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Developing Local Protocols for Assessment


This chapter, provides Local Authorities and their partner agencies with guidance about creating a local protocol for assessment. It is intended to be used alongside the Assessment Procedure and the Local Threshold Guidance, as agreed by the Local Safeguarding Children Partnership (LSCP).

Optional information about local protocols for contacts and referrals to Children’s Social Care is contained in Section 2, Local Protocols for Contact and Referrals to Children’s Social Care.

This chapter is intended to assist readers in exercising their professional judgement.


  1. Local Protocols for Assessments
  2. Local Protocols for Contact and Referrals to Children’s Social Care

1. Local Protocols for Assessments

Chapter 2 of Working Together to Safeguard Children sets out a number of pre-requisites which should be contained in a local protocol for an assessment led by Children’s Social Care. These are outlined below and should form the basis of the Local Assessment Protocol.

1.1 Ensure assessments are timely, transparent and proportionate to the needs of individual children and their families

The Local Assessment Protocol should make reference to assessments being completed in a timely manner, by a suitably qualified and experienced social worker who leads the multi-agency process.

It should state that the child and their family have the most vital role to play in the process, that they must agree to the assessment, understand its purpose, who is involved and what is expected of them especially in terms of what change is required and how this is going to be measured. The involvement of wider family and friends should be noted.

The Protocol should clearly state the process of gaining consent from the child and parents, and the criteria which must exist where consent is not required.

The Protocol must state that the child must be seen by the social worker seen alone, wherever possible, as part of the assessment process. If the child is not seen alone, this should be recorded along with the reasons why. The views and wishes of the child should be heard and recorded.

The Protocol should stress that primarily it is the needs of the child which should drive the assessment; delay is not in the child’s interest. The period in which the assessment is conducted should not exceed 45 working days from the point of referral, unless an extension is approved by a manager who records the reasons and identifies new time limits. Some assessments will be completed more quickly.

It should state that where particular needs are identified at any stage of the assessment, the social worker should not wait until the assessment is concluded before commissioning services to support the child and their family. It should also make very clear that if at any point in the process of the assessment, there is a concern that a child is likely to or is suffering Significant Harm, the child’s immediate safety must be considered and a Strategy Meeting convened.

Where there is a pre-existing assessment conducted by a partner agency such as an early help or a Family Support Process (FSP), the Protocol should state that this should be used to inform the assessment, although it should be clear that the information must be update-to-date and the child seen, wherever possible. If not, the reasons why the child has not been seen should be included in the early help assessment.

The Protocol should state that every assessment should be focused on outcomes, including 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 line manager 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 Protocol should also make reference that the assessment by the Local Authority should determine whether any specialist assessments should be undertaken to assist them in decision making.

See also:

Section 1.2 Set out how the needs of disabled children, young carers and children involved in the youth justice system will be addressed in the assessment process; and

Section 1.4 Clarify how the statutory assessments will be informed by other specialist assessments, such as the assessment for children with special educational needs (Education, Health and Care Plan) and disabled children.

The Protocol should state that it is the social worker’s responsibility to analyse all the information gathered from the enquiry stage of the assessment, decide the nature and level of the child's needs and the level of risk, if any, they may be facing. The line manager should provide regular supervision, and challenge the social worker's assumptions as part of this process.

In relation to assessments conducted as part of a Section 47 Enquiry, the Protocol should also reference that:

  • The assessment should always be initiated by a Strategy Meeting between the police, children’s social care, health and education and any other agencies who are involved with the child and who can provide relevant information. This meeting must consider any steps that need to be taken immediately to protect the child’s welfare;
  • The conduct of the assessment and the information and analysis may be kept from a parent or carer if, in passing on the information, the child’s safety would be compromised. The principle of working in partnership with the parents and the child should, however, be upheld wherever possible;
  • If one child in a household is being assessed as part of a Section 47 Enquiry, any other children living there may also become the subject of child protection enquiries if they may have had contact with the alleged perpetrator.

The Protocol should also state the requirements of the Local Authority to provide feedback to referrers, including members of the public, and the timescales within which this should occur.

