Parent Carer’s Needs Assessments

Some local authorities appear to think that they have no duty to provide support for a family as a result of a Parent Carer’s Needs Assessments (PCNA) – with statements made to families (or internal staff guidance) to the effect that:

There is no new right to services for parent carers of disabled children, as there is for family carers of disabled adults under the Care Act.  What we have for parent carers of disabled children is an assessment duty – and one that should lead to a better-informed decision about the holistic package of support that disabled children and their families need.

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The Children Act 1989 section 17ZD places a duty on councils to assess whether a parent carer within their area has needs for support and, if so, what those needs are.  Subsection (4) makes it clear that under section 17 councils may provide or arrange for the provision of services for the disabled child and the disabled child’s family.

These councils seem to think that: (a) section 17 support is discretionary (ie that section 17 confers a power not a duty); and (b) accordingly, that there is no duty to provide any support identified as required resulting from a parent carer’s needs assessment (PCNA).

Wording of the kind detailed above is seriously misleading and unless changed will deter very many parent carers from seeking help and thereby undermining the purpose of the section 17ZD amendment.

Section 17 places a duty on the council.  There are material differences between target duties and ‘powers’ – but councils with official / unofficial policies of this kind appear to believe otherwise.  They might take a lesson from Sir John Balcombe – who observed in R v Gloucestershire County Council ex p Barry (1996)[1] ‘Parliament knows very well how to confer a power … [and] if it uses language apt to impose a duty it presumably means what it says.’

Once a council has decided (as a result of a PCNA) that it is not appropriate for a parent carer to provide, or continue to provide, care for their disabled child, the council has a duty to provide support.  The only discretion it has is whether the support should be provided to the child directly (under the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970 section 2 and/or the Children Ac 1989 section 17 – for example by way of short breaks, personal assistance, direct payments etc) or to the parent directly (under the Children Act 1989 section 17).

For an excellent statement concerning councils’ intersecting disabled child / parent carer assessment and care provision obligations – see the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman’s report on complaint no. 14 015 230 against Kent County Council, a 17 June 2016.

[1] 1 CCLR 19 at 38F.

Posted 2 July 2021