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Scottish Families in Need!

You have a Right to a Section 23 Assessment of Need

This is not well publicised. In fact, it is a well kept secret and if you ask any local authority in Scotland for literature about a Section 23 Assessment of Need, it is scarce at best, if it exists at all! You might find a vague reference to this assessment buried deep inside another local authority publication!

But the fact is every family struggling to cope with a special needs child in Scotland is entitled to an assessment of the needs of the whole family. If a request is made for a Section 23 Assessment of Need to either a social worker or an educational psychologist it MUST be carried out. The local authority may attempt to find every excuse under the sun to delay this assessment but if you can get it done you then have a legal entitlement for the needs identified therein, to be met.

Importantly, you must ensure that you are a contributor to this assessment and that your family's needs are accurately recorded - please be aware that some local authorities will avoid recording needs that they feel they cannot meet, if at all possible. An honest social worker told me recently that it is about avoiding a record of a need that is then unmet - you cannot have unmet needs! You owe it to yourself and your family to ensure that your needs are accurately recorded otherwise they will NEVER be met!!  This is simply not right!

I was saddened at the end of a recent well attended conference in Glasgow when the panel (of which I was one) were questioned by delegates and the theme that prevailed was the absence of respite for families struggling to cope with their special needs children. Often their interpretation of respite was simply getting their child in to an appropriate school - or even just getting their child in to a school. These were angry and tired and deeply frustrated parents and this seems to be the norm.  I thought the problem lay with the individual local authorities across Scotland but an MSP on the panel assured us the Scottish Government is very much aware of the active avoidance of formal assessment of need by local authorities.

So what do we do to change this? We have to campaign. We need to shout loud - every single one of us.  We all need to insist on these assessments and make the Government realise that we are aware of our entitlement and their active avoidance of meeting these needs is something we cannot and will not tolerate any more. We will argue later about time-scales for assessment but in the first instance, we want families to be aware of their right to an assessment and we want these assessments carried out on behalf of our families accurately, in order that the needs can be properly identified. Then we can talk about how to meet them!

The same MSP stated that funds had been ploughed in to adult respite care by the current coalition Government in Scotland but she admitted nothing had been spent on respite care for families with special needs children. In her words she said, Section 23 Assessments were carried out only when things become critical for families. I wonder just how many of you reading this believes your family circumstances are verging on critical. Please don't be proud. Shout from the rooftops, demand that your needs are met. I did. I had to. And I know that many of you out there are coping less well than me.

Engage with your social worker or your educational psychologist. No matter what excuse they give you take the bit between your teeth and do not let it go. Keep a diary of requests, telephone conversations, excuses and if necessary take your story to your local newspaper. This is the only way we are going to be heard. I have already raised these issues through the Scottish Parliament and rather than answer my question they responded by telling us that there is no time line for processing these assessments. The question was actually "How do families know about their right to these assessments if no one is telling them?" The Government gathered the evidence themselves from local authorities about the absence of literature on the subject of Section 23 Assessments. Some local authorities didn't even reply to the question. Others confirmed a paltry number of assessments per head of population.

Frankly, our Government's lack of interest in our special needs children is a national embarrassment.  Budget cuts are real, they are necessary and they are here but these are needs that have never been recognised. If we get anything at the present time it is likely to be taken away.    

A family's right to a Section 23 Assessment of their needs is set out in law - the Children (Scotland) Act 1995.

It is time our families exercised that right.


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