Framework for the Assessment of
Children in Need and their Families
Department of Health
Department for Education and Employment
Department of Health
Department for Education and Employment
Framework for the
Children in Need and
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1 Children in Need
1.1 Children and Families in England 1
1.6 The Extent of Children in Need 2
1.11 Children in Need under the Children Act 1989 4
1.20 Assessing Children in Need 6
1.25 Children who are Suffering or are Likely to Suffer Significant Harm 7
1.28 Providing Services 8
1.33 Principles Underpinning Assessment of Children in Need 10
1.34 Child Centred 10
1.36 Rooted in Child Development 10
1.39 Ecological Approach 11
1.42 Ensuring Equality of Opportunity 12
1.44 Working with Children and their Families 12
1.48 Building on Strengths as well as Identifying Difficulties 13
1.50 Inter-agency Approach to Assessment and Provision of Services 14
1.51 A Continuing Process, not a Single Event 14
1.56 Action and Services are Provided in Parallel with Assessment 15
1.57 Grounded in Evidence 16
2 Framework for the Assessment of Children in Need
2.1 Framework for the Assessment of Children in Need 17
2.3 Dimensions of a Child’s Developmental Needs 18
2.9 Dimensions of Parenting Capacity 20
2.13 Family and Environmental Factors 22
2.26 Inclusive Practice 26
2.31 Disability Discrimination Act 1995 27
3 The Process of Assessing Children in Need
3.1 Process of Assessment and Timing 29
3.15 S47 and Core Assessment 34
3.20 Use of Assessments in Family Proceedings 36
3.22 Care Applications and Assessment 36
3.25 Disclosure 37
3.28 Court Sanctioned Assessments 37
3.31 Oral Evidence 38
3.32 Working with Children and Families 38
3.37 Planning Assessment 41
3.41 Communicating with Children 43
3.46 Consent and Confidentiality 45
3.58 Assessment of Children in Special Circumstances 47
3.61 Assessing the Needs of Young Carers 49
3.64 The Assessment Framework and Children Looked After 50
3.66 Children Being Placed for Adoption 50
3.67 Children Leaving Care 51
4 Analysis, Judgement and Decision Making
4.6 Analysis 54
4.12 Judgements 55
4.18 Use of Consultation 57
4.20 Decision Making 57
4.32 Plans for Children in Need 60
5 Roles and Responsibilities in Inter-Agency Assessment of Children in Need
5.1 Principles of Inter-Disciplinary and Inter-Agency Assessment 63
5.5 Corporate Responsibilities for Children in Need 64
5.8 Inter-Agency Responsibilities for Assessments of Children in Need 64
5.9 Social Services Departments 65
5.16 Voluntary and Independent Agencies 66
5.17 Health Authority 66
5.22 The General Practitioner and the Primary Health Care Team 67
5.24 Nurses, Midwives, Health Visitors and School Nurses 67
5.26 Paediatric Services 68
5.29 Professionals Allied to Health 68
5.30 Mental Health Services 68
5.40 Psychologists 70
5.41 Education Services 70
5.52 Special Educational Needs Code of Practice 73
5.59 Day Care Services 74
5.61 Sure Start 74
5.66 Youth Offending Teams 75
5.69 Housing 76
5.73 Police 76
5.76 Probation Services 77
5.79 The Prison Service 77
5.83 Armed Services 78
5.85 Summary 78
6 Organisational Arrangements to Support Effective Assessment of Children
6.2 Government’s Objectives for Children’s Social Services 81
6.9 Children’s Services Planning 82
6.14 Departmental Structures and Processes 83
6.16 Departmental Protocols and Procedures 84
6.18 Commissioning Specialist Assessments 84
6.23 A Competent Work Force 85
6.26 Supervision of Practice 85
6.29 Staff as Members of Learning Organisations 86
6.34 Preparing the Ground for Training and Continuing Staff Development 87
6.39 Summary 88
A The Assessment Framework 89
B A Framework for Analysing Services 90
C Referrals Involving a Child (Referral Chart) 91
D Using Assessments in Family Proceedings: Practice Issues 92
E Data Protection Registrar's Checklist 94
F Acknowledgements 98
G Bibliography 101
We cannot begin to improve the lives of disadvantaged and vulnerable children unless
we identify their needs and understand what is happening to them in order to take
The Government is committed to delivering better life chances to such children
through a range of cross-cutting, inter-departmental initiatives. A key component of
the Government's objectives for children's social services is the development of a
framework for assessing children in need and their families, to ensure a timely
response and the effective provision of services. This is being taken forward as part of
the Quality Protects Programme.
