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4.2 Child and Family Assessment

SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER

This procedure explains the purpose and process for completing a Child and Family Assessment, the type of information required and the necessary recording and consent issues which underpin the assessment.

The Nottinghamshire Child and Family Assessment is based on the Framework for the Assessment of Children in Need and their Families (DOH, 2000). Whilst this guidance has been superseded by Working Together, this remains a proven evidence informed tool to be used by professionals involved in undertaking assessments of children in need and their families under the Children Act 1989.

RELEVANT LEGISLATION AND GUIDANCE

Working Together to Safeguard Children 2015

Framework for the Assessment of Children in Need and their Families (DOH 2000)

Modern Slavery Act 2015

Protecting children from radicalisation: the prevent duty - Publications - GOV.UK

The International Child Abduction and Contact Unit (ICACU)

RELATED CHAPTERS

This chapter should be read in conjunction with:

Pathway to Provision - Multi-Agency Thresholds Guidance

Transfer Policy

Nottinghamshire and Nottingham City Safeguarding Children Boards’ Safeguarding Children Procedures

Child in Need Plans and Reviews (including Detention under the Mental Health Act (1983)) Procedure

AMENDMENT

In January 2017, a new Section 7, Pre-birth ‘Good Practice Steps’ was added. In Relevant Legislation and Guidance information with regards to the International Child Abduction and Contact Unit (ICACU) was added.


Contents

  1. Criteria for a Children’s Social Care Child and Family Assessments
  2. Purpose of a Child and Family Assessment
  3. Timescales of a Child and Family Assessment
  4. Consent
  5. Process of Child and Family Assessment
  6. Planning for a Child and Family Assessment
  7. Pre-birth ‘Good Practice Steps’
  8. Using Tools
  9. Communication
  10. Recording the Child and Family Assessment
  11. Outcome of the Child and Family Assessment


1. Criteria for a Children’s Social Care Child and Family Assessments

All new referrals or new requests for a Children’s Social Care assessment will be dealt with by the Multi-agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH).

Following a referral to Children's Social Care there are 5 decisions that can be made:

  1. That no further action is necessary;
  2. The referral is passed to Early Help;
  3. The referral is passed to another agency and closed by Children’s Social Care;
  4. That the matter is passed for allocation for a Child and Family Assessment to be completed;
  5. A Private Fostering notification is completed.

This decision will be made and recorded on the child’s electronic case record by the MASH Team Manager.

A Child and Family Assessment will be undertaken in the following circumstances:

  • If there are indications that a child meets the threshold for Children's Social Care (Level 4 - Pathway to Provision) the Team Manager will recommend a Child and Family Assessment;
  • If there are indications that a child does not meet the threshold for Children's Social Care (Level 4 - Pathway to Provision), the Team Manager can recommend a Child and Family Assessment but they should satisfy themselves that another service is not able to meet the child’s needs;
  • If there are indications that a child is suffering or is likely to suffer from Significant Harm, and enquires in accordance with S.47 of the Children Act 1989 are required;
  • Concerns that a child or young person may be at risk of child sexual exploitation;
  • If there are any that may indicate that the child is or has been trafficked, or is a victim of compulsory labour, servitude and slavery. See National Crime Agency - Human trafficking;
  • Any factors that may indicate that the child has been exposed to some form of radicalisation or extremism - see Protecting children from radicalisation: the prevent duty - Publications - GOV.UK.

An updated Child and Family Assessment can also be completed on any open case when a Manager decides that this is required. Examples of when this might happen include:

  • New or additional information indicates that a child is suffering or is likely to suffer from Significant Harm, and enquires in accordance with Section 47 of the Children Act 1989 are required;
  • An allegation has been made that a child has sexually harmed another and an AIM assessment is required - see Children and Young People who Sexually Harm;
  • Prior to the return home a looked after child;
  • A case where an updated assessment as not been completed for 12 months;
  • Concerns that a child or young person may be at risk of child sexual exploitation;
  • Any factors that may indicate that the child has been exposed to some form of radicalisation or extremism - see Protecting children from radicalisation: the prevent duty - Publications - GOV.UK;
  • If there are any that may indicate that the child is or has been trafficked, or is a victim of compulsory labour, servitude and slavery. See National Crime Agency - Human trafficking.

