Sharing of information between professionals and local agencies is essential for effective identification, assessment and service provision for children and their families. All agencies should have in place effective ways to identify emerging problems and potential unmet needs for individual children and their families.
Agencies must always work together using the Needs, Assessment, Robust Risk Analysis, Timely Effective Support (NARRATES) assessment framework for the effective assessment of the needs of individual children who may initially benefit from early help services, or if more complex needs are identified, may require the provision of specific targeted services and more significant support.
Early help means assessing and providing support as soon as a problem emerges at any point in a child's life. The provision of early help is more effective in promoting the welfare of children, rather than reacting later.
The Isle of Man Continuum of Needs document sets out the levels for the different kinds of assessments and services to be commissioned and delivered.
Providing services in response to the identified needs from the early help assessment, forms part of the continuum of need of individual children and families where:
- The need is relatively low- level and where individual services and universal services may be able to take swift action, preventing the need for assessment and any further intervention;
- For additional needs, where concerns are emerging and where targeted support is needed to prevent a deficit in the resilience of the child and family, a range of early help services may be required, coordinated through an early help assessment. This should be contributed to by all relevant professionals and coordinated by the Children with Additional Needs (CWAN) Coordinator. The plan of support should identify what help is required to prevent needs escalating to a point where Statutory intervention is required under the Children and Young Persons Act 2001.
For an early help assessment to be effective the assessment should be undertaken with participation of the child and parent/s or carers. If parents don't consent to such an assessment, then a judgement should be made as to whether, without help, the needs of the child will escalate.
If there are sufficient concerns to consider making a referral at that stage then consent will be required from the parent prior to the referral being made unless the child has suffered significant harm and is likely to continue to suffer harm without the intervention of services. A referral into IRT Duty Team, Children and Families Division may become necessary. See Referrals Procedure.
Whenever there are concerns for a child's welfare and it is believed that the child is suffering or likely to suffer significant harm then a referral should be made.
On receipt of the referral there are a number of possible outcomes likely, one of them being 'Start a NARRATES Assessment.' There are 2 principal documents determining whether NARRATES should be undertaken:
- The Children and Young Person's Act 2001;
- The Isle of Man Integrated Continuum of Needs Document.
Where more complex needs emerge and whenever a child is identified as 'in need of safety and protection' then the NARRATES single assessment framework for assessment must be used and the assessment undertaken as part of the Section 46 enquiries and in accordance with the Safeguarding Board procedures, whilst analysing the risk using the Dynamic Risk Assessment tool, (DRAT). This sets out the components to be considered to make sound professional decisions about risk and safeguarding. Assessment of risk is a dynamic process, which analyses and responds to the level of need of the child and any associated risks.
Assessments must be based on good analysis, timeliness and transparency, proportionate to the needs of the child and their family. A high quality assessment is one in which evidence is built and revised throughout the process of completing the assessment, particularly if new information comes to light.Each child who has been referred into the Children and Families Division should have an individual assessment to identify their needs and to understand the impact of any parental behaviour on them as an individual. Due regard to a child's age and understanding must be taken into account when determining what (if any) services to provide under, and before making decisions about action to be taken to protect individual children under Section 46 of the Children and Young Person's Act 2001.
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 on the child of the assessment process and the services provided, 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 the lead professional. Where additional needs have been identified the assessment will be coordinated by a CWAN coordinator with the identified lead professional carrying out the assessment, with the contribution of all involved parties.
Where more complex needs have been identified and where a child has been identified as 'in need of safety and protection' the allocated social worker will plan, coordinate and complete the Section 46 NARRATES assessment with the contribution of the child, family and all involved agencies.
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. Parental consent will be required to assess each of the children.
Planning should identify the different elements of the assessment including who should be involved. It is within the Strategy discussion process for Section 46 enquiries plans are agreed regarding the involvement of professional roles, timescales, as well as decisions around service provision whilst the Section 46 NARRATES is assessment is being carried out.
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 support 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. Developing a Clear Analysis
Research has demonstrated that taking a systematic approach to assessments using a conceptual model is the best way to deliver a comprehensive analysis.
Critical reflection taking into account all the views of those involved in the process including the Team Manager should assist with strengthening the analysis in each assessment.
The Safeguarding Together (2019) guidance highlights that no system can fully eliminate risks and to manage risks social workers and other practitioners should make decisions with the best interests of the child in mind, but must always be informed by the evidence available that has been gathered throughout the assessment process.
Children may be vulnerable to neglect and abuse or exploitation from within their family and 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. For more information, see Section 10, Assessment of Risk Outside the Home.
