Single Assessment Guidance
SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER
This chapter seeks to provide policy and practice guidance with regard to the Single Assessment process in Merton following 'Working Together to Safeguard Children'.
The chapter seeks to reflect the Munro Report recommendations, emphasising the use of professional judgment, evidence based work and targeted interventions which focus on the specific needs of the child.
RELEVANT LINKS AND LEGISLATION
This chapter was updated locally where required and amended in December 2021 to add a new section on 16 and 17 year olds who may be Homeless and/or require Accommodation and reflects the issue of Homelessness and the vulnerability of young people identified in Working Together to Safeguard Children.This chapter is currently under review.
This single assessment used within Merton with guidance will be used in the context of enhanced and specialist services which include the Multi Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH) Team, Safeguarding and Care Planning Service, Vulnerable Children Team, Special Educational Needs & Children with Disabilities all supporting children and families across the service areas.The following guidance is produced to support the use of the single assessment by frontline practitioners and partner agency commissioned to ensure they stretch their thinking, are reflective, respectful, curious and creative.
This guidance has been written in line with 'The Munro Review of Child Protection: Final Report' recommendations to develop greater professionalism by social workers in the context of social work theoretical frameworks and specifically using the 'systemic' approach to working with families.
However, the single assessment also provides for other professionals and services to undertake assessments in the context of their specific enhanced or specialist services.
Merton's Multi-agency information sharing and assessment, the revised Merton Well Being Model and the Quality Assurance Framework, encapsulate and express the strength of Merton's partnership approach to delivering the highest quality service to children, young people and families.
The new Working Together to Safeguard Children Guidance confirms timescales and responsibilities as set out below.
- The Children and Families Hub Team Manager must make a decision about the type of response required within one working day of receiving a referral;
- There is no differentiation of assessments; all are now classed as single assessments. All assessments must be completed within 35 days. Merton has set the completion date at the 35 day point. To support this we are reviewing assessments with timescales set out at the 10 day review point within Merton's agreed 35 day timeframe;
- The Social Work Team manager must convene a Child Protection Conference within 15 working days of the last strategy discussion; we will record all strategy meetings for our data capture;
- The Core Group of professionals tasked with developing the Child Protection Plan must meet within 10 working days of the Initial Child Protection Conference;
- Child protection plans must be reviewed within 3 months of the initial child protection conference, with further reviews at intervals of no more than 6 months for as long as the child remains subject of a child protection plan;
- A local authority must initiate a child protection conference within 15 working days of being notified that a child subject of a child protection plan is moving into their area;
- Requirements around the reporting of allegations have been tightened up, with all statutory partner agencies now required to report all allegations to the Local Authority Designated Officer (LADO) within 1 working day.
CONSENT Ensure the appropriate consent form is used & the consent sections completed on the Single Assessment (Merton's Consent Form - to follow).
2. Expectations of Social Workers, other Professionals and Managers
Social workers are expected to:
- Engage effectively with children and families;
- Plan their assessment carefully in consultation with their supervisory manager and the family;
- Involve other professionals in the process and record their views;
- Work out the information needed to inform the assessment and the different sources of that information that will be used such as key research findings;
- Have an up-to-date chronology (see Chronology Guidance) and genogram prepared;
- Understand and apply the dimensions of the "Framework for the Assessment of Children in Need and their Families" (Dept. of Health, 2000);
- Use their senses (in particular observation) and intuition as well as intellect;
- Apply an understanding of child development and theoretical frameworks (e.g. systems theory, Merton's practice model);
- Be able to understand, identify and weigh up both risk and protective factors in the child, family and environment, including any factors that may indicate that the child is or has been trafficked or a victim of compulsory labour, servitude and slavery. Note; if there is a concern with regards to exploitation or trafficking a referral into the National Referral Mechanism should be made. See - GOV.UK Digital Referral System: Report Modern Slavery;
- Be able to use specific and measured assessment tools that will enhance assessments and cite these in their assessments;
- Bring together the different types of information and be able to make sense of it;
- Reach clear judgments and recommendations based on their analysis and, in consultation with their supervisory manager, provide their rationale for any further action if agreed;
- Formulate evidence-based care plans which focus on the outcomes to be achieved i.e. the difference in well-being and safety to be achieved in the life of the child and family;
- Complete the assessments in the time-scales required;
- Ensure the assessment is recorded on the Assessment Report document and shared appropriately;
- Direct work tools to be used when obtaining the voice of the child;
- Merton's Practice Model to be implemented when completing the assessment.