1.2 Set out how the needs of disabled children, young carers and children involved in the youth justice system will be addressed in the assessment process

The Local Assessment Protocol should make reference to the following specific groups of children:

Disabled children: Children with disabilities are children In Need and the Local Authority must publish their own local definition of a disabled child. Local Authorities must have arrangements in place for the referral, assessment and in some cases, the provision of services to these children. Care should be taken wherever possible to ensure that duplication of assessment is avoided.

Young Carers: Local Authorities must have arrangements for the referral and assessment of children who provide care and support to members of their own family, for example where their parents or siblings are disabled and they contribute towards their relatives’ care. Young carers are entitled to request a separate carer's assessment under the Carers (Recognition and Services) Act 1995 and, if they are over 16 years, under the Carers and Disabled Children Act 2000. Services to support such children can be offered to help them to grow up in their own families.

Children and young people who commit offences: The Youth Offending Service and the Local Authority must have a protocol for the assessment and support to children who offend, and their families. This should create clear thresholds for service provision and information sharing.

1.3 Clarify how agencies and professionals undertaking assessments and providing services can make contributions

Whilst Children’s Social Care retains the responsibility for the completion of the assessment, the Local Assessment Protocol should specify that it is the duty of any agency who knows the child and the family to contribute to the process. This contribution will vary depending on the circumstances of the child; it can include the provision of information and services. Agencies who contribute to the assessment should be involved in its planning, review and analysis. Contribution from the following agencies should always be considered:

  • Police (whether or not an offence has been committed;
  • Health, especially in relation to the child’s development and the family history;
  • Education, including where relevant, pre-school and further/higher education.

Other agencies and organisations may need to be asked to contribute to the assessment process, depending on the circumstances of the child and their family. This may include agencies which work with adults, for example where parents or another adult living in the household have drug, alcohol or mental ill health problems or learning difficulties. Professionals who are primarily providing a service to the child’s parents or carers have a vital role to play in developing an understanding of the parent’s capacity and capability and they have a duty to participate in the process of assessment.

1.4 Clarify how the statutory assessments will be informed by other specialist assessments, such as the assessment for children with special educational needs (Education, Health and Care Plan) and disabled children

The Local Assessment Protocol should make reference to assessments for specific groups of children (in addition to those listed in Section 2.2 Referral Criteria) who will require particular care. These groups of children include those with special educational needs (who may require an Education, Health and Care Plan, unborn children where there are concerns, asylum seeking children, children in hospital, children with specific communication needs, children considered at risk of gang activity, children who are in the youth justice system. Additional guidance in relation to issues affecting these groups of children can usually be found in Norfolk Safeguarding Children Partnership Procedures Manual

1.5 Ensure that any specialist assessments are coordinated so that the child and family experience a joined up assessment process and a single planning process focused on outcomes

The Local Assessment Protocol should make reference to the Local Authority collating information from other pre-existing assessments such as a CAMHS, or a consultant paediatrician in relation to a child’s specific health needs for example. Including information from such assessments should be considered to avoid the child and the family having to provide the same information on a number of different occasions. Collating such assessment information will help the social worker understand the child’s needs, improving understanding, assessment analysis and outcome decision making.

1.6 Set out how shared internal review points with other professionals and the child and family will be managed throughout the assessment process

The Local Assessment Protocol should document the key decision or review points, which involve the child, family and relevant professionals, and actions by the social worker. These should be agreed by the Local Authority, in conjunction with partner agencies. The review points will be used to monitor the progress of the assessment and to ensure it is completed within the 45 working days timescale.

Review points may include, for example:

  • At the point the social worker should have seen the child alone, and their views and wishes have been heard and recorded. The child's home address has been visited and the child's bedroom has been seen;
  • At the point all the children in the household have been seen and their needs considered;
  • At the point the parents have been seen and their views and wishes have been recorded and taken into account;
  • At the point early findings may indicate whether no further action is required, a child is in Need, or a Section 47 Enquiry should be initiated;
  • At the point the assessment analysis and evaluation has been completed.

Local authorities may wish to agree other or additional decision or review points.

