RELEVANT CHAPTERS AND INFORMATION
This chapter was amended in April 2022 to add a new Section 15, 16 and 17 year olds who may be Homeless and/or require Accommodation and reflects the issue of Homelessness and the vulnerability of young people identified in Working Together to Safeguard Children. A new Section 23, Assessing Risk Outside of the Home was also added.
Assessment should be proportionate and should address the central or most important aspects of the needs of the child and, the capacity of his or her parents (or carers) to respond appropriately to these needs within the wider family and community context.
Whilst the Assessment is led by Children's Services, it will invariably involve other agencies or independent professionals, who will provide information they hold about the child or parents, contribute specialist knowledge and/or give advice/undertake specialist assessments.
The Assessment should be undertaken with the consent of and in partnership with the child and his or her parents and carers. The only exception is where a Section 47 Enquiry is conducted as part of an Assessment.
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 2.1, Pre-birth 'Good Practice Steps').
The decision to undertake an Assessment should be made by the responsible Team Manager.
Review Points within the Assessment
The assessment should include documenting key decisions at review points, which involve the child, family and relevant professionals, and actions by the social worker. These should be agreed by the social worker, in conjunction with partner agencies. The review points are used by the manager and social worker to keep momentum and clear decision making according to the risk to the child and the experience of the child.
The review points are also used to ensure the assessment is completed proportionately within the 45 working days timescale.
The assessment will be reviewed by the social worker and their manager after 10, 20 or 30 days as agreed.
This review will consider these issues:
- Has the social worker seen the child alone, and asked if their views and wishes have been heard and recorded. Has the child's home address been visited and the child's bedroom been seen. Have all the adults and regular visitors to the household been considered in terms of their impact on the child/ren;
- Have all the children in the household been seen and their needs considered;
- Are children in another household affected by the issues which have been identified;
- Have the parents been seen and have their views and wishes been recorded and taken into account. N.B. this should include absent parents particularly fathers;
- Early findings may indicate whether no further action is required, a Child is in Need, or a Section 47 Enquiry should be initiated and the social worker should be clear about the evidence base on which their judgement regarding these possible outcomes is based;
- 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 Digital Referral System: Report Modern Slavery);
- When sufficient information (evidence) has been gathered for analysis and evaluation of the child's needs and circumstances such that a course of action can be reasonably confidently agreed.
Review points provide assurances that help will be given in a timely and appropriate way, and that the impact of this help will be analysed and evaluated in terms of the improved outcomes and welfare of the child.
2.1 Pre-birth 'Good Practice Steps'
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.
All this is in keeping with the Bedford Borough, Central Bedfordshire and Luton Safeguarding Children Board Procedures Manual, Procedure and Guidance in relation to Pre-Birth Planning and Assessments.
It is the social worker's responsibility to analyse all the information gathered from the enquiry stage of the assessment, decide the nature and level of the child's needs and the level of risk, if any, they may be facing. The line manager should provide regular supervision, and challenge the social worker's assumptions as part of this process.
It is not enough for the manager to rely solely on the social workers reporting of the case. The manager should seek independent corroboration of the social workers interpretation of events by checking the chronology and other documentation.
Every assessment will be focused on outcomes, including 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 line manager should determine:
- Whether this is 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);
- If the outcome of a Section 47 Enquiry is that the child(ren) has suffered or is likely to suffer Significant Harm and following the decision of the Strategy Meeting that an Initial Child Protection Conference is convened, this should be done within 15 days of the Strategy Meeting which identified the need for the Section 47 Enquiry;
- Is this a child in need of accommodation? (Section 20 or Section 31A Children Act 1989).
Where a Section 47 Enquiry is conducted as part of an Assessment, the Section 47 Enquiry must be completed within 5 working days so that the ICPC can take place within 15 days.
In some cases Assessments 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 following paragraph, the team manager may consider the Assessment to be completed as it is considered that the child is likely to suffer significant harm. 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 following the Assessment may still be provided or arranged.
Where a Section 47 Enquiry is being conducted as part of the Assessment and the parents or child withdraw their cooperation or move away: The response may include (as agreed with the manager):
- 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.
