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2.2.8 Section 17 Payments

Contents

  1. Children in Need - the Legal Framework
  2. Family Support Services - the Legal Framework
  3. Parental Responsibility and the Concept of Partnership
  4. Family Support Policy
  5. Section 17 Payments
  6. Accommodation Provided Under Section 17 Children Act 1989


1. Children in Need - the Legal Framework

Section 17(1) of the Children Act 1989 defines what is meant by children in need.

A child is defined as being in need if:

  • S/he is unlikely to achieve or maintain, or to have the opportunity of achieving or maintaining, a reasonable standard of health or development without the provision for her/him of services by a local authority (under this part of the Act); or
  • Her/his health or development is likely to be significantly impaired or further impaired, without the provision of such services; or
  • S/he is disabled.

The "family" in relation to such a child includes any person who has parental responsibility for the child and any other person with whom s/he has been living (s17 (10)).

For the purposes of this Part (of the Act) a child is disabled if s/he is blind, deaf or dumb or suffers from a mental disorder of any kind or is substantially or permanently handicapped by illness, injury or congenital deformity or other such disability as may be prescribed.

The Act also makes it clear that any service provided by an authority (under this section) may be provided for the family of a particular child in need or for any family member, if it is provided with a view to safeguarding or promoting the child's welfare (s17(3)).

Services may be given in kind or in exceptional circumstances, in cash (s17 (6)).

It is possible to attach conditions as to the repayment of the assistance or of its value (s17 (7)). However no person shall be liable to make any repayment of assistance or its value at any time when s/he is in receipt of Income Support or Family Credit under the Social Security Act 1986 (s17(9)).

Who is a Child in Need?

Children and families will be assessed under Section 17 of the Children Act 1989 after it has been determined that they cannot receive services to meet their needs by other agencies such as the Benefit Agency. Each referral will be assessed on the information presented and elicited at the point of referral to determine priority for assessment for services.

Assessment will identify the needs of the child and their family, the services required to meet those needs and a case plan, detailing which services should be provided by the local authority and which by other agencies.

Assessment will conclude whether the child's or family's needs fall within a 'high', 'medium' or 'lower' category.

Workers must bear in mind that children's needs change over time, that cultural differences should be acknowledged and that not only the needs of a child but also their right to be heard on matters of concern to them must be respected in making judgements about the help to offer.


2. Family Support Services - the Legal Framework

Section 17 of the Children Act 1989 states that it is the general duty of every local authority to safeguard and promote the welfare of children within their area who are in need; and so far as it is consistent with that duty, to promote the upbringing of such children by their families.

The local authority must do this by providing a range and level of services appropriate to those children's needs.

It is these services which broadly are termed Family Support Services.

Part 1 of Schedule 2 to the Act further details the steps that local authorities must take to help children in need to continue to live with their families and generally to prevent the breakdown of family relationships. Such arrangements should assist the parent and enhance, not undermine the parents' authority and control and should extend to work with families when a child is in care, provided it does not jeopardise their welfare.

These provisions can be summarised as:

  • Identification of children in need and provision of information;
  • Maintenance of a register of children with disabilities;
  • Assessment of children's needs;
  • Prevention of neglect and abuse;
  • Provision of accommodation in order to protect children;
  • Provision of services for children with a disability;
  • Provision to reduce the need for care proceedings etc;
  • Provision of services for children in need living with their families;
  • Provision of family centres;
  • Maintenance of child's links with family.


3. Parental Responsibility and the Concept of Partnership

The Children Act 1989 whilst not specifically using the word partnership, is clearly based on a notion that wherever possible the services provided to children and their families by the local authority should be offered in a spirit of partnership with the parents or carers as signalled by the clause in s17 which stresses that where consistent with safeguarding and promoting a child's welfare, children should be brought up by their families.

This cannot be achieved without a meaningful relationship with parents/carers.

The need to work in partnership with families is further signalled within the Children Act by the introduction of the concept of parental responsibility which is defined as:

"All the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which by law a parent of a child has a relation to the child and their property..." Section 3 (1)

Acquisition of Parental Responsibility

The Children Act makes it clear that parental responsibility not only remains with parents if they separate from one another but also should the child become the subject of a Care Order, parental responsibility is not lost by parents but shared with the local authority.

In such circumstances the need to effect the child's eventual return home is obvious and is clearly laid down in the various Guidance and Regulations.

The fact that one person acquires parental responsibility does not in itself remove another's parental responsibility. For instance after separation or divorce, both parents retain their parental responsibility.

They are not however, entitled to act incompatibly with a Court Order. Where more than one person has parental responsibility for a child at the same time, one may act independently of the other(s). There is no duty to consult the other/s or any right of veto on their actions.

The usual recourse where one parent is unhappy about the actions or proposed actions of another is to apply for a Section 8 Order.

Section 3(5) provides for situations where a person has care of a child but not parental responsibility e.g. unmarried father, foster carer, residential Social Worker or relative. They are empowered to do what is reasonable in all the circumstances to safeguard or promote the child's welfare.

