Child & Family Assessment Framework
SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER
This chapter fully details the Child & Family Assessment Process and Procedure, reflecting 'Working Together to Safeguard Children'.
The chapter provides key information in respect of the timeliness and deadlines for undertaking the Assessment and the management oversight required.
The Framework identifies a range of issues and 'questions' that practitioners should be seeking to address for themselves when undertaking the Child & Family Assessment and emphasis is made on undertaking the evaluation of the information obtained and of multi-agency working.
This chapter was updated in July 2018 to identify that where there is a recommendation in the Assessment for either a Child In Need Plan or a Child Protection Plan, there should be an analysis as to what will form the basis of the plan to reduce the potential risk/s to the child/ren (see Section 5, Assessment – Timely, Transparent and Proportionate to Need).This chapter was further updated in December 2019 to reflect the Practice Guidance in respect of Signs of Safety.
The Child & Family Assessment was introduced in September 2019 in response to Knowsley adopting the Signs of Safety model of practice within Children's Social Care. Much of the Child & Family Assessment is the same as the Single Assessment, however there is a focus on solution focussed practice which changes the way risk is analysed and addressed. It was important therefore to ensure that the form enabled Social Workers to accurately record their analysis as per the Signs of Safety model. The Child & Family Assessment continues to provide an opportunity for Social Workers to focus on the specific needs of, and allow appropriate time within the assessment for reflection and direct work with, the Child/Young Person to ensure a robust and analytical assessment. The Assessment should assist in gathering information to identify what is working well in a family, as well as what family members Social Workers and other professionals are worried about. This Assessment Framework sets out how in Knowsley, we will assess, plan and manage cases when there are concerns about a child where it is recognised that there is a need for social work assessment and intervention. It is important that Review Point targets are met to ensure appropriate Management oversight and to prevent drift for Children and Families.
The Knowsley level of Need Framework aims to support agencies to meet the needs of children, young people and their families to ensure the best possible outcomes for children identifying which tier the family sit in to ensure that services can then be appropriately supported by agencies.
All Local Authority Children's Social Care Services were required to use the framework from no later than 1st April 2013.
The domains of the assessment framework are:
- The child's developmental needs;
- The parent's capacity to meet those needs; and
- The family and environment;
- As assessment is a continuous process which places the child's needs, welfare and wishes and feelings at the centre. The assessment completed by the Social Worker builds upon information that is already known, and from what a child says about their circumstances (dependent on the child's ability and age) or from the Social Worker's observations of a child in their environment and the interaction between the child and his/her caregiver;
- A Social Worker in order to have a full picture of a child's needs and circumstances will need to gather as part of an assessment information from anyone who comes into contact with the child including immediate and extended family members, as well as known professionals such as midwives, health visitors, GPs, early support workers, teachers, Police, housing officers, probation officers and voluntary workers e.g. NSPCC/Barnardo's;
- If children are to receive help at the right time/when they need it, all agencies/partners have a role in assessments. This includes identifying concerns, sharing information and taking prompt action to deliver a multi-agency approach to safeguard the child/ren;
- Concerns about a child's welfare may arise in many different contexts and the nature of concerns will vary from child to child. What is important is that support is provided quickly so that problems or concerns do not escalate;
- Understanding families and the experiences of children, how they live, where they sleep, the care they receive can be very complex as signs of low level abuse and neglect may be misleading. Care givers may purposefully/intentionally mislead professionals in an attempt to hide abuse (disguised compliance);
- Professionals working within the Knowsley Level of Need Framework have a responsibility to identify the early signs of abuse and neglect, to share that information and "work together" to provide children with the help they need in a timely manner.
2. The Purpose of Social Work Assessments
The purpose of an assessment is to gather information and evidence about a child and their family and to identify whether a child has unmet needs. The Assessment can be used to plan via a multi-agency approach as to how the unmet needs can be addressed to improve outcomes for Children and Young People. Prior to any multi-agency meetings however, Social Workers should speak to the family about their Support Networks (family, friends, community members) and hold a Support Network Meeting to see if the family are able to resolve, or at least alleviate, some of the concerns themselves.A high quality assessment is one in which evidence is built via a number of sources and is reviewed through the process. The aim is to use all information to identify what is working well for the family and what we are worried about. An assessment must be based on a sound knowledge of child development and be seen in the context of the child, the child's family and their environment. The Social Worker leads the assessment which must be informed by the child and their family members and by other professionals who know them, including but not restricted to teachers, health visitors and the police.
