SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER
All local authorities with their partner agencies have developed and published a local framework for assessment based on good analysis, timeliness and transparency and proportionate to the needs of the child and their family.
Each child who has been referred into children's social care should have an individual assessment to identify their needs and to understand the impact of any parental behaviour on them as an individual. Children's social care have to give due regard to a child's age and understanding when determining what (if any) services to provide under Section 17 of the Children Act 1989, and before making decisions about action to be taken to protect individual children under Section 47 of the Children Act 1989.
The arrangements for assessments in Children's Social Care in Nottingham city and Nottingham county are different;
- Nottingham City Protocol for Children's Assessment;
- Nottinghamshire Children's Social Care Service Procedures Manual.
However the principles outlined in this chapter apply to both areas.
This chapter was amended in April 2017 with additional information on the investigation of physical abuse was added to Section 3, Developing a Clear Analysis.
- Focus on the Child
- Developing a Clear Analysis
- Contribution of the Child and Family
- Contribution of Agencies Involved with the Child and Family
- Actions and Outcomes
- Regular Review
- Principles for a Good Assessment
1. Focus on the Child
Children should to be seen and listened to and included throughout the assessment process. Their ways of communicating should be understood in the context of their family and community as well as their behaviour and developmental stage.
Assessments, service provision and decision making should regularly review the impact of the assessment process and the services provided on the child so that the best outcomes for the child can be achieved. Any services provided should be based on a clear analysis of the child's needs, and the changes that are required to improve the outcomes for the child.
See the Assessment Framework Triangle.
Children should be actively involved in all parts of the process based upon their age, developmental stage and identity. Direct work with the child and family should include observations of the interactions between the child and the parents/care givers.
All agencies involved with the child, the parents/care givers and the wider family have a duty to collaborate and share information to safeguard and promote the welfare of the child.
All assessments should be planned and coordinated by a lead social worker involving all key professionals and organisations involved with the child and their family. The purpose of the assessment should be transparent, understood and agreed by all participants. There should be an agreed statement setting out the aims of the assessment process.
Planning should identify the different elements of the assessment including who should be involved. It is good practice to hold a multi-disciplinary planning meeting to clarify roles and timescales as well as services to be provided during the assessment where there are a number of family members and agencies likely to play a part in the process.
Questions to be considered in planning assessments include:
- Who will undertake the assessment and what resources will be needed?
- Which professionals are already involved with the family and where can significant information on family history and functioning be found?
- Who in the family will be included and how will they be involved (including absent or wider family and others significant to the child)?
- In what grouping will the child and family members be seen, by who and in what order and where?
- What services are to be provided during the assessment?
- Are there communication needs? If so, what are the specific needs and how they will be met? Is there a need for specialist service involvement?
- How will the assessment take into account the particular issues faced by black and minority ethnic children and their families, and disabled children and their families?
- What method of collecting information will be used? Are there any tools / questionnaires available?
- Is there a chronology of significant information?
- How will other agencies and professionals who know the family be informed and involved?
- How will the consent of family members be obtained?
- What will be the timescales?
- How will the information be recorded?
- How will it be analysed and who will be involved?
- When will the outcomes be discussed and service planning take place;
- Which professionals are involved with the family.
The assessment process can be summarised as follows:
- Contacting key practitioners already involved with the family;
- Gathering relevant information;
- Analysing the information and reaching professional judgments;
- Making decisions and planning interventions in partnership with other professionals involved;
- Intervening, service delivery and/or further assessment;
- Evaluating and reviewing progress.
Assessment should be a dynamic process, which analyses and responds to the changing nature and level of need and/or risk faced by the child. A good assessment will monitor and record the impact of any services delivered to the child and family and review the support being delivered. Whilst services may be delivered to a parent or carer, the assessment should be focused on the needs of the child and on the impact any services are having on the child.
3. Developing a Clear Analysis
Research has demonstrated that taking a systematic approach to assessments using a conceptual model is the best way to deliver a comprehensive analysis. A good assessment is one which investigates the three domains; set out in the Assessment Framework Triangle. The interaction of these domains requires careful investigation during the assessment. The aim is to reach a judgement about the nature and level of needs and/or risks that the child may be facing within their family.
An assessment should establish:
- The nature of the concern and the impact this has had on the child including a review of historical events in the form of a chronology;
- An analysis of their needs and/or the nature and level of any risk and harm being suffered by the child;
- How and why the concerns have arisen;
- What the child's and the family's needs appear to be and whether the child is a Child in Need;
- Whether the concern involves abuse or Neglect; and
- Whether there is any need for any urgent action to protect the child, or any other children in the household or community;
- A chronology to aid understanding of the family history.
The assessment will involve drawing together and analysing available information from a range of sources, including existing records, and involving and obtaining relevant information from professionals in relevant agencies and others in contact with the child and family. Where an Early Help Assessment has already been completed this information should be used to inform the assessment. The child and family's history should be understood.