Managers are expected to:
- Ensure social workers have the capacity to complete the assessment by maintaining oversight of caseloads and case weighting them as appropriate;
- Allocate the assessment through direct discussion with the social worker (not e-mail), clarifying the key areas to focus on;
- Plan the assessment in consultation with the social worker and agree the assessment plan;
- Formally review progress of the assessment at its planning half-way point and sooner, if viable;
- Ensure an up-to-date chronology and genogram (see Chronology Guidance) is in place;
- Provide social workers with adequate reflective supervision through the assessment process;
- Make clear decisions in response to the recommendations;
- Track the progress of the assessment and ensure it is completed within time-scales.
A qualified social worker will always complete a Children Act 1989 Section 47 Enquiry and investigation using the single assessment format on the social care information system.
Children in Need assessments under Section 17 Children Act 1989 will in the main be completed by social workers unless a Team Manager has designated that this can be undertaken by a family support worker or alternatively qualified individual. These assessments must be overseen and signed off by a Team Manager within the team.
A review check point is set at no longer than 20 days to be completed by the manager followed by a further 20 day period for sign off to the 40 day point.
3. Our Understanding of Assessments
This guidance is designed to help social workers and their line/Team Managers to undertake good quality assessments.
We cannot begin to improve the lives of disadvantaged and vulnerable children unless we identify their needs and understand what is happening to them in order to take appropriate action. This is why we undertake assessments.
Because of the way social work practice in the UK has been bureaucratised in recent years, there has been a tendency to work from an incident based, retrospective, problem focused, paternalistic and adversarial perspective (Damian Griffiths, MSCP Conference, 2013).
We are moving away from that, towards a strengths based approach when completing assessments. Undertaking a single assessment is a professional activity by which social workers develop a good understanding of what is happening in a child's life and how they can be helped. The assessment format on the social care information system is just there to record the outcome of that professional activity.
Assessment requires the application of analytical skill and knowledge. It requires creativity and flexibility. It uses all our senses what we observe, what we hear and what we feel our intuition - our emotional responses. It involves our humanity the ability to engage with children and parents and to convey care and empathy.
How we do assessments matter: if we get them right, we have a strong basis for helping children. If we get them wrong, children will not be helped and we will risk going down pathways of action that will make no difference or could fail to protect children.
Key points to note at this stage are:
- Social workers and managers must be familiar with the content of "The Framework for the Assessment of Children in Need and their Families" pages 1 - 60. This was published by the Department of Health and Social Care in 2000, and gives very clear guidance to social workers about the different elements of the assessment process;
- Children and families can and should be helped while the assessment is underway. Sometimes help might be needed immediately and social workers need to be prompt in their referrals to services and not wait to the completion of the assessment to make such referrals. Also, undertaking an assessment with a family can begin a process of understanding and change by family members. A social worker may, during the process of gathering information, be instrumental in bringing about change by the questions asked, by listening to members of the family, by validating the family's difficulties or concerns, and by providing information and advice. The process of assessment should be therapeutic in itself;
- Engagement. Assessment is an activity done in partnership with children and families. It is essential then to engage with them from the start. Developing a working relationship with children and family members will not always be easy to achieve and can be difficult especially when there have been concerns about significant harm to the child. However resistant the family or difficult the circumstances, it remains important to continue to try to find ways of engaging the family in the assessment process. The quality of the early or initial contact will affect later working relationships and the ability of professionals to secure an agreed understanding of what is happening and to provide help. Children and families need to know that the social worker cares about them and their history;
- Involving other professionals. The children that social workers assess will be known to a range of other professionals who will have a rich source of understanding about them. The assessment must draw on this knowledge. Where there is reasonable cause to suspect that a child is suffering, or is likely to suffer, Significant Harm, to enable a decision to be made as whether any action to safeguard and promote the child's welfare should be taken, information and professional opinion from other organisations and agencies should be sought as appropriate, and should be initiated where there are concerns about all forms of abuse and neglect. This includes female genital mutilation and other honour- based violence, and extra-familial threats including radicalisation and sexual or criminal exploitation.