5. Starting a Single Assessment
An Assessment will be allocated to a qualified and experienced social worker.
The date of the start of the Assessment will be recorded along with the next review date.
In planning an Assessment and in providing the parent and child with feedback, the social worker will need to consider and address any communication issues, for example language or impairment.
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 in such circumstances must be approved by the Team Manager and recorded.
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 impairment, it may be particularly useful to involve a person who knows the child well and is familiar with the child's communication methods. Where the child has had a communication assessment, its conclusions and recommendations should be observed.
NOTE: Where the parents have learning disabilities, it may be necessary to adapt communications to meet their needs – for further information, see the Bedford Borough Safeguarding Children Board Procedures, Children of Parents with Learning Disabilities Procedure and Good Practice Guidance on Working with Parents with a Learning Disability (Working Together with Parents Network).
7. Categories of Cases Requiring Assessment
An Assessment will always be completed in the following circumstances:
- Where a Section 47 Enquiry is undertaken;
- Where a child becomes or is at risk of becoming Accommodated;
- Where the child is the subject of Care Proceedings;
- Where the child has complex needs and family support services are likely to be required for longer than 3 months.
These are minimum thresholds. An Assessment should be completed in all cases where the child's position in the family has changes or an update is required (discuss with the manager). Each child should have their own assessment as an individual and have their individual needs considered.
This will include some cases:
- Where a Strategy Discussion/Meeting concludes that a Section 47 Enquiry is not required.
A review and up-dating of a previous Assessment will also be required at specific stages in the life of a Looked After child to inform planning and to ensure all needs have been identified and are being met. Such stages include:
- When a young person reaches an age where a Pathway Plan is required (i.e. rising 16 years);
- Prior to the return home of a child in care whose Care Plan is for a return to his/her family;
- 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 - see Placements with Parents Procedure.
8. Outcomes of an Assessment
The Assessment should result in:
- An analysis of the needs of the child and the parenting capacity to respond appropriately to those needs within the family context;
- Identification of whether and, if so, where intervention will be required to secure the well being of the child;
- A realistic plan of action (including services to be provided) detailing who has responsibility for action, a timetable and a process for review.
The outcomes of an Assessment may include:
- No further action;
- Referral to other agency or services;
- Provision of services under Section 17 of the 1989 Children Act, within a Child in Need Plan - see Child in Need Meetings and the Child in Need Plan Procedure;
- Further specialist assessment;
- A Child Protection Plan;
- A decision that the child should be Looked After - see Decision to Look After Procedure.
Note that Section 17 services may be put in place or commissioned before the Single Assessment is completed.
The responsible Team Manager should agree the outcome and ensure that the necessary documentation is complete.
9. Translation and Interpreting Services
Consideration should be given to the child's preferred means of communication. If it is not possible to meet the child's communication needs, the reason should be recorded in the case file.
10. Assessing / Seeing the Child
The needs section of the assessment must be completed in relation to each individual child.
Each child should be seen alone at least once during an assessment*, and all rooms in the household should be seen, including children's bedrooms.
If a child's age and level of understanding is sufficient, s/he must be given a copy of assessment reports.
11. Consulting Parents or Other Family Members
Unless there are exceptional circumstances (e.g. the child may be placed at risk), the parents' consent must be sought and they should be consulted before and during the assessment process They must be given a copy of the assessment report(s). If the parent(s) refuse to consent, the manager must be consulted - see Children's Services Policies, Values and Principles, Key Principles.
At any point where there is a change in the named worker for a family, both family, referrer and relevant key agencies must be provided in writing with the name of the new social worker and the date the change will take effect.
Where the identity of the new social worker has yet to be established, such as if cases change teams at the completion of the Assessment, the name of the responsible Team Manager must be provided instead.
In all assessments, we should attempt to seek the views of all people with Parental Responsibility. As part of the Assessment process, the views of wider family members must also be obtained.
Any cancelled or postponed appointments must be re-arranged, unless the manager authorises otherwise.
Where a child of school age is found not to be attending school, the Education Welfare Service should be notified in writing to trigger procedures for establishing whether the child is registered with a school. The Education Welfare Service will initiate further action or provision through the Education Service as necessary.