Delivering services to children in need in our communities is a corporate responsibility.
It falls on all local authority departments, health authorities and community
services. Improvements in outcomes for children in need can only be achieved by close
collaboration between professionals and agencies working with children and families.
This Guidance reflects such collaboration and is issued jointly by the Department of
Health, the Department for Education and Employment and the Home Office. It is
issued under section 7 of the Local Authority Social Services Act 1970.
The Guidance draws widely on a wealth of research about the needs of children and
the best of practice. Many people have contributed generously to its development and
it has been substantially enriched by an extensive consultation exercise. It is intended
to provide a valuable foundation for policy and practice for all those who manage and
provide services to children in need and their families. This document is the
cornerstone in a series of accompanying publications, materials and training resources
about the assessment of children in need. The Assessment Framework has been
incorporated into Working Together to Safeguard Children.
The value of this framework for assessing children in need and their families will be
measured in future improvements in our responses to some of our most vulnerable
children - children in need.
Minister of State for Social Services
Securing the wellbeing of children by protecting them from all forms of harm and
ensuring their developmental needs are responded to appropriately are primary aims
of Government policy. Local authority social services departments working with
other local authority departments and health authorities have a duty to safeguard and
promote the welfare of children in their area who are in need and to promote the
upbringing of such children, wherever possible by their families, through providing
an appropriate range of services. A critical task is to ascertain with the family whether
a child is in need and how that child and family might best be helped. The
effectiveness with which a child’s needs are assessed will be key to the effectiveness of
subsequent actions and services and, ultimately, to the outcomes for the child.
A Framework for Assessing Children in Need
A framework has been developed which provides a systematic way of analysing,
understanding and recording what is happening to children and young people within
their families and the wider context of the community in which they live. From such
an understanding of what are inevitably complex issues and inter-relationships, clear
professional judgements can be made. These judgements include whether the child
being assessed is in need, whether the child is suffering or likely to suffer significant
harm, what actions must be taken and which services would best meet the needs of
this particular child and family. The evidence based knowledge which has informed
the development of the framework has been drawn from a wide range of research
studies and theories across a number of disciplines and from the accumulated
experience of policy and practice.
The Guidance describes the Assessment Framework and the Government’s
expectations of how it will be used. It reflects the principles contained within the
United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, ratified by the UK
Government in 1991 and the Human Rights Act 1998. In addition, it takes account
of relevant legislation at the time of publication, but is particularly informed by the
requirements of the Children Act 1989, which provides a comprehensive framework
for the care and protection of children.
This document is issued under section 7 of the Local Authority Social Services Act
1970, which requires local authorities in their social services functions to act under
the general guidance of the Secretary of State. As such this document does not have
the full force of statute, but should be complied with unless local circumstances
indicate exceptional reasons which justify a variation.
The Guidance is a key element of the Department of Health’s work to support local
authorities in implementing Quality Protects, the Government’s programme for
transforming the management and delivery of children’s social services. Quality
Protects aims to deliver better life chances for the most vulnerable and disadvantaged
children, and good assessment lies at the heart of this work. The Government’s consolidated
set of objectives for children’s social services published in September 1999
makes clear the importance of assessment in the work of local authority departments
and health authorities. The framework has been incorporated into the Government
Guidance on protecting children from harm, Working Together to Safeguard Children
(Department of Health et al, 1999) and should be read in conjunction with it when
there are concerns that a child may be or is suffering significant harm.