Where a child is involved in other assessment processes, it is important that these are coordinated so that the child does not become lost between the different agencies involved and their different procedures. All plans for the child developed by the various agencies and individual professionals should be joined up so that the child and family experience a single assessment and planning process, which shares a focus on the outcomes for the child.
The social worker should collate a chronology of significant events and analyse all the information gathered enquiry stage of the assessment to decide the nature and level of the child's needs and the level of risk, if any, they may be facing. The social work manager should provide regular supervision and challenge the social worker's assumptions as part of this process. An informed decision should be taken on the nature of any action required and which services should be provided. Social workers, their managers and other professionals should be mindful of the requirement to understand the level of need and risk in a family from the child's perspective and ensure action or commission services which will have maximum positive impact on the child's life.
When new information comes to light or circumstances change the child's needs, any previous conclusions should be updated and critically reviewed to ensure that the child is not overlooked as noted in many lessons from Serious Case Reviews.
When undertaking assessment of potential physical abuse staff will consider the following issues
- The nature of the injury/injuries;
- The explanations provided by the child;
- The explanation provided by the parent/carer and any other person involved;
- Any contradictions or discrepancies in the explanations;
- Family history and known risk factors;
- History of other injuries.
There has been a significant amount of research regarding parenting styles and approaches which contribute to optimal developmental outcomes for children. This work consistently identifies that non-punitive disciplinary practices based on reasoning are associated with positive outcomes.
Disciplinary approaches which inflict physical or psychological harm are not effective, are harmful, and are not consistent with the requirements of either the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child or the Human Rights Act. A clear distinction is made between discipline which is aimed at meeting the needs of a child and helping them meet adult expectations, as opposed to punishment which is usually initiated to alleviate adult needs and frustrations and is often associated with humiliation of the child.
Practitioners must distinguish between what is discipline and what is child abuse. Discipline must be age-appropriate, reasonable and support the child to understand what is expected of them. Language matters - if a child is experiencing physical abuse in the form of physical punishment then identify it as physical abuse rather than using terms like 'harsh punishments' which prevent professionals from understanding and responding to the child's needs. Staff can be diverted from considering abuse by parents/carers who justify their behaviour by describing this as legitimate punishment. Terms such as physical chastisement and harsh punishment can contribute to this confusion. Workers should l also be concerned where a parent/carer seeks to justify their behaviour by blaming the child.
Identifying the point at which physical abuse is, or may be, present will require staff to focus on the child's lived experience and reflect on how the punishment impacts on them. This will include consideration of the following factors
- The persistence of such treatment;
- The severity of the treatment.
Repeated episodes of bruising or multiple frequent small injuries should be considered as potentially concerning and discussed in a strategy discussion, which should consider whether a child protection medical is required.
In any situation where a child protection medical is required as part of the assessment of potential physical abuse the timeliness of the medical will be of paramount importance. There must therefore be no delay to the initial visit to the child.
NICE have produced guidance which is relevant to this issue which can be accessed here: Child maltreatment: when to suspect maltreatment in under 18s
Practitioners should treat the use of written agreements with families with extreme caution in this area. It is critical that the parent/carer is aided to understand what aspects of their behaviour need to change, and why they need to change, what is the damaging impact on the child; rather than refraining from something because there is an agreement in place.
4. Contribution of the Child and Family
The child should participate and contribute directly to the assessment process based upon their age, understanding and identity. They should be seen alone and if this is not possible or in their best interest, the reason should be recorded. The social worker should work directly with the child in order to understand their views and wishes, including the way in which they behave both with their care givers and in other settings. The agreed local assessment framework should make a range of age appropriate tools available to professionals to assist them in this work.
The pace of the assessment needs to acknowledge the pace at which the child can contribute. However, this should not be a reason for delay in taking protective action. It is important to understand the resilience of the individual child in their family and community context when planning appropriate services.
Every assessment should be child centred. Where there is a conflict between the needs of the child and their parents/care givers, decisions should be made in the child's best interests. The parents should be involved at the earliest opportunity unless to do so would prejudice the safety of the child.
Other agencies may hold significant information on the child/young person or other significant family members and should be asked to contribute this to the assessment process.
The Parents' or Care Givers
The parents' or care givers involvement in the assessment will be central to its success. At the outset they need to understand how they can contribute to the process and what is expected of them to change in order to improve the outcomes for the child. The assessment process must be open and transparent with the parents/care givers. However, the process should also challenge parents' statements and behaviour where it is evidenced that there are inconsistencies, questions or obstacles to progress. All parents or care givers should be involved equally in the assessment and should be supported to participate whilst the welfare of the child must not be overshadowed by parental needs. There may be exceptions to the involvement of parents or care givers in cases of Sexual Abuse or domestic violence for example, where the plan for the assessment must consider the safety of an adult as well as that of the child.
The role played by fathers and male carers has often been overlooked or underestimated and it is extremely important that they are included in the assessment.
5. Contribution of Agencies Involved with the Child and Family
Other agencies may hold significant information about the family history and functioning which will inform the assessment and decision making. All agencies and professionals involved with the child, and the family, have a responsibility to share relevant information and contribute to the assessment process. This might take the form of providing information in a timely manner and direct or joint work.
