Child and Family Assessment
SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER
This guidance sets out the arrangements for how cases will be assessed once a child is referred into Children's Social Care.
Each child who has been referred into 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. This is a Child and Family Assessment and it replaces the initial and core assessments.
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.
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 and includes an assessment of risk. 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.
RELEVANT GUIDANCE AND LEGISLATION
For Risk Assessment Tools and other guidance, please also see the Documents Library, Children's Social Care – Assessment and Planning.
AMENDMENTThis chapter was amended in September 2021 to add a new Section 11, 16 and 17 year olds who may be Homeless and/or require Accommodation and reflects the issue of Homelessness and the vulnerability of young people identified in Working Together to Safeguard Children.
1. Focus on the Child
Children should to 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. Children should be seen alone and their wishes and feelings should be ascertained. If this is not possible or in their best interest, the reason should be recorded.
It is useful to consider:
- The lived experience of the child. What is life like for the child? What are their routines? What kind of care do they receive? What opportunities are they able to access? What are they proud of? What do they keep to themselves?
- What the child thinks about their situation and their views about what has to or could be different;
- The nature of the relationships within the family as experienced by the child.
Where there are concerns about the welfare of a disabled child, they should be acted upon in the same way as with any other child. Expertise in both safeguarding and promoting the welfare of child and disability has to be brought together to ensure that disabled children receive the same levels of protection from harm as other children.
1.1 Pre-birth 'Good Practice Steps'
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.
In respect of assessment, these good practice steps were:
- A risk assessment of the parent(s) should 'commence immediately upon the social workers being made aware of the mother's pregnancy';
- Any assessment should be completed at least 4 weeks before the mother's expected delivery date;
- The assessment should be updated to take into account relevant events pre - and post delivery where these events could affect an initial conclusion in respect of risk and care planning of the child;
- The assessment should be disclosed upon initial completion to the parents and, if instructed, to their solicitor to give them the opportunity to challenge the Care Plan and risk assessment.
2. Planning for Assessment
All Child and Family Assessments should be planned and coordinated by a social worker in consultation with the child and family and relevant professionals. The purpose of the assessment should be transparent, understood and agreed by all participants. There should be discussion with the family to explore their perceptions of the assessment and 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 how agencies and professionals can work together to make a contribution to the assessment; and useful for children and family members so they are able to understand the process and their part in it.
Roles and timescales as well as services to be provided during the assessment should be clarified, particularly where there are a number of family members and agencies likely to play a part in the process.
Decision and review points involving the child and family and relevant professionals should be used to keep the assessment on track. The arrangements for these should be part of the planning process.
Where a child is involved in other assessment processes (such as a specialist assessments), 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.
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)?
- 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?
- What information is already available?
- 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?
- How will the consent of family members be obtained?
- What will be the timescales?
- 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.
The assessment process can be summarised as follows:
- Gathering relevant information;
- Analysing the information and reaching professional judgments;
- Making decisions and planning interventions;
- Intervening, service delivery and/or further assessment;
- Evaluating and reviewing progress.
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.
3. Contribution of the Child and Family
In all cases, a Genogram should be completed with children and parents or carers at the outset of an assessment.
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 use of a range of age appropriate tools can assist social workers in their direct work with children.
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 those of their parents/carers, decisions should be made in the best interest of the child. The parents/carers should be involved at the earliest opportunity unless to do so would prejudice the safety of the child.
Parents / Carers
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 for 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 parent or carer involvement in cases of Sexual Abuse or forced marriage, or in situations where there may be domestic abuse or violence where the plan for the assessment must consider the safety of an adult as well as that of the child. See also Peterborough Safeguarding Children Board Procedures: Domestic Violence for further information.
4. Contribution of Agencies Involved with the Child and Family
All agencies and professionals involved with the child, and / or family, have a duty to collaborate and share information to safeguard and promote the welfare of the child. All agencies and professionals involved with the child also have a responsibility to contribute to the assessment process. This might take the form of providing written or verbal 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 Peterborough Safeguarding Children Board Escalation Procedure should be implemented (see Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Safeguarding Children Partnership Procedures, Resolving Professional Differences (Escalation) Policy).
