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Assessment - Hull Children's Social Care Assessment Protocol

SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER

This assessment protocol was developed by Hull City Council Children and Family Services, in discussion with partner agencies, and was agreed at a full meeting of Hull Safeguarding Children Board.

Every assessment should draw together relevant information gathered from the child, their family and relevant professionals including, but not limited to, teachers, early years workers, health professionals, the police and adult service providers. It is likely that other professionals involved with the family will also have useful information and insight about the child and family which will contribute to a fuller understanding of the child’s needs and the likelihood of harm.

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; these professionals should be involved from the outset and throughout the planned review process.


Contents

  1. Background
  2. Statutory Assessments under the Children Act 1989: When an Assessment Should be Undertaken
  3. The Purpose of the Assessment
  4. Focus on the Child
  5. Planning for Assessment
  6. Review and Decision Points
  7. Contribution of the Child and Family
  8. Contribution of Agencies Involved with the Child and Family
  9. Developing a Clear Analysis
  10. Actions and Outcomes
  11. Timescales
  12. Recording
  13. Principles of a Good Assessment
  14. Assessing Families Abroad

    Further Information


1. Background

All local authorities with their partner agencies must develop and publish local frameworks for assessment; assessment must be based on good analysis, timeliness and transparency and be proportionate to the needs of the child and their family. This protocol sets out the arrangements for how cases will be assessed once a child is referred into Hull City Council 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. In Hull this is called a Children’s Social Care Assessment.

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.


2. Statutory Assessments under the Children Act 1989: When an Assessment Should be Undertaken

A Children’s Social Care Assessment is required in the following circumstances:

  • A Child in Need is defined under the Children Act 1989 as a child who is unlikely to achieve or maintain a satisfactory level of health or development, or their health and development will be significantly impaired, without the provision of services; or a child who is disabled. In these cases, assessments by a Social Worker are carried out under Section 17 of the Children Act 1989. Children in Need may be assessed under Section 17 of the Children Act 1989, in relation to their Special Educational Needs, disabilities, or as a carer, or because they have committed a crime. When assessing Children in Need and providing services, specialist assessments may be required and, where possible, should be coordinated so that the child and family experience a coherent process and a single plan of action;
  • The Children’s Social Care Assessment should be used for children whose parents are in prison and for asylum seeking children, as well as for children who have been or may be sexually exploited, children who have undergone or may undergo Female Genital Mutilation and children who have been or may be radicalised;
  • Concerns about maltreatment may be the reason for a referral to local authority Children’s Social Care or concerns may arise during the course of providing services to the child and family. In these circumstances, local authority Children’s Social Care must initiate Enquiries to find out what is happening to the child and to determine whether protective action is required. Local authorities, with the help of other organisations as appropriate, also have a duty to make Enquiries under Section 47 of the Children Act 1989 if they have reasonable cause to suspect that a child is suffering, or is likely to suffer, Significant Harm, to enable them to decide whether they should take any action to safeguard and promote the child’s welfare. The police, health and Education professionals should always be involved in Enquiries. There may be a need for immediate protection whilst the assessment is carried out.
  • Some children in need may require accommodation because there is no one who has Parental Responsibility for them, or because they are alone or abandoned. Under Section 20 of the Children Act 1989, the local authority has a duty to accommodate such Children in Need in their area. Following an application under Section 31a, where a child is the subject of a Care Order, the local authority, as a corporate parent, must assess the child’s needs and draw up a Care Plan which sets out the services which will be provided to meet the child’s identified needs.

In addition to these circumstances, in cases that are already open to Children’s Social Care, an assessment should be undertaken:

  • When there is a significant change in a child's circumstances, or significant change in a child’s developmental needs;
  • At the discretion of a Team Manager;
  • When recommended at a Child Protection Conference or Looked After Review;
  • When there is a Section 47 Enquiry;
  • Where a child becomes, or is at risk of becoming, accommodated;
  • Where the child is the subject of care proceedings;
  • Prior to the return home of a Looked After Child whose Care Plan is for a return to their family (including children subject to Section 20); and
  • Where a placement of the child under the placement with parents etc regulations 1991 and/or an application to discharge a care order is being considered.

When the child is aged 15 ½ or older, a Pathway Needs Assessment is required rather than a Children’s Social Care Assessment.


3. The Purpose of the Assessment

Whatever legislation the child is assessed under, the purpose of the assessment is always:

  • To gather important information about a child and family;
  • To analyse their needs and/or the nature and level of any 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); and
  • To provide support to address those needs to improve the child’s outcomes to make them safe.

Assessment should:

  • Be a dynamic process, which analyses and responds to the changing nature and level of need and/or likelihood of harm faced by the child;
  • Monitor and record the impact of any services provided to the child and family and review the help being provided; and
  • Be focused on the needs of the child and on the impact any services are having on the child.