- Child centered. This means that the child is seen and kept in focus throughout the assessment and that account is always taken of the child's perspective. In complex situations where much is happening, attention can be diverted from the child to other issues which the family may be facing, such as a high level of conflict between adult family members, or depression being experienced by a parent or acute housing problems. This can result in the child being 'lost' during the assessment. The significance of seeing and observing the child throughout the assessment cannot be overstated;
The importance, therefore, of undertaking direct work with children during the assessment is emphasised, including developing multiple, age, gender and culturally appropriate methods of ascertain their wishes and feelings, and understanding the meaning of their experiences to them.
- The words used: Language is really important, but can often fail to communicate real meaning. Different people can hear the same phrase but it might mean different things to them, in the same way that different people will gain different meaning from looking at the same painting. So where possible, use the words that the child and family use. When talking about "drug use", for example, capture the phrases that they use to describe the form it takes and its impact, and record these in the Assessment Report;
- The social worker, in the assessment process, needs to build up a good picture of the child, and of how the child sees and experiences the world. The social worker needs to be able to see the world through the child's eyes; they must get a feel of what it is like to be that child in that family. This needs to be conveyed in the written record. Someone should be able to read the Assessment Report and come away with a clear picture of the child and how they see and experience the world.
Assessments for some children will require particular care. This is especially so for young carers; children with special educational needs (including to inform and be informed by Education, Health and Care Plans); unborn children where there are concerns regarding the parent(s); children in hospital; children with specific communication needs; unaccompanied migrant children; children considered at risk of gang activity and association with organised crime groups; children at risk of female genital mutilation; children who are in the youth justice system and children returning home following a period of Accommodation;
- Every assessment must be informed by the views of the child as well as the family, and a child's wishes and feelings must be sought regarding the provision of services to be delivered;
- Each assessment need to consist of:
- Danger Statement & Safety Goal & Bottom Lines;
- Mapping under three columns: what's working well, what are we worried about and what needs to happen next?
4. Principles Underpinning this Assessment Framework
- Are child centered;
- Are strength based;
- Are rooted in child development;
- Are systemic - they understand the child in the context of family and environmental systems of which they are part;
- Ensure equality of opportunity;
- Involve working with children and families;
- Build on families strengths as well as identify difficulties;
- Are inter-agency in their approach to assessment and the provision of services;
- Are a continuing process, not a single event;
- Are carried in parallel with other actions and provision of services;
- Are grounded in evidence based knowledge;
- Seen as an intervention in its own right.
5. Key Elements of the Assessment Process
The elements of the assessment process set our below are mirrored by the assessment pro forma. The pro forma on the social care information system should be used to record these elements.
5.1 Establishing Family Membership
This is not as obvious as it sounds. We need to be clear about which child is the focus of the assessment. We need to know who the key people are in that child's world and who impacts on his / her well-being. They might not be living in the household.
It is particularly important to identify the child's father and to involve them in the assessment where this is possible. Research tells us that male figures in children's lives are frequently overlooked in assessments and care plans, and this can have adverse consequences for the child, as they can be sources of help as well as possible risks.
As part of the assessment a Genogram should be completed; this ideally should be done with the family and involving the children as it can be enjoyable for them and a chance to hear them talk about the different family members and what they mean. However, it is critical to approach this sensitively and respectfully (see Chronology Guidance).Each child's needs must be assessed separately. Certain elements will be transferable between siblings in a family who are being assessed, but assessments must focus on the uniqueness of the individual child.
5.2 Reason for undertaking the assessment
Before a social worker can start an assessment they need to be absolutely clear why they are being asked to do it. The manager needs to explain this in writing in the appropriate section: what the presenting issues are now; how this meets the thresholds for social care involvement with Merton's Wellbeing model. When the social worker contacts the child and family they need to be able to explain this to them. This decision is made within the Children and Families Hub Service.
Social workers need to ensure that they have obtained consent. If none given, social worker to seek management decision on overriding parental consent if the child is deemed to be at risk of significant harm. Consent should be obtained in writing during the first visit to the family home.
5.3 Planning the assessment
Assessments must be planned in advance between the social worker and manager. Matters to think about in the planning include:
- What is the depth and complexity of assessment required? Many children who come to the attention of Children's Social Care will not require an in-depth assessment; others will. So a decision needs to be made case by case. It's important that assessments are proportionate to what is known of the child's situation. (N.B. The nature of the assessment may also change if any level of assessment initially identified, subsequently highlights a different level of concern or complexity);
- Referrals may include siblings or a single child within a sibling group. Where the initial focus for a referral is on one child, other children in the household or family should be equally considered, and the individual circumstances of each assessed and evaluated separately;
- A lengthier assessment will involve several meetings with the child / family and the gathering of a wide range of information;
- Having an understanding of the history of the child and family through completion of the chronology and genogram. Social worker to endeavour to involve the young person, parent or carer in drawing up the chronology (see Chronology Guidance) as this can both enrich the assessment and support meaningful direct work.
