Child and Family Assessments
SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER
A Child and Family (C&F) Assessment addresses the central and most important aspects of the needs of a child / young person, and the capacity of his or her parents or care givers to respond appropriately to these needs within the wider family and community context. The conclusion of the assessment should provide analysis of the findings leading to a clear understanding of need that will facilitate care planning and inform service provision. C&F Assessments should contain input from other professionals and make use of additional assessment tools such as scales and questionnaires.
The C & F Assessment is the Pre-Meeting Report for any Initial or Review Child Protection Conference or Child Looked After Review.
Social Workers and Team Managers should be aware of and apply:
- The legislative guidance when completing Assessments: Section 17 Children Act 1989, Section 20 Children Act 1989 and Section 47 Enquiry Children Act 1989;
- The Child and Family Assessment Programme - HCC (hertfordshire.gov.uk);
- The Hertfordshire Children Safeguarding Partnership (HSCP) Procedures Manual;
- Assessment Tools Procedure;
- Cross-border Child Protection Cases: The 1996 Hague Convention.
Refer to The Voice of the Child and Family to always seek feedback from service users.
See also the Child Development Chart Ages 0-21 located in the Practice Library under Direct Work with Children and Young People.
AMENDMENTSection 10, Recording Requirements was updated in September 2021 to highlight the need for Service Manager sign off on all assessments for unborn babies.
1. Focus on the Child
The C&F Assessment should be centrally focused on the child's needs and improving outcomes in partnership with their parents. The C&F Assessment should consider what the child has to say about their life and their experience of living within their family;
- Child should be seen alone;
- Where there are child protection concerns a child MUST be seen alone;
- If the child is not seen alone the Social Worker must record why this did not happen and what attempts will be made to ensure the child is seen;
- The Practice Manager must record why the child has not been seen when they are authorising assessments under these circumstances;
- Social Workers should use methods and tools specific to the age and development of the child in order to ensure the voice of the child is heard throughout the work completed;
- When working with pre-verbal children or those with communication difficulties, the Social Worker should record the child's demeanour, interaction and body language and consider using more specialist tools such as Makaton;
- See Assessment Tools Procedure, The Child's Wishes and Feelings and The Child and Family Assessment Programme.
2. Criteria for a C&F Assessment
A C&F Assessment will always be completed in the following circumstances:
- Where significant safeguarding concerns are raised;
- Where a Section 47 Enquiry is undertaken;
- Where a child becomes or is at risk of becoming Accommodated;
- Where the child is subject of Care Proceedings or under Public Law Outline. The C&F Assessment will form the central part of the evidence supporting any application for a Care Order or Supervision Order;
- Where a Strategy Meeting/Discussion concludes that Section 47 Enquiry is not required but a C&F Assessment is;
- Updating a previous assessment will be required at specific stages in the life of a Child Looked After; a child subject of a Child Protection Plan or a child subject of a Child in Need Plan to inform planning and ensure all needs are identified and being met.
3. Roles and Responsibilities for Team Managers and Consultant Social Workers
The responsible Team Manager makes the decision to commence a Child & Family Assessment, and will confirm whether this should be undertaken within 15 or 35 working days (dependent on complexity of case or purpose of assessment). LCS User Guide re Assessment.
The Team Manager will allocate C&F Assessments to a suitably qualified and experienced social worker. The Team Manager will also ensure the following guidance is provided and recorded on LCS as a casenote:
- Whether the child requires immediate intervention, and what action should be taken.
Any specialist assessment will be undertaken or specific protocol will be followed (e.g. Hertfordshire Safeguarding Children Partnership Procedures, Pre-Birth Assessment and Guidance).
- How any non resident parents views will be gathered to inform the assessment;
- Which agencies should be contacted for information. This will include the relevant housing association and department, for all assessments including those of vulnerable young people and those who are pregnant and leaving care;
- Whether a professionals; Child in Need or Strategy meeting should be called;
- At what point a Risk Assessment should be completed;
- Whether a Family Group Conference should be convened;
- Specific guidance about the presenting concerns;
- Ensuring the Chronology of significant events is initiated and analysed;
- When the child should be seen;
- Specific guidance in relation to equality and diversity needs;
- Any health and safety or 'risk to worker' issues.
Following the completion of the C&F Assessment;
The C&F Assessment should be shared with the parents / carers and child (if appropriate) after it has been reviewed (but not authorised) by the Team Manager.An Assessment may be completed without full consideration of all aspects of a child's situation in some circumstances, e.g.: pre-birth assessments where the pregnancy does not progress to term; family moves to another jurisdiction. The Team Manager should ensure that reasons for authorisation are recorded clearly in these cases.
Interviews should be undertaken in the preferred language of the child and the parent(s). Where a child or parent speaks a language other than that spoken by the social worker, an interpreter should be provided. Any decision not to use an interpreter must be approved and recorded by the Team Manager.