No system can fully eliminate risk. Understanding risks, involves judgement and balance. To manage risks, Social Workers and other professionals must make decisions with the best interests of the child in mind and within a timescale which has the child's safety as its paramount concern.
3. Statutory Assessments for Social Work Assessment
Statutory assessments under the Children Act 1989
A good assessment will analyse not only the developmental needs of the child but also the nature and protective factors in the child's life. An assessment will inform decisions about whether a child is a child in need or is suffering, or likely to suffer, Significant Harm as defined in Section 31 of the Children Act 1989.
A Child In Need is defined under the Children Act 1989 as a child who is unlikely to reach or maintain a satisfactory level of health or development, or their health and development will be significantly impaired, without the provision of services, or children who are disabled. In these cases, assessments by a Social Worker are carried out under Section 17 of the Children Act 1989. The purpose of these assessments is to gather evidence about a child's developmental needs and the parents' capacity to meet these needs within the context of their wider family and community. This information must be used to inform decisions about the help needed by the child.
If the Social Worker believes that the child is suffering or likely to suffer Significant Harm, then the local authority under Section 47 of the Children Act 1989 is required to make enquiries to decide what action must be taken, with partners, to safeguard and promote the welfare of the child. There may be a need for immediate protection whilst the assessment is carried out.
Following an application under Section 31A, where a child is the subject of a Care Order, the local authority, as a Corporate Parent, must assess the child's needs and draw up a Care Plan which sets out the services which will be provided to meet the child's identified needs.
Where a child is accommodated under Section 20, the local authority has a statutory responsibility to assess the child's needs and draw up a Care Plan which sets out the services to be provided to meet the child's identified needs.
Whatever legislation the child is assessed under, the purpose of the assessment is always to understand the needs, nature and level of any risk and harm being suffered by the child; and to provide help and support to address those needs and make the child safe.
Where a child becomes Looked After, the assessment will be the baseline for work with the family while the child is Looked After. Any needs which have been identified must be addressed before decisions are made about the child's return home. An assessment by a Social Worker is required before the child returns home under the Care Planning, Placement and Case Review England Regulations 2010. This will provide evidence of whether the necessary changes and improvements have been made to ensure the child's safety when they return home (see Regulation 17, The Care Planning, Placement and Case Review England Regulations 2010).
4. The Framework for Social Work Assessment
Social Work assessments must always:
- Include direct work with children; this may be a conversation, the three houses worksheet or something else but will always include (taking into account age, ability and parental/care giver consent) speaking with the child/ren alone and observing them in their home environment;
- Take into account the child's wishes and feelings; the direct work should have the aim of establishing what the child/ren feels is going well in their life, what they are worried about and what they would like to see happen next to make things better;
- Analyse the impact and influence of wider family, community and environmental circumstances;
- Take a systematic approach, drawing on the most up to date research, to support professionals to assess whether a child is in need and if the child is suffering harm. This evidence, along with Support Network Meetings will also inform Social Workers on what types of help should be offered to the child and family;
- Be informed by other specialist assessments such as the assessment for children with special educational needs and disabled children;
- Ensure that any specialist assessments are coordinated so that the child and family experience an assessment and planning process that is not overwhelming for them;
- Regard assessment as an on-going process which should be built upon in order to inform future plans such as the Care Plan for a child who is Looked After and, where appropriate, a Care Plan prepared for the purposes of family court proceedings;
- Seek to ensure that each child and family understand the reason for the assessment being completed, what people are worried about, what needs to happen to reduce those worried and in what time frame. Each assessment will include a Support Network Meeting to ensure that the type of help offered to the family is realistic and that the family are willing and able to engage in any Safety Plans that are agreed upon;
- Be evidence based and clearly recorded within the child's social care record. Recording should include information on the child's development so that progress can be monitored against baseline information to ensure their outcomes are improving. This will reduce the need for repeat assessments during care proceedings, which can be a major source of delay;
- Be borne of the principle that assessment should be followed by a plan>do>review approach to our intervention, and Social Workers must continually review the impact of the resulting plan in terms of improving the child's outcomes. During the Child & Family Assessment the Social Worker and family will scale the situation to ensure that a baseline marker of concern is recorded. This can then be reviewed during any on-going work with the family and as the impact of any plans on the child are noted; the score is likely to increase; giving a quantitative marker of the qualitative outcomes for the child improving;
- Analyse the information gathered systematically and understand the child's development needs including whether they are suffering or likely to suffer harm, 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 Human trafficking/modern slavery victims: referral and assessment forms;
- Take into account the capacity of parent/caregivers to respond to the needs of children in their care including the ability to protect them from harm;
- Take into account the Signs of Safety Practice Guidance as this will ensure that the model is followed and families are included in the assessment and planning process.
