24th May 2022

Help at Hand: How the Children’s Commissioner’s advice service is helping children and offering insights for her Family review

The Children’s Commissioner has been commissioned by Government to undertake an Independent Family Review, which will seek to understand children and family’s perspective on modern family life, on the support they receive from the state and society, and to identify what is already done well and what could be improved to help families further. The Review aims to produce a framework of principles in providing family support and practical resources and solutions to ensure that families get the support they need.

The Children’s Commissioner’s Help at Hand service offers advice and assistance to children in care, children working with social services, children living away from home, and care leavers. The service hears from children all the time who are facing difficulties in their family lives.

Almost 30% of the children Help at Hand assisted in the last 12 months were living at home with their families. Many of these children aren’t offered official advocacy support, because they do not have care status, and yet they and their families are struggling to get the support they need.

The concerns these families had were varied, but the two main trends we have been seeing are: disabled children who are struggling to access support, particularly short breaks and appropriate housing, and children with an Education, Health and Care Plan, who are missing out on education.

Connor and Liam (identifying details changed) are two recent examples of the work Help at Hand has done to support children within their families:

Connor is in Year 5 and has multiple physical and mental disabilities. He struggles to regulate his emotions and at times puts himself and others at serious risk. His parents want him to stay at home but desperately needed more support and short breaks. The local authority said it had no suitable short break provision. They did provide in-home support but the carers were inconsistent and poorly trained.

Help at Hand was contacted by Connor’s mum. Connor is a child in need and had no advocacy entitlement. Help at Hand worked on Connor’s case for months, speaking to Health and Children’s Social Care many times on his behalf. The Children’s Commissioner also wrote personally to the Director of Children’s Services. Connor now has access to short break support and is able to remain at home. Help at Hand is working with the local authority on how to reflect and learn from Connor’s case.

Liam has significant disabilities and is non-verbal. He is cared for by his grandmother. Liam should be in Year 7, but he was not given a school place. Liam’s grandmother struggles to take him out safely and, as a result of having no school to go to, Liam had barely left the house for months when Help at Hand was contacted by his social worker. We wrote to Liam’s local authority multiple times to seek more assistance for him. Since our involvement, a school place has been found for Liam to start in September and more support has been offered in the meantime. Help at Hand were also able to get Liam an advocate to make a formal complaint on his behalf.

These cases illustrate the importance of a whole-family approach to providing support for children with special educational needs and disabilities. The Children’s Commissioner’s Independent Family Review will learn from the experience of children calling our Help at Hand service to inform the review’s findings.

If you are a child or family member of a child that needs Help at Hand, please call 0800 528 0731 or email [email protected].