Child and Family Assessments
This chapter should be read in conjunction with:
International Child Abduction and Contact Unit guidance and application form - Advice regarding the return of a child taken abroad against parent/carers wishes, assistance in how to make contact with them or to enforce a court order overseas.
This chapter was updated in September 2020 with minor changes to Section 8, Updated Child and Family Assessment and a link to Baby Not Medically Fit for Discharge flowchart.
1. Criteria for Assessment
Following a Referral, an Assessment will be undertaken in the following circumstances:
- If there are indications that a child has low level needs, a manager can authorise an Assessment but they should satisfy themselves that another universal service would not meet the child(ren)'s needs;
- If there are indications that a child has moderate to high levels of need, the manager must authorise an Assessment;
- If there are indications that a child is suffering or is likely to suffer from Significant Harm, an Assessment must be authorised with a view to conducting a Strategy Discussion, prior to a Section 47 Enquiry.
An Assessment must also be authorised if new information or concerns are received about a child already receiving services, which indicates that a further Assessment should be undertaken.
The need to assess can also include pre-birth situations when a mother's own circumstances would give cause for concern that the pre-birth, and then born, child would come within the definition of being a 'child in need'. (See Section 3.1, Pre-birth 'Good Practice Steps').
2. Purpose of Assessment
The purpose of the Assessment is to:
- Gather important information about a child and family;
- To analyse their needs and/or the nature and or level of any risk and harm being suffered by the child:
- To decide whether the child is a child in need (Section 17) and/or is suffering, or likely to suffer, significant harm (Section 47) including any factors that may indicate that the child is or has been trafficked or a victim of compulsory labour, servitude and slavery Note; if there is a concern with regards to exploitation or trafficking, a referral into the National Referral Mechanism should be made. See GOV.UK, Digital Referral System: Report Modern Slavery; and
- To provide support to address those needs to improve the child's outcomes to make them safe.
3. Timescales of Assessment
All Child & Family Assessments must be undertaken in a timely and proportionate manner. The depth and breadth of the assessment should be proportionate to the presenting need.
The Social Worker and Team Manager will review the progress of the Child and Family Assessment and agree on a timescale. This maximum timescale for review of progress is 10 working days from referral.
A Child and Family Assessment should be completed within 45 working days from the date of the referral, or for open cases from the date the decision was made to undertake a Child and Family Assessment.
When a Child and Family Assessment is being completed under Section 47 Children Act 1989, the Child and Family Assessment will be concluded in time for the Initial Child Protection Conference which will be 15 working days from the date the strategy discussion was held which agreed the Section 47 investigation.
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 Services are aware at a relatively early stage of the pregnancy.
In respect of Assessment, these 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.
4. Refusal to Cooperate with an Assessment
There will be occasions when an assessment is needed but a parent or young person refuses to become involved. In these instances, the social worker should:
- Endeavour to have a face-to-face meeting with that parent to explain the potential consequences of refusal and to see whether the reasons for refusal can be overcome. Written communication should accompany attempts to open up a dialogue with the parent rather than replace it.
Where attempts to engage the parent are unsuccessful:
- A risk assessment should be completed on all the known information, within the Child and Family Assessment document;
- Consider whether the child has capacity to refuse assessment;
- Consider whether the child may be at risk of Significant Harm and therefore whether a strategy meeting is required;
- Consider whether legal advice is required.
Personal information about children and families held by professionals is subject to a legal duty of confidence and should not normally be disclosed without the consent of the subject. However, the law permits the disclosure of confidential information if it is necessary to safeguard a child or children in the public interest. Disclosure without consent would be justifiable to safeguard a child.
When starting an assessment the 'Consent to share information' form should be completed with the family members involved in the assessment. This document should then be scanned onto the system.
The Framework for the Assessment of Children in Need and Their Families
The Framework for the Assessment of Children in Need and Their Families (also referred to as the "Assessment Framework") provides detailed guidance for gathering and analysing information about all children and their families. The Framework refers to three dimensions for the assessment, as shown in this diagram:
The Assessment Framework requires practitioners to explore the interaction between or the influence of these three dimensions on each other in a child's life and allows professionals to discriminate effectively between different types, and different levels of need.
The assessment process can be summarised as follows:
- Gathering relevant information across all dimensions of the Assessment Triangle;
- Analysing the information and reaching professional judgments;
- Making decisions and planning interventions;
- Intervening, service delivery and/or further assessment;
- Evaluating and reviewing progress.
This process is ongoing, or cyclical.
The Child and Family Assessment should be centrally focused on the child's needs and improving outcomes in partnership with their parents. The Child and Family Assessment should consider what the child has to say about their life and their experience of living within their family.
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);
- When and where should the child be seen and whether they should be seen alone?
- What tools will be used to gather information and analyse information?
- 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. Does the child need an advocate? Is an interpreter required?
- 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.
7. Incomplete Child and Family Assessment
In circumstances where a family move to another local authority or withdraw their cooperation, the manager may consider the Child and Family Assessment to be completed. In such circumstances, the manager must record this decision together with the reasons and ensure the decisions shared with the parents, child and other agencies involved.
Where a Section 47 Enquiry is being conducted as part of the Child and Family Assessment and the parents or child withdraw their cooperation or move away, the Child and Family Assessment cannot be considered to have been completed unless the Manager is satisfied that arrangements are in place to safeguard the child concerned. The response may include:
- A further Strategy Discussion/Meeting;
- Seeking legal advice about the need for an Emergency Protection Order or Child Assessment Order.
Negotiation with the local authority into whose area the family has moved.
8. Updated Child and Family Assessment
An updated Assessment should normally be completed when:
- There is a s.47 enquiry;
- Children subject to Child Protection Registration assessments should be reviewed:
- After 9 months and subsequently prior to every other (alternate) child protection case conference review;
- Where there is significant change.
- 2. For Children in Need or subject to Supervision Orders assessments should be carried out:
- Every 12 months or;
- When there are clear indicators of significant change;
- In the case of children with a disability, assessments are reviewed prior to a short break episode, every 12 months and where there are significant changes in the nature of the identified disability.
- For children looked after, assessments should be reviewed:
- In preparation for every Looked After Child Review;
- Where there are significant changes e.g. a child coming into care, or leaving care before the age of 18. A child moving placement or changes to a childs care arrangements such as family moves or changes in the adults in the household.
9. Conducting Section 47 Enquiries / Child and Family Assessment
This section should be read in conjunction with Local Safeguarding Board Procedures.
|9.1||The Child and Family Assessment is the means by which a Section 47 Enquiry is carried out. The objective of the Section 47 Enquiry is to determine whether action is required to safeguard and promote the welfare of the child. The decision to initiate a Section 47 Enquiry will be taken by the Manager after a Strategy Discussion/Meeting and where such a decision is made the Section 47 Enquiry must be completed within 15 working days.|
|9.2||In the event that the referral suggests non accidental injury or unexplained injury, a referral should be made for a legal planning meetings and/or LEGAL REPRESENTATIVE TO BE INVITED TO THE STRATEGY MEETING.|
|9.3||The Social Worker, when conducting a Section 47 Enquiry, must assess the potential needs and safety of any other child in the household of the child in question. In addition, Section 47 Enquiries may be required concerning any children in other households with whom the alleged abuser may have contact.|
|9.4||In determining who should be involved in a Section 47 Enquiry, consideration should include with whom the family is most likely to cooperate, and whether there are any risks. In all cases where there is a known propensity to violence within the family household, consideration should be given to the strategy to be adopted, with Police advice/assistance if appropriate, about how to reduce the risks before any visits take place.|
|9.5||The child must always be seen and communicated with alone in the course of a Section 47 Enquiry by the Lead Social Worker, unless it is contrary to his or her interests to do so. The Strategy Discussion/Meeting will plan any interview with the child. The Record of Section 47 Enquiry and Reports to Child Protection Conferences should include the date(s) when the child was seen alone by the Lead Social Worker and, if not seen alone, who was present and the reasons for their presence.|
Before a child is seen or interviewed parental permission must be gained unless there are exceptional circumstances that demonstrate that it would not be in the child's interests and to do so may jeopardise the child's safety and welfare. Relevant exceptional circumstances would include:
|9.7||In such circumstances, the Social Worker must take legal advice about how to proceed and whether legal action may be required, for example through an application for an Emergency Protection Order or a Child Assessment Order.|
10. Outcomes of a Section 47 Enquiry
The outcome of a Section 47 Enquiry must be endorsed by the Manager.
A Section 47 Enquiry may conclude that concerns were unsubstantiated, concerns were substantiated but the child is not judged to be at continuing risk of Significant Harm, or the concerns are substantiated and the child is judged to be at continuing risk of Significant Harm.
10.1 Concerns not substantiated
- No Further Action
Enquiries have revealed that there are no causes for concern. The child may be a Child in Need but the family do not wish for services to be provided, in which case the case will be closed.
- Family Support to be provided
Enquiries have revealed that there are no causes for concern but that there are needs that could be met by the short term provision of services either under Section 17 of the Children Act 1989 or by signposting the family to another agency. The family are willing for a short-term package of support to be provided, or continue to be provided.
Where services are to be provided under Section 17 of the Children Act 1989, the Social Worker/Manager should convene a Child in Need Planning Meeting within 7 working days to agree a Child in Need Plan - see Child in Need Plans and Reviews Procedure.
10.2 Concerns substantiated but no continuing risk
- Enquiries have confirmed that the child suffered Significant Harm, but it has been agreed between the agencies most involved and the child and their family that a plan for safeguarding the child's future safety and welfare can be developed and implemented without having an Initial Child Protection Conference or a Child Protection Plan. This decision must be endorsed by a suitably experienced and qualified social work manager;
- The Social Worker/Manager should consider convening a Child in Need Meeting to be held within 7 working days to agree a Child in Need Plan - see Child in Need Plans and Reviews Procedure. When a decision is taken not to progress to a Child in Plan, the decision and reasons must be recorded in Mosaic by the Manager.
10.3 Child at continuing risk of Significant Harm
- Enquiries have revealed that the child may continue to suffer or to be at risk of suffering Significant Harm.
An Initial Child Protection Conference must be convened within 15 working days of the Strategy Discussion/Meeting where the decision to initiate a Section 47 Enquiry was made. The request to convene the conference must be supported by a team manager. For the detailed procedure in relation to Child Protection Conferences, see the Local Safeguarding Children Board Inter Agency Procedures;
- Where immediate protective action is required, the advice of Legal Services should be sought;
- The Child and Family Assessment should be completed within 35 working days of the commencement of the Section 47 Enquiry.
Consideration should be given by the date of the Initial Child Protection Conference where one is convened to whether the Child and Family Assessment had been completed or what further work is required before it is completed.