- Is this assessment being done under Section 17 (Child in Need) or Section 47 (Child Protection) of the Children Act 1989? If the latter, then a Strategy Meeting / discussion must have taken place prior to the decision to undertake the assessment. The decisions of that meeting / discussion should inform the assessment plan;
- Which family members are to be seen and in which order?
- Arrangements for seeing the child (and whether to be seen alone) and for involving the child in the assessment. How is the social worker to get an understanding of the child's perspective of their world and their wishes? What direct work / communication techniques will be used?
- Consent – obtained and recorded where ?
- What family functioning is to be observed and how / where to do this?
- What other professionals are / have been involved and who will be contacted to contribute to the assessment? Arrangements for getting permission to contact others where needed;
- What social care records exist? - These will need to be read;
- What assessment tools will be used (e.g. Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaires, Parenting Daily Hassles Scale, 3 Houses etc);
- Consideration of whether a Family Group Conference (see Family Group Conferences Procedure) should be convened? Family network meeting?
- Are there communication issues, such as those who are unaccompanied children, and those children who are victims of modern slavery and/or trafficking, and arrangements to address these e.g. interpreter?
- What are the time-scales for completing different elements of the assessment; what are the review points? Managers, as a minimum, must review progress at the 20 day point, but there might be other critical mile-stones. E.g. other incidents occur and the intervention needs to change as a result; e.g. the 15 day time limit for child protection conferencing or Court Proceedings etc. Assessments may also be signed off (i.e. completed) at this point.
5.4 The History
To understand what is going on in the child's present world, we need to understand what has happened in the past. Past events and experiences impact on the present. Indeed, many things that happen now, (such as how the family functions, quality of attachment and parenting), will not make sense without that historical understanding.A good way to do this is chronologically i.e. start with the parents' histories before they became a family, then the history of the family history and then the child's history within the family. This is not just about finding out about "events"; it's about understanding the significance and impact of these events for the parents, family and child.
5.5 The Parents' / Carers' History
We need to understand the history of both parents / carers' individually. What is their story? What has happened in their lives: their experience of being parented, attachments, illnesses, experience of abuse / neglect, moves, losses, achievements, relationships, involvement is crime etc. Research tells us that it's important for parents to feel that social workers have a good understanding of them as people in their own right, with 'a story to tell'. The skill is to do this so that the parent feels cared for (respected) throughout the process, whilst at the same time keeping the professional focus squarely on the welfare of the child.Make sure that the father and current male carer / partner are included. Research has shown that fathers are frequently not at the centre of assessments.
5.6 The Family's History
Describe the current family unit and its history as a family. Who lives where; who is significant to the child? Number of house/school moves. It is important to have an understanding of the current family's history and relationships within and across extended family; any stressors for the family that have had an impact or are having an impact e.g. bereavement/illnesses.
A further critical area for consideration is the issue of 'neglect'. Firstly, neglect is a complex phenomenon which is often oversimplified and not well understood. The impact of neglect is dependent on the type and degree of the neglect suffered (see 'Core-Info: Emotional Neglect and Emotional Abuse in Pre-school Children', NSPCC and 'Neglect and Serious Case Reviews', UEA and NSPCC (2013)).Adults who have suffered neglect and have gone on to have children of their own and who have come to the attention of Children's Social Services, are likely to have particular difficulties dealing with past abuse and trauma. The use of research and focused training is critical.
5.7 The Child's History and Profile
The child's history will be informed by what the parents and others say. But crucially the social worker needs to capture the child's story of their life and their understanding of it. Professionals should, in particular, be alert to the potential need for early help for a child who:
- Is disabled and has specific additional needs;
- Has special educational needs; EHCP?
- Is a young carer;
- Is showing signs of engaging in anti-social or criminal behaviour;
- Is in a family circumstance presenting challenges for the child, such as substance abuse, adult mental health, domestic violence; and/or
- Is showing early signs of abuse and/or neglect
Direct work methods can be used in this.
