SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER
This chapter provides information on the Social Care Assessment which forms part of the Derbyshire Single Assessment Process.
This chapter should be read in conjunction with Derby and Derbyshire Safeguarding Children Partnership Thresholds Document, and, where a Section 47 enquiry is carried out, it should also be read in conjunction with the Derby and Derbyshire Safeguarding Children Partnership Procedures, Child Protection Section 47 Enquiries Procedure.
See the Documents Library for tools used for conducting assessments.
AMENDMENTSection 4, Contribution of the Child and Family was updated to include reference to parents with learning disabilities.
1. Purpose of the Assessment
The purpose of any assessment is always to gather important information about a child and family; analyse their needs and/or the nature and level of any risk and harm being suffered by the child; decide whether the child is a child in need (Section 17) and/or is suffering or likely to suffer Significant Harm (Section 47); and to provide support to address those needs and improve outcomes for the child to make them safe.
All assessments should be undertaken with the family. They should help us understand what life is like now for a child. It should always consider current needs in the context of their circumstances and life journey.
A chronology and genogram should always be completed to understand the child's life journey and relationships. An ecomap is another tool which looks at relationships outside the family and connectivity between friendship groups. (Ecomaps can be particularly useful where Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) is a concern).
There may be some circumstances where consideration needs to be given to whether it is appropriate to have one family assessment with different sections considering the needs of individual children or whether there are reasons for a separate assessment for one or more child(ren), for example – in reconstituted families where there may be conflict and/or where those with Parental Responsibility for one child may differ from others. This should be explored on the initial visit to the family and the reasons for this decision should be clearly recorded.
Early Help Assessment - undertaken to help with the early identification of emerging or additional needs and to promote a co-ordinated service response to meet them. It is a shared assessment for use across all children's services in Derbyshire.
Social Care Assessments - (Child In Need (Section 17) and Child Protection (Section 47) - undertaken by a social worker when a child or young person has more complex or serious needs.
See Derby and Derbyshire Safeguarding Children Partnership Thresholds Document for more information about levels of need.
Most new cases to Children's Services will require an assessment to be undertaken to determine what support or action may be needed. An assessment should also be undertaken when new information or concerns are received on an open case, where that information or concerns means the previous assessment is no longer valid. A Social Care Assessment will build on the Early Help Assessment (where one has been completed). This will help to reduce the duplication for the family having to tell their story many times. If a case is stepped down to Early Help it is not assumed that another assessment will be necessary.
The need to assess can also include pre-birth situations (see Derby and Derbyshire Multi Agency Protocol for Pre-Birth Assessments).
2. Planning the Assessment
The purpose of the assessment should be transparent, understood and agreed by all participants. Planning should identify the different elements of the assessment including who should be involved and what tools and methods will be used. It is good practice to hold a planning meeting to clarify roles and timescales as well as services to be provided during the assessment where there are a number of family members and agencies likely to play a part in the process. It needs to be clear which agency is doing what.
Questions to be considered in planning assessments include:
- Who will undertake the assessment and what resources will be needed?
- Who in the family will be included and how will they be involved (including absent or wider family and others significant to the child)? It is important to gain the perspective of absent and non-resident parents and an assessment will not be complete without this.
- In what grouping will the child and family members be seen and in what order and where?
- What services are to be provided during the assessment?
- Are there communication needs? If so, what are the specific needs and how they will be met?
- How will the assessment take into account the particular issues faced by black and minority ethnic children and their families, and disabled children and their families?
- What method of collecting information will be used? Are there any tools / questionnaires available?
- Where will particular assessment tasks take place?
- What information is already available? What records will need to be reviewed?
- What other sources of knowledge about the child and family are available and how will other agencies and professionals who know the family be informed and involved? Include agencies covering previous addresses in the UK and abroad.
- How will the consent of family members be obtained?
- What areas will be focused on within the assessment?
- How will the information be recorded?
- How will it be analysed and who will be involved?
- When will the outcomes be discussed and service planning take place?
- Is there a need for any specialist assessment?
- What will be the timescales?
- How long might you need to do the work? This must be discussed and negotiated with the family on the first visit. How long an assessment takes will be dependent on the level of apparent need and complexity of the case and what fits with the child and families' timescales.
Before complex or serious needs are identified most children will have had an Early Help Assessment and plan of work to address issues at an earlier stage. Any Early Help Assessment, Plan and Review Documents will support the Social Care Assessment and analysis.
All Social Care Assessments should be planned and coordinated by a social worker and overseen by a social work manager.