4. Focus on the Child

Children should to be seen, 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.

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/ carers. Children should be seen alone and their wishes and feelings should be ascertained. If this is not possible or in their best interests, the reason for this should be clearly recorded.

It is useful to consider:

  • What life is like for the child;
  • 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; and
  • What the child means to the parent / carer and what the parent / carer means to the child.

Where there are concerns about the welfare of a disabled child, they will be acted upon in the same way as with any other child so that disabled children receive the same levels of protection from harm as other children. 

Children with disabilities are Children in Need. The Children and Families Disability Service will work closely with partner agencies in delivering social care services. The service will carry out assessments and, where appropriate, will provide services for children with disabilities. This will include all children who have disability and who are deemed Children in Need, on a Child Protection Plan or Looked After. Care will be taken wherever possible to ensure that duplication of assessment is avoided. If a local authority considers that a parent carer of a disabled child may have support needs, they must carry out an assessment. The local authority must also carry out such an assessment if a parent carer requests one. Such an assessment must consider whether it is appropriate for the parent carer to provide, or continue to provide, care for the disabled child, in light of the parent carer’s needs and wishes.

Young carers are those who provide care and support to members of their own family, e.g. where their parent, carer or siblings are disabled and they contribute towards their relatives’ care. If it seems that young carers are in need of support, or if they or their parents / carers request an assessment, Hull Children and Family Services will undertake a “young carer’s needs assessment”. This assessment must consider whether it is appropriate or excessive for the young carer to provide care for the person in question, in light of the young carer’s needs and wishes. The Young Carers’ Needs Assessment Regulations 2015 require local authorities to look at the needs of the whole family when carrying out a young carers’ needs assessment. Young carer’s assessments can be combined with assessments of adults in the household, with the agreement of the young carer and adults concerned. 

See also Young Carers Safeguarding Practice Guidance

For children and young people involved in the youth justice system and Children’s Social Care, the services will work closely together to avoid duplication of assessments and to ensure that there is consistency of planning.


5. Planning for Assessment

All Children’s Social Care Assessments should be planned and coordinated by a Social Worker in consultation with the child, 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. 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.

Review and decision points 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 methods 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 judgements;
  • Making decisions and planning interventions;
  • Providing help and services and/or further assessment; and
  • Evaluating and reviewing progress.


6. Review and Decision Points

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 harm faced by the child.

Purpose

The purpose of review and decision points in an assessment is to ensure that the assessment does not drift and that initial risks are identified and intervention and actions are put in place without delay while the assessment is ongoing.

Timing

At the beginning of an assessment the timing of the review point should be discussed with the family and relevant professionals. The Team Manager should put a decision record on Liquid Logic (children’s social care electronic recording system) setting out the timing of the review point. The timing will depend on the circumstances of the case and may be from 1 to 20 days.

The Review Point

When the review point is reached (or sooner if appropriate), the Team Manager will review the progress of the assessment so far. This may involve the Team Manager reviewing Liquid Logic, in discussion with the Social Worker, in a team reflective case discussion or as a series of conversations with the family and other professionals. Consideration should be given to how the child, family and relevant professionals may be involved. Key questions to consider at the review point are:

  • Is the assessment progressing in a timely way?
  • Has the Social Worker seen the child alone, and have the child’s views and wishes been heard and recorded?
  • Has the child's home address been visited and the child's bedroom been seen?
  • Have all the children in the household been seen and their needs considered?
  • Have the parents been seen and their views and wishes been recorded and taken into account?
  • Has consultation with all relevant agencies including universal health and education providers been considered? (See the Health Umbrella for guidance on the information which health agencies hold);
  • Have initial risks been identified and responded to?
  • What action has been undertaken to reduce initial risks?
  • Do early findings indicate that information needs to be shared with other agencies, a child is in need, or a Section 47 Enquiry should be initiated?

The assessment review point should be recorded by the Team Manager as a decision record on Liquid Logic

A useful comment from ‘Working Together to Safeguard Children 2015’ to bear in mind for all professionals when reviewing progress is that:

“a high quality assessment is one in which evidence is built and revised throughout the process. 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.”


7. Contribution of the Child and Family

The completion of a Genogram, ecomap and / or lifemap with children and parents /carers are all helpful ways to engage the family in direct work.

The Child

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 experience of family life, 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 should 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’ / carers’ 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 is expected of them to change in order to improve the outcomes for the child. The assessment process must be open and transparent for parents / carers. However, the process should also challenge parents’ / carers’ statements and behaviour where it is evidenced that there are inconsistencies, questions or obstacles to progress.

All parents or carers should be involved equally in the assessment and should be supported to participate; however the welfare of the child must not be overshadowed by their needs.

