Jam tomorrow – maybe: the revised Working Together guidance.

As expected, disabled children and their families will be disappointed by the updated 2023 Working Together guidance.  Despite compelling evidence that local authority assessment and care planning protocols discriminate against disabled children – nothing is to be done.  The Government’s response merely states (page 47) that it will ‘consider implementing a bespoke assessment protocol’ for disabled children at some unspecified time in the future – but only after it has the ‘findings of the Law Commission Review’ of social care legislation for disabled children and the ‘emerging evidence from our Families First for Children Pathfinder’ – a programme that is scheduled to run until March 2025.

Intentions to address severe discrimination need to be expressed in the language of ‘urgency’, and not characterised as ‘one-day maybe’ aspirations.  As noted in an earlier posting[1] concerning the draft guidance, the discrimination at the heart of the current process has been accepted by the Government, by the independent reviews and by the research.[2]  The Government’s consultation response also notes (page 47) that:

A significant number of respondents, of which many are parents or carers, requested a bespoke assessment better tailored to the needs of disabled children and their families. Parents reported experience of previous assessments to have been stressful and upsetting and felt such assessments did not reflect their distinctive needs.

“Separate assessment documentation and guidance should be developed for situations in which parents of disabled children approach children’s services to seek support. Currently, the process used is the same as where a safeguarding concern has been identified.” [Parent]


Confronted by this evidence the Government has, nevertheless, decided not to make the necessary amendments to the Statutory Guidance.  It is difficult to understand how any reasonable Secretary of State who is mindful:

  • of the fact that local protocols have failed to provide a distinct assessment route for disabled children;
  • of the consequential harm experienced by disabled children and their families; and
  • that domestic courts have held that policies that treat disabled children in the same way as non-disabled children are open to challenge for being discriminatory;[3]

could fail to make the necessary amendments to the Guidance.

To require that every local assessment protocol contain a distinct assessment process for disabled children and their families cannot be characterised as burdensome.  Local authority protocols should already ‘reflect the specific needs of’ (among others) ‘children with special educational needs and/or disabilities’ (para 142).  Sadly, the research suggests that authorities have failed to do this – and so the Statutory Guidance must now mandate a distinct assessment process and require that this be co-produced with local independent parent carer groups.  For good measure authorities’ attention could be drawn to the Draft Guidance[4] that has been developed by a number of such groups.

[1] HM Government Consultation on the revision of the ‘Working Together’ guidance 2023.
[2] L Clements and A L Aiello Institutionalising parent carer blame (Cerebra 2021).
[3] Richard Gorry v. Wiltshire Council and the Secretary of State Work and Pensions [2012] EWCA Civ 629.
[4] Draft Guidance: Assessing the Needs of Disabled Children and their Families (2023)
[5] HM Government Changes to statutory guidance: Working Together to Safeguard Children Government consultation response December 2023.
[6] HM Government Working Together to Safeguard Children 2023.

Posted 1st January 2024

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