In this article, a parent describes her experience of having a social care assessment in order to access a short break service for her disabled child.
My daughter Amy has a rare brain abnormality which affects her speech and language, her social communication and her learning. It also causes her to have drug-resistant epilepsy, which means that we can’t leave her with anyone who isn’t trained in managing seizures.
When schools closed during lockdown, it really hit home that the only time we get a break from caring for her is when she is at school. We had managed nine years without any formal respite; maybe now the time had come to ask for support – for Amy’s sake as much as ours? We mentioned this at a Neurodisability clinic appointment, and the consultant referred us to social care.
Within a couple of weeks of the referral, we received a phone call from the Sheffield Safeguarding Hub. Luckily, I knew this was going to happen, so wasn’t alarmed. The person I spoke to was very helpful, supportive and professional. They asked what our situation was, what the issues were and why we wanted support. At the end of the call, they agreed to carry out a social care single assessment.
The assessment involved several home visits, Zoom calls and a meeting with school. It was quite an intrusive experience, mainly because it seemed so focussed on safeguarding – despite the fact that nobody had ever raised any safeguarding concerns about us! For example, the social worker asked me how much alcohol I drink in a week, and requested the names and contact details of all family members and close friends. At each home visit, the social worker asked to see my children on their own and to see their bedrooms. It would have been helpful if they had explained why they wanted to do this.
The meeting with school was pretty difficult. I had been up all night with Amy having seizures every hour, so I was physically and emotionally exhausted and not in a good frame of mind to answer intrusive questions. Both school and ourselves were asked to score out of ten our ability to care for our children. I refused to answer, saying that I would always care for my children no matter what – whether they gave us the support we’d asked for, or not. It felt like such a loaded question – what would the implications be if we gave a low score? School gave less than ten purely because they felt we should be given some support to help us maintain the very supportive family environment that already exists.
The whole assessment process felt a bit inappropriate for what we were asking for, appearing to focus on safeguarding issues and making us feel like our parenting was being judged. I think that was more the process the social worker had to go through, rather than any concern on her part. Either way, it was an uncomfortable process!
On the upside, the social worker listened well, was happy to arrange appointments at times to suit us, kept to timescales, kept us informed and asked our views on possible options, e.g. SNIPS or a personal assistant.
At the end of the assessment the social worker wrote a report recommending that we should receive support from SNIPS. (SNIPS stands for Special Needs Inclusion Playcare Service; it’s a council-run service that supports disabled children aged 5-18 years to access activities like holiday and after-school clubs to give their parents a break from caring.) The report went to an assessment panel, who agreed.
After that, we heard nothing for about two months. In the end, I chased it up – only to find out that we were on a waiting list. It would have been good if SNIPS had contacted us after the referral and told us how long we’d have to wait, and what kind of service we might be able to get. At that point, we still didn’t know how many hours or sessions we were entitled to. It would also have helped if the social worker had told us how long the waiting time for a SNIPS club was, compared to the time it takes to set up a Direct Payment for a Personal Assistant – had we known, we might have asked for the latter.
Eventually, someone from SNIPS visited us at home to gather information, to discuss what Amy might like and what would suit us (e.g. after-school, weekend or holiday clubs). He was great: friendly, helpful, thorough, and genuinely interested. He was easy to contact and usually responded to emails on the same day.
In the end, it took ten months from first requesting an assessment to accessing provision. Amy now attends a club at the Stephen Harrison Snooker Academy and absolutely loves it. The staff are great – friendly, supportive and caring. Amy has 1:1 support from a member of staff who was matched to her based on her interests. Each session is attended by fewer than ten young people. Whilst the focus is obviously snooker (taught by an ex-Pro!), there is also a chill-out corner with bean bags, TV, a Wii and an area to play board games. It’s not unusual to hear them singing along to Frozen while eating their lunch! The staff have been fully trained by epilepsy nurses; many already work with children or adults with epilepsy and learning difficulties. This means that I can now (for the first time!) leave Amy for a few hours knowing that she is in safe hands. And at the end of the session Amy starts counting down the days to the next one!
Social care assessments
An Early Help assessment should be carried out when a problem first emerges, to prevent needs escalating. Frontline workers like school staff, health visitors, childcare providers or GPs can either fill in a simple Early Help Part 1 form, or a more detailed Early Help Part 2 form if they think that more intensive support may be needed. The Part 2 form is also known as a Family Common Assessment Framework or FCAF; it can form part of a MyPlan completed by school. Outcomes from this assessment can include signposting, parenting courses or support from a MAST worker.
An Early Help and Wellbeing Assessment (also known as a SNIPS assessment or Short Breaks assessment) will be carried out by an Inclusion Officer if the support required is for SNIPS provision and/or a direct payment for less than 20 hours per week. The local authority must complete this assessment within 35 working days.
A Social Care Single Assessment (also known as a Child in Need assessment or Signs of Safety assessment) will be undertaken by a social worker if there are safeguarding or welfare concerns, or if the support required is for overnight respite, a short break foster placement, or a direct payment for more than 20 hours per week. The local authority must normally complete this assessment within 45 working days.
For information about SNIPS and other short break services, have a look on the Local Offer website.