It is possible that professionals have different experiences of the child and family and an understanding these differences will actively contribute to the understanding of the child / family's situation.
The professionals should be involved from the outset and through the agreed, planned regular review process.
The social worker's supervisor / Team Manager will have a key role in supporting the practitioner to ensure all relevant agencies are involved.
5. Developing a Clear Analysis
A Genogram and a Chronology of previous events should be completed as part of every Child and Family Assessment.
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 or specialist assessment has already been completed this information should be used to inform the assessment in order to avoid duplication and repetition for the child and family. The child and family's history should be understood.
When analysing information gathered during assessment, consideration should be given to:
- Identifying the family's strengths, resilience and protective factors;
- Identifying any areas of past, current or future risk;
- Explanations for difficulties;
- An exploration of what both children and parents want to be different;
- Clarification of what must be different;
- How this might be achieved;
- What services are in a position to offer this?
The analysis of the assessment should establish:
- The nature of the concern and the impact this has had on the child;
- An analysis of their strengths and needs and/or the nature and level of any risk being suffered by the child;
- How and why the concerns have arisen;
- What the child's and the family's needs appear to be and whether the child is a Child in Need;
- Whether the concern involves abuse or Neglect; and what extent the impact and influence of wider family and any other adults living in the household has on this, as well as community and environmental circumstances;
- Whether there is any need for any urgent action to protect the child, or any other children in the household or wider community;
- Whether there are any factors that may indicate that the child is being or has been criminally or sexually exploited or trafficked;
- Note: if there is a concern with regards to trafficking, a referral into the National Referral Mechanism should be made. See - GOV.UK, Human trafficking/modern slavery victims: referral and assessment forms.
The social worker should analyse all information gathered to decide the nature and level of the child's needs and the level of risk, if any, they may be facing. The assessment of risk should consider danger/harm; safety; strengths; complicating factors and any grey areas.
The supervisor/Team Manager should provide regular supervision and challenge the social worker's 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 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.
Decision and review points involving the child and family and relevant professionals 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.
6. Actions and Outcomes
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 the Consultant Social Worker 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);
- Is this a child in need of accommodation? (Section 20 or Section 31A Children Act 1989).
The possible outcomes of the assessment should be decided on by the social worker and the supervisor / Team Manager who should agree a plan of action setting out what services are to be delivered, how and by whom in discussion with the child and family and the professionals involved.
There are a range of possible outcomes which may include:
- No Children's Social Care support required but other action may be necessary including:
- Referral into Early Help provision;
- Referral into single agency / specialist provision.
- The development of a multi-agency Child in Need Plan, led by Children's Social Care for the provision of Child in Need services to promote the child's health and development;
- Specialist assessment for a more in-depth understanding of the child's needs and circumstances;
- Undertaking a Strategy Discussion/Meeting, a Section 47 child protection enquiry;
- Emergency action to protect a child.
Following the assessment the social worker should:
- Discuss outcomes with the child and family and provide them with the assessment in written form. Exceptions to this are where this might place a child at risk of harm or jeopardise an enquiry or Police investigation;
- Inform in writing, all the relevant agencies of their decisions and if the child is a child in need, of the plan for providing support;
- Inform the referrer of what action has been or will be taken.
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 35 working days from the point of referral. If, in discussion with a child and their family and other professionals, an assessment exceeds 35 working days the social worker and professionals involved should record the reasons for exceeding the time limit (and the relevant Head of Service notified).
8. Regular Review of Assessment Process
Assessments should be timely. The speed with which an assessment is carried out should be determined by the needs of the individual child and the nature and level of any risk or harm faced by the child.
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 supervisor / Team Manager must review the assessment plan regularly with the social worker and ensure that actions such as those below have been met:
- There has been direct communication with the child alone and their views and wishes have been recorded and taken into account when providing services;
- There has been observation of the interaction between the child and parent / carer;
- All the children in the household have been seen and their needs considered;
- The child's home address has been visited and the child's bedroom has been seen;
- The parents have been seen and their views and wishes have been recorded and taken into account;
- There is clear analysis and evaluation of the information gathered throughout the assessment process and this has been recorded;
- The assessment provides clear evidence for decisions on what types of services are needed to provide good outcomes for the child and family.