Review points provide assurances that help will be given in a timely and appropriate way, and that the impact of this help will be analysed and evaluated in terms of the improved outcomes and welfare of the child.

1.7 Set out the process for assessment for children who are returned from care to live with their families

The Local Assessment Protocol should include information from the Local Authority about the process for assessment for children who have been in care who are returning to live with their families. The Local Authority will have detailed procedures for children, of differing legal status, for whom the Care Plan includes placement with their parents. A summary of this information should be included in the Protocol, particularly how children’s social care will gather and analyse relevant information from partner agencies as part of the assessment process, prior to returning children to the family or friends. (See also Placement with Parents Procedure).

1.8 Seek to ensure that each child and family understands the type of help offered and their own responsibilities, so as to improve the child's outcomes

The Local Assessment Protocol should state that the assessment outcome should be decided by the social worker and line manager, who should also agree a plan of action setting out the services to be delivered, how and by whom. The outcome of the assessment should be discussed with the child and family and the outcome also provided to them in written form. Exceptions to this are where this might place a child at risk of harm or jeopardise an enquiry.

Partner agencies who have been involved in the assessment should also be informed of the outcome in writing. Where they are involved in providing services to the child, this information should clearly state action points, review dates and intended outcomes for the child, as agreed between them and the social worker.

1.9 Set out the process for challenge by children and families by publishing the complaints procedures

The Local Assessment Protocol should clearly set out a summary of the Local Authority’s procedure by which children and families are able to make a complaint about the assessment process. This should include links to relevant information on the Local Authority’s website, but also written information about the complaints department, including address and telephone number for those without internet access.

Where the complaint is about a partner agency’s role in the assessment process, the social work manager or other local authority personnel receiving the complaint should refer it to the relevant manager in the partner agency, or the agency’s complaints department.

1.10 Require decisions to be recorded in accordance with locally agreed procedures. Recording should include information on the child's development so that progress can be monitored to ensure their outcomes are improving. This will reduce the need for repeat assessments during care proceedings, which can be a major source of delay

The Local Assessment Protocol should document the system the Local Authority uses for recording assessment information, and the timescale in which such records should be completed. It should also summarise the local quality assessment and case record auditing process.

2. Local Protocols for Contact and Referrals to Children’s Social Care

2.1 Receiving Contacts and Referrals

Each local authority must have a system for receiving contacts and referrals. For example, they can be dealt with at a single point of contact, Multi-agency Safeguarding Hub or another arrangement.

Referrals can take the form of:

  • Telephone call;
  • E-mail;
  • Fax;
  • Letter;
  • Personal contact.

In an emergency and outside office hours, a referral should be made to the Emergency Duty Service.

A referral can be made by the child themselves, a friend or relative including a parent or someone with Parental Responsibility, or other member of the public. Referrals from a professional who knows the child should include:

  • Information on the child(ren)’s developmental needs;
  • The capacity and the capability of the parents or carers to meet these needs.

Pre-existing assessments that have already been completed by professionals should be included. This could include any early help assessment such as a Family Support Process (FSP) or equivalent local assessment completed in universal services. Such early help assessments should identify what services the child needs and why the child and family require further support to prevent the concerns from escalating to the child needing statutory services.

Where the referral relates to a child who is already an open case to Children’s Social Care, the information should be passed on to the child’s social worker.

The social worker responsible for dealing with the matter should establish whether the enquiry can be dealt with by the provision of information and advice or re-direction to other agencies or services. If this is the case, the way the matter is being dealt with should be conveyed to the person who made the contact. In the event that an agency does not agree with the response and decisions about the referral by the Children’s Social Care Services, the referring agency should discuss their concerns directly with the line manager of the social worker in the first instance to seek resolution. See also Resolving Professional Disagreements Procedure.

2.2 Referral Criteria

Professionals working with children have a responsibility to refer a child to Children’s Social Care where it is believed or suspected that a child:

  • Has suffered Significant Harm;
  • Is likely to suffer significant harm;
  • Has developmental and welfare needs which are likely only to be met through the provision of family support services;
  • Is a Child in Need whose development would be likely to be impaired without the provision of services.

