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3.3 Initial Assessments


  1. Introduction
  2. Practice Guidance

1. Introduction

1.1 An Initial Assessment is a brief assessment of each child referred to Social Services to determine whether the child is a Child in Need of protection of additional services, the nature of any services required, and whether a further, more detailed Core Assessment should be undertaken. Where other assessments (e.g. a Common Assessment (CAF) have been completed prior to referral, the Initial Assessment should build on these.
1.2 The Common Assessment Framework or any other assessment does not replace an Initial Assessment at the point of referral.
1.3 Where a Lead Professional had previously been appointed for the child, Social Services should agree with the Lead Professional who should continue to co-ordinate services currently in place.

An Initial Assessment will:

  • Be led by a qualified and experienced social worker;
  • Be completed within 10 working days of referral;
  • Include the child being seen;
  • Be carefully planned with clarity about who is doing what, as well as what information is to be shared with the parents;
  • Be undertaken in collaboration with all those involved with the child and the family;
  • Include a review of what is known historically about the child and family. In some instances this may require accessing paper records if the information is not available electronically;
  • Use the Framework for Assessment of Children in Need and their Families. This includes consideration of the child’s developmental needs, parenting capacity and family and environmental factors;
  • Analyse the available information and make a risk assessment of the child’s situation;
  • Use the Initial Assessment Record to record information, analysis and judgement;
  • Ensure that where concerns regarding significant harm are identified, a Strategy Discussion is arranged immediately to decide whether to initiate a Section 46 Enquiry;
  • Ensure that where there are no concerns about harm, but the assessment confirms that the child is a child in need of additional services, a planning meeting is held with the child, family and relevant professional in order to agree a Child in Need Plan.

2. Practice Guidance

“The quality of the initial response and the subsequent Initial Assessment is crucial, as it determines the whole course of work with that family.”   - Safeguarding Children: A Joint Chief Inspectors Report on Arrangements to Safeguard Children (2002)


Although the Initial Assessment is a brief assessment of the needs of the child, it is important that it is a thorough piece of work. This will ensure that appropriate decisions can be made about whether or not the child is a child in need and at risk of significant harm. The following should be used by practitioners and managers to check the quality of the assessment process:

  • All relevant information, including historical information, should be taken into account. This includes seeking information from relevant services if the child and family have spent time abroad;
  • In some instances relevant historical information may not be available from the electronic record.  In such situations every effort should be made to access such information via paper records, or from other agency’s records;
  • Information should be obtained from family members as appropriate, professionals, and others in contact with the child and family;
  • The child should always be seen and spoken to (according to age and understanding) when necessary and appropriate on their own.  All interviews should be undertaken in a way that minimises distress to them and maximises the likelihood that they will provide accurate or complete information. As it will not necessarily be clear whether a criminal offence has been committed, leading or suggestive questions should be avoided. (Where a criminal offence may have been committed the process set out in Achieving Best Evidence in Criminal Proceedings: Guidance on Interviewing Victims and Witnesses, and Using Special Measures (Ministry of Justice, March 2011) will be followed);
  • Where the child has communication differences this should not be a reason for failing to obtain the child’s wishes and feelings. The plan for the assessment should include consideration of how to best communicate with the child, including the use of non-verbal communication methods. See Use of Interpreters, Signers or Others with Communication Skills;
  • In situations where a parent or carer has considerable needs of their own, every effort must be made to maintain the focus on the child and not be distracted by the adult’s needs;
  • Interviews should always be undertaken in the preferred language of the child and family. A commissioned interpreter should be used. A child or their parent/carer may feel unable to share information if the interpreter is a family or community member;
  • The assessment should not only gather information but should analyse this information using professional judgement. Professional judgement will be informed by knowledge from research and the literature, expertise based on past experience, the perspective of the child and family and clarity about how values and attitudes and work context may be affecting the analysis;  
  • Analysis of the information should lead to a judgement about the child’s needs and how far parents are able to meet these needs within their current social context.
2.2 Research has shown that there are common pitfalls in the process of conducting Initial Assessments. These pitfalls and how to avoid them are presented below in order to assist the Initial Assessment process. (Dr Karen Broadhurst, Professor Sue White, Dr Sheila Fish, Professor Eileen Munro, Kay Fletcher and Helen Lincoln Ten Pitfalls and How to Avoid Them in Assessing Risk in Child Protection (NSPCC Sept 2010).

What really happened? Child Protection Case Management of Infants with Serious Injuries and Discrepant Explanations (NSPCC July 2002) has indicated that there are additional factors to consider, and that good assessments will:

  • Avoid intuitive judgements

Munro, in Effective child protection, noted there is a tendency to interpret child protection situations on an intuitive and emotional basis rather than a rational analytical one. When this happens there is a danger that information that does not fit the views of the worker will not be sought.  In situations of serious injury to infants it is important that all possible explanations are identified and forensically examined;

  • Pay attention to detail

Those conducting enquiries must develop a detailed understanding of what exactly happened, when and where, who was present, what happened next? These questions may be a vital key to establishing the roles of parents/carers and will help in assessing the veracity and consistency of accounts and the probability of explanations;

  • Be neutral

Certain overt professional opinions and single minded advocacy (for or against a parent) should be avoided. When neutrality is lost, parents experience some professionals as ‘on their side’ and others who are ‘against’ them. This is unlikely to lead to good outcomes

Neutrality involves the open-minded and systematic exploration of alternative hypotheses regarding the cause and circumstances of a serious suspicious injury to a child;

  • Consider probability

The focus of the enquiry should be on systematically establishing a level of probability in relation to an injury being caused as described. For example, given that a self-inflicted fracture to a six week old baby may conceivably be possible but extremely unusual - how probable are the alternative explanations?


An overview of research has shown that the following are important in enquiries into allegations of child sexual abuse (Jones, D., & Ramchandani, P (1999) ’Child Sexual Abuse: Informing Practice from Research’ Lyme Regis: Radcliff). The principles are useful when conducting all Initial Assessments:

  • The initial approach is extremely important and sets the tone for the remainder of the investigation;
  • Parents found that professionals who treated them personally with care and respect and who listened to their perspectives and were generally non-judgmental were the most help;
  • Children were especially sensitive to being patronised or kept in the dark and wanted information and openness from the practitioner;
  • There is a need for specialist help to be available for minority ethnic children, or those with particular needs;
  • It may be hard to evaluate the potential for a parent to be supportive to his/her child, and easy to misinterpret the parent’s first reactions. This may require further evaluation by the professional in order to clarify parental reactions and responses;
  • In cases where partnership is initially difficult with parents, perhaps because of the need to take immediate child protective action, it may still be possible to work in partnership despite early difficulties;
  • Parents benefit from direct information and instructions as to how best to help and respond to their child, particularly when they themselves are in a state of crisis and have reduced coping ability as adults.