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 7, Pre-birth ‘Good Practice Steps’).


2. Purpose of a Child and Family Assessment

Child and family Assessments involve collecting and analysing information about children, young people and their families with the aim of understanding their situation and determining recommendations for any further professional intervention.

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 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); and
  • To provide support to address those needs to improve the child’s outcomes to make them safe.

An important principal of the Child and Family Assessment is that assessments are proportionate; this means that an assessment should be completed in as much detail as required. Social workers and their Managers must use their professional knowledge and judgment to determine what enquires should be made and how much information is required in each assessment to enable decision making and planning. All assessments will need to be planned and undertaken based on the individual circumstances of each child.

Prior to completing a Child and Family Assessment the allocated social worker (in consultation with their line manager, relevant family members and relevant professionals) will plan how the assessment will be completed.


3. Timescales of a Child and Family Assessment

Following a referral being made, the Team Manager (MASH) makes a decision within one working day about whether the case needs to progress to a Child and Family Assessment. (The Child and Family Assessment commences when the MASH decision and actions are verified).

Based on the information available (severity of need, level of risk and complexity of the situation) the allocating Team Manager will determine how ‘extensive or deep’ the information gathering should be and estimate the time it should take to complete the Child and Family Assessment. At the point of allocation the allocating Manager will complete a Managers Decisions and Assessment Timescale form and select the estimated time scale for completion of the child and family assessment:

  • 10 days;
  • 15 days;
  • 35 days;
  • Or exact date if known.

This will create the individual time scale for the completion of the Child and Family Assessment. The allocated social worker must ensure that appropriate and proportionate enquires are completed and the assessment concluded within this time scale.

Where a Section 47 Enquiry is conducted as part of a Child and Family Assessment, the Section 47 Enquiry must be completed within working 15 days. On completion of the Section 47 Enquiry the social worker and Manager can decide whether the Child and Family Assessment needs to remain open and completed or whether it has also concluded.

In exceptional circumstances if information in relation to the assessment is outstanding or there has been a change in circumstance or new information provided, the Manager can decide to extend the assessment time scale.

The maximum timescale for a Child and Family Assessment to conclude, and decisions to be made on next steps, will be no longer than 45 working days from the point of referral. Robust management oversight of timescales in all teams is essential to ensure that assessments are completed in a timely manner and are proportionate.


4. Consent

When a Child and Family Assessment commences informed consent will normally be obtained from a parent (or other person(s) with Parental Responsibility) for all children and young people prior to requesting or sharing information. See: Consent Form.

Children and Young people should also be advised of the assessment process and as far as possible their informed consent obtained prior to commencing the Child and Family Assessment. See: Assessment Plan.

Completed consent forms or Fraser Competence tools should be scanned and uploaded on to the child’s electronic records in the document section of the Child and Family Assessment.

The exception to this is when there is an actual or potential risk of significant harm and making the child or family aware of this process may, in itself, increase those risks.

If a parent (person with PR) or young person (deemed to be 'Fraser competent’) does not give consent for information sharing this should only go ahead in specific circumstances where:

  • There is a legal obligation to do so e.g. court order;
  • To fulfil statutory requirements;
  • There is overriding public interest and professional judgment suggests this is essential e.g.:
    • To determine whether or not a child is at risk of significant harm;
    • Refusal of consent has placed the child at risk of significant harm to prevent and/or aid detection of a serious crime.

If consent is not obtained the decision to undertake the assessment must be clearly recorded by the manager.

In some cases a Child and Family Assessment may be started but the parents or child may decide to withdraw their cooperation or move away before all the information had been gathered. In such cases, subject to the completion of a Section 47 enquiry, the Team Manager may consider the Child and Family Assessment to be completed. In such circumstances, the Team Manager must record this decision, together with the reasons and ensure that the decision is shared with the parent and child (depending on his or her understanding) and other agencies involved. Services provided may still be provided or arranged.

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 Team Manager is satisfied that arrangements are in place to safeguard the child concerned. The response may include:


5. Planning for a Child and Family Assessment

The Child and Family Assessment should be led by a qualified and registered social worker supervised by an experienced and qualified social work manager. Unqualified staff (i.e. social work students and trainee social workers) can undertake a Child and Family Assessments provided that they are fully supervised and supported.