As indicated above, the social worker in conjunction with the key family members will undertake an exercise to draw and understand the Genogram -3 generational. This will need to be as detailed as possible. Family networks that span several households will need to be articulated within the wider family tree. The process of putting together a family tree with the child can tell us a great deal about how they see their family world e.g. who's missing (see Chronology Guidance).
Please note that it may be convenient and sensible, where necessary, to draw a neat and legible genogram by hand and scanned into the social care information system rather than rely on a computer generated one.
Chronology of significant events
Social workers should use the information from exploration of personal and family history to start a chronology of significant events. It is important that only pertinent information is included here.
Guide: include initial/historical referrals to social care, births, deaths, significant relationships starting/ending, illnesses/injuries, s47 investigations and outcome, moves, episodes of CP plans and category. It is important to share this information with families for accuracy but also to allow them to reflect on the content. Refer to the Department's guidance on chronologies.All Case Records must have an up-to-date chronology (see Chronology Guidance).
5.8 Previous Social Care Involvement
Previous and current involvement of other professionals / services
Effective sharing of information between professionals and local agencies is essential for effective identification, assessment and service provision. Early sharing of information is the key to providing effective early help where there are emerging problems. At the other end of the continuum, sharing information can be essential to put in place effective child protection services. Serious Case Reviews (SCRs)/Child Safeguarding Practice Review have shown how poor information sharing has contributed to the deaths or serious injuries of children.
Previous Social Care involvement
Social workers need to find out what previous involvement the Social Care Service has had with the child and family. It's important that the current presenting issues are not seen in isolation from previous contact. The nature of that previous contact - for example, earlier concerns about parents, domestic violence, whether the parent themselves had been in care, previous assessments, previous help provided and its impact - will be crucial to understanding the current position and the degree of risk. Consideration also needs to be given to obtaining information of involvement of other local authority Social Care Services, especially in child protection cases and where there has been a recent move into the London Borough of Merton.
Previous records - electronic and paper - should be read, and archived material retrieved.
Previous and current involvement of other professionals / services
It's important to know what professionals and services have been and currently are part of the child and family's system; and to know the impact of the work of these professionals and services, and how they are understood by the family and child. For example, past and current involvement of CAMHS will be pertinent, as will the role of adult mental health and substance misuse services for the parents. The knowledge of these professionals must be drawn on to inform the assessment and be part of the care planning.
It is essential as part of building our understanding that an eco map is completed. The eco map helps us understand the family system and how it relates to their internal and external world. The eco map will describe and articulate the family's connectivity with the world (Separate Guidance available - to follow).
5.9 Assessment of Risk Outside the Home
As well as threats to the welfare of children from within their families, children may be vulnerable to abuse or exploitation from outside their families. These extra-familial threats might arise at school and other educational establishments, from within peer groups, or more widely from within the wider community and/or online.
These threats can take a variety of different forms and children can be vulnerable to multiple threats, including: exploitation by criminal gangs and organised crime groups such as county lines; trafficking, online abuse; ; teenage relationship abuse (including controlling or coercive behaviour); sexual exploitation and the influences of extremism leading to radicalisation.
Assessments of children in such cases should consider whether wider environmental factors are undermining effective intervention being undertaken to reduce risk with the child and family. Parents and carers have little influence over the contexts in which the abuse takes place and the young person's experiences of this extra-familial abuse can undermine parent-child relationships.
Where this is the case, the social worker should:
- Refer the child's circumstances to relevant Multi-Agency work which addresses the concerns and risks in the neighbourhood or local authority;
- Identify the issues with their line-manager with a view to the local authority establishing a multi-agency intervention programme to meet community needs; or
- In specific circumstances, through their line-manager, seek to convene a Child in Need strategy/planning meeting with relevant partner agencies (e.g. school, police, relevant voluntary bodies, etc.) to explore specific interventions to address the safeguarding issues.
Within this context, children who may be alleged perpetrators should also be assessed to understand the impact of contextual issues on their safety and welfare.
Assessments of children in such cases should consider the individual needs and vulnerabilities of each child. They should look at the parental capacity to support the child, including helping the parents and carers to understand any risks and support them to keep children safe and assess potential risk to the child.
These interventions should focus on addressing both child and family and these wider environmental factors, which are likely to be a threat to the safety and welfare of a number of different children who may or may not be known to Children's Social Care. Effective information sharing and intelligence gathering is crucial in developing effective coordinated multi-agency responses.
5.10 The Current Situation
Having considered the history, the social worker needs to explore the current situation for the child and family. The social worker should use the three elements of the Framework for the Assessment of Children in Need and Their Families to structure their assessment activity. The three main areas that the social worker needs to consider are:
- The Child's Development Need;
- Parenting Capacity;
- Family and Environmental Factors.
These three areas contain within them a number of sub-elements. These are explained in the Department of Health and Social Care guidance extremely well and social workers need to be aware of these and why they are important.
However, part of the planning for the assessment needs to be a decision about which to focus on. If the assessment does not need to be lengthy or is not particularly complex it will not be necessary to explore all of them.
The degree and depth of exploration of the sub-elements within the three assessment areas needs to be proportionate to the particular child's past and present circumstances.
As an assessment develops, the social worker might conclude that a there are more complex issues than originally presented or understood; therefore further consideration should be given at the 20 day point as a minimum.
When exploring the above three areas, it is important for the social worker to get the different perspectives on them of the child, parents and other professionals - they might have markedly different views on the quality of parenting for example, or how safe certain behaviours are.
The record of this part of the assessment needs to make clear whose perspective and version is being reported.
The social worker must also record their own perspective - for example, their view of the quality of family functioning and attachments based on their observation e.g. how does the child react when certain adults approach them; what does it feel like walking into a room with the all the family members present e.g. lots of shouting and chaos, TV blaring?
Social Work Analysis and Professional Judgments
On-going analysis and reflection
As the social worker builds up the information needed to inform the assessment, they will be continually analysing it i.e. reflecting on the information in order to make sense of the child's world and what is happening in the family. It is important that social workers do not start with a fixed view at an early stage; if they do this, they will not make use of the subsequent information gained, which needs to test and challenge their developing hypotheses. During the course of the assessment the social worker should be discussing their findings with their manager so they can together reflect on what is emerging e.g. during supervision and at the 20 review point. Social workers should form hypothesis around the presenting issues.
Risk Factors, Family Resilience and Protective Factors
This analysis should be informed by an explicit consideration of "risk factors" and "family resilience and protective factors."
Environmental Factors: children may be vulnerable to neglect and abuse or exploitation from within their family but increasingly also from individuals they come across in their day-to-day lives. These threats can take a variety of different forms, including: sexual, physical and emotional abuse; neglect; exploitation by criminal gangs and organised crime groups; trafficking; online abuse; sexual exploitation and the influences of extremism leading to radicalisation.
The social worker needs to be absolutely clear what the risks are to the child. At the same time, the social worker needs to articulate what the factors are in the child's life that protects him / her from the negative impact of those risks. Thus, simply saying there is "domestic violence" taking place within a family does not tell us a great deal about the child's needs and the degree of risk. That's because we also need to know about what factors protect; for example:
- The presence of a safe adult to whom the child is attached;
- The age of the child as risk factors have different impact at different ages;
- Whether the child has a trusted close friend;
- Access to resources such as money;
- A supportive school;
- Strong attachments in early life;
- A supportive wider family network. Family network meetings can help to identify supportive wider family members.
Protective factors need to be tested out to determine how real they are - the fact that there is a grandmother who lives round the corner does not mean that that the grandmother is a safe carer - she might have the same drug problems as the child's mother.
Practice tools include: Signs of Safety 3 Houses, Munro 2012 review with Margaret D.
Trigger Trio Risks- It is particularly important to be aware of domestic violence, adult mental health and adult substance misuse in combination. But there are many other risks such as anger control, lack of attachment, lack of empathy by adults. The interaction of different risks needs to be explored.
Once identified, the risks have to be weighed up in relation to the presence of protective factors and strengths in the family and child, so that their impact and the overall risk to the child can be understood. What is working well? What are we worried about? What Needs to change?
Overall analysis and professional judgment
Once all the information has been gathered, the social worker then needs to weigh it up and come to a final overall professional analysis and make professional judgments.
The social worker needs to reflect on and make sense of the wide range and types of information that have been gathered in the course of the assessment. This involves reflecting on the views and perspectives of the different people involved regarding the history and current circumstances; the evidence from any assessment tools; what has been observed by the social worker. This reflection should be informed by messages from research, an understanding of child development, and theoretical frameworks such as systems theory.
The social worker needs to reach judgments about the key issues relevant for the particular child and family including the following:
- What we are concerned about - what is the need and / or the harm to the child is, and how significant it is?
- The probability (risk) of the need or harm continuing and how serious it would be?
