SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER
Assessments must be based on good analysis, timeliness and transparency and be proportionate to the needs of the child and their family.
Each child who has been referred into local authority children's social care should have an individual assessment to identify 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.
RELATED GUIDANCE AND LEGISLATION
In March 2019, this chapter was revised to reflect updated guidance on Assessment in Working Together to Safeguard Children.
Under the Children Act 1989, local authorities undertake assessments of the needs of individual children to determine what services to provide and what action to take:
The need to assess can also include pre-birth situations when a mother's own circumstances would give cause for concern that the pre-birth, and then born, child would come within the definition of being a 'Child in Need'. (See Section 11.1, Pre-birth 'Good Practice Steps').
Whatever legislation the child is assessed under, the purpose of the assessment is always:
The assessment should be led by a qualified and experienced social worker regularly supervised by a social work manager. Principal social workers should support social workers, the local authority and partners to develop their assessment practice and decision making skills, and the practice methodology that underpins this.
The date of the commencement of the assessment will be recorded in the electronic database.
The qualified social worker should carefully plan that the following are carried out:
If it is determined that a child should not be seen as part of the assessment, this should be recorded by the manager with reasons.
Before a Referral is discussed with other agencies, the parent's consent should usually be sought, unless to do so 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.
If during the course of the assessment, it is discovered that a school age child is not attending an educational establishment, the social worker should contact the local education service to establish a reason for this.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.
In planning the assessment and in providing the parent and child with feedback, the social 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 social worker, such as those who are unaccompanied children, and those children who are victims of modern slavery and/or trafficking, an interpreter should be provided. Any decision not to use an interpreter in such circumstances must be approved by the Team Manager and recorded.
Where a child or parent with disabilities has communication difficulties it may be necessary to use alternatives to speech. In communicating with a child with such an impairment, 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.
NOTE: Where the parents have learning disabilities, it may be necessary to adapt communications to meet their needs – for further information, see Mental Illness of a Parent or Carer - Adult Mental Health and Children's Services Joint Working Protocol.
Children should be seen and listened to and included throughout the assessment process. Their ways of communicating should be understood in the context of their family and community as well as their behaviour and developmental stage. It is important that the impact of what is happening to a child is clearly identified and that information is gathered, recorded and checked systematically, and discussed with the child and their parents/carers where appropriate.
Assessments, service provision and decision making should regularly review the impact of the assessment process and the services provided on the child so that the best outcomes for the child can be achieved. Any services provided should be based on a clear analysis of the child's needs, and the changes that are required to improve the outcomes for the child.
Children should be actively involved in all parts of the process based upon their age, developmental stage and identity. Direct work with the child and family should include observations of the interactions between the child and the parents/care givers.
All agencies involved with the child, the parents and the wider family have a duty to collaborate and share information to safeguard and promote the welfare of the child.
All assessments should be planned and coordinated by a social worker and the purpose of the assessment should be transparent, understood and agreed by all participants. There should be an agreed statement setting out the aims of the assessment process.
Referrals may include siblings or a single child within a sibling group. Where the initial focus for a referral is on one child, other children in the household or family should be equally considered, and the individual circumstances of each assessed and evaluated separately.
Planning should identify the different elements of the assessment including who should be involved. 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.
Questions to be considered in planning assessments include:
The assessment process can be summarised as follows:
Assessment should be a dynamic process, which analyses and responds to the changing nature and level of need and/or risk faced by the child from within and outside their family. A good assessment will monitor and record the impact of any services delivered to the child and family and review the help being delivered. Whilst services may be delivered to a parent or carer, the assessment should be focused on the needs of the child and on the impact any services are having on the child.
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.
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 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 and/or community. Importantly the assessment, in looking at the domains, should also consider where the strengths are in a child's circumstances and in what way they may assist in reducing the risk.
An assessment should establish:
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 an Early Help Assessment has already been completed this information should be used to inform the assessment. The child and family's history should be understood.
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 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. Social workers should have access to high quality supervision from a Practice Supervisor who will help challenge their assumptions as part of this process. Critical reflection through supervision should strengthen the analysis in each assessment. 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 positive impact on the child's life. Where there is a conflict of interest, decisions should be made in the child's best interests, be rooted in child development, be age-appropriate, and be informed by evidence.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 and practice reviews.
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 interests, the reason should be recorded. The social 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 agreed local assessment framework should make a range of age appropriate tools available to professionals to assist them in this work.
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. It is important to understand the resilience of the individual child in their family and community context when planning appropriate services.
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 needs to change in order to improve the outcomes for the child. The assessment process must be open and transparent with the parents. However, the process should also challenge parents' statements and behaviour where it is evidenced that there are inconsistencies, questions or obstacles to progress. 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 and abuse for example, where the plan for the assessment must consider the safety of an adult as well as that of the child.
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 Wirral Dispute Resolution Escalation Policy).
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 social worker's supervisor will have 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.
Every assessment should be focused on outcomes, deciding which services and support to provide to deliver improved welfare for the child and reflect the child's best interests. In the course of the assessment, the social worker and their line manager should determine:
The possible outcomes of the assessment should be decided on by the social 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 outcomes may be as follows:
The outcome of the assessment should be:
The maximum time frame 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 and professionals involved should record the reasons for exceeding the time limit. There is an expectation on the Wirral that assessments will be completed within 30 working days, with reviews carried out at 5 and 10 working days respectively.
In a High Court judgment (Nottingham City Council v LW & Ors  EWHC 11(Fam) (19 February 2016)) Keehan J set out five points of basic and fundamental good practice steps with respect to public law proceedings regarding pre-birth and newly born children and particularly where children's social care services are aware at a relatively early stage of the pregnancy.
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 and practice reviews.
In respect of assessment, these good practice steps were:
The assessment plan must set out timescales for the actions to be met and stages of the assessment to progress, which should include regular points to review the assessment. The work with the child and family should ensure that the agreed points are achieved through regular reviews. Where delays or obstacles occur these must be acted on and the assessment plan must be reviewed if any circumstances change for the child.The social worker's line manager must review the assessment plan regularly with the social worker and ensure that actions such as those below have been met:
'Working Together to Safeguard Children' reminds all professionals of the importance of when reviewing progress and that a high quality assessment is one in which evidence is built and revised throughout the process and takes account of family history and the child's experience of cumulative abuse. 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. Decision points and review points involving the child and family and relevant practitioners 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.
Recording by all professionals should include information on the child's development so that progress can be monitored to ensure their outcomes are improving. This is particularly significant in circumstances where neglect is an issue.
Records should be kept of the progress of the assessment on the individual child's record and in their chronology to monitor any patterns of concerns.
Assessment plans and action points arising from plans and meetings should be circulated to the participants including the child, if appropriate, and the parents.
The recording should be such that a child, requesting to access their records, could easily understand the process taking place and the reasons for decisions and actions taken.
Supervision records should reflect the reasoning for decisions and actions taken.
The assessment triangle in Working Together to Safeguard Children provides a model, which should be used to examine how the different aspects of the child's life and context interact and impact on the child. It notes that it is important that:
"Assessment should be a dynamic process, which analyses and responds to the changing nature and level of need and/or risk faced by the child from within and outside their family. It is important that the impact of what is happening to a child is clearly identified and that information is gathered, recorded and checked systematically, and discussed with the child and their parents/carers where appropriate."
An increasing number of cases involve families from abroad, necessitating assessments of family members in other countries. However, the Court of Appeal has pointed out that it might not be professional, permissible or lawful for a social worker to undertake an assessment in another jurisdiction. Children and Families Across Borders (CFAB) advise that enquiries should be made as to whether the assessment can be undertaken by the authorities in the overseas jurisdiction. UK social workers should not routinely travel overseas to undertake assessments in countries where they have no knowledge of legislative frameworks, cultural expectations or resources available to a child placed there.
See also Working with foreign authorities: child protection cases and care orders - Departmental advice for local authorities, social workers, service managers and children's services lawyers (July 2014) and The International Child Abduction and Contact Unit.
Our work with looked after children is guided by the principle that good outcomes are achieved by robust care planning, and that such plans are based on a thorough and up to date assessment of needs. In line with Wirral's social work practice standards assessment and continuing analysis of need will be shown in planning processes and case recording. A good assessment will include the child's history, current behaviours, and their view of the world. In addition, the framework set out in the Supporting Families Enhancing Futures model of practice should be applied to the assessment and planning process. Assessment should be multi-agency in nature and include views and information from the full range of professionals involved with the child and their family.
Wirral's practice standards require re-assessment for all cases to be undertaken at least 6 monthly, but there is a recognition that for some looked after children, particularly those in long-term and settled arrangements this may not be necessary. Decisions about when to undertake assessments should always be child centred, and based on the need to ensure our involvement and the services provided remain purposeful.
The frequency for assessment for children in care cases should be guided by the following principles:
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 local authority Children's Social Care.