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7.5 The Assessment Framework

The following is reproduced from Working Together.


Contents

  1. The Principles and Parameters of a Good Assessment
  2. Focusing on the Needs and Views of the Child
  3. Developing a Clear Analysis
  4. Focusing on Outcomes
  5. Timeliness


1. The Principles and Parameters of a Good Assessment

High quality assessments:

  • Are child centred. Where there is a conflict of interest, decisions should be made in the child’s best interests;
  • Are rooted in child development and informed by evidence;
  • Are focused on action and outcomes for children;
  • Are holistic in approach, addressing the child’s needs within their family and wider community;
  • Ensure equality of opportunity;
  • Involve children and families;
  • Build on strengths as well as identifying difficulties;
  • Are integrated in approach;
  • Are a continuing process not an event;
  • Lead to action, including the provision and review of services; and
  • Are transparent and open to challenge.
Research has shown that taking a systematic approach to enquiries using a conceptual model is the best way to deliver a comprehensive assessment for all children. A good assessment is one which investigates the following three domains, set out in this diagram:

assessment triangle

 

  • The child’s developmental needs, including whether they are suffering or likely to suffer Significant Harm;
  • Parents’ or carers’ capacity to respond to those needs; and
  • The impact and influence of wider family, community and environmental circumstances.

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. 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.

Assessments for some children - including young carers, children with Special Educational Needs (who may require Education Health and Care Plans subject to the passage of the Children and Families Bill), unborn children where there are concerns, asylum seeking children, children in hospital, Disabled Children, children with specific communication needs, children considered at risk of gang activity, children who are in the youth justice system - will require particular care. Where a child has other assessments it is important that these are coordinated so that the child does not become lost between the different agencies involved and their different procedures.


2. Focusing on the Needs and Views of the Child

Every assessment should be child centred. Where there is a conflict between the needs of the child and their parents/carers, decisions should be made in the child’s best interests.

Each child who has been referred into Local Authority Children’s Social Care should have an individual assessment to respond to their needs and to understand the impact of any parental behaviour on them as an individual. Local authorities 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.

Every assessment must be informed by the views of the child as well as the family. Children should, wherever possible, be seen alone and Local Authority Children’s Social Care has a duty to ascertain the child’s wishes and feelings regarding the provision of services to be delivered.8 It is important to understand the resilience of the individual child when planning appropriate services.

Every assessment should reflect the unique characteristics of the child within their family and community context. The Children Act 1989 promotes the view that all children and their parents should be considered as individuals and that family structures, culture, religion, ethnic origins and other characteristics should be respected.

Every assessment should draw together relevant information gathered from the child and their family and from relevant professionals including teachers, early years workers, health professionals, the police and adult social care.

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.

The aim is to use all the information to identify difficulties and risk factors as well as developing a picture of strengths and protective factors.


3. Developing a Clear Analysis

The social worker should analyse all the information gathered from the 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 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 impact on the child’s life.

No system can fully eliminate risk. Understanding risk involves judgement and balance. To manage risks, social workers and other professionals should make decisions with the best interests of the child in mind, informed by the evidence available and underpinned by knowledge of child development.

Critical reflection through supervision should strengthen the analysis in each assessment.

Social workers, their managers and other professionals should always consider the plan from the child’s perspective. A desire to think the best of adults and to hope they can overcome their difficulties should not trump the need to rescue children from chaotic, neglectful and abusive homes. Social workers and managers should always reflect the latest research on the impact of neglect and abuse when analysing the level of need and risk faced by the child. This should be reflected in the case recording.

Assessment is a dynamic and continuous process which should build upon the history of every individual case, responding to the impact of any previous services and analysing what further action might be needed. Social workers should build on this with help from other professionals from the moment that a need is identified.

Decision points and review points involving the child and family and relevant professionals should be used to keep the assessment on track. This is to ensure that help is given in a timely and appropriate way and that the impact of this help is analysed and evaluated in terms of the improved outcomes and welfare of the child.


4. Focusing on Outcomes

Every assessment should be focused on outcomes, deciding which services and support to provide to deliver improved welfare for the child.

Where the outcome of the assessment is continued Local Authority Children’s Social Care involvement, the social worker and their manager should agree a plan of action with other professionals and discuss this with the child and their family. The plan should set out what services are to be delivered, and what actions are to be undertaken, by whom and for what purpose.

Many services provided will be for parents or carers. The plan should reflect this and set clear measurable outcomes for the child and expectations for the parents, with measurable, reviewable actions for them.

The plan should be reviewed regularly to analyse whether sufficient progress has been made to meet the child’s needs and on the level of risk faced by the child. This will be important for neglect cases where parents and carers can make small improvements. 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.

Effective professional supervision can play a critical role in ensuring a clear focus on a child’s welfare. Supervision should support professionals to reflect critically on the impact of their decisions on the child and their family. The social worker and their manager should review the plan for the child. Together they should ask whether the help given is leading to a significant positive change for the child and whether the pace of that change is appropriate for the child. Any professional working with vulnerable children should always have access to a manager to talk through their concerns and judgements affecting the welfare of the child. Assessment should remain an ongoing process, with the impact of services informing future decisions around action.


5. Timeliness

The timeliness of an assessment is a critical element of the quality of that assessment and the outcomes for the child. The speed with which an assessment is carried out after a child’s case has been referred into local authority children’s social care should be determined by the needs of the individual child and the nature and level of any risk of harm faced by the child. This will require judgements to be made by the social worker in discussion with their manager on each individual case.

Within one working day of a referral being received, a Local Authority social worker should make a decision about the type of response that is required and acknowledge receipt to the referrer.

For children who are in need of immediate protection, action must be taken by the social worker, or the police or NSPCC if removal is required, as soon as possible after the referral has been made to Local Authority Children’s Social Care (Sections 44 and 46 of the Children Act 1989).

The maximum timeframe 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 should record the reasons for exceeding the time limit.

Whatever the timescale for assessment, where particular needs are identified at any stage of the assessment, social workers should not wait until the assessment reaches a conclusion before commissioning services to support the child and their family. In some cases the needs of the child will mean that a quick assessment will be required.

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.

It is the responsibility of the social worker to make clear to children and families how the assessment will be carried out and when they can expect a decision on next steps.

To facilitate the shift to an assessment process which brings continuity and consistency for children and families, there will no longer be a requirement to conduct separate initial and core assessments. Local authorities should determine their local assessment processes through a local protocol.

End