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Providing support for ‘children in need’: Section 17 of the Children Act 1989 06.02.08

Following the publication of ‘Child Protection: Messages from Research’ (Department of Health 1995), and more recently the Every Child Matters (2003) national programme, local authorities and other agencies have been encouraged to place child protection work within the context of wider services for children in need.



This was initially introduced to redress the concern that children were being routed inappropriately into the child protection system as a means of gaining access to services. The Government is aware that enquiries into suspicions of child abuse can have traumatic effects on children and families and therefore it is important that professionals work in partnership with parents and their children, whilst at the same time ensuring the child’s welfare is safeguarded.

This ‘refocusing’ by local authorities and others has been characterised by a shift from emphasising Part IV of the Children Act 1989  (in particular s. 47 investigations or enquiries) toward Part III of the Act (in particular providing services for children in need under s.17).  The Every Child Matters agenda (2004) has taken this shift further to restructure local children’s services with the aim of improving outcomes for children at risk of social exclusion.

Under s.17.1(a)
of the Children Act 1989, local authorities have a duty to ‘safeguard and promote the welfare of children within their area who are in need’. Local authorities can provide a range of services for children who are ‘in need’.  Such services are intended to provide support and help to families, including families of children with disabilities and other special needs.
Financial assistance under s.17 exists to promote the welfare of ‘children in need’, and can be applied to address the needs of children living with or leaving domestic violence, in the following ways:
a) s.17 (1) (b) to promote children’s upbringing in own families, provided that this is consistent with the child’s welfare
There a number of ways that social workers can give direct support to abused women to enable them to support their children’s welfare, for example, e.g. help and support in getting re-housed in safe accommodation.
b) s.17(5) (a) to facilitate the provision of services to children through voluntary organisations
Financial support for Women’s Aid work with children living in refuges and children’s resettlement can be provided under this section.
c) s. 17(6) for giving assistance in kind, and, in exceptional circumstances, cash payments to help children in need. 
These can be made to help women and their children leave abusive situations or survive within them. Such assistance might include:

  • Cash for new clothes for children
  • Cash for travel to get away from a violent man
  • Assistance with fitting new locks, getting a telephone or alarm system
  • Transport to a refuge

Amendments which came into effect under the Children and Adoption Act 2002 which affect the implementation of section 17 of the Children Act 1989 state that children and families in need can be assisted by local authorities in respect of their accommodation.  Local Authority Circular (2003)13: Guidance on accommodating children in need and their families details these changes.

Assistance might also be given to help a family where children are in need because of immigration rules that mean their abused mother has ‘no recourse to public funds’.