The notification and outcome should be recorded on the child's record.
The assessing social worker should continue to work with the Education Service to assist where appropriate in ensuring that the child's educational needs are met.
If a child is looked After and not attending School the Virtual Head should be informed to support and advocate on the child's behalf.
13. Children who have Lived Elsewhere
Where it appears that a child has lived elsewhere in the UK, Overseas or where the family may have been associated with the Forces, relevant enquiries must be made into their backgrounds.
Forces Children: When undertaking assessments of children whose family members have previously been in the forces (e.g. Army, Navy or RAF), information should be obtained in relation to that period.
Overseas Children: Appropriate embassies or consulates, usually based in London, should be contacted. However, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the International Social Service (now known as CFAB) of the United Kingdom may be able to assist.
It is possible that the obtaining of such information may take extended periods, beyond that required by procedures. If so, the timescales should not be compromised unless the manager approves it. Under normal circumstances, the assessment should be completed within the required timescale and, if information of concern comes to light later, the manager must consider what actions to take.
14. Separated Children or Families with no Recourse to Public Funds
14.1 Families with no Recourse to Public Funds
People who have no legal entitlement to financial support or assistance from the state are people who have no recourse to public funds (e.g. people with refugee status from another European Economic Area (EEA) country other than the UK or who are in the UK unlawfully).
However, in some circumstances they may be entitled to an Assessment and the provision of services where, for example, there are concerns about a child within the family suffering Significant Harm.
14.2 Unaccompanied or Separated Children
If the child is unaccompanied or separated, s/he will be within the definition of a Child in Need and therefore the same procedures apply as for all children.
Where there is any doubt that a young person is under the age of 18, an Age Assessment will also be required.
15. 16 and 17 Year Olds who may be Homeless and/or Require Accommodation
Where a 16 or 17 year old seeks help from local authority children’s services, or is referred to children’s services by some other person or agency as appearing to be homeless or threatened with homelessness, children’s services must carry out an assessment of what duties, if any, are owed to them. This includes 17 year olds who are approaching their 18th birthday, and young people who are pregnant or have children in their care.
If there is an imminent threat of homelessness, or if the young person is actually homeless, a child in need assessment must be carried out and the child accommodated under section 20 Children Act 1989, (although this can be refused by the child). (See Prevention of Homelessness and Provision of Accommodation for 16 and 17 year olds who may be Homeless and/or require Accommodation; and Duty to Refer Procedure)
Intentional Homelessness: See Homelessness Guidance for local authorities
16. Outcome, Management Authorisation and Review
A Manager must approve the outcome of all assessments and authorise any plan.
Children of sufficient understanding and parents must be informed in writing of the outcome of their Assessment, which should clarify who will do what, and within what timescale.
All assessments and plans must be reviewed as determined by relevant procedures or within six months. All reviews must involve the service user and a systematic check to see if the plan has been carried out and whether it has been successful.
For children who are not Looked After and not subject to a Child Protection Plan, see Child in Need Meetings and the Child in Need Plan Procedure.
For children who are the subject of a Child Protection Plan, this will be reviewed at Child Protection Review Conferences - see the Bedford Borough, Central Bedfordshire and Luton Safeguarding Children Boards Procedures.
For children who are Looked After, see the Looked After Reviews Procedure.
The timescales outlined in the Assessment Procedure are maximum timescales, the urgency of situations may dictate that timescales are shorter.
The timescales should not be compromised unless there are exceptional circumstances and the manager approves it. Under normal circumstances, assessments should be completed within the required timescale and if new information comes to light later, the manager must consider what actions to take.
18. 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:
19. Planning Assessments
All assessment should be planned.
Planning should identify the focus of the assessment including those who will be involved. It will often require a planning meeting to clarify roles and timescales as well as services to be provided during the assessment. Where there are a number of family members and agencies involved and likely to play a part in the assessment, consideration should be given to the Team Manager chairing a Professionals Meeting where possible.
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? (Reference to the Practice Guidance will be particularly useful in these circumstances);
- What method of collecting information will be used? Which questionnaires and scales will be used?