More than one child
The assessment plan and timeframes should be recorded within the assessment. Consideration also needs to be given as to whether it is appropriate to have one family assessment with different sections considering the needs of individual children, or whether there are reasons that a complete assessment is required for each child, for instance in reconstituted families where there may be conflict and/or where those with parental responsibility for one child may differ from others. This needs to be explored on the initial visit to the family. The reasons for this decision should be recorded clearly.
3. Timescales and Regular Review
Timeliness is a critical element of all good assessment and of ensuring good outcomes for children.
Within 1 working day of a referral being made, a decision will need to have been made about the type of response required (if an assessment is necessary and at what level) and receipt of the referral will need to be acknowledged (see Requests for Support Procedure).
The Assessment Plan should address what needs to happen during the assessment (e.g. how many visits, to whom, which other professionals will be contacted etc.) and how long it will take. This plan should be drawn up by the social worker in conjunction with the family. This will then be confirmed by the Manager.
Early Help Assessment Timescales
Once a decision has been made for the Early Help Team to undertake an Early Help Assessment it should be started within 10 working days. The practitioner completing an Early Help Assessment does not automatically become the Lead Professional, but is responsible for organising the first Team Around the Family (TAF) meeting where the Lead Professional is identified.
Identified actions from the assessment should be recorded in the appropriate section of the assessment document and a time agreed for a Team Around the Family (TAF) meeting which should take place within 6 weeks of the completion of the assessment. The TAF is a multi-agency meeting and brings together a range of different practitioners from across both Children's and Adult's Services along with the family in order to provide appropriate support.
The Lead Professional could be any practitioner working with the child/young person and family. The Lead Professional is responsible for coordinating provision and acting as a single point of contact in providing integrated Early Help services. The Lead Professional is not accountable for the actions of other practitioners or services within the TAF but can act as a conduit for information and providing a single point of contact for the family if this is felt to be useful.
Social Care Assessment Timescales
The length of time an assessment takes will be determined by the needs of the individual child and the nature and level of any risk of harm but will not exceed 45 days.
The assessment plan and timescales will be recorded on the assessment form after the first meeting with the child (and family) within 7 working days of receipt of the referral. The worker will speak with the family about the assessment process and agree on a timescale and make clear to the child and family how the assessment will be carried out and when they can expect a decision on next steps. The worker must clearly record the date that the child was seen. If the child has not been seen within 7 working days of referral then a clear explanation of the reasons for this must be recorded.
If concerns meet Child Protection thresholds then the child needs to be seen as soon as possible and within 24 hours. Where the outcome of a Strategy Discussion is that a Section 47 Enquiry is conducted that assessment must be completed within 15 working days. If the concerns are substantiated and the child considered to be at continued risk of harm then a Social Work Manager convenes a child protection conference. The Initial Child Protection Conference needs to take place within 15 working days from the strategy discussion/meeting where the decision is made that s47 threshold is met.
The maximum statutory timeframe for other assessments to conclude is 45 working days from the point of referral. In Derbyshire, assessments are to be completed within 42 working days as a maximum to allow time for managers to follow up assessments which are not yet completed to ensure that the statutory requirement is met.
Whatever the planned timescale for assessment, workers should not wait until the assessment is concluded before commissioning support services. Timely and decisive action is critical in providing the right support to children and families.
4. Contribution of the Child and Family
The child should participate and contribute directly to the assessment process based upon their age, understanding and identity. They should be seen alone and if this is not possible or in their best interest, the reason should be recorded. The worker should work directly with the child in order to understand their views and wishes, including the way in which they behave both with their care givers and in other settings. The child's views about what they would like to change or stay the same should be recorded. A range of age appropriate tools are available to professionals to assist them in this work (see the Stronger Families Safer Children Toolkit). Consideration and support must be given to ensure that disabled children can contribute to their assessments.
Initial discussions with a child should be conducted in a way that minimises distress and maximises the likelihood of gaining accurate and complete information.
The pace of the assessment needs to acknowledge the pace at which the child can contribute. However, this should not be a reason for delay in taking protective action if that is required. It is important to understand the resilience of the individual child in their family and community context when planning appropriate services. Issues of disability should be considered or if the child is a young carer.
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.
The parents should be involved at the earliest opportunity unless to do so would prejudice the safety of the child. The parents' involvement in the assessment will be central to its success. At the outset they need to understand how they can contribute to the process and what is expected of them to change in order to improve the outcomes for the child. The assessment process must be open and transparent. However, the process should also challenge parents' statements and behaviour where it is evidenced that there are inconsistencies, questions or obstacles to progress.