5. Assessment - Timely, Transparent and Proportionate to Need
How quickly an assessment is carried out after a child has been referred into a social work team from the MASH (see Knowsley Safeguarding Children Partnership Procedures, Multi Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH) Procedure) will be determined by the needs of the child and the level of harm being suffered or by the likelihood of harm.
The child must be seen by a qualified Social Worker (or Student Social Worker overseen by a Qualified Social Worker as soon as possible following a referral. This will be determined by an appropriate Manager and will be recorded in the allocation instructions given to the Social Worker within the Child & Family Assessment template, as well as during the assessment.
In Knowsley, the following timescales have been set as "check points" in the children's social work Child & Family Assessment:
Section 47 cases
- In all Section 47 cases children should be seen within 24 hours.
- For all other cases children should be seen within 3 working days;
- All Child & Family Assessments will be completed within 35 days. Whilst Working Together to Safeguard Children 2018 allows for a maximum of 45 days, in Knowsley we ensure that children and families are assessed and supported as soon as possible. In exceptional circumstances, Social Workers can request an extension to 45 days. However, the Manager, prior to agreeing, will need to review the case before agreeing the extension. No Child & Family Assessment will go beyond 45 days; If the 45 days is agreed, a case note will be recorded by the Manager stating the reason that the assessment will be up to 10 days later that the Knowsley procedures. No Child & Family Assessment will go beyond 45 days as this would be a breach of the Working Together guidance;
- All Child & Family Assessments are subject to a review by Team Managers at 10 days. The assessment will either be finalised at this stage or a further 25 days will be agreed; taking the assessment to the 35 day limit;
- For cases where child protection concerns arise, an initial Strategy Discussion involving Social Care, Police and Health may need to happen, in such scenarios, other partners may also need to be involved;
- All open cases should have a new Child & Family Assessment completed every 12 months to ensure that any changes in circumstance are analysed. This is in relation to all CIN / CP / CLA cases;
- If there are any significant events within the 12 month period the social worker and their Team Manager must ensure that these events are analysed. Following analysis consideration should be given to undertaking a Child & Family Assessment even before the 12 months have elapsed to ensure that plans continue to meet the child's needs;
- All cases where consideration of de-plan at the next Review Child Protection Case Conference require an updated Child & Family assessment to evidence the reduction of risk towards the child/ren;
- All Child & Family Assessments completed which do not recommend No Further Action should have a Safety Plan completed at a Support Network Meeting. If for any reason it is not possible to hold a Support Network Meeting, a Safety Plan should still be devised with the immediate family. This may be basic but can be developed further at a Child in Need Meeting or Child Protection Case Conference. The plan should have clear actions for people that will reduce the identified risks to the child/ren that have been identified in the Child & Family Assessment.
As above a Strategy Discussion may need to happen when child protection concerns arise, agencies will need to consider whether to initiate enquiries under S47 of the Children Act 1989, the Child & Family Assessment will continue and will always be completed within 15 working days to enable the assessment to be available to the Initial Child Protection Conference which must be held within 15 days of the statutory discussion, and for the report to be shared with the family 48 hours prior to the Conference being held. The Child & Family Assessment will continue and will form the basis/outline for the Child Protection Plan.
A Strategy Meeting should be held when there are Child Protection Concerns identified and the meeting should be attended by all agencies that hold relevant information about the child and their family:
- Feedback must be given to the referrer on decisions made and action being taken. The child and family must be informed of the action to be taken;
- The child's wishes and feelings must be taken into account when deciding what services to provide;
- Where a case is referred that may constitute a criminal offence, the local authority must discuss it with the police at the earliest opportunity;
- Where there are also allegations of a crime, the police have a duty to carry out a criminal investigation;
- Delay in providing services, or initiating Care Proceedings when this is required, has a detrimental effect on a child's development. It is vitally important for their development that children have their needs met at the right time throughout their lives;
- The Social Worker must discuss the child's situation with other professionals – teachers, health and early year's staff, police – and agree how quickly meetings should be convened so that children are kept safe and help is provided which meets the needs of the child and their family;
- 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 to be made on the next steps. The conclusions of any assessment must be shared with the child and their family and parents must always be given a copy of the assessment document.