The Guidance is not a practice manual. It does not set out step-by-step procedures to
be followed: rather it sets out a framework which should be adapted and used to suit
individual circumstances. A range of additional publications has been produced to
inform practitioners and their managers about the most up-to-date knowledge from
research and practice. Practice guidance (Department of Health, 2000a) and a
training pack consisting of a training video, guide and reader (NSPCC and University
of Sheffield, 2000) have also been developed to accompany the Guidance and to assist
the introduction and implementation of the new framework. The Department of
Health will be working closely with local authorities, health services and other
agencies through the Quality Protects Programme to help them put the framework
into practice in the most cost effective way.
Who is the Guidance for?
The Guidance has been produced primarily for the use of professionals and other staff
who will be involved in undertaking assessments of children in need and their families
under the Children Act 1989. Social services departments have lead responsibility for
assessments of children in need including those children who may be or are suffering
significant harm but, under section 27 of the Children Act 1989, other local authority
services and health authorities have a duty to assist social services in carrying out this
function. These other agencies should be aware of the Assessment Framework and
understand what it might mean for them.
Many agencies have contact with and responsibility for children and young people
under a range of legislation. The Guidance is, therefore, also relevant to assessments
concerned with the welfare of children in a number of contexts.
Health, education and youth justice services, in particular, may have already had
considerable involvement with some children and families prior to referral to social
services departments. They will have an important contribution to make to the
assessment and, where appropriate, to the provision of services to those families. Their
awareness of the Assessment Framework when contributing to assessments of children
in need will facilitate communication between agencies and with children and
families. It will also assist the process of referral from one agency to another and
increase the likelihood of acceptance of the contents of previous assessments, thereby
reducing unnecessary duplication of assessment and increasing local confidence in
inter-agency work. Knowledge of the Assessment Framework can inform contrix
butions by all agencies and disciplines when assessing children about whom there are
child safety concerns (Paragraphs 5.13 and 5.33 in Working Together to Safeguard
Effective collaborative work between staff of different disciplines and agencies assessing
children in need and their families requires a common language to understand the
needs of children, shared values about what is in children’s best interests and a joint
commitment to improving the outcomes for children. The framework for assessment
provides that common language based on explicit values about children, knowledge
about what children need to ensure their successful development, and the factors in
their lives which may positively or negatively influence their upbringing. This
increases the likelihood of parents and children experiencing consistency between
professionals and themselves about what will be important for children’s wellbeing
and healthy development.
Government Guidance on promoting independence in adult social services, Achieving
Fairer Access to Adult Social Care Services (Department of Health, forthcoming, a) will
address how to respond to social services referrals regarding adults. With any adult
referral, social services should check whether the person has parenting responsibilities
for a child under 18. If so, the initial assessment should explore any parenting and
child related issues in accordance with the Framework for the Assessment of Children in
Need and their FamiliesGuidance and provide services as appropriate. The needs of the
adult should be assessed in accordance with Achieving Fair Access to Adult Social Care
The Policy Context
The Government is committed to ending child poverty, tackling social exclusion and
promoting the welfare of all children – so that they can thrive and have the
opportunity to fulfil their potential as citizens throughout their lives. There are a
number of programmes such as Sure Start, Connexions and Quality Protects and a
range of policies to support families, promote educational attainment, reduce truancy
and school exclusion and secure a future for all young people in education,
employment or training. They all aim to ensure that children and families most at risk
of social exclusion have every opportunity to build successful, independent lives.
At the same time, the Government is committed to improving the quality and
management of those services responsible for supporting children and families particularly
through the modernisation of social services, through the promotion of cooperation
between all statutory agencies and through building effective partnerships
with voluntary and private agencies.
Promoting the wellbeing of children to ensure optimal outcomes requires integration
at both national and local levels: joined up government – in respect both of policy
making and of service delivery – is central to the current extensive policy agenda. A
Ministerial Group on the Family, supported by the Family Policy Unit in the Home
Office, encourages this approach at Government level. Its aim is to provide a new
emphasis on looking more widely at the needs of all children and families in the
community and to develop a programme of measures which will strengthen family
Early intervention is essential to support children and families before problems, either
from within the family or as a result of external factors, which have an impact on
parenting capacity and family life escalate into crisis or abuse. Government
departments, statutory and voluntary agencies, academics and practitioners
contribute to this work. Good joint working practices and understanding at a local
level are vital to the success of the early intervention agenda. Local agencies, including
schools and education support services, social services departments, youth offending
teams, primary and more specialist health care services and voluntary and private
agencies should work together to establish agreed referral protocols which will help to
ensure that early indications of a child being at risk of social exclusion receive
The development of a framework for assessing children in need and their families will
contribute to integrated working. The new framework was announced by the
Secretary of State for Health in September 1998. Its primary purpose is to improve
outcomes for children in need. It is also designed to assist local authority departments
and health authorities meet one of the Government’s objectives for children’s social
services (Department of Health, 1999e) - to ensure that referral and assessment
processes discriminate effectively between different types and levels of need, and
produce a timely service response.
The Contents of the Guidance
The Guidance starts by outlining the legislation, responsibilities and principles which
underpin the work of local authority departments and health authorities in promoting
and safeguarding children’s welfare and assessing children’s needs. It then describes the
framework and the assessment process in more detail in Chapters 2, 3 and 4. There is
reference to the needs of children in general and to children who may have specific
needs and impairments throughout the Guidance. Roles and responsibilities in interagency
assessment are described in Chapter 5. The Guidance concludes by
considering the organisational arrangements which should be in place to support
effective assessment of children in need.
Relationship to Previous Guidance on Assessment
This Guidance builds on and supersedes earlier Department of Health guidance on
assessing children, Protecting Children: A Guide for Social Workers undertaking a
Comprehensive Assessment (1988). That publication (often referred to as the ‘Orange
Book’) has been widely used by social work practitioners as a guide to comprehensive
assessment for long term planning in child protection cases. Its purpose was to assist
social work practitioners, in consultation with other agencies, to understand the child
and family’s situation more fully once concerns about significant harm had been
established following initial enquiries and assessment. Much of its thinking about
children’s development and parents’ capacity to respond to children’s needs has been
incorporated into the Assessment Framework.
However, over the years concerns have arisen about the use made of Protecting
Children. Inspections and research have shown that the guide was sometimes followed
mechanistically and used as a check list, without any differentiation according to the
child’s or family’s circumstances. Assessment was regarded as an event rather than as a
process and services were withheld awaiting the completion of an assessment. In some
authorities, an all or nothing approach was found; either very detailed comprehensive
assessments were carried out or there was no record of any analysis of the child and the
family’s circumstances. The framework for assessing children in need and their
families contained in this volume is underpinned by a set of principles which seek to
remedy any misunderstandings about the task of working with children and families
in order to understand what is happening to them and how they might best be helped.
A range of organisational arrangements need to be in place to ensure sound practice in
using the framework for assessing children in need and their families. The
effectiveness of assessment processes will be measurable over time by evidence of
improving outcomes for children and families known to social services departments.
The Department of Health will be working closely with all those involved in
providing services to children to develop appropriate arrangements at national and
local level, to learn from the experiences of children and families and to evaluate the
impact this approach to assessment is having on outcomes for children in need.
1 Children in Need
Children and Families in England
1.1 There are approximately eleven million children in England. It is estimated that over
four million of them are living in families with less than half the average household
income. By other calculations, well over three million children are living in poverty
(Utting, 1995). Where these children live is significant. ‘Over the last generation, this
has become a divided country. While most areas have benefited from rising living
standards, the poorest neighbourhoods have tended to become more run down, more
prone to crime and more cut off from the labour market’ (Social Exclusion Unit, 1998).
Estimates vary about how many neighbourhoods are in the poorest categories, ranging
from 1,600 to 4,000 in Britain as a whole. In response to these trends, the Government
is developing major strategies to tackle the root causes of poverty and social exclusion,
and to respond to the serious and multi-faceted problems for children and their families
which these can create, particularly in the poorest areas. These strategies also aim to
encourage and promote preventive and early intervention approaches to help reduce the
scale and difficulty of such problems and to tackle them before they become entrenched.
1.2 Just as the problems facing families are often interlinked, so the services provided for
children and their families need to work closely together to be most effective.
Everyone benefits if services are properly co-ordinated and integrated. It is the
purpose of Children’s Services Planning (Department of Health and Department for
Education and Employment,1996) to identify the broad range and level of need in an
area and to develop corporate, inter-agency, community based plans of action to
provide the most effective network of services within the resources available. It is
important that all those concerned with services to children and families – statutory
and voluntary bodies, community groups and families – contribute to the
development of these plans.
1.3 It is recognised that many families are under considerable stress, that being a parent is
hard work, and families have a right to expect practical support from universal
services, such as health and education. The importance of all parents having available
to them good quality local resources is acknowledged. The Government is committed
to supporting parenting and has set up the National Family and Parenting Institute to
assess the support needs of families, to raise public awareness of the importance of
parenting and the needs of children, to map and disseminate information and good
practice, and to provide advice to Government and others in a way which reflects our
culturally diverse society. It will work collaboratively with others to help develop
parent support services and to influence the research agenda and analyse and
disseminate research findings. It will draw on anonymised data from ParentLine Plus,
whose freephone national telephone Helpline is available to provide a service to all
parents. Steps are being taken through public service and welfare reforms to
modernise the National Health Service, raise standards in local schools, provide good
out of school care, reduce crime, ensure streets are safe for families and strengthen
communities’ capacities to respond to and support families. This forms an ambitious
programme which will take many years to deliver in full and requires continuous
concerted central and local government effort.
1.4 All families may experience difficulties from time to time for a whole host of reasons
which may have an impact on their children. These reasons may include the death of a
family member, physical or mental ill health in the family, the breakdown of marital or
other significant relationships, sudden loss of employment, multiple births, or having
a child with special educational needs. Not all adults are well prepared for the daily
upheavals and stress of bringing up a child. Some parents may find one particular stage
in their child's life especially stressful, for example adolescence. Many cope well
enough with one problem but a combination of problems can have a cummulative
1.5 Many families coping with extremely difficult circumstances receive sufficient
support from friends, relatives and services in the community including universal
services to overcome potential disadvantage. They are not likely to seek or require
additional services. In this sense, parenting has been called ‘a buffered system’ (Belsky
and Vondra, 1989). In some cases the buffers of family and community resources may
not exist or be sufficient to ensure the current or future wellbeing of the child. It is in
these situations that additional support or services may be necessary, some of which
may be purchased by parents (such as day care) or obtained directly from other
statutory or voluntary agencies (such as befriending by a volunteer). Some parents
may turn to or be referred to child welfare agencies in the community and require
targeted services from health, education and social services.
The Extent of Children in Need
1.6 Children may be defined as in need in many different circumstances. The information
on how many children are known to social services is not available nationally, but
current estimates suggest between 300,000 and 400,000 children are known at any
one time. Figure 1 shows how the extent of need can be represented within the context
of vulnerable1 and all children. According to Department of Health statistics, about
53,000 children are looked after in statutory care at any one time (Department of
Health, 1999b). This figure excludes those disabled children receiving respite care.
Approximately 32,000 children’s names are on a Child Protection Register at any one
time because they require a child protection plan (Department of Health, 1999i).
1.7 The families referred to or seeking help from social services will have differing levels of
need. Many will be helped by advice or practical services or short term intervention. A
smaller proportion will have problems of such complexity and seriousness that they
1. Vulnerable children are those disadvantaged children who would benefit from extra help from
public agencies in order to make the best of their life chances. Four million children live in
families with less than half the average household income.
require more detailed assessment, involving other agencies in that process, leading to
appropriate plans and interventions.
1.8 This can best be illustrated by examining the experience of one unitary authority, as an
1.9 This authority, in parallel with many others, has been working for the past three years
with its community and local agencies to take a broader-based approach to helping
vulnerable children and their families and has begun to find:
l a slight increase in child care referrals;
l the majority of referrals more appropriately dealt with under s17;
l proportionally fewer child protection s47 enquiries;
l fewer children’s names being placed on the child protection register;
l a decrease in the numbers of children being looked after;
Figure 1 Representation of Extent of Children in Need in England at any one time
EXAMPLE: UNITARY AUTHORITY 1997–1999
Total child population under the age of 18 35,086 35,086
Children referred to social services as children in need 4.000 4,097
Child Protection s47 enquiries carried out 1,752 708
Total number of children on Child Protection Register
at year end 161 96
Total number of children looked after at year end 217 202
All children (11 million)
Vulnerable Children (4 million)
Children in Need (3-400,000)
Children Looked After (53,000)
On Child Protection Register
l a decrease in the numbers of children accommodated on an unplanned basis;
l a reduction in the anxiety levels of all staff in child and family work.
1.10 Ensuring that assessment discriminates effectively between different types and levels
of need, from the point of referral onwards, is critical to the objective of improving the
effectiveness of services to children and securing best value from available resources
(Department of Health, 1999e).
Children in Need under the Children Act 1989
1.11 The obligations of the State to assist families who need help in bringing up their own
children are laid down in legislation. Part III of the Children Act 1989 is the basis in
law for the provision of local services to children in need: children in this respect are
defined as under the age of 18 (s105).
1.12 The Children Act 1989 places a specific duty on agencies to co-operate in the interests
of children in need in section 27. Section 322 of the Education Act 1996 also places a
duty on the local authority to assist the local education authority where any child who
has special educational needs.
1.13 Several key principles which underpin the Children Act 1989 are found in Part III of
l it is the duty of the State through local authorities to both safeguard and promote
the welfare of vulnerable children;
It shall be the general duty of every local authority –
l to safeguard and promote the welfare of children within their area who are in
l so far as is consistent with that duty, to promote the upbringing of such children
by their families, by providing a range and level of services appropriate to those
Children Act 1989 s17(1)
Where it appears to a local authority that any authority or other person mentioned
in sub-section (3) could, by taking any specified action, help in the exercise of any
of their functions under this Part, they may request the help of that other authority
or persons, specifying the action in question.
An authority whose help is so requested shall comply with the request if it is
compatible with their own statutory or other duties and obligations and does not
unduly prejudice the discharge of any of their functions.
The persons are –
a. any local authority;
b. any local education authority;
c. any local housing authority;
d. any health authority, special health authority, National Health Services Trust or
Primary Care Trust; and
e. any person authorised by the Secretary of State for the purpose of this section.
Children Act 1989 s27
l it is in the children’s best interests to be brought up in their own families wherever
l whilst it is parents’ responsibility to bring up their children, they may need
assistance from time to time to do so;
l they should be able to call upon services, including accommodation (under s20 of
the Children Act 1989), from or with the help of the local authority when they are
The notion of partnership between State and families is thus also established in this
Part of the Act.
1.14 In order to carry out these duties the meaning of safeguarding and promoting within
the parameters of the Children Act 1989 should be appreciated, as should the contribution
of these objectives to strengthening and supplementing parental capacities so
that children may grow up in their families, wherever possible.
1.15 Safeguarding has two elements:
l a duty to protect children from maltreatment;
l a duty to prevent impairment.
1.16 The duty to protect children from maltreatment demands knowledge and
understanding of the law and the accompanying government guidance, Working
Together to Safeguard Children (1999).
1.17 However, safeguarding children should not be seen as a separate activity from
promoting their welfare. They are two sides of the same coin. Promoting welfare has a
wider, more positive, action centred approach embedded in a philosophy of creating
opportunities to enable children to have optimum life chances in adulthood, as well as
ensuring they are growing up in circumstances consistent with the provision of safe
and effective care. A useful framework for looking at the policy context of children in
need and the value of applying a twin approach of safeguarding and promoting welfare
at different levels of intervention has been developed by Hardiker et al (1996; 1999).
Their grid, reproduced in Appendix B, can be used to help the planning and
appropriate provision of services.
1.18 Children who are defined as in need under the Children Act 1989 are those whose
vulnerability is such that they are unlikely to reach or maