Producing Chronologies and Recording Significant Events

1. Introduction

'Every child's case file should include a properly maintained Chronology'

Recommendation 58. Victoria Climbie Inquiry (2003)

The absence of a clear and detailed Chronology on the file (there are up to 7 files for each of the children) has made gaining a relatively quick overview of the case difficult……. A clear Chronology that identified at least when the children's names were subject to a Child Protection Plan and in whose care they were and when Section 47 investigations had been opened and closed, including dates of notifications from the Police that their enquiries had been concluded would have prevented inaccurate information being provided. Reading and understanding the history from the files has been a time consuming challenge in undertaking this Review. It is unclear whether staff routinely made time to read and understand the file. On the files there are some elements of a Chronology, but this was not sufficient to provide an easily accessible understanding of the case. The Department should make sure that all staff members record information in accordance with the Case Recording Procedure and that full and relevant key information is provided in the Case Chronology on the ICS system……… In the light of this, there is a need for a restatement of the importance of having clear and effective case chronologies (Case Chronologies - June 2003) and that clearer guidance is provided about what is required in a Chronology.

(Child ABCD Serious Case Review - Children's Specialist Services Individual Management Review).

2. What is a Chronology?

A Chronology lists, in date order, all the significant events and changes in a child or young person's life. It is an analytical tool to help to understand the impact on the child, both immediate and cumulative, of these events. It is recorded as a series of brief 'headlines' to provide an immediate, visual overview. All the children that we provide a service to must have a Chronology. The Chronology should begin from the point at which Children's Specialist Services becomes involved with the family. All of our involvements with children and families must be informed by our previous knowledge of the children and family.

"Good social work practice requires making decisions in the child's best interest, maintaining chronological records, and information sharing across agencies" Children's Commissioner Statement 1st February 2011.

A Chronology is not: a detailed account, a record of observations made in ICS, a substitute for a full analysis, a calendar or a diary.

3. Why Do We Need a Chronology?

A Chronology makes key information easily accessible. It enables the issues for the child or young person to be identified and the likely impact to be evaluated. In particular chronologies are important to:

  • Place and maintain the child or young person at the centre of thinking;
  • Identify risks, patterns and issues in the child or young person's life;
  • Make links between the past and the present;
  • Enable the significance of issues to be better understood;
  • Clarify where there is chronic Neglect especially where there are few single incidents;
  • Share information with the family and partner professionals;
  • Enable a new worker to become familiar with the child's case;
  • Most important of all a Chronology can, at a later stage, help a young person to understand and make sense of their own past. A well written Chronology should enable an older child to make sense of Specialist Services interventions and decisions.

4. When and Why Should a Chronology be Used? What Could Happen If We Don't Use One?

A Chronology must be available and used to aid decision-making in the following circumstances:

  • In assessment, planning and review at any stage. Use of background information and previous involvement should inform any new Single Assessment, if not this could lead to unsafe decision making. (See Practice Note);
  • In Child Protection Case Conferences, a Chronology should be included in the information provided to the Initial Child Protection Conference and available subsequently;
  • In reviews for Children Looked After;
  • In Court proceedings. Legal advice must be sought regarding the content and format;
  • To help determine whether a child on a Care Order / ICO should return home to their parent/s. We must go back to the original reasons why the Care Order was made, taking account of any independent assessments produced for the Court, to analyse what progress has been made since the date the proceedings were initiated. If this does not happen the children could be placed in an unsafe situation;
  • It should always include any significant information from previous authorities. If not critical errors could be made in decision making e.g. allowing Parental contact when previous assessments have concluded that this is not safe;
  • In supervision;
  • With or by a young person seeking to understand their life story;
  • For sharing information with partner professionals.

Note: Safeguarding and Looked After Children Inspection (March 2011): However, in some cases (seen by the inspectors) of chronic neglect, insufficient regard had been taken of historical factors leading to a delay before appropriate planning and intervention.

Practice Note:

In order to ensure that this information is available Assessment Teams must do an archive check on all cases that have been previously known to the department.

The Social Worker will then need to read the case files and summarise the case history on ICS. One case note summary for each year, for example, - case note heading: "Summary of involvement 1999" This should be ticked as a significant event. Be brief but capture significant information.

Assessment Practice Managers will need to confirm that historical information has been summarised on ICS on the transfer checklist. Care Management Practice Managers will need to confirm this.

