A frequent outcome of a referral will be a decision that further assessment is required by local authority children’s social care. The type of assessment will depend on the child: a summary of the full set of statutory assessments available under the Children Act 1989 is available
- The purpose of assessment
- Principles of a good assessment
- The assessment process
- Outcomes of an assessment
The purpose of assessment
Whatever formal 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’ (under section 17 of the Children Act 1989) and if so, is there a need for further social work support or provision of support?
- to decide whether the child is suffering, or likely to suffer, significant harm (section 47 of the Children Act 1989) and, if there is, to initiate immediate action, 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 risk faced by the child. A good assessment will monitor and record the impact of any services delivered on the child and family and review the help being delivered. Whilst services may be delivered to a parent or carer, the assessment should be focused on the needs of the child and on the impact any services are having on the child.
Good assessments support professionals to understand whether a child has needs relating to their care or a disability and/or is suffering, or likely to suffer, significant harm. A good assessment will also ensure that the specific needs of disabled children and young carers are given sufficient recognition and priority.
While the assessment is part of the overall child protection process, it is also an intervention in its own right and it is important that it is used as such.
Principles of a good assessment
All local authorities and their partner agencies in the wider West Midlands have developed and published their local frameworks for assessment. These ensure that all assessments:
- are child-centred. Where there is a conflict of interest, decisions should be made in the child’s best interests: be rooted in child development: be age-appropriate; and be informed by evidence
- are focused on action and outcomes for children
- are holistic in approach, addressing the child’s needs within their family and any risks the child faces from within the wider community
- ensure equality of opportunity
- involve children, ensuring that their voice is heard and provide appropriate support to enable this where the child has specific communication needs
- involve families
- identify risks to the safety and welfare of children
- build on strengths as well as identifying difficulties
- are integrated in approach
- are multi-agency and multi-disciplinary
- are a continuing process, not an event
- lead to action, including the provision of services
- review services provided on an ongoing basis
- are transparent and open to challenge
More information on the formal Assessment Framework used in this assessment stage is available.
The assessment process
All assessments should be planned and co-ordinated by a lead social worker. This will ensure that the child does not become lost between the different agencies involved and their different procedures.
The lead social worker should ensure that the purpose of the assessment is transparent, understood and agreed by all participants. A timescale for completion of the assessment should be agreed locally, depending on the urgency of the situation and the needs of the child, and should not exceed 45 working days.
The assessment should draw together and analyse all available information, including existing records, and should involve and obtain relevant information from all professionals in contact with the child or family. Where an Early Help or similar assessment has already been completed this information should be used to inform the assessment.
The assessment should establish:
- The nature of the concern.
- How and why it has arisen.
- What the child's and the family's needs appear to be.
- Whether the concern involves abuse or neglect.
- Whether there is any need for any urgent action to protect the child or any other children in the household or community.
Contribution required from professionals
All agencies and professionals involved with the child or the family have a duty to contribute to the assessment process. Different professionals are likely to have different experiences of the child and family and understanding these differences will actively contribute to the understanding of the child and family.
Conversations should take place directly with the involved professionals and not through messages with intermediaries (for example, reception staff in GP practices).
The lead social worker should inform the relevant professional of the reason for the enquiry, whether or not parental consent has been obtained and ask for their observations and experience of interactions with the child in the light of information presented.
Information sharing must satisfy at least one condition in Article 6 of the Data Protection Act 2018 in relation to personal data. Within the new General Data Protection Principles (GDPR), Article 9, processing of special categories of personal data is also important.
Practitioners must always consider the safety and welfare of a child as the overriding consideration when making decisions on whether to share relevant information about the child without consent. In many instances a failure to pass on information, that might have prevented a child suffering harm, would be far more serious and dangerous than an incident of unjustified disclosure.
Practitioners should seek advice and consultation when in doubt. Advice must be sought and consultation must take place within a time frame which is not detrimental to the child’s interests.
Practitioners must share relevant information when they are in situations where there is a statutory duty or Court Order requiring the information to be shared. However, wherever possible, the individual concerned should be informed about the information to be shared, the reasons and to whom it will be disclosed, being mindful of situations where to do so would place a child at increased risk of harm.
Information may be shared without consent if a practitioner has reason to believe that there is good reason to do so, and that the sharing of information will enhance the safeguarding of a child in a timely manner. When decisions are made to share or withhold information, practitioners should record who has been given the information and why.
The welfare of the child is paramount. Fears about sharing information must not be allowed to stand in the way of the need to protect the safety of children and should not obstruct or delay child protection proceedings. For more information see the guidance on information sharing in this section and in Part 2 of these procedures.
Information from previous areas/countries
If the child and their parents have moved into the area, all practitioners should seek information from their respective agencies covering previous addresses in the UK and abroad. It is never acceptable to delay immediate action required whilst information from other areas is sought.
Involvement of the child
Every assessment should reflect the unique characteristics of the child within their family and community context.
The child should participate and contribute directly to the assessment process based upon their age and understanding. They should be seen alone by the lead social worker and, if this is not possible or in their best interest, the reason should be recorded.
The pace of the assessment needs to acknowledge the pace at which the child can contribute. However, this should not delay taking protective action.
Direct work with the child and family should include observations of the interactions between the child and the parents or caregivers.
Involvement of parents or carers
All parents or carers should be involved at the earliest opportunity unless to do so would prejudice the safety of the child (for example, in cases of domestic violence).
The lead social worker should ensure that parents and carers 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.
Outcomes of an assessment
Every assessment should be focussed on outcomes, deciding which services and support to provide in order to improve the welfare of the child. The possible outcomes of the assessment are:
- No further action.
- A referral to early help services.
- 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 for a more in-depth understanding of the child's needs and circumstances.
- Undertaking a strategy meeting/discussion, a section 47 child protection enquiry;
- Emergency action to protect a child.
Once the assessment is complete the outcome should be:
- Discussed with the child and family 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 (taking account of confidentiality).
- Given in writing to agencies involved in providing services to the child.
Any provision identified as being necessary through the assessment process should be provided without delay.
All assessments should be updated and reviewed regularly, for example when new information comes to light or prior to consideration of case closures.