Language Line is available from INTRAN- Hertfordshire's Translation and Interpreting Service.A disabled child or parent may have specific communication difficulties and other communication methods may be required. A person who knows the individual and is familiar with his/her communications methods may be appropriate, however it is imperative that a method of communication is sought and applied. The recommendations for any communications assessment will be observed.
All assessments should be planned and coordinated by a suitably qualified and experienced social worker and the purpose of the assessment should be transparent, understood and agreed by all participants. A working agreement is useful at this stage of the process to ensure parents and child fully understand what will be happening and why. Agreement should also be sought from parents for information sharing and gathering from other agencies (see CS0442F1 Information Sharing Consent Form for Parents).
When there are continuing arrangements for a child to be routinely cared for in more than one household the detailed arrangements should be clarified and the effect on the child and other children be considered, including any direct work with the parents, wherever appropriate by a single allocated caseworker.
If a parent / carer refuse to engage, the social worker should:
- Read case records, noting type and level of concerns in previous and current referrals;
- Try to meet with parent/child to understand reasons for refusal, explain possible consequences and make arrangements that can be agreed on, to progress the C&F Assessment;
- Letters provide necessary evidence of this process, but should not replace attempts at telephone/face to face contact;
- Discuss with Team Manager the need for Strategy Discussion/Meeting immediate protection or other action.
Questions to be considered in planning assessments include:
- Who in the family will be included and how will they be involved (including absent or wider family members and others significant to the child);
- What services are to be provided during the assessment;
- How the assessment will take into account the particular issues faced by black and minority ethnic children and their families, disabled children and their families, or any other issues arising from diversity;
- What method of collecting information will be used?
- The context of the presenting concerns within the social care history;
- What other sources of knowledge about the child and family are available (including housing) and how will other agencies and professionals who know the family be informed and involved.
In relation to unborn babies the Hertfordshire Safeguarding Children Partnership Procedures, Pre-Birth Assessment and Guidance must be followed.
- In relation to Unaccompanied Asylum seeking children, Unaccompanied Migrant Children and Child Victims of Trafficking and Modern Slavery Procedure must be followed;
- In relation to families with no recourse to public funds Families with No Recourse to Public Funds Procedure must be followed.
In relation to a child, of school age who is not attending school:
- S/he will inform the Attendance and Improvement Service in writing to trigger procedures for establishing whether the child is registered with a school, and make any appropriate arrangements to arrange this, see Children Missing from Education (CME) Guidance and Referral Form CSF4706 and CSF4707;
- Satisfy him/herself that, in the interim, the child is subject to adequate day care arrangements.
6. Seeing the Child Alone
The child, and any other children living as part of the household, will be seen alone by the social worker. The child's needs, and any risks posed to the child as a result of care given or not given to them by their parent/s and or carers will be assessed. Children will be seen alone, regardless of their young age where babies are concerned to:
- Engage with the child to discuss any concerns or positives about their care and protection;
- Record their opinion on the child's demeanour (playfulness, mood, suspiciousness, fear, blankness) and record how they looked (cleanliness/nourishment) and responded where pre/non verbal.
Take particular care if the child does not look well cared for or there are indications of concerning behaviour or where they may be lacking in appropriate stimulation.If the social worker has not seen the child, s/he will record why and what attempts will be made to ensure the child is seen.
7. Agency Information
Information from all agencies, including Children Services, that are, or have been, involved with the child and any relevant person in the child's network will be obtained. Appropriate consents for obtaining this information must be sought, unless particular circumstances apply see Consent to Information Sharing Procedure. If consent is not forthcoming and the decision is that consent may not be over-ridden, then information should be included in the C&F Assessment with reasons.
Information will be sought separately about fathers or partners, including, drug and alcohol use. It should be noted that fathers or partners may not currently reside with the mother, or be a new partner and/or have a different GP to the mother. This check should be undertaken as well as the check undertaken with Spectrum (Crime Reduction Initiative) as to whether there is an involvement with the father/partner.
The Chronology will be updated, see Chronologies and Historical Information Guidance.
In instances where a child has links to a foreign country (e.g. foreign national child, a child with dual nationality or a British child of foreign parents/national origin) the social worker may also need to work with colleagues abroad to gather information for the assessment.
8. Developing a Clear Analysis
The social worker should analyse all the information gathered from the enquiry stage of the assessment to decide the nature and level of the child's needs and the level of risk, if any, they may be facing. The social work manager should challenge the social worker's assumptions as part of this process. 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 impact on the child's life.
No system can fully eliminate risk. Understanding risk involves judgement and balance. To manage risks, social workers and other professionals should make decisions with the best interests of the child in mind, informed by the evidence available and underpinned by knowledge of child development.
Critical reflection through supervision should strengthen the analysis in each assessment.
Social workers, their managers and other professionals should always consider the plan from the child's perspective. A desire to think the best of adults and to hope they can overcome their difficulties should not trump the need to rescue children from chaotic, neglectful and abusive homes. Social workers and managers should always reflect the latest research on the impact of neglect and abuse when analysing the level of need and risk faced by the child. This should be reflected in the case recording.
Assessment is a dynamic and continuous process which should build upon the history of every individual case, responding to the impact of any previous services and analysing what further action might be needed. Social workers should build on this with help from other professionals from the moment that a need is identified.
Decision points 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.
There are various tools which can assist workers with analysis. See:
9. 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 their line manager should determine:
- What actions should the parents take to minimise the likelihood of concerns re-emerging?
- Does this child and family require support or early help from universal or targeted services?
- 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 should be decided on by the Team Manager and the social worker, who should agree a plan of action.
The outcomes may be as follows:
- No further action. This should only be used when it has been established that there was no basis for the referral and the child has no identified additional needs from any agency;
- Additional support which can be provided through universal or targeted services and single service provision; early help services such as the Families First and Early Help Module process;
- The development of a multi-agency child in need plan for the provision of child in need services to promote the child's health and development;
- Specialist assessment (including Disabled Children, Private Fostering, Relinquished Children or Special Guardianship) 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;
- A Child Protection Plan to be considered at Initial Child Protection Case Conference (ICPCC).
The outcome of the assessment must:
- Be discussed with the child and parents and anyone with Parental Responsibility 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;
- Provided to professional referrers, in writing, taking account of confidentiality and consent to share information;
- Given in writing to agencies involved in providing services to the child with the action points, expected timescale and intended outcomes for the child stated.
The above should be given the opportunity to comment and their comments will be recorded. Any factual errors noted in the C&F Assessment should be corrected.
The C&F Assessment may lead to either a Child In Need Plan, Hertfordshire Multi-Agency Children in Need Protocol and Procedures or a Child Protection Plan, The Hertfordshire Children Safeguarding Partnership (HSCP) Procedures, Implementing the Child Protection Plan, Core Group and Social Worker.
In instances where a child with an open referral moves to live on a temporary or permanent basis in another local authority area a notification should be sent to that local authority and the provision of relevant information including any assessment (e.g. C&F, Early Help, Family First), whether partially or fully completed (and including any information about domestic abuse) to that authority. The notification should indicate whether parental consent has been obtained to share the information in question. Such consent is not required if the referral or any assessment includes child protection concerns. See Children Moving Across Local Authority Boundaries Procedure of the Hertfordshire LSCP Procedures and Consent to Information Sharing Procedure.
10. Recording Requirements
The social worker will record the C&F Assessment Record on LCS. Visits, discussions and meetings undertaken as part of the C&F Assessment will be recorded in LCS case notes, from contemporaneous written records (where possible) as soon as possible, but within 10 working days. The case record for each child will include a separate record for each event, activity or transition which relates to that child in appropriate detail what happened, was observed and was discussed. The chronology needs to be updated at least on a monthly basis.
The Social Worker will share a hard copy of the C&F Assessment with the child (as appropriate to age and understanding), parents, carers, and anyone with Parental Responsibility. The assessment should be shared in person wherever possible. If this cannot be done, reasons should be recorded and agreed by manager. Any factual inaccuracies (e.g. name spelling or date of birth) must be corrected on LCS, immediately. The social worker will record these actions on LCS.
The completed C&F Assessment should be finalised by the social worker and approved by the Team Manager, or where it relates to an unborn baby, all Child and Family Assessments of unborn children require final authorisation by a Service Manager. It is expected that Social Workers completing the assessment discuss the assessment and recommended plan with their Supervisor at some stage during the assessment, and/or that the Team Manager reviews the assessment prior to Service Manager review.
The Team Manager will not sign off unless:
- All agencies, including housing, have been contacted for information which has been received, and the risk analysis references this information, and demonstrated how this has added to or mitigated against the level of concern and what action is required. If a particular piece of agency feedback is likely to be delayed for a significant period (e.g. school in the summer holidays), the PM must consider how possible it is to complete the assessment without that information. It must be recorded on the assessment the reason for any delay, and how that information gap is to be addressed before the assessment can be finalised. No case may be closed without all the agency checks having been completed, recorded and considered by the PM in their final decision making;
- Child has been seen alone and his/her home and bedroom seen;
- Historical factors have been appropriately considered;
- Analysis includes consideration of both risk and need;
- Clear recommendations and proposed plan for child.
Where it is proposed that an assessment is NFA and the child subject to the assessment has not been seen, a copy of the assessment must be sent to the Services Manager via LCS, so they can record their agreement that the failure to see the child in the assessment was appropriate. This will help protect the child in the case, for example, where a parent dismisses the referral as malicious, as a deliberate tactic to distract the social worker from gaining access to the child. This is a frequent reason given by staff as to why the child was not seen and must not be authorised without the views of partner agencies having been thoroughly explored and ideally, the child having been seen at home or school.
The Team Manager will complete an LCS case note, Management Decision, concerning the decision and subsequent actions/plan.
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. See Case Recording Procedure.
Supervision records should reflect the reasoning for decisions and actions taken. See Professional Supervision Procedure.See LCS User Guides regarding Assessment for detailed information.