While the Child and Family Assessment is led by Children’s Social Care, it is likely to involve other disciplines, either providing information they hold about the child or parents, contributing specialist knowledge or advice to Children’s Social Care or undertaking specialist assessments.

The Child and Family Assessment is compliant with Working Together (2015) which recognises that a good assessment is one which investigates the three domains set out in the Assessment framework:

  • The child’s developmental needs, including whether they are suffering or likely to suffer significant harm;
  • Parents’ or cares’ capacity to respond to those needs; and
  • The impact and influence of wider family, community and environmental circumstances.


Assessment Framework

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 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); and
  • To provide support to address those needs to improve the child’s outcomes to make them safe.


6. Process of Child and Family Assessment

It is imperative that the allocated social worker carefully plans how they are going to proceed with the assessment and record this in the Child and Family Assessment record (What do you hope to achieve from this assessment section).

For more complex assessments which are going to take at least 35 days to complete an assessment plan should also be completed, see Assessment Plan.

The social worker should convene a Child and Family Assessment Planning Meeting at the start of the Child and Family Assessment to ensure that partners have a shared understanding of the purpose of the assessment and how this is going to be completed. This can be a meeting where people get together or telephone conversations. If a Child Protection Strategy Discussion has taken place a separate assessment planning meeting may not be necessary.

Areas to be considered when planning the assessment:

  • What is the estimated time scale for the completion of the assessment?
  • How will parental consent to consult with relevant agencies, (including agencies covering previous addresses in the UK and abroad) be obtained? see Consent Form;
  • Who will undertake to assessment and what resources or tools will be used. See Assessment Toolkit;
  • Are any specialist assessments needed?
  • Who in the family will be involved and how will they be involved, including interviews with the parents/carers and any other relevant family members;
  • How will the views, wishes and feeling of all of the children or young people be ascertained? Each child should be seen by the lead social worker without their caregivers (when appropriate).

    If it is determined that a child should not be seen as part of the Child and Family Assessment, this should be recorded by the manager with reasons on the Child and Family Assessment document Visits, Consent and Consultations, Managers Decision section;
  • Are there communication issues, if so, how will these be met?
  • Where will particular visits or assessment tasks take place?
  • Which partner agencies should be consulted or involved in the assessment process?

It is important to contact agencies involved with each child and the significant adults - accuracy of dates of birth and spellings of names is extremely important when contacting other agencies to share information and previous names, maiden names and aliases should also be identified and checked. Agency checks should be undertaken with a range of professional’s and agencies that have knowledge of the family and or professional expertise which can inform the assessment and decision making such as:

  • Family Service;
  • GP of the child*;
  • GP of the parent / carer / person(s) with PR*;
  • Health Visitor*;
  • School Nurse*;
  • Midwife (Hospital and Community)*;
  • Community Paediatrician;
  • Hospital Consultant;
  • Dentist;
  • Child and Family Therapy;
  • Community Psychiatric Nurse;
  • School*;
  • Nursery*;
  • Educational Psychologist;
  • Police*;
  • Youth Offending Team;
  • Other local authorities;
  • Adult Services:
    • Treatment services for substance misuse;
    • Women’s Aid / IDVA;
    • Mental Health services;
    • Probation service;
    • Adult Social Care and Health.

The agencies marked with an asterisk* must always be contacted when undertaking S.47 enquiries.

This is not an exhaustive list and professional judgement needs to be used when deciding which agencies to consult and share information with.

If during the course of the Child and Family Assessment, it is discovered that a school age child is not attending an educational establishment, the social worker should contact the local education service to establish a reason for this and discuss with the Children Missing Officer whether any further action is required to ensure that the child receives full time education.

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.


7. Pre-birth ‘Good Practice Steps’

In a High Court judgment (Nottingham City Council v LW & Ors [2016] 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.

(See Care and Supervision Proceedings and the Public Law Outline Procedure, Pre-Birth Planning and Proceedings).


8. Using Tools

Nottinghamshire County Council, Children’s Social Care have a suite of assessment tools, questionnaires and scales which support social workers to plan and complete a Child and Family Assessment, and inform analysis and decision making.

The tools are all available via the Nottinghamshire County Council intranet site CFCS Forms Nottinghamshire Assessment Toolkit - Intranet.

It is important that standard tools, scales and questionnaires are used to inform the assessment and analysis. This ensures that there is shared language, consistent understanding of thresholds and actual and observed changed can be measured.

How a tool, questionnaire or scale has been used should be recorded in the Child and Family Assessment record along with how this has informed the assessment and analysis.

Completed tools, scales and questionnaires should be scanned and uploaded on to the child’s electronic records in the document section of the Child and Family Assessment.


9. Communication

When Planning the Child and family Assessment and when working directly with the child and members of their family the social worker will need to consider and address any language and communication needs.

If English is not the first language of the parent, carer or child, or if there are specific communication difficulties, the social worker will need to consider other ways of conveying the information, for example by using the Translation and Interpretation Services either to translate letters, forms or leaflets into the appropriate language or to arrange a meeting with an interpreter. Arrangements can also be made to have written information available on tape, in braille or in large print if required.

The Language Shop (part of the London Borough of Newham Council) is the Council's provider for language translation and interpretation (including Braille).

Colleagues who order services will need to register with The Language Shop to enable them to access an on-line customer portal and book interpreters and translators.

To register with The Language Shop you will need to email: bookingsnls@newham.gov.uk requesting registration and giving the following information:

  • Services required i.e. face-to-face, telephone interpreting;
  • Your full name;
  • Your full postal address, including your department;
  • Your e-mail address;
  • Your budget code;
  • Your contact telephone number.

You will then receive an email containing a link to the booking system, a user id and password.

Where a child or parent with disabilities has communication difficulties it may be necessary to use alternatives to speech. In communicating with a child with such an impairment, it may be particularly useful to involve a person who knows the child well and is familiar with the child's communication methods. However, caution should be given in using family members to facilitate communication. Where the child has had a communication assessment, its conclusions and recommendations should be observed.


10. Recording the Child and Family Assessment

A full, timely, concise and accurate record of all activity (visits, interviews, agency checks etc.) should be recorded as a case note on the electronic record of every relevant child, see the Written Records (Including Retention) Procedure.

The Child and Assessment record, should be used to record the findings of the assessment.

All assessments must show the families’ unique story and the individual experience of each child.

The Child and Family Assessment should conclude with a summary of the family strengths and resilience as well as vulnerabilities, developmental needs and risks which have been identified during the assessment process.

This should then be followed by an analysis which triangulates the information gathered giving an evidence informed description, as to whether the child is a child in need (Section 17) and/or is suffering or likely to suffer significant harm (Section 47).

The analysis should answer the hypothetical questions:

  • What needs to change and why?
  • Do parents or carers (or others) have the capacity to change?
  • Can change happen in enough depth in the child’s timeframe?
  • How can change ben achieved?
  • Who can / should support change?
  • How will you recognise when change has occurred?

Finally the Child and Family Assessment should include recommendations about what further actions could or should be taken to ensure the child has an opportunity to achieve his or her full potential.


11. Outcome of the Child and Family Assessment

The Child and Family Assessment t is deemed completed once the assessment has been discussed with the child and the family and authorised by the Manager.

There are 6 potential outcomes from a Child and Family Assessment, which must be authorised by the Manager:

  1. No further action is required (children’s reasons);
  2. The Child and family Assessment is now completed – Child now the subject of a Child Protection Plan;
  3. A child in need planning meeting should be arranged see Child in Need Plans and Reviews (including Detention under the Mental Health Act (1983)) Procedure;
  4. Write child in need plan (this should only be used if an interim plan was agreed while the assessment was ongoing and a child in need planning / review meeting is not yet required);
  5. A Looked After Placement should be arranged (this outcome can be sent early) see Decision to Look After Procedure;
  6. Social worker t complete Step-down request to Early Help (if this option is selected must also use the No further Action – Children’s Reasons) Pathway to Provision - Multi-Agency Thresholds Guidance.

Note that Section 17 services may be put in place or commissioned before the Child and Family Assessment is completed. An “interim” child in need plan can be developed whilst the assessment is ongoing.

A copy of the completed Child and Family Assessment should be provided to the parents, and, where appropriate, professional referrers and other agencies. (Feedback on the outcome should be provided to non-professional referrers in a manner consistent with respecting the confidentiality of the child).

The Chronology must be started or updated.

End