- The likely impact on the child, now and in the future;
- How the parents / carers respond to the concerns and how they have tried to manage the situation;
- What needs to change to ensure that the child is safe and / or their needs are met?
- The parents' / carers' capacity to make the necessary changes with or without help;
- What help the child / young person and family need to make the changes;
- Whether there are significant gaps in our information that might impact on our assessment.
An explanation of how these judgments have been reached should be included.
RecommendationsThe social worker, having reached their judgments, should now set out their recommendations for what should happen as a result of those judgments.
5.11 Manager's Decisions
The manager should meet with the social worker to discuss the assessment and must make a decision in respect of the recommendations, which could be:
- Allocate and complete Child in Need Plan and Child in Need visits;
- Convene initial Child Protection Conference;
- Child to become looked after: allocate and complete Child Looked After Plan (Looked After Care Plan);
- Step-down to a CASA;
- Step-down to universal services;
- No further action by Children's Social Care needed;
- The following specific actions to be completed then close;
- Other (give detail).
The manager should reach their decision only after they have discussed the assessment directly with the social worker.
Sharing the AssessmentThe contents of the Assessment Report should be shared with the parents and child unless there is an exceptional reason for not doing so. They should be given a copy and talked through its content. For parents with English as a second language, an interpreter to be present when the social worker goes through the report verbally.
6. Care Planning
If the result of the assessment is that the case needs to be allocated for further work, then a Child's Plan must be developed.
If the child is to be looked after then a Looked after Child Care Plan is required; if the case goes to an initial Child Protection Conference and that conference decides the child has suffered or is at risk of suffering significant harm, then a Child Protection Plan is required. If continued work is needed under Section 17 then a Child in Need Plan is required if parents consent.
Step 1: Define the Outcomes
The child's plan will need to be SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely). That is, they need to start by setting out what are the improvements in the child's well-being and safety that will need to take place. Outcomes are the changes and improvements in the child and family's well-being and functioning that the plan is designed to deliver. These should be framed in concrete terms so everyone is clear what the plan is trying to achieve. Use the language of the child and family, as it is important that it is their plan.
Step 2: Define what needs to done to achieve the outcomes
Having clarified the outcomes to be achieved, plans should then set out what actions will be taken / help provided to achieve them. When deciding on what help is to be provided or action to be taken, the social worker should have a clear evidence-base. They need to know that there is an evidence for saying that a particular course of action or service will deliver the desired change. For example, if they are planning that a parent attends a certain parenting programme; they must have evidence that the particular programme is likely to achieve the required improvement for that particular parent. Most services are only effective with certain profiles of parents / children.
Social workers should not make simple associations between a "need" e.g. domestic violence, and a service that works in that area; the relevance of that particular service for the particular child needs to first be explored.
As well as being evidence-based, social workers should also draw on their life experience and what good parents would do to help their children. If a young parent has low self-esteem and confidence, then getting them enrolled in adult literacy classes might be more effective than counselling.
Step 3: Set out how we will know if the outcomes have been achieved
The next element of developing the care plan is to specify how we will know whether the outcome has been achieved; for example, if an outcome was that mother's drug use would stop, then a measure might be hair-strand test. If an outcome was that a child is attending and doing well in school, the measure might be the report from school.
The Service has developed a Child's Plan pro forma to be used for Child in Need and Child Protection Care Plans.Care Plans must be drawn up and shared with families.
7. Specific Types of Situations to Consider when Completing Assessments
A pre-birth assessment is always to be undertaken in the following circumstances:
- Where concerns exist regarding the mother's ability to protect; in the context of alcohol or substance abuse thought to be affecting the health of the expected baby, and is one concern amongst others;
- Where the expectant parent(s) are very young and a dual assessment of their own needs as well as their ability to meet the baby's needs is required; specifically consider care leavers;
- Where previous children in the family have been removed because they have suffered, or been at risk of, Significant Harm;
- Where a person who has been convicted of an offence against a child, or is believed by child protection professionals to have abused a child, has joined the family;
- Where there are acute professional concerns regarding parenting capacity, particularly where the parents have either severe mental health problems or learning disabilities;
- Where the child is believed to be at risk of significant harm due to domestic violence.
If there is reason to believe that a child is suffering or likely to suffer significant harm, Children's Social Care has a duty to make enquiries to decide what action should be taken to safeguard the child, under S47 of the Children Act 1989. Guidance should be sought from the London Child Protection Procedures, which as well as giving general guidance, offers advice about children in specific circumstances.
