social care assessments

Caring for a child with a disability or special educational need can make daily life harder. If you are regularly struggling to cope, you should ask for help. This may mean you need to ask for a social care assessment.

Every local authority provides or funds services that can help make your life easier. Perhaps you need a holiday club that can cope with your child’s additional needs or overnight respite care to give you a break from caring for a child with more severe disabilities. Perhaps you need to adapt your home to cater for your child’s disability or you just want to find someone to take your son or daughter out every now and again so they can make friends and you can get stuff done. For more information about the kinds of help available for families of children with SEND in your area, visit:

Brighton & Hove’s Local Offer  – social care for children and young people with SEND

East Sussex Local Offer – Advice and family support

In many instances, the kinds of support you can get will be available to all families, possibly for a fee. If you need more targeted, specialist support such as respite you will need to have a social care assessment of need.

Asking for help from social services


By law, social workers have to put at the top of their list families where children are ‘in need’ (this includes eligible disabled children), ‘at risk’ or need protection. So, in order to get help you will have to make it clear just how difficult things are, or you may find your request for help falling to the bottom of the pile with a long wait ahead of you. If you need help now, say so, or try to ask for help before you reach crisis point.

If your child has an Education, Health and Care Plan, their social care needs will be considered as part of the assessment process but usually only if the child has had some input from social care before. You should discuss any social care concerns at your annual review but this is not a social care assessment – you will have to ask for this separately or get the professional involved in your EHCP to ask for you. Read more about EHCPs.


There are single points of referral for all social care services in both Brighton and Hove and East Sussex, In Brighton and Hove, this is called Front Door for Families. In East Sussex, it is called Single Point of Advice (SPoA).

You can ask any professional who already works with you and your child – a health visitor, teacher, SENCO, GP – to contact the referral point with concerns about your son or daughter’s safety or wellbeing, or they may recommend doing so. You can also contact them directly yourself.

Following this initial referral, you (and the professionals that work with you) may be contacted in order to gather further information. Then, depending on your situation and your local authority’s criteria for giving help, you may be then referred for a more detailed assessment of your child and your family’s needs via social workers from disabled children’s services.

Social care assessments of need
For more targeted types of support such as overnight respite care, you will need to get an assessment from social workers who are part of your local disabled children’s services. These social workers may use the same assessment tool as other social care teams in your local authority (e.g. strengthening families in Brighton and Hove or family assessment in East Sussex), but they will be looking in more detail at how your child’s disability affects them and the family as a whole.

The local authority has a duty to assess your child if they may be ‘in need’ and being disabled is one of the defined reasons that a child can be ‘in need’. Even if your child’s additional needs do not mean they are seen as disabled, they may still be entitled to an assessment if their health or development will be impaired without extra services.

Once a referral has been accepted, the social care team must decide on the type of response required within one working day. If it is agreed that there should be an assessment, this must be completed within 45 working days from the original referral. If you already have an assessment from any other service, they’ll use this as their starting point.

Read more about social workers for disabled children in Brighton and Hove

Read more about social workers for disabled children in East Sussex

What happens in a social care assessment?

A social worker (or social work resource officer) will visit you at home and carry out an assessment of your child’s and your family’s needs.  This needs assessment is taken to the duty and assessment panel and all assessed requests for social care support for disabled children are considered, but this does not mean you will necessarily end up getting actual services from social care.

The assessment can find that your family has a number of needs but not identify all (or indeed any) of them as being needs it is necessary for them to meet by providing or funding a service. They can suggest other sources of support for your family or community resources you could use. Ultimately they will be considering whether your child is at risk of “significant harm” without getting some provision.  If they do decide an intervention is required your needs assessment will be input into a Resource Allocation System that suggests an approximate amount of money estimated to meet your particular needs and outcomes. They must set this out in a care plan which should be a realistic plan of action.

From here, the planned support can be arranged in a number of ways. Read more about this in Paying for social care below.

Carer’s Needs Assessments

As a parent carer of a disabled child, you are also entitled to a ‘carer’s needs assessment’ if you request one.  The assessment is intended as a combined assessment of your child’s needs and yours as a carer, but you may want to mention your right to a separate parent carer’s assessment to remind them to focus on this too – as parents tell us that their needs are not always being taken into account, or not recorded properly.

OT assessments

If your child needs equipment or adaptations to the home, an occupational therapist will carry out their own specialist assessment. Read more about home adaptations

Who can get support from social care?
Every local authority has their own criteria of need for allocating social care support such as respite or befriending.

