What is the Children and Families Act?

The Children and Families Act 2014 has transformed the system for children and young people with special educational needs and/or disabilities (SEND).

The Act extended the SEN system from birth to 25, giving children, young people and their parents, greater control and choice in decisions and ensuring needs are properly met. It has taken forward the reform programme set out in Support and aspiration: a new approach to special education needs and disability

The special needs reforms implemented a new approach which join up help across education, health and care from birth to 25. Help is offered at the earliest point, with children and young people with special needs and their parents or carers fully involved in decisions about their support and what they want to achieve. The aim is to help lead to better outcomes and more efficient ways of working.

The vision for children and young people with special needs should be the same as for all children and young people – that they:

  • achieve well in their early years
  • achieve well at school and in college
  • lead happy and fulfilled lives
  • have choice and control.

More information about the Children and Families Act

The Children and Families Act takes forward a commitment to improve services for vulnerable children and young people and to support their families. It includes clauses on special education needs or/ disabilities (SEND) to reform the system. The clauses include:

  • a new duty for joint commissioning which will require local authorities and health bodies to work in partnership when arranging provision for children and young people with SEND
  • a requirement on local authorities to publish a “local offer” of services they expect to be available for children and young people with SEN
  • a requirement for local authorities to involve children, young people and parents in reviewing and developing provision for those with special educational needs publishing a ‘local offer’ of support
  • a duty on local authorities to draw up Education, Health and Care plans from 0-25 years thereby replacing the old statements
  • a requirement on all local authorities to prepare a personal budget for children or young people with an EHC Plan if asked to do so by the child’s parent or the young person
  • an extension of rights and protections to young people in further education and training offering families
  • families have more control over the support they need through personal budgets.

The Act includes all children with Special Educational Needs and / or disabilities.

EHC Plans have replaced previous Statements of SEND and Learning Difficulty Assessments (post 16). The plan is a legal document describing a young person’s needs, the provision to meet those needs and the suitable educational placement. The Government has clearly stated that the Plan must be person centred, focusing on the needs and aspirations of the child. EHC Plans will continue into further education and training, and for some young people up to the age of 25.

Plans are focused on the outcomes an individual child or young person is expected to achieve. Any targets are specific and set out what support is needed to achieve these outcomes. Plans are concise and positive and should reflect the views of the child or young person.

No ‘new’ statements or learning difficulties assessments have been issued since 1 September 2014. Existing statements, which meet the criteria and learning difficulties assessments have been converted over a three year period (for statements) and two years (for learning difficulties assessments) from September 2014. These conversions took place at phase change or change of placement.

The Department for Education (DfE) has stated that a child or young person who had a Statement of SEND in the past will have an EHC Plan. Guidance says that EHC Plans should be issued when the local authority considers the special educational needs of the child cannot be reasonably provided for with resources normally available to mainstream early years provision, school and post 16 institutions. Children and young people with primarily health or care needs are not issued with a plan, unless these needs impact their education.

Section 9 of the SEN Code of Practice 0-25 sets out key points for the way assessments should be carried out. These include:

  • The views of children, young people and their families must be sought
  • Disruption to families should be minimized. This includes avoiding multiple assessments and appointments. There should be a ‘tell it once’ approach so that families do not have to repeat the same information to different professionals
  • Families should be provided with impartial information, advice and support. In the case of young people over the age of 16, a separate service of impartial information, advice and support should be available to them although it is still expected that families, with the young person’s consent, play a significant role
  • The assessment process should be carried out in a ‘timely’ manner and it should not take longer than 20 weeks to issue an Education, Health and Care Plan (process flow diagram)

Under the previous system, through the delegated budget, there was additional help and support for children at school without a Statement of SEND. However, under the Children and Families Act and the Code of Practice, School Action and School Action Plus have now been replaced with SEND Support. SEND Support is the support available in school for children and young people who have special educational needs, but do not have Education, Health and Care plans. Additional SEND Support is support to meet a student’s needs to help them achieve their individual goals.

All families whose child has an EHC plan have a right to request a personal budget. The personal budget allows young people or parents to buy support identified in the plan directly, rather than relying on the local authority. Parents or young people are given a choice of whether they want to take control of the personal budget by an agency managing the funds on their behalf or by receiving direct payments, where they can purchase and manage the provision themselves.

We have provided further information on personal budgets. This includes details of our personal budgets policy, personal budgets guides for parents and carers, an easy read version for children and young people and a video called ‘Jack’s Story’ which outlines how one of our young people is using personal budgets to exercise choice and control.