- Cross-border Child Protection Cases: The 1996 Hague Convention;
- The International Child Abduction and Contact Unit.
Children with Disabilities
In undertaking assessments of disabled children it is important for Social Workers and Practitioners to consider the additional needs of disabled children caused by barriers in society, impairments due to health, and heightened vulnerability due to disability. Where a disabled child has communication impairments or learning disabilities, special attention should be paid to communication needs, and to ascertain the child's perception of events, and her or his wishes and feelings. Professionals should not make assumptions about the inability of a disabled child to give credible evidence, or communicate their wishes and feelings. Each child should be assessed carefully, and helped and supported to participate in the assessment process. Workers need to remain conscious that parents are often experts in their child's disability.
Disabled children are at an increased likelihood of being socially isolated than non-disabled children and are dependent on parents and carers for practical assistance in daily living, including intimate personal care. They are also at increased risk of exposure to abusive behaviour due to their impaired capacity to resist or avoid abuse. They may have speech, language and communication needs which may make it difficult to tell others what is happening; they are especially vulnerable to bullying and intimidation.
In assessing families of disabled children it is important to understand the impact the child's disability has on the family. For example are the siblings undertaking a substantial role in their siblings care, are some of their basic needs being neglected as a direct result of the needs of their disabled sibling. The needs of a carer should also be addressed within an assessment. Under the Carers (Recognition and Services ) Act 1995 carers have a statutory right to a carers assessment and in some situations this may need to be carried out in tangent to a framework assessment. Safeguarding Disabled Children Practice Guidance (2009).
Young carers are also entitled to request a separate carer's assessment under the Carers (Recognition and Services) Act 1995 and, if they are over 16 years, under the Carers and Disabled Act 2000.
Special Educational Needs/Education Health Care Plans (subject to the passage of the Children & Families Bill)
Children have special educational needs if they have a learning difficulty which calls for special educational provision to be made for them. There is a separate assessment which takes place through the SEN service. A single assessment is likely to contribute to the Education, Health and Care Needs Assessment process if one has been or is being undertaken.
Parents educating children at home
Where parents have decided to educate their children at home guidance is available on the intranet; where a Section 17 or Section 47 assessment is being completed it is important to be clear that the parents are able to educate their children and that this has been assessed by 'Home Education'. Liaison with this service is important if a child is said to be educated at home.
None of the service users in this group are indigenous, 99% have no English and many are illiterate. They have no knowledge of this society, or previous history in it, but come from a wide range of diverse religious and cultural backgrounds. Many also need assistance with very basic tasks, which are usually taken for granted. This essentially impedes the statutory assessment process, as well as the fact that none of them has any adult or family or friends to assume responsibility for them who might provide background information to assist the practitioner in the assessment process. However, it is important to provide opportunities in an appropriate environment for the young person to share what they can. We also need to consider issues such as PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder).
The assessments carried out by workers are not only those falling under the Children Acts 1989 and 2004 but include other specialist assessments such as age assessments which determine service eligibility from the local authority as minors - or the Home Office as adults.
Cases of Neglect
The assessment of neglect cases can be difficult. Neglect can fluctuate both in level and duration. A child's welfare can, for example, improve following input from services or a change in circumstances and review, but then deteriorate once support is removed. Professionals should be wary of being too optimistic. Timely and decisive action is critical to ensure that children are not left in neglectful homes.
The test should be whether any improvements in adult behaviour are sufficient and sustained. Social workers and their managers should consider the need for further action and record their decisions. The review points should be agreed by the social worker with other professionals and with the child and family to continue evaluating the impact of any change on the welfare of the child.
16 and 17 year Olds who may be Homeless and/or Require Accommodation
Where a 16 or 17 year old seeks help from local authority children's services, or is referred to children's services by some other person or agency as appearing to be homeless or threatened with homelessness, children's services must carry out an assessment of what duties, if any, are owed to them. This includes 17 year olds who are approaching their 18th birthday, and young people who are pregnant or have children in their care.
If there is an imminent threat of homelessness, or if the young person is actually homeless, a child in need assessment must be carried out and the child accommodated under section 20 Children Act 1989, (although this can be refused by the child) (see Joint Protocol for the Assessment of Housing and Support Needs of Homeless 16/17 Year Olds).
Intentional Homelessness see: Homelessness Guidance for local authorities.