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7.4 Oxfordshire Thresholds of Needs Matrix and Common Assessment Framework

The Common Assessment Framework (CAF) is designed so that a complete picture of a child’s needs (including any unmet needs) can be obtained at an early stage, and enables information to be gathered in a structured way. A CAF can only be undertaken with the consent of children, young people and their families. The aim is that children and families can be helped to access the right services early and so, wherever possible, prevent the escalation of difficulties. It also means that where a child is referred to a specialist service, the CAF can be built on rather than there having to be a new assessment; and the child does not have to go through the time-consuming and potentially distressing process of telling their story over and over again. 

The most important way of ensuring that these children can be identified early and helped before things reach crisis point is for everyone whose job involves working with children and families to keep an eye out for their well-being, and be prepared to help if something is going wrong.

The CAF creates a structure for agencies to work together, reducing the negative impact of agencies working in isolation, through a Lead Professional system where families are involved in identifying their own strengths, networks of support and additional services that they might need.

It covers all needs, not just the needs that individual services are most interested in. Even if a practitioner is not trained to do a Common Assessment him or herself, knowing about the Thresholds of Need Matrix will help them recognise when it might help so that they can arrange for someone else to do the assessment.

Oxfordshire has developed a Thresholds of Need Matrix, which provides an important tool to support early intervention and multi-agency working within the CAF.   

The Matrix builds on the agreed framework of need and risk, illustrated below in the Pyramid of Needs. 

Click here to view CAF Flowchart.

Children will obviously move into, out of and between these levels of vulnerability according to their particular circumstances. The aim of early identification, referral and service provision is to ensure that children are prevented from moving up the pyramid and, wherever possible, concerns are reduced such that they move down. The divisions between the levels should not be conceived of as ‘hard and fast’. There will need to be some flexibility around the boundaries.

The assessment will have been completed when a plan is agreed by the family and the agencies. The family and relevant professionals will form a group together known as a Team Around the Child (TAC) which is co-ordinated by the Lead Professional. This ensures that the family is empowered to solve their own problems with support from agencies working effectively and flexibly together.

Members of the TAC will liaise regularly and review their progress, tailing off and ending their involvement as the outcomes improve for the child and family.

NB If problems increase whilst agencies are working with a family and there is concern that the child may be suffering Significant Harm, a referral must be made to Children, Young People & Families under the Referrals (including Referrals Pathway) Procedure. The agencies will then continue their involvement within the scope of the Safeguarding Procedures set out in Part 3 of this Manual.

A child who has been the subject of a Child Protection Plan co-ordinated by a Lead Social Worker, who is also the Lead Professional, may need continuing support in his or her community after the child protection concerns have been resolved. This can be provided by establishing a Team Around the Child (TAC) with a Lead Professional who is not a social worker. If this is agreed at the final Child Protection Review Conference when it is also agreed that the Child Protection Plan can be discontinued, the social worker will work with the family and the practitioners to:

  • Agree the process of transfer, e.g. joint visits, co-work for a period, consultation with the social worker post-transfer;
  • Identify and agree the new Lead Professional from amongst a group of community-based practitioners;
  • Establish the TAC and its ongoing plan;
  • Ensure the TAC is aware of the locality social care services available to all professionals.

This enables the child to ‘move down’ the pyramid of needs and receive an appropriate level of support.

The Oxfordshire Website contains further information on how multi agency working is to be developed in Locality Teams in Oxfordshire. 

See also “The Common Assessment Framework for children and young people: Practitioners’ Guide”, 2007.