The detailed criteria must be agreed by the LSCP and its partner agencies so that everyone dealing with vulnerable children understands the thresholds of one another’s responsibilities and can act accordingly (see Norfolk Threshold Guide - A Child Centred Framework for Making Decisions).

2.3 Referral Process

The Referral Co-ordinator will contact the referrer and obtain as much of the following information as possible:

  • Full names, dates of birth and gender of children;
  • Family address and, where relevant, school/nursery attended;
  • Identity of those with Parental Responsibility;
  • Names and dates of birth of all members of the household;
  • Ethnicity, first language and religion of children and parents;
  • Any special needs of the children including the means in which they communicate;
  • Any significant recent or past events;
  • Any known parental or household issues of drug or alcohol use, mental ill health, learning disabilities or domestic abuse;
  • Cause for concern including details of allegations, their sources, timing and location;
  • The child's current location and emotional and physical condition;
  • Whether the child needs immediate protection;
  • Details of any alleged perpetrator;
  • Referrer's relationship with and knowledge of the child and his or her family;
  • Known involvement of other agencies;
  • Information regarding parents' knowledge and agreement to referral.
  • The child’s wishes and feelings as far as they are known.

Once received, all referrals must be written up and a decision made about their disposal within one working day and this should be communicated to the referrer. 

The following process applies to new cases of children previously unknown to the authority, and to closed cases.

The process of Referrals must include screening against the local Norfolk Threshold Guide - A Child Centred Framework for Making Decisions. Other pre-existing referrals should be provided and the details of the child and the family must be checked against the databases of the Local Authority to establish whether the family is previously known, and whether there is a Child Protection Plan in relation to the child and/or whether the child is Looked After or if the family are receiving other services.

The screening process should also establish:

  • The nature of the concern;
  • How and why it has arisen;
  • What the child's needs appear to be;
  • Whether the concern involves Significant Harm;
  • Whether there is any need for urgent action to protect the child or any children in the household.

This process will involve:

  • Discussion with the referrer;
  • Involving other agencies as necessary.

If there are indications that a child may be at risk of Significant Harm, the manager may authorise whatever actions are necessary to protect the child or others in the household which may result in the immediate provision of services. In such circumstances a Strategy Meeting must be convened.

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.

Personal information about non-professional referrers should not be disclosed to the parents or other agencies without the referrer's consent.

The parent's consent should usually be sought before discussing a referral with other agencies unless this 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. 

2.4 Outcomes of Referrals

The immediate response to referrals may be:

  • No further action from Children’s Social Care. Feedback should be given to the child, family and referrers including why the case might not have met the statutory threshold and suggestions for other sources of support. In the case of referrals from members of the public, feedback must be consistent with the rights to confidentiality of the child and their family. Arrangements need to be in place for professional referrers to be able to challenge such decisions;
  • Signposting to other agencies and services;
  • Provision of services;
  • An assessment of need with stated timescales including regular reviews;
  • Emergency action to protect a child;
  • A Section 47 Strategy Meeting.

The decision about the outcome must be discussed with and approved by a manager from Children’s Social Care.

Where agencies or individuals anticipate that prospective parents may need support services to care for their baby or that the baby may be at risk of Significant Harm, a referral to Children’s Social Care Services must be made as soon as the concerns are recognised.

If the referral relates to a child who is temporarily visiting the area of another local authority or in a hospital or Looked After outside of the local area, the local authority/Police for the area where the child actually is at the time have prime responsibility for an initial response to the referral.

The referral should be passed to that authority immediately for them to follow the necessary procedures and to undertake a Section 47 Enquiry and/or take any immediate protective action that is necessary. They will be responsible for liaising with any other Children’s Social Care Services as necessary.

Before undertaking such enquiries, the child’s home authority must be consulted and agreement sought on who is best placed to undertake the enquiries. Where this is consistent with the child’s immediate protection needs, it may be agreed that the child’s home authority will respond to the referral. For those children from other local authority areas, who are the subject of Child Protection Plans, there must be consultation with the responsible Lead Social Worker.