Differences of opinion between professionals should be resolved speedily but where this is not possible, the local escalation process should be followed. See Resolving Professional Disagreements (Escalation Procedure)
It is possible that professionals have different experiences of the child and family or significant information relating to the family history and functioning, and understanding this information will actively contribute to the understanding of the child / family.
The professionals should be involved from the outset and through the agreed, regular process of review.
The social care practitioner's supervisor will have a key role in supporting the practitioner to ensure all relevant agencies are involved.
Agencies providing services to adults, who are parents, carers or who have regular contact with children must consider the impact on the child of the particular needs of the adult in question.
6. Actions and Outcomes
Every assessment should be focused on outcomes, deciding which services and support to provide to deliver improved welfare for the child and reflect the child's best interests. In the course of the assessment the social worker and their line manager should determine:
- Is this a Child in Need? (Section 17 Children Act 1989);
- Is there reasonable cause to suspect that this child is suffering, or is likely to suffer, Significant Harm? (Section 47 Children Act 1989);
- Is this a child in need of accommodation? (Section 20 or Section 31A Children Act 1989).
The possible outcomes of the assessment should be decided on by the social worker and their line manager in consultation with other involved professionals, who should agree a plan of action setting out the services to be delivered how and by whom in discussion with the child and family and the agreement of professionals involved.
The outcomes may be as follows:
- No further action;
- Additional support which can be provided through universal services and single service provision; early help services such as the CAF process;
- The development of a multi-agency child in need plan for the provision of child in need services to promote the child's health and development;
- Referral for specialist assessment for a more in-depth understanding of the child's needs and circumstances;
- Undertaking a Strategy Discussion/Meeting, a Section 47 child protection enquiry;
- Emergency action to protect a child.
The outcome of the assessment should be:
- Discussed with the child and family and provided to them in written form. Exceptions to this are where this might place a child at risk of harm or jeopardise an enquiry;
- Taking account of confidentiality, provided to professional referrers;
- Given in writing to agencies involved in providing services to the child with the agreed action points, review dates and intended outcomes for the child stated.
The maximum time frame for the assessment to conclude, such that it is possible to reach a decision on next steps, should be no longer than 45 working days from the point of referral. If, in discussion with a child and their family and other professionals, an assessment exceeds 45 working days the social worker and professionals involved should record the reasons for exceeding the time limit.
During the course of the assessment the legal status of the case may change from Section 17 to Section 47 and visa versa depending on the information and analysis and/or changes in the child's circumstances. The Team manager must be aware of and agree to all such changes.
The family and agencies involved in the assessment should always be involved in and informed of a change in the legal basis of the assessment.
7. Regular Review
The assessment plan must set out timescales for the actions to be met and stages of the assessment to progress, which should include regular points to review the assessment. The work with the child and family and key professionals should ensure that the agreed points are achieved through regular reviews. Where delays or obstacles occur these must be acted on and the assessment plan must be reviewed if any circumstances change for the child.
The social care practitioner's supervisor must review the assessment plan regularly with the social worker and ensure that actions such as those below have been met:
- There has been direct communication with the child alone and their views and wishes have been recorded and taken into account when providing services;
- All the children in the household have been seen and their needs considered;
- The child's home address has been visited and the child's bedroom has been seen;
- The parents have been seen and their views and wishes have been recorded and taken into account;
- Key professionals have been contacted and relevant information gathered;
- The analysis and evaluation has been completed;
- The assessment provides clear evidence for decisions on what types of services are needed to provide good outcomes for the child and family.
A useful comment from 'Working Together to Safeguard Children 2015' to bear in mind for all professionals when reviewing progress:
"A high quality assessment is one in which evidence is built and revised throughout the process. A social worker may arrive at a judgement early in the case but this may need to be revised as the case progresses and further information comes to light. It is a characteristic of skilled practice that social workers revisit their assumptions in the light of new evidence and take action to revise their decisions in the best interests of the individual child."
Recording by all professionals should include information on the child's development and significant life experiences so that progress can be monitored to ensure their outcomes are improving. This is particularly significant in circumstances where neglect is an issue.
Records should be kept of the progress of the assessment on the individual child's record and in their Chronology to monitor any patterns of concerns.
Assessment plans and action points arising from plans and meetings should be circulated to the participants including the child, if appropriate, and the parents.
The recording should be such that a child, requesting to access their records, could easily understand the process taking place and the reasons for decisions and actions taken.
Supervision records should reflect the reasoning for decisions and actions taken.
9. Principles for a Good Assessment
The assessment triangle in Working Together to Safeguard Children 2015 provides a model, which should be used to examine how the different aspects of the child's life and context interact and impact on the child. It notes that it is important that:
- Information is gathered and recorded systematically;
- Information is checked and discussed with the child and their parents/carers where appropriate;
- Differences in views about information are recorded; and
- The impact of what is happening to the child is clearly identified.