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Postcode Lottery for Children in Need

Andrew Perrigo Partner Morecrofts Solicitors

An insight on the Children on Child in Need report from Partner, Andrew Perrigo.

A report from the Children’s Commissioner delivered this month (Children on child in need plans March 2024) points to a regional approach to the services being offered to the most vulnerable children in the county.

The Children Act 1898 imposes a duty on every local authority to safeguard and promote the welfare of children within their area who are in need and to promote the upbringing of those children by providing a range and level of services appropriate to those children’s needs

What the Children’s Commissioner discovered is that there are regional variances in how those services are provided.

The report references a variation in the proportion of referrals that resulted in no further action by a local authority, following a request for help (63% in one local authority to 1.6% in another). The reason for such a wide divergence in approach could be that different areas have very different thresholds for taking action, or have very different early help offers available. Whatever the explanation, the Children’s Commissioner found it surprising that the chances of a referral resulting in any action were so different around the country.

Again, the Commissioner found regional variation for those children who required a Child In Need plan. In one authority 70% of the children involved with children’s social care were on child in need plans, while in another it was as low as 3.6%. Given each authority are applying the same rules and regulations it is hard to explain such significant differences simply dependent on where you live.

The Commissioner also found differences between affluent and deprived areas that she concludes needs further consideration. In affluent areas there were 3.6 times as many children on child in need plans as there were on the more interventionist Child Protection Plans. In more deprived areas, this ratio dropped by almost a half.

The report observes: “It is impossible to fully explain without information on how much children’s underlying needs vary between areas. But it could suggest that thresholds differ between richer and poorer areas, with richer areas supporting a broader group of children with (relatively) lower needs.”

Hopefully it should not be controversial to say that a child in need should be able to access the support they need no matter where they live.

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