Often files are very large and run to several volumes. Reading them, where there is not already a Chronology in place, is time consuming. However, this is always time well spent. Not to read them is not an option. The historical information could and should have a significant influence on any decisions made by Children's Specialist Services in relation to the child/ children. Not to read and take account of historical information could lead to unsafe decision making.

"The importance of good knowledge of the case history - including the child's history and that of the parents', past events, and interventions that have been tried before and their success or otherwise - was underlined by the research (Brandon et al., 2008 and 2009; Farmer and Lutman, 2009). This may be particularly important in long-term, chronic cases, such as those involving child neglect, to help avoid the 'start again syndrome' that has been identified…"
(Social Work Assessment of Children in Need: What do we know? (DfE 2011)).

5. What Constitutes a Significant Event?

Any significant event or change which has an impact on the child or young person. All relevant information should be included whether regarded as positive or negative for the child or young person. Professional judgment must always be used when deciding what information to add. The following should be included, but the list is not exhaustive:

  • Change of circumstances: changes of carer, address, legal status, school, family circumstances and household composition;
  • Issues for the child or Young Person: the child's views, physical or mental health, incidents of abuse, losses, developmental issues, educational issues inc out of school episodes, personal achievements, incidents of running away/going missing, incidents re bullying, gender or culture, offending or police involvement;
  • Family issues: changes in family composition, loss and separation, domestic abuse, financial or housing problems, physical or mental health, substance misuse, homelessness, imprisonment, victimization;
  • Professional involvement: Referrals with source, assessments, significant decisions, interventions, Section 47 Enquiries, Children In Need, Child Protection and Children Looked After episodes, Court hearings, Children's Centre involvement, FGMs, involvement of Specialist Services e.g. CAMHs.

6. Starting and Maintaining Chronology

A Chronology should be started at the point when Children's Specialist Services first became involved with a child and family, and must cover all involvement, from the first point of contact, referral and assessment, taking account of the whole history including periods of case closure, new contacts and referrals etc.

If there is no existing Chronology when a case is re-opened or transferred, one must be created as a priority. While making a Chronology on an open case can be time consuming, it is a valuable way to understand the child's history and the current issues.

7. How to Record a Significant Event to Form Part of a Chronology in ICS

Every time a case note or visit is recorded in ICS that needs to appear in the Chronology, the box 'is this a significant event' should be ticked. This will enable a Chronology to be easily produced.

8. How to Access the Chronology in ICS

From a child's ICS file, select History. You will find this on the left side navigation pane. Select Configure View. Here you can select the type of events you want to appear in the Chronology, you can select as many as you want. Always select case notes with significant events. Select the dates you wish to specify. Then select Return to Information View. This will provide you with an electronic Chronology and links to events recorded within ICS. You are able to archive the chronology to save on the system or export a copy of the Chronology for printing,

In order to get a print view of the Chronology: From the Browse Chronology Screen click the print icon, choose Chronology exemplar and tick case notes with significant event box at the top of the screen. Enter "today's" date in the box - "Date Chronology started by" then press save. You can choose from date and to date if required. In the "Heading Report Section" deselect all the radio buttons and then go through and select those you wish to include. Then press run report. This will give you a print view. It will not normally be necessary to actually print the Chronology as a word template should be used for Court Chronologies. However this view does pull through all the information to one place for easy reference.

9. Tips on Recording Significant Events

It is essential to keep a Chronology maintained by entering relevant information as it occurs to prevent it becoming an unmanageable task and throughout the professional involvement. An out of date Chronology cannot provide full information for further analysis and planning or for the child in the future. It is therefore essential to maintain a Chronology for each child's case as long as it remains open to Children's Specialist Services.

Entries on a Chronology should:

  • Be brief and succinct, for example 'Scott transferred to xxxxx School';
  • Specify the date of the event, source of the information and date information received;
  • Contain factual information or be clearly specified as unsubstantiated;
  • Be in neutral language, suitable for professionals and family members to read;
  • Include all relevant information even if it seems contradictory;
  • Specify the full name and job title of the person making the entry.

There must be a separate and individual Chronology for each sibling who receives a service from Children's Specialist Services.

10. Responsibility for Maintaining the Chronology

The Allocated Case Worker has the responsibility for maintaining the Chronology. Other staff involved with the family such as Family Support Practitioners should enter information as required in conjunction with the Allocated Case Worker. Team Support staff may add information on behalf of the workers involved. Managers are responsible for monitoring the Chronology through supervision to ensure it continues to be up to date and fit for purpose.