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Children who need local authority services

This advice applies to Scotland

This information applies to Scotland

Duties of the local authority

Every local authority must protect and promote the welfare of children in need in its area. To do this it must work with children and their parents to provide support services that will enable children to be brought up within their own families, as far as this is possible.

It should also work with other groups and services in the community, such as health and education, to check that childrens' needs and development are being safeguarded to ensure their wellbeing.

Assessment of wellbeing

The Scottish Government has identified 8 indicators of wellbeing. When assessing a child's progress these indicators should be looked at involving any other agencies, the child and parents or other full time carers. The indicators of wellbeing relate to whether the child is Safe, Healthy, Achieving, Nurtured, Active, Respected, Responsible and Included.

A wellbeing assessment may be undertaken at any time when there are concerns for a child or young person under 18. The overall intention is that by identifying problems a child is having, and finding solutions, that may involve a number of agencies, the child or young persons's development can progress without risk of harm. The outcome of an assessment of wellbeing should allow a child and parents or other carers to request the assistance that is needed. Using this process would certainly identify any 'children in need'.

The Scottish Government has produced a number of leaflets that explain the process that is recommended and the thinking behind it by the Getting It Right For Every Child initiative. The Scottish Government has produced a number of leaflets that explain the process that is recommended and the thinking behind it by the Getting It Right For Every Child initiative. For the leaflet on 'Getting it right for every child' see  and for the 'Understanding wellbeing' leaflet see .

Who are 'children in need'

Children in need are defined in law as children who are aged under 18 and:-

  • need local authority services to achieve or maintain a reasonable standard of health or development, or
  • need local authority services to prevent harm to their health or development, or
  • are disabled, or
  • are affected by the disability of another family member.
  • are 'at risk' of becoming a 'looked after' child either for the first time or perhaps a second or third time and so on because they are not in a settled situation

Children with disabilities or affected by disability

A child is considered to have a disability if s/he has a mental or physical disability or a chronic health problem.

A child may be affected by the disability of another family member if one of her/his parents has a disability or a brother or sister has a disability.

If a child has a disability, or is affected by the disability of another family member, the local authority must provide an assessment of the child, if the parents ask for one. The local authority must also provide an assessment of the child’s carer and her/his ability to provide care for the child.

When a local authority provides services to a child with a disability or to a child who is affected by the disability of another family member, it should aim to help the child to live as normal a life as possible.

Special rules for providing services for children at risk

The local authority has to make arrangements to provide services or arrange services for children whom it believes to be at risk and in danger of needing compulsory measures of care or supervision (this means they are a 'looked after' child). The services it provides have to be relevant and should mean that the child stops being at risk. Help can be given at the same time to carers of the child.

More about children who are looked after by the local authority

The law that introduced this special rule also states that relevant services should be provided for any pregnant women at risk and anyone who is closely involved in her life including someone who may become more involved in her life when the child is born.

If you need more help to understand what support you might be eligible for, if you, or a child or pregnant woman you care for, are at risk, go to your local CAB and also your local authority.

How to apply for support from the local authority

Local authorities must provide information for parents and children about the services that they provide. A child or a parent should contact the local authority social work department or the department which deals with social work services .

The local authority should discuss with the family what the family’s needs are. The local authority and the family should plan together how to resolve the problem and agree on what support is required. The child’s views are important and the local authority must take account of the child’s views.

Once a child has been assessed the local authority should make a plan giving details of:

  • what services will be provided
  • for how long they may be required
  • what they plan to achieve by providing services
  • what each person is expected to do.

The plan should give details of any areas of disagreement between the family and the local authority and details of arrangements for dealing with problems. The local authority must offer a child and their family options for deciding how the support will be arranged. This is called self-directed support.

What support can be arranged

Support for children in need may be provided directly by the local authority or may be provided by a voluntary or commercial organisation, funded by the local authority. The range of services can include:-

Advice, information and support

Advice, information or support to children in need and their families may be available. This may be simple advice about a particular problem over the phone, or more regular guidance and counselling.

Help at home

Help in the home may be available, through regular visits by a social worker or befriender.

A home help may be required to help with household tasks which will enable the parent to spend more time with their children.

If the child has a disability the local authority may provide help in the way of adaptations or equipment, or help with finding more suitable housing.

Day care

A local authority must provide day care for children in need who are under five and must provide after school and holiday care for children in need who are of school age.

Day care can be provided by the local authority directly or by voluntary or independent agencies registered with the local authority. Care could be provided in a centre or by providing a child minder in the child’s home or at the child minder’s home.

Family centres

Family centres provide a range of services for children and their families. They may provide opportunities for families to meet with other families and take part in recreational activities. They may offer such facilities as parent and toddler groups, toy libraries or adult education classes.

Respite services

Respite services may be offered to families where a child has a disability or behavioural problems. Respite services offer a break for carers and an opportunity for the child to develop independence and receive support and social experiences.

Respite services can be provided in a number of ways, for example:

  • in the family home
  • day trips away from home
  • occasional overnight stays away from home
  • longer periods away from home with a foster carer or in a residential home
  • breaks for the family away from home.

Community services

The local authority can meet its obligation to provide services to children in need in a wide variety of ways, including funding voluntary or private organisations, or through other statutory services such as libraries, health centres, or youth groups.