Parents should be central in offering their own solutions and views of what might help.
Consider if either parent has health issues, physical disability or learning needs/disability that may impact on parenting, or if they are a carer of a disabled child; they may require a carer's assessment.
All parents or care givers should be involved equally in the assessment and should be supported to participate whilst the welfare of the child must not be overshadowed by parental needs. There may be exceptions to the involvement in cases of Sexual Abuse or domestic violence for example, where the plan for the assessment must consider the safety of an adult as well as that of the child.
An assessment should be undertaken with the consent of and in partnership with the child and their parents and carers. The only exception is where an assessment is being completed as part of a Section 47 Enquiry.
In planning the assessment and in providing the parent and child with feedback, the worker will need to consider and address any communication issues, for example language or impairment.
Where a child or parent speaks a language other than that spoken by the worker, an interpreter should be provided. The use of IT translation packages can also positively aid communication. Any decision not to use an interpreter in such circumstances must be approved by a manager and recorded.
Where a child or parent with disabilities has communication difficulties it may be necessary to use alternatives to speech. In such circumstances it may be particularly useful to involve a person who knows the child well and is familiar with the child's communication methods. However, caution should be given in using family members to facilitate communication. Where the child has had a communication assessment, its conclusions and recommendations should be observed. It is an expectation that effort will be taken to seek the wishes and feelings of all children being assessed as part of the assessment.
NOTE: Where the parents have learning disabilities, it may be necessary to adapt communications to meet their needs – for further information, see Good Practice Guidance on Working with Parents with a Learning Disability (2007) updated 2016.
5. Contribution of Agencies Involved with the Child and Family
Assessment will invariably involve other agencies or independent professionals, who will provide information they hold about the child or parents, contribute specialist knowledge and/or give advice/undertake specialist assessments. The exception to this the Early Help Single Focus Assessment where a child has low level needs which can be met by a single agency, for example Every Child a Talker (ECAT) or careers guidance.
All agencies and professionals involved with the child, and the family, have a responsibility to contribute to the assessment process. This might take the form of providing information in a timely manner and direct or joint work. Differences of opinion between professionals should be resolved speedily but where this is not possible, the local arrangements for resolving professional disagreements should be implemented (see Derby and Derbyshire Safeguarding Children Partnership Procedures).
The parent's consent should usually be sought, before discussing a referral about them with other agencies, unless this may place the child at risk of Significant Harm, in which case the manager should authorise the discussion of the referral with other agencies without parental knowledge or consent. The authorisation should be recorded with reasons.
It is possible that professionals have different experiences of the child and family and understanding these differences will actively contribute to the understanding of the child / family.
The professionals should be involved from the outset and through the agreed, regular process of review.
The practitioner's manager has a key role in supporting the practitioner to ensure all relevant agencies are involved.
Agencies providing services to adults, who are parents, carers or who have regular contact with children must consider the impact on the child of the particular needs of the adult in question.
If during the course of the assessment, it is discovered that a school age child is not attending an educational establishment, the worker should contact the Children Missing from Education Coordinator.
If there is suspicion that a crime may have been committed including sexual or physical assault or neglect of the child, the Police must be notified immediately and a Strategy Discussion held.
6. Withdrawal by Family from the Assessment Process
In some cases assessments may be started but the parents or child may decide to withdraw their cooperation or move away before all the information had been gathered. In such cases, the team manager may consider the assessment to be completed subject to the paragraph below. In such circumstances, the team manager must record this decision, together with the reasons and ensure that the decision is shared with the parent and child (depending on their understanding) and other agencies involved. Services provided following the assessment may still be provided or arranged.
Where an assessment is being completed for a Section 47 Enquiry and the parents or child withdraw their cooperation or move away, the assessment cannot be considered to have been completed unless the team manager is satisfied that arrangements are in place to safeguard the child concerned. The response may include:
- A further Strategy Discussion/Meeting;
- Seeking legal advice about the need for an Emergency Protection Order or Child Assessment Order;
- Negotiation with the local authority into whose area the family has moved.
7. Developing a Clear Analysis
See also Practice Matters: Analysis.
Research has demonstrated that taking a systematic approach to assessments using a conceptual model is the best way to deliver a comprehensive analysis. A good assessment is one which investigates the three domains; set out in the Assessment Framework Triangle using systemic approaches to engage the family. The interaction of these domains requires careful consideration 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.