This could mean consenting to emergency, although not elective medical treatment. It could also mean refusing to allow a seriously intoxicated or mentally ill parent to resume care of a child; but this should only be for as long as it takes for either the Police or Children's Social Care to intervene and if necessary obtain the appropriate Court Order.


4. Family Support Policy     

Lambeth`s Children's Social Care Services will respond to all referrals concerning children, from families themselves, members of the public or professionals as referrals about children in need potentially requiring family support services.

Each referral will be assessed to determine if the level of need is high, medium or low and to provide an appropriate package of Family Support Services provided accordingly.

Family Support in this context means both the aid and assistance available to the family from within their community and all the services provided directly to the public by Children's Social Care teams.

It includes within this the services provided by other sections of the local authority which either directly or indirectly promote the welfare of children in need.

Where assessment indicates need which necessitate the provision of services by Children's Social Care, staff in the Children's Social Care teams will work with families to enhance the quality of life for their children. They will, where appropriate, mobilise the help and support of the extended family and local community. They will also access on the families behalf services provided by other agencies both statutory and voluntary.

These services may be universal, general or specialist. Such services are not restricted to families with children living at home but are also available to families with children looked after where rehabilitation remains an option.

Thus every family approaching or referred to Children's Social Care can expect, where appropriate, a multi-agency response to their difficulties.


5. Section 17 Payments

Section 17 (6) of the Children Act 1989 states that the local authority may exercise its duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of children in need by providing 'assistance in kind to be given or in exceptional circumstances in cash'.

A budget, known as the Section 17 budget has been established to enable help of this kind to be given and is available to each of the Children's Social Care social work teams.

Payments under s17 can only be made where the Brief Child and Family Assessment indicates that specific financial assistance is the most appropriate means of safeguarding or promoting a child's welfare within their family.

Payments made from the s17 budget must conform with the Departments procedures of financial and administrative arrangements, and will only be made where a Brief Child and Family Assessment indicates that a child of a family is in need, and financial assistance is the only appropriate way of safeguarding and promoting their welfare within the family.

On receipt of a request for s17 assistance the responsible Social Worker must establish that there are children of the family whose needs would be met be such a payment, and that the family cannot obtain the help they require from the Department for Work and Pensions.

The Social Worker must then complete a s17 form for authorisation and discuss the payment with the Duty Manager or Team Manager.

Any request for a s17 payment requires a Brief Child and Family Assessment to be completed. If there are 3 requests within a 12 month period a Complex Child and Family Assessment must be completed.

The circumstances of the family will determine the nature of the assistance given within the parameters of the following procedures. Where the family indicate the likelihood of a cash payment being misused by the adult in the family to the detriment of the child, for example where there are concerns that cash be spent on alcohol or drugs, alternatives must be considered.

These include:

  • The purchase by a Social Worker or Family Support Officer of specific necessary items, such as nappies or fuel payments for heating or lighting;
  • The provision of shopping vouchers/local orders specifying the goods for which they may be exchanged and stipulating the shop/s to be used. Only certain retailers accept local authority local orders/shopping vouchers;
  • Travel warrants detailing who, when and where the recipient (and party) may travel.

Authorisation    

The Duty Manager / Team Manager may authorise single s17 payments not exceeding £50.

The Cost Centre Manager's authorisation is required for all:

  • Ongoing or regular payments, the use of which should be extremely rare;
  • Major items of expenditure, e.g. beds;
  • Payments made as part of an agreed family support package (however such payments must not be used as income maintenance measures);
  • Payments to families with no recourse to public funds (as whilst they are eligible for s17 payments, payments must be separately coded so they can be clearly identified).

The person authorising the expenditure should sign the s17 form, indicating her/his agreement to the preferred method of payment.

The level of financial help offered should reflect the family's circumstances, depending upon what the payment is for and bearing in mind the period for which the financial help is required and any other stresses on the family.

The maximum level of support at anyone time is £500 in cash and £10,000 in terms of packages.


6. Accommodation Provided Under Section 17 Children Act 1989

Section 116 of the Adoption and Children Act 2002 amends s17 (6) of the Children Act 1989 to make clear the power for local authorities to provide accommodation for children in need under that subsection (subsection (1)).

As amended, s17 (6) permits local authorities to provide assistance in kind, accommodation or, in exceptional circumstances, cash.

A looked after child is defined in s22 (1) of the Children Act 1989.

It was intended that, as amended, s22 (1) would not apply to children who are accommodated under s17 and therefore such children would not be looked after within the meaning of the Children Act 1989.

However recent judgements have established case law that children provided with accommodation under the revised s17 of the Children Act 1989 are looked after.

Staff must therefore be mindful when providing assistance under s17 that the provision of accommodation, for example paying for an adolescent to live in bed and breakfast, will have the effect of making the child looked after and therefore entitled to services as a looked after child.

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