Financial help

The local authority can help children in need or at risk by providing cash help. The help may be in the form of a loan, a cash payment or a payment in kind, for example vouchers for a shop. The local authority can only make cash payments in exceptional circumstances and if you want to apply for a cash payment you will have to convince the local authority that your case is exceptional. The authority will want to consider whether the help can be provided in a different way or if there are other sources of financial help which might be available.

If family problems mean that a relative is caring for children while their own parents are unable to care for them, the local authority might be able to help. You should get some advice about your situation as you might be a kinship carer.

More information about kinship care.

If you want to apply to the local authority for financial assistance you should consult an experienced adviser for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau - where to get advice.

Self-directed support

If, following an assessment, a local authority decides that a child and their family need support services, it must offer them a variety of options for deciding what support services they would like and how they should be organised. This is called self-directed support.

The options are:

  • to receive a direct payment from the local authority, so that the child or their family can arrange and manage the support themselves
  • to choose the type of support required but the local authority will make the arrangements and manage the budget
  • to ask the local authority to make the decisions about the type of support required, make the arrangements and manage the budget
  • a mix of the three options.

More information and advice about self-directed support is available from the Self-Directed Support Scotland website at

Provision of accommodation

A local authority can provide help to a child in need or her/his family by providing accommodation.

The local authority must provide accommodation to a child if the child is under 18 and

  • there is no one who has parental responsibility for her/him, or
  • the child is lost or abandoned, or
  • the person with parental responsibility cannot provide suitable accommodation or care for the child.

Anyone who is caring for a child can ask the local authority to provide the child with accommodation for a period when s/he is unable to do so, for example because s/he is ill or is finding it difficult to manage for other reasons. The child only needs to be accommodated until the carer decides s/he is able to resume her/his day-to-day responsibilities for the child.

If a parent approaches the local authority for help, a social worker will discuss the problem with the parent, and the child. The social worker should also discuss whether other options are available which would enable the child to stay at home rather than moving into local authority accommodation.

What type of accommodation might the local authority provide

The type of accommodation provided by the local authority will depend on the needs of the child and the services available in the area. It could include:-

  • placing the child with a relative
  • placing the child with another family (foster carers)
  • placing the child in a residential children’s home
  • providing any other arrangement which would meet the child’s needs.

If a child has been provided with accommodation by the local authority, s/he is considered to be ‘looked after’ by the local authority. The parents retain full parental responsibilities and rights towards the child. However, the local authority also has specific responsibilities towards the child.

More information about the rights of a child who is looked after by the local authority.

Complaints about services for children in need

The local authority complaints procedure and the Care Inspectorate

A child or a parent may wish to complain about:-

  • the local authority refusing to provide a service; or
  • the way that a decision was made about providing a service; or
  • problems which arise once a service has been provided; or
  • the standard of care provided, including a complaint about a particular member of staff.

It is also against the law for a local authority to discriminate against you because of your race, sex, sexual orientation or because you have a disability. If you feel you have been discriminated against you can make a complaint about this.

You have a choice about who to complain to about a social service provided by the local authority. You can either:-

  • use the local authority complaints procedure. It has a duty to ensure that a child and her/his family know about the procedure and how to use it; or
  • make a complaint to the Care Inspectorate which is the body responsible for the regulation of care services and is independent of the local authority. Sometimes the Care Inspectorate may want you to use the local authority complaints procedure first, but you do not have to.

The Care Inspectorate

Compass House
11 Riverside Drive

Tel: 0345 600 9527

If you have a complaint about a particular member of staff you could complain first to the person’s line manager or, if the member of staff is registered with the Scottish Social Services Council, directly to the Council.

Scottish Social Services Council

Compass House
11 Riverside Drive

Tel: 01382 207101
Lo-call: 0845 60 30 891

Further action

Within the local authority complaints procedure

If you are unhappy with the response from the local authority you can ask for a review of its decision. If you are still unhappy after the review you can take the complaint further in a number of ways outlined below.

The Care Inspectorate

If you did not complain to the Care Inspectorate in the first instance you can make the complaint to it after using the local authority complaints procedure. If you are unhappy with the Care Inspectorate's decision you can complain to the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman.

The Scottish Public Services Ombudsman

You can complain to the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman after the complaint has been through the normal complaint process.

You must put your complaint in writing to the Ombudsman and you should include any letters to and from the organisation you are complaining about. Send your letter to:-

The Scottish Public Services Ombudsman
4 Melville Street

Tel: 0800 377 7330
Textphone: 0790 049 4372
Fax: 0800 377 7331

Complain to the Scottish Minister

You may want to complain to the relevant Scottish Minister about what you think is a failure of the local authority to comply with one of its legal duties, for example, under the Children (Scotland) Act 1995. You will need the help of an experienced adviser to do this. You should consult your local Citizens Advice Bureau.

Depending on the nature of the complaint you may be able to take legal action in one of the following ways:-

  • apply for judicial review
  • raise a court action because of discrimination on grounds of race, sex, sexual orientation, disability or religion
  • claim a breach of human rights.

You will need the help of a solicitor to take legal action and legal aid may be available to do this.

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