a move may mean that robust plans on how to help vulnerable children may not be put in place, leading to assessments without any concrete actions being agreed once they are completed.
Alex added: “Support from organisations and individuals is absolutely vital to ensure that the assessment process of children in need, including disabled children, is not made worse at a time when authorities are being forced to make cuts to frontline services.  
“It really will make a huge difference to the lives of disabled children if these proposed changes are made and I would invite everyone to get involved in the campaign.  In addition, if anyone has any other ideas about how they can help the campaign, I would be delighted to hear from them.”
Every Child in Need is made up of charities, campaigners and lawyers.  Supporters include the Down's Syndrome Association, Just for Kids Law, Mencap, National Autistic Society, National Deaf Children's Society (NDCS) and Scope among others.
An e-petition on the issue can be found at, while all of the documents related to the consultation can be found on the Department for Education website.
Finally, any organisations interested in joining the campaign can email for more information.