- 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.
20. Participation of Children and Their Families and Carers
Read this guidance in conjunction with Section 10, Assessing / Seeing the Child and Section 11, Consulting Parents or Other Family Members.
It is expected that families and children should be encouraged and enabled to actively participate in an assessment unless this would place the child at increased risk of Significant Harm. This participation will include:
- Provision of verbal information and written information leaflets;
- Opportunities to express their views and have these recorded;
- Being encouraged to participate in planning meetings before and at the conclusion of assessment and at subsequent reviews;
- Identification of strengths within families as well as areas where further help may be needed;
- Early identification of any special needs of the child or relevant family members to enable any support needs to be addressed during the assessment process such as interpreting, advocacy etc;
- Careful selection of assessment tools, methods and approaches that will aid participation.
Assessment planning should consider how many and which workers can contribute to the assessment, and ensure the roles of each worker are clear to the family. In general, it would be best to be as un-intrusive as possible, and to minimise the numbers of people working directly with the family for the purpose of assessment.
21. Assessment of Children and Families From Black and Minority Ethnic Backgrounds
For black and minority ethnic children, assessments should address the impact that racism has on a particular child and family and ensure that the assessment process itself does not reinforce racism through racial or cultural stereotyping.
The base lines for assessing parenting capacity and the child's developmental needs should be the same irrespective of whether a black, minority ethnic or a white child is being assessed. However the following may be additional factors that are relevant in relation to a child from a black or minority ethnic background:
In relation to the specific health needs of different black/minority ethnic communities, the assessment should address:
- The extent to which the physical health of the child may be affected by adverse social conditions;
- The extent to which the child and family have direct access to appropriate advice, support and services in relation to their health care needs;
- Whether the child or family members may be likely to suffer from sickle cell disorder;
- Whether past life experiences or trauma has had any effect on the physical health of the child.
Education and Cognitive Development
In relation to the specific educational and cognitive development of different black/minority ethnic communities, the assessment should address:
- Whether the child has had the opportunity to realise their educational potential without the limitations imposed upon them by negative stereotyping;
- For an excluded child, the extent to which the exclusion is appropriate in relation to the child's behaviour;
- The extent to which the child's parents are consulted about and involved in the child's education.
In relation to the specific identity needs of different black/minority ethnic communities, the assessment should address:
- Any difficulties which the child may be having in acquiring a positive racial identity, and what help the child requires to enable them do so;
- The child's awareness of their own ethnicity and personal, family and community history. Where this is not available, what steps can be taken to obtain such information;
- The child's access to a lived experience of their culture, for example, attendance at a wedding, or participation in celebrations which include music, food and traditional rituals will give a child a far more profound and effective sense of their cultural identity than any amount of visual or written material;
- The religious and spiritual needs of black and minority ethnic children and their families - this will require professionals to discuss the family's belief systems, religion, rites and traditions;
- The extent to which the child has the opportunity to learn about and maintain family languages. Where the child has not had this opportunity, what steps can be taken to address this deficiency;
- The extent to which a black or minority ethnic disabled child has the opportunity to learn their first language. As some disabled children rely upon other forms of communication apart from the written or spoken work, it is vital that communication with their families is facilitated in a way that accounts for their own modes of communication as well as the family's first language. For example, the basis of British Sign Language is English. Translating BSL into English will facilitate the understanding of English speakers, but for those who speak other languages, further translation is required. Although the provision of interpreters is seen sometimes as a logistical nightmare for social welfare agencies, the ability to communicate and to be understood has to be promoted as a basic human right, without which any attempt at assessment would be impossible.