An assessment should establish:
- The nature of the concern and the impact this has had on the child;
- An analysis of their needs and/or the nature and level of any risk and harm 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 with Complex Needs;
- Whether the concern involves abuse or Neglect and to 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;
- Any factors that may indicate that the child is or has been trafficked, or is a victim of compulsory labour, servitude and slavery;
- Any factors that may indicate that the child has been exposed to some form of radicalisation or extremism.
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.
It may be appropriate to arrange a Medical Assessment to assist in the assessment process.
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 and by using the Dynamic Risk Assessment Tool 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 their manager who will help 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, 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.
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 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 pace of the assessment needs to acknowledge the pace at which the child can contribute. Unless there is a good reason for the completion of the assessment to be delayed, timescales predict when the start and completion of the assessment shall be, and these must be adhered to. Reasons for any delay must be clearly recorded on the child's file.
During the assessment there should not be any delay in taking protective action if that is what is required.
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, with the views, wishes and feelings of the child being fundamental to the assessment. This shouldn't mean that the child should take responsibility for the decisions made, but that the decision is informed by their views. 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 of parents or care givers 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.
5. Contribution of Agencies Involved with the Child and Family
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 escalation process should be followed See Complaints and Professional Resolution Procedure.
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.
6. Actions and Outcomes
The possible outcomes of the assessment should be agreed upon by the social worker and team manager, who should agree a plan of action. The plan should set out what services should be delivered, what actions are required, by whom and for what purpose.
Every assessment must be focused on outcomes. Where the outcome of the assessment is 'continued statutory involvement of Manx Care' then a plan of action with all involved parties contributing must be agreed. The plan will either be:
- No Further Action/Step down to CWAN with consent/additional support through universal services or early help support;
- Child with Complex Needs Plan (Section 23 of the Children and Young Person's Act 2001 or;
- Undertaking a Strategy Discussion;
- Child Protection Plan agreed through a Child Protection Conference (Section 46 Children and Young Person's Act 2001;
- Emergency action to protect the child (Section 42 Children and Young Person's Act);
- The child is in need of accommodation (Section 25 or Section 31 Children and Young Person's Act 2001.
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 or Police investigation;
- 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.
7. Regular Review
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:
- There has been direct communication with the child alone and their views and wishes have been recorded and taken into account when providing services;
- 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;
- The analysis and evaluation has been completed;
- The assessment provides clear evidence for decisions on what types of services are needed to provide good outcomes for the child and family.
The Isle of Man 'NARRATES Professional Operational Guidance' (2016) reminds professionals of the importance of reviewing progress and that:
'Assessment is not a one off event in terms of a child's journey. The assessment is best understood as a picture taken in a moment in time. As such the child's circumstances and the impact of professional intervention and or life events may impact on the child and will require to practitioner to reconsider their assessment in light of any such events. Because of this it is important that a cycle of assessing, planning, monitoring and reviewing is undertaken throughout the practitioner's involvement with the case'.
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.
9. Principles for a Good Assessment
The Isle of Man 'Safeguarding Together' (2019) guidance notes the importance that:
- Information is gathered and recorded systematically;
- Information is checked and discussed with the child and their parents/carers where appropriate;
- Differences in views about information recorded; and
- The impact of what is happening to the child is clearly identified.
10. 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, 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.
Interventions should focus on addressing the 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 Manx Care or the Isle of Man Constabulary. Effective information sharing and intelligence gathering is crucial in developing effective coordinated multi-agency responses.
It is important that an assessment captures any risk that may impact on the child, including the risks that are outside the family home and not directly involving the care provided by the parent and if the parent is making every effort to protect and keep their child safe. Careful consideration will be required when deciding whether or not to proceed to an Initial Child Protection Conference as the agreed plan.
The outcome of the assessment should determine what plans and services should be in place to reduce the risk and improve the child's outcomes taking into account the different strands of the Dynamic Risk Assessment too.
Procedures establish guidance for assessments to be completed, and whilst it will require judgements to be made by the social worker and manager every assessment must be completed within 45 working days unless there are exceptional circumstances which prevent completion within that time. Where this happens, the manager must record the reasons for the delay.
The NARRATES (Section 46) process is the means by which the enquiries are carried out. The NARRATES (Section 46) could have commenced at the point of the receipt of the referral and it must continue whenever the criteria for Section 46 enquiries are satisfied. The conclusions and recommendations of the Section 46 NARRATES should inform the next steps. This should be completed within 15 days of the strategy discussion where the decision was made to initiate it.
Cross-border child protection cases: the 1996 Hague Convention (DfE) - guidance for local authorities dealing with international child protection cases.