In Brighton & Hove, children and young people under 18 are eligible for specialist support like short breaks if they have a severe learning and/or physical disability; or have moderate learning difficulties, where it is assessed that their needs in terms of challenging behaviour/mental health issues can be met only through the input of specialist services. At 18, some young people will move on to adult services if appropriate, via the council’s Transitions team. This happens when they have an ongoing need and meet the criteria for help from adult services.

The East Sussex Disabled Children’s Service provides social care support to severely disabled children with complex health needs up to 16 years old, and their families. Their social workers will do a family assessment if a child has a severe physical or learning disability; and they are on level 4 of the Continuum of Need, and other services are not appropriate or have not been effective. The East Sussex Transitions team supports the needs young people and their families from 16 to 25, helping them to move from children’s to adult’s services such as social care.

Tips for working with social workers
What I realised after I’d asked for help was that my entire life had been out of control for ages. I thought I was coping – I thought I was keeping the lid on the pan.

Many of us have had lots of contact with social workers over a number of years and we suggest you have a look at our factsheet about managing meetings and paperwork to help you handle appointments with professionals.

Managing meetings and paperwork [pdf 750kb]

Here are a few extra hints which some of us have found useful:

  • Before you meet the social worker, try to think about how your life has changed and become more difficult as a result of caring for your child, and what kind of help you think you all need, now and in the future. Social workers have a legal responsibility to consider your needs as a carer of a disabled child.
  • If you get a ‘no’ to your request for help you are fully entitled to make a complaint or representation to a manager. Don’t be afraid to ask again as your needs and your child’s needs change.
  • Find out what services other parents have got, and how they managed it. Inside knowledge can be very useful but bear in mind that each support package is tailored to a family’s support needs so families will receive different amounts of support. This can be true even if their child’s needs appear to be similar.
  • Get other people on your side. Your GP, consultant or health visitor can write letters for you, explaining what you need and how much you need it.
  • It’s important to build up a good relationship with your GP and social worker as you go along, so that when you are desperate they already know who you are and what you and your child’s problems are.

However, if you’re not happy about the way things are going visit our page on Social care complaints. Challenging decisions or making complaints can be stressful, but unfortunately it is sometimes necessary. Amaze and other organisations may be able to help.

Paying for social care support
Most kinds of help available for families with a disabled child are free. Parents can’t be charged if they are on Income Support, or receiving working tax credit or child tax credit (above the family element). Budgets are almost always very stretched. Many parents are happy with the way their needs have been assessed, but then find there’s a waiting list for all those things their assessment says they need, like outreach and short breaks. Direct Payments are an alternative way of providing short breaks and other types of support for disabled children and their families, by passing funds over to families to arrange things themselves.

If your child’s disability involves ongoing medical treatment and they are assessed as having significant health needs, then there is a health funding panel which decides whether continuing healthcare funding will be provided to meet your child’s needs. All requests for this funding have to come with a health assessment. In practice your child’s needs have to be significant to be eligible for this funding.

Over recent years, there has been a move in adult social care towards individual or personal budgets with the aim of allowing people more control over their care and support. The idea is to work out the total amount that might be spent on an individual’s care (often using something called a Resource Allocation Scheme or RAS) and then allow them to decide how to use that money to suit their needs. Some of the personal budget might become a Direct Payment that you use to purchase services directly, or you can empower the local authority to do this for you. Personal budgets have spread to children’s services, firstly in social care and now education and to some extent health, through Education, Health and Care Plans. Many local authorities are still trying to work out how to get individual budgets working well, but Direct Payments are already widely used for social care support.

Read more about paying for care in Brighton and Hove

Read more about paying for care in East Sussex

Using Direct Payments

Direct Payments are a way of giving more choice and control to disabled children and their families about the services they use. Parents can be given money to pay for and arrange services for their child, as an alternative to those their local authority offers. You can use Direct Payments to employ someone to care for your child (usually called a PA or personal assistant), or to buy into a local service like a day nursery, an after school club, holiday play scheme or even a residential short break unit.

If your child is assessed as needing a service, you cannot be refused Direct Payments if this is your choice. Local authorities have a duty to offer Direct Payments: the law says they must tell you about Direct Payments and support you if you wish to take these up.

Read more about Direct Payments in Brighton and Hove

Read more about Direct Payments in East Sussex


I think you cope, you don’t really ask for help when you’re feeling articulate. You usually end up waiting until you’re not articulate and everything’s gone to pot, and that’s when you need these people.
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