An assessment should establish:
- What the practitioner and the family are worried about;
- What the impact is of these risks / behaviours on the child and their family;
- What is working well to address these worries, what are the strengths;
- What needs to happen next to address the risks and needs and to build on the strengths;
- What the family say about how you could support and assist them best;
- How will you know when the desired outcomes have been achieved/things are better.
This will necessarily include an assessment of whether the concern involves abuse or neglect; and whether there is any need for any urgent action to protect the child, or any other children in the household or community.
The assessment will involve drawing together and analysing available information from a range of sources, including existing records, and involving and obtaining relevant information from professionals in relevant agencies and others in contact with the child and family. Where a previous assessment has already been completed this information should be used to inform any subsequent assessment. The child and family's history should be understood and any historical information as well as any information from other local authorities where a child has lived needs to be included.
Where a child is involved in other assessment processes, it is important that these are coordinated so that the child does not become lost between the different agencies involved and their different procedures. All plans for the child developed by the various agencies and individual professionals should be joined up so that the child and family experience a single assessment and planning process, which shares a focus on the outcomes for the child.
The practitioner 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. All relevant information should be taken into account including adult problems such as domestic violence, substance misuse, mental illness and criminal behaviour/convictions. Consideration should be given to how life looks through the eyes of the child; with pre-birth assessments and assessments of younger children it is essential that the social worker considers the child's story based on presenting issues in the case. It should not be assumed that the impact of any issues is the same for each child, or for each parent.
The practitioner's manager should provide regular supervision and challenge the practitioner'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. Practitioners, 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 positive impact on the child's life. The analysis should be strengthened through critical reflection in supervision.
When new information comes to light or circumstances change the child's needs, any previous conclusions should be updated and critically reviewed to ensure that the child is not overlooked as noted in many lessons from Serious Case Reviews.
Workers are encouraged to 'remain curious' throughout the assessment process.
A good analysis makes clear the links between information that is gathered and the decisions made about what happens next for the child and their family. The aim is to use all of the information to identify difficulties and risk factors as well as developing a clear picture of strengths and protective factors.
8. Outcomes from Assessment
Every assessment should be focused on outcomes, deciding which services and support to provide to deliver improved welfare and wellbeing for the child and reflect the child's best interests. It should result in:
- A clear analysis of the needs of the child and the parenting capacity to respond appropriately to those needs within the family context;
- Identification of whether and, if so, where intervention will be required to secure the well-being of the child;
- A realistic plan of action (including services to be provided) detailing who has responsibility for action, a timetable and a process for review. The next steps should address the needs and risks identified and build upon strengths.
During the completion of a Social Care Assessment the social worker and their line manager should determine:
- Is this a Child in Need? (Section 17 Children Act 1989);
- Is there reasonable cause to suspect that this child is suffering, or is likely to suffer, Significant Harm? (Section 47 Children Act 1989);
If there are indicators that the child is suffering or likely to suffer Significant Harm a Strategy Discussion/Meeting must be conducted to determine if further work / assessment should be completed as part of a Section 47 Enquiry. If there are indicators that immediate action is required to protect the child, consult the relevant Service Manager and consider whether Police Protection or applying for an Emergency Protection Order may be necessary to arrange for the child to be Looked After.
If it appears appropriate for the child to be Looked After, (see Decision to Look After and Care Planning Procedure);
- Is this a child in need of accommodation? (Section 20 or Section 31A Children Act 1989).
In all cases, the possible outcomes of the assessment should be decided on by the worker and their line manager, who should agree a plan of action setting out the services to be delivered how and by whom in discussion with the child and family and the professionals involved. The responsible team manager should agree the outcome and ensure that the manager's oversight is recorded on the child's record.
The outcomes may be as follows:
- No further action;
- Referral for additional support which can be provided through universal or Targeted services; Team Around the Family Plan?;
- The development of a multi-agency Child in Need Plan for the provision of child in need services to promote the child's health and development – see Children in Need Plans and Reviews Procedure;
- Specialist assessment of the child's needs and circumstances;
- Undertaking a Strategy Discussion/Meeting, a Section 47 Enquiry / Single Assessment which may result in an Initial Child Protection Conference and the development of a Child Protection Plan;
- A decision that the child should be Looked After – see Decision to Look After and Care Planning Procedure;
- Emergency action to protect a child.
The outcome of the assessment should be:
- Discussed with the child and family and provided to them in written form. Exceptions to this are where this might place a child at risk of harm or jeopardise an enquiry;
- Taking account of confidentiality, provided to professional referrers;
- Given in writing to agencies involved in providing services to the child with the action points, review dates and intended outcomes for the child stated.