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
AMENDMENTThis chapter was reviewed and updated in December 2019 to reflect updated guidance on Assessment in Working Together to Safeguard Children.
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 Common and Shared Assessment (CASA), 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.
CONSENT Ensure the appropriate consent form is used & the consent sections completed on the Single Assessment (Merton's Consent Form - to follow).
Social workers are expected to:
Managers are expected to:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 MASH 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.
Assessments must be planned in advance between the social worker and manager. Matters to think about in the planning include:
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.
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 center of assessments.
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.
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:
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.
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).
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.
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.
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).
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; 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:
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.
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:
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?
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:
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:
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.
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:
The manager should reach their decision only after they have discussed the assessment directly with the social worker.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A pre-birth assessment is always to be undertaken in the following circumstances:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Only valid for 48hrs