'Working Together to Safeguard Children' reminds all professionals of the importance of 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. Recording should include when the child was seen alone and their wishes and feelings and how they have impacted on recommendations, decisions and plans.
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 meetings should be circulated to the participants including the child, if appropriate, and the parents.
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 and/or case discussion recordings should reflect the reasoning for decisions and actions taken.
10. Principles of a Good Assessment
The Assessment Framework 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."
11. 16 and 17 year olds who may be Homeless and/or require Accommodation
Where a 16 or 17 year old seeks help from local authority children's services, or is referred to children's services by some other person or agency as appearing to be homeless or threatened with homelessness, children's services must carry out an assessment of what duties, if any, are owed to them. This includes 17 year olds who are approaching their 18th birthday, and young people who are pregnant or have children in their care.
If there is an imminent threat of homelessness, or if the young person is actually homeless, a child in need assessment must be carried out and the child accommodated under section 20 Children Act 1989, (although this can be refused by the child) (see Homeless 16 and 17 Year Olds).
Intentional Homelessness: See Homelessness Guidance for local authorities.
12. Assessment of Risk Outside the Home
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; teenage relationship abuse (including controlling or coercive behaviour); 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:
- Refer the child's circumstances to relevant Multi-Agency work which addresses the concerns and risks in the neighbourhood or local authority;
- Identify the issues with their line-manager with a view to the local authority establishing a multi-agency intervention programme to meet community needs; or
- In specific circumstances, through their line-manager, seek to convene a Child in Need strategy/planning meeting with relevant partner agencies (e.g. school, police, relevant voluntary bodies, etc.) to explore specific interventions to address the safeguarding issues.
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. Effective information sharing and intelligence gathering is crucial in developing effective coordinated multi-agency responses.
Appendix A: Assessment Triangle
The Assessment Triangle and the Domains and Dimensions of the Assessment Framework are intended as a reminder to professionals undertaking the assessment and to be given to parents to help them understand the areas the worker will want to explore. It is good practice to give a blank copy of the Assessment Record to parents on first meeting them to enable them to understand and participate in the process.
"Developing a detailed understanding of a child's needs, identity and best interests enables us to take the actions required to meet and fulfil them."
(Sir William Utting 'The care of children: Principles & Practice in Regulations and Guidance' 1989)
Appendix B: Domains and Dimensions
CHILD'S DEVELOPMENTAL NEEDS
Includes growth and development as well as physical and mental well-being. The impact of genetic factors and of any impairment should be considered. Involves receiving appropriate health care when ill, an adequate and nutritious diet, exercise, immunisations where appropriate and developmental checks, dental and optical care and, for older children, appropriate advice and information on issues that have an impact on health, including sex education and substance misuse.
Covers all areas of a child's cognitive development which begins from birth. Includes opportunities: for play and interaction with other children; to have access to books; to acquire a range of skills and interests; to experience success and achievement. Involves an adult interested in educational activities, progress and achievements, who takes account of the child's starting point and any special educational needs.
Emotional and Behavioural Development
Concerns the appropriateness of response demonstrated in feelings and actions by a child, initially to parents and caregivers and, as the child grows older, to others beyond the family.
Includes nature and quality of early attachments, characteristics of temperament, adaptation to change, response to stress and degree of appropriate self-control.
Concerns the child's growing sense of self as a separate and valued person. Includes the child's view of self and abilities, self-image and self esteem, and having a positive sense of individuality. Race, religion, age, gender, sexuality and disability may all contribute to this. Feelings of belonging and acceptance by family, peer group and wider society, including other cultural groups.
Family and Social Relationships
Development of empathy and the capacity to place self in someone else's shoes.
Includes a stable and affectionate relationship with parents or caregivers, good relationships with siblings, increasing importance of age appropriate friendships with peers and other significant persons in the child's life and response of family to these relationships.
Concerns child's growing understanding of the way in which appearance, behaviour, and any impairment are perceived buy the outside world and the impression being created.
Includes appropriateness of dress for age, gender, culture and religion; cleanliness and personal hygiene; and availability of advice from parents or caregivers about presentation in different settings.