Family History and Cultural Heritage
In relation to the family history and cultural heritage of different black/minority ethnic communities, the assessment should address:
- The child's relationships within the context of their wider social networks and connections;
- The extent of quality and quantity of information the child has about their own roots and heritage, and how deficiencies in this information can be addressed;
- The specific family structure in which the child lives, and the patterns of attachment which operate within this particular black or minority ethnic family including any attachment figures who may not be blood relatives; for example, in a large extended family structure the whole family may participate in the parenting of the child, including providing emotional warmth for the child and in this situation, the parent-child interaction will only be one of many adult-child, child-child interactions which should be addressed in an assessment;
- The impact of migration, separation and trauma on the child and wider family network;
- Whether racial abuse, racial bullying or racial violence impacts on the child or on the wider family;
- Alongside the individual impact which racial abuse and bullying has on children, it is important to consider the impact of racial violence on communities. Fear of abuse or attacks can affect whole ways of life in particular communities which are targeted for such treatment by reducing the freedom of movement of women, children and older people in both the hours of daylight and at night;
- Layers of how the child see's him or herself in relation to their family, community and friends.
22. Refusal to Co-operate With an Assessment
There will be occasions when an assessment is needed but a parent or child refuses to become involved. In these instances, the social worker should:
- Read carefully any case records, particularly noting the type and level of concerns expressed in previous referrals and including the most recent referral;
- Endeavour to have a face-to-face meeting with the parent and/or child 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;
- Discuss the circumstance of this child with the team manager in order to decide whether to proceed to a Strategy Discussion/Meeting and consider the need for immediate protection of the child or what other action may be appropriate.
23. Assessment of Risk Outside the Home
As well as threats to the welfare of children from within their families, children may be vulnerable to abuse or exploitation from outside their families. These extra-familial threats might arise at school and other educational establishments, from within peer groups, or more widely from within the wider community and/or online.
These threats can take a variety of different forms and children can be vulnerable to multiple threats, including: exploitation by criminal gangs and organised crime groups such as county lines; trafficking, online abuse; teenage relationship abuse (including controlling or coercive behaviour); sexual exploitation and the influences of extremism leading to radicalisation.
Assessments of children in such cases should consider whether wider environmental factors are undermining effective intervention being undertaken to reduce risk with the child and family. Parents and carers have little influence over the contexts in which the abuse takes place and the young person's experiences of this extra-familial abuse can undermine parent-child relationships.
Where this is the case, the social worker should:
- Refer the child's circumstances to relevant Multi-Agency work which addresses the concerns and risks in the neighbourhood or local authority;
- Identify the issues with their line-manager with a view to the local authority establishing a multi-agency intervention programme to meet community needs; or
- In specific circumstances, through their line-manager, seek to convene a Child in Need strategy/planning meeting with relevant partner agencies (e.g. school, police, relevant voluntary bodies, etc.) to explore specific interventions to address the safeguarding issues.
Within this context, children who may be alleged perpetrators should also be assessed to understand the impact of contextual issues on their safety and welfare.
Assessments of children in such cases should consider the individual needs and vulnerabilities of each child. They should look at the parental capacity to support the child, including helping the parents and carers to understand any risks and support them to keep children safe and assess potential risk to the child.
These interventions should focus on addressing both child and family and these wider environmental factors, which are likely to be a threat to the safety and welfare of a number of different children who may or may not be known to local authority Children's Social Care. Effective information sharing and intelligence gathering is crucial in developing effective coordinated multi-agency responses.
24. Child Protection
When information is received which raises concerns that a child may have suffered Significant Harm, the manager should be consulted as to whether there should be an immediate Strategy Discussion/Meeting to consider the need for a Section 47 Enquiry and whether any immediate protective action is required to secure the safety of the child. For further information, see the Bedford Borough, Central Bedfordshire and Luton Safeguarding Children Boards Procedures.
25. Consent and Confidentiality
Also see: Confidentiality Policy.
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 (Data Protection Act 1989).
All agencies should obtain the family's prior agreement to sharing information unless this would place the child at risk of Significant Harm. It is good practice to check with the family before contacting another agency.
All agencies should obtain the family's prior agreement to sharing information unless this would place the child at risk of Significant Harm. It is good practice to check with the family before contacting another agency:
- Clarity about the purpose of approaching other individuals or agencies;
- Reasons for the disclosure of any information, for example about the referral or details about the child or family members;
- Details of the individuals or agencies being contacted;
- What information will be sought or shared;
- Why the information is important;
- What it is hoped to achieve.
Where there are concerns about Significant Harm, it is essential that professionals and others share information, since it is only when all of this information is compiled that it becomes clear whether the child is at such risk.