The Children and Families Act places duties on the health service in relation to children and young people with SEND. The health service means the responsible commissioning body, which will normally be the local Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG). But for children and young people with certain health conditions, this may be NHS England.

The health service must engage with the Local Authority to create joint commissioning arrangements for the health and social care provision required by children and young people identified as having SEN. These arrangements need to set out what health provision is to be secured and who is responsible for securing it. The arrangements must also establish a mechanism to resolve disputes between the different commissioning parties.

The health service must also cooperate with the Local Authority in the creation of an Education, Health and Care Plan by advising on what kind of health provision is reasonably required by the learning difficulties and disabilities which result in the child or young person having SEND. This could include specialist support and therapies, such as medical treatments and delivery of medications, occupational therapy, and physiotherapy, a range of nursing support, specialist equipment, wheelchairs and continence supplies.

The Education, Health and Care plan has to be approved by the relevant health commissioning body, and if it is approved, the health service must ensure that the support set out in the EHC plan is made available.

It is a requirement for the local authority to publish information on the provision it expects will be available for children and young people with SEN aged 0 – 25 years, both within and outside their local area. The local offer must include information about:

  • Education, health and care provision for children and young people with SEN (which should include information about its quality and the destinations/outcomes achieved by those who use it)
  • Arrangements for identifying and assessing children and young people’s SEN, including arrangements for requesting an EHC needs assessment
  • Other education provision (educational provision outside of schools or colleges such as sports or arts provision)
  • Training provision, including Apprenticeships
  • Arrangements for travel to and from schools, post-16 institutions and early years providers
  • Support to help children and young people in moving between phases of education (for example from early years to school, from primary to secondary) and to prepare for adulthood
  • Sources of information, advice and support in the local authority’s area relating to SEN including information provided under clause 32 of the Children and Families Act, forums for parents and carers, support groups, childcare and leisure activities
  • Arrangements for making complaints, for the resolution of disagreements, mediation and parents’ and young people’s right to appeal a decision of the local authority to the tribunal
  • The Code of Practice says local authorities must involve children in planning decisions about what services for young people with SEN are needed. This includes planning the content of the local offer, deciding how to publish the offer and providing feedback on the services contained in the local offer

Further details on our Local Offer are provided on the  What is the SEND Local Offer page.

Rights of parents and carers

The Act states that parents have the right to request an Education, Health and Care Assessment.


One of the clauses in the Children and Families Act requires parents to be provided with information about mediation, and then to consider whether or not they wish to take it up. Mediation itself will not be compulsory. Further details are provided on our  Resolving Disagreements, Mediation and Complaints page.

The Children and Families Act 2014 has introduced a system of support which extends from birth to 25, while the Care Act deals with adult social care for anyone over the age of 18. This means there is a group of young people aged 18-25 who were entitled to support though both pieces of legislation.

The two Acts also have the same emphasis on outcomes, personalisation, and the integration of services.

With regards to Information, Advice and Support, the Children and Families Act 2014 states that:

  • There is a duty to establish and maintain a service to provide information and advice relating to care and support to individuals and relating to support for carers

The service must provide information about:

  • How the system operates in its area
  • The choice of types of care and support and choice of providers
  • How to access the care and support
  • How to access independent financial advice on matters relevant to meeting the needs for care and support
  • How to raise concerns about the safety and wellbeing of an adult
  • Provide sufficient information and advice to enable adults to plan for meeting care and support needs that may arise; Information must be accessible.

The DfE and MENCAP have produced two easy read guides called ‘Changes to special educational needs and disability support’. One is for children and young people and the other is for parents and carers. Both guides provide an overview of the changes made by the Government to the way children and young people who have special educational needs and disabilities are supported.

The Department for Education (DfE) has produced ‘The young person’s guide to the Children and Families Act 2014′. It has especially been written for children and young people so that they know what has changed in the law. The guide covers all the wide reaching changes that have been made and has a specific chapter called ‘How the Act helps children and young people with special educational needs or a disability’ on pages 21-26 which may be of particular interest. This chapter provides information on the nine main changes taking place for children and young people with special educational needs or a disability.

What you need to know about the SEND reforms

This film provides information on the changes which took effect from 1 September 2014 how children, young people and their families will access SEND provision and support.

Thank you to the Council for Disabled Children© and the Department for Education© for permission to use these videos

What you need to know about the SEND reforms for Post-16 support

The SEND reforms took effect on 1 September 2014 and have changed the way that children, young people and their families access services. This film has been produced to explain exactly what that means for young people 16 and over.

Thank you to the Council for Disabled Children© and the Department for Education© for permission to use these videos.

Last modified: November 28, 2022