Self Care Skills
Concerns the acquisition by a child of practical, emotional and communication competencies required for increasing independence. Includes early practical skills of dressing and feeding, opportunities to gain confidence and practical skills to undertake activities away from the family and independent living skills as older children.
Includes encouragement to acquire social problem solving approaches. Special attention should be given to the impact of a child's impairment and other vulnerabilities, and on social circumstances affecting these in the development of self care skills.
Providing for the child's physical needs, and appropriate medical and dental care.
Includes provision of food, drink, warmth, shelter, clean and appropriate clothing and adequate personal hygiene.
Ensuring the child is adequately protected from harm or danger.
Includes protection from significant harm or danger, and from contact with unsafe adults/others children and from self-harm. Recognition of hazards and danger both in the home and elsewhere.
Ensuring the child's emotional needs are met and giving the child a sense of being specially valued and a positive sense of own racial and cultural identity.
Includes ensuring the child's requirements for secure, stable and affectionate relationships with significant adults, with appropriate sensitivity and responsiveness to the child's needs. Appropriate physical contact, comfort and cuddling sufficient to demonstrate warm regard, praise and encouragement.
Promoting child's learning and intellectual development through encouragement and cognitive stimulation and promoting social opportunities.
Includes facilitating the child's cognitive development and potential through interaction, communication, talking and responding to the child's language and questions, encouraging and joining the child's play, and promoting educational opportunities. Enabling the child to experience success and ensuring school attendance or equivalent opportunity. Facilitating child to meet challenges of life.
Guidance and Boundaries
Enabling the child to regulate their own emotions and behaviour.
The key parental tasks are demonstrating and modelling appropriate behaviour and control of emotions and interactions with others, and guidance which involves setting boundaries, so that the child is able to develop an internal model of moral values and conscience, and social behaviour appropriate for the society within which they will grow up. The aim is to enable the child to grow into an autonomous adult, holding their own values, and able to demonstrate appropriate behaviour with others rather than having to be dependent on rules outside themselves. This includes not over protecting children from exploratory and learning experiences.
Includes social problems solving, anger management, consideration for others, and effective discipline and shaping of behaviour.
Providing a sufficiently stable family environment to enable a child to develop and maintain a secure attachment to the primary caregiver(s) in order to ensure optimal development.
Includes ensuring secure attachments are not disrupted, providing consistency of emotional warmth over time and responding in a similar manner to the same behaviour. Parental responses change and develop according to child's developmental progress. In addition, ensuring children keep in contact with important family members and significant others.
FAMILY AND ENVIRONMENTAL FACTORS
Family History and Functioning
Family history includes both genetic and psycho-social factors.
Family functioning is influenced by who is living in the household and how they are related to the child; significant changes in family/household composition; history of childhood experiences of parents; chronology of significant life events and their meaning to family members; nature of family functioning, including sibling relationships and its impact on the child; parental strengths and difficulties, including those of an absent parent; the relationship between separated parents.
Who are considered to be members of the wider family by the child and the parents?
Includes related and non-related persons and absent wider family. What is their role and importance to the child and parents and in precisely what way?
Does the accommodation have basic amenities and facilities appropriate to the age and development of the child and other resident members? Is the housing accessible and suitable to the needs of disabled family members?
Includes the interior and exterior of the accommodation and immediate surroundings. Basic amenities include water, heating, sanitation, cooking facilities, sleeping arrangements and cleanliness, hygiene and safety and their impact on the child's upbringing.
Who is working in the household, their pattern of work and any changes? What impact does this have on the child? How is work or absence of work viewed by family members? How does it affect their relationship with the child?
Includes children's experience of work and its impact on them.
Income available over a sustained period of time. Is the family in receipt of all its benefit entitlements? Sufficiency of income to meet the family's needs. The way resources available to the family are used. Are there financial difficulties which affect the child?
Family's Social Integration
Exploration of the wider context of the local neighbourhood and community and its impact on the child and parents.
Includes the degree of the family's integration or isolation, their peer groups, friendship and social networks and the importance attached to them.
Describes all facilities and services in a neighbourhood, including universal services of primary health care, day care and schools, places of worship, transport, shops and leisure activities.
Includes availability, accessibility and standard of resources and impact on the family, including disabled members.