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Child abuse - children who need local authority support

This advice applies to England

If there are concerns about child abuse, the local authority must investigate. They may decide that a child isn’t at risk of significant harm but instead is a child in need, that is, the family needs support to protect the well-being of the child. This page tells you more about children in need in child abuse cases.

A child in need

If the local authority gets a report that there are  concerns about a child, they will immediately assess the situation.  The social workers could decide that there is a risk of serious harm to the child and then investigate according to child protection procedures. Or they could decide to assess the child to see if the child needs local authority support (is a child in need). A child in need is someone who needs local authority services to:

  • achieve or maintain a reasonable standard of health or development, or
  • prevent significant or further harm to their health or development.

This assessment is called a section 17 assessment. This assessment should be carried out without delay. The assessment procedure may vary from area to area but all they all have to follow broad principles like:

  • the assessment of need should be carried out in an open way
  • it should involve the child's carers, the child and other important people in the child's life
  • the local authority should take into account the racial origin and cultural and language background of the child.

There’s another way that the local authority can decide that a child is a child in need. If they investigate concerns about child abuse, they could call a child protection conference. The decision of this conference could be that the child is not at risk of significant harm, but that the child is a child in need.

What must the local authority do for a child in need?

If the child is found to be a child in need, it means that the local authority must provide the support needed to protect and promote the welfare of the child. For example, if it’s found that the child is living in a family where domestic violence is involved, the family could be rehoused away from the abuser.

The local authority will draw up a multi-agency child in need plan. This sets out which agencies will provide which services to the child and family. The plan should set clear outcomes for the child and expectations for the parents. It should reflect the positive aspects of the family situation as well as the weaknesses.

Complaints about local authority services for children in need

Each local authority has a procedure that you can use to make a complaint about services for children in need. For example, you could complain about the way the local authority handled a case or if they refuse to provide a necessary service.

Next steps

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