There may be exceptions to parent or carer involvement in cases of Sexual Abuse or Forced Marriage; cases of fabricated or induced illness; or in situations where there may be domestic abuse where the plan for the assessment must consider the safety of an adult as well as that of the child. See also: Forced Marriage and Honour Based Abuse Safeguarding Practice Guidance, Fabricated or Induced Illness Safeguarding Practice Guidance and Domestic Abuse Safeguarding Practice Guidance for further information.

The views of children and parents/carers should be recorded in the assessment. If there are disagreements or different views these should be recorded too. If children or parents/carers are unhappy with the assessment and wish to complain, attempts to resolve the disagreement should be made initially by the Social Worker and then through discussion between the Team Manager and the child or parent/carer. If a resolution is not achieved, the child or parents/carers should be directed to the Hull City Council Social Services Complaints Procedure.

See also Children’s Social Care Assessments – A Guide for Parents and Families (Hull City Council Leaflet).


8. Contribution of Agencies Involved with the Child and Family

Every assessment should draw together relevant information gathered from the child, their family and from relevant professionals including, but not limited to, teachers, early years workers, health professionals, the police and adult service providers. It is likely that other professionals involved with the family will have useful information and insight about the child and family which will contribute to a fuller understanding of the child’s needs and/or /likelihood of harm

These professionals should be involved from the outset and throughout the review process. The Social Worker’s Team Manager will have a key role in supporting the practitioner to ensure all relevant agencies are involved.

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, each time an assessment is undertaken. This might take the form of providing written or verbal information in a timely manner or direct or joint work.

Any differences of opinion between professionals should be resolved speedily by direct discussion; Where this is not possible, the Hull Safeguarding Children Board Resolving Inter Agency Disagreements (Escalation Policy) Procedure should be implemented.


9. Developing a Clear Analysis

A Genogram and a Chronology of previous events should be completed as part of every Children’s Social Care Assessment. 

The assessment will involve drawing together and analysing available information from a range of sources, including existing records, and involving and obtaining 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 / carers want to be different;
  • Clarification of what must be different;
  • How this might be achieved; and
  • Which services are in a position to offer help to achieve 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 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 in need;
  • Whether the concern involves abuse or neglect; and
  • Whether there is any need for any urgent action to protect the child, or any other children in the household or community.

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 Team Manager should provide regular supervision and challenge the Social Worker's assumptions as part of this process. The weekly team meeting will provide an opportunity for reflective discussion. An informed decision should be taken on the nature of any action required and which services should be provided. Social Workers, Team Manager 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.

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.


10. 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 Team 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 possible outcomes of the assessment should be decided on by the Social Worker and the 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:

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;
  • 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.


11. Timescales

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 45 working days from the point of referral. If, in discussion with a child and their family and other professionals, an assessment exceeds 45 working days the Social Worker and professionals involved should record the reasons for exceeding this time limit.


12. Recording

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 Liquid Logic 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 weekly team meeting / reflective discussion records should reflect the reasoning for decisions and actions taken.


13. Principles of a Good Assessment

High quality assessments:

  • Are child centred. Where there is conflict of interest, decisions should be made in the child’s best interests;
  • Are rooted in child development and informed by evidence;
  • Are focused on actions and outcomes for children;
  • Are holistic in approach, addressing the child’s needs within their family and wider community;
  • Ensure equality of opportunity;
  • Involve children and families;
  • Build on strengths as well as identifying difficulties;
  • Are integrated in approach;
  • Are a continuing process not an event;
  • Lead to action, including the provision and review of services; and
  • Are transparent and open to challenge.

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. This 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.

The interaction of these domains requires careful investigation during the assessment. The aim is to reach a judgment about the nature and level of needs and/or risks that the child may be facing within their family.

It is important 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 are recorded; and
  • The impact of what is happening to the child is clearly identified.

Assessment Framework Triangle

assessment framework triangle

The assessment cycle can be summarised as follows:

assessment cycle


14. Assessing Family Abroad

An increasing number of cases involve families from abroad, necessitating assessments of family members in other countries. However, the Court of Appeal has pointed out that it might not be professional, permissible or lawful for a social worker to undertake an assessment in another jurisdiction. CFAB advise that enquiries should be made as to whether the assessment can be undertaken by the authorities in the overseas jurisdiction. UK social workers should not routinely travel overseas to undertake assessments in countries where they have no knowledge of legislative frameworks, cultural expectations or resources available to a child placed there.

See also - Working with Foreign Authorities: Child Protection Cases and Care Orders Departmental Advice for Local Authorities, Social Workers, Service Managers and Children’s Services Lawyers July 2014.


Further Information

See also Children’s Social Care Assessments – A Guide for Parents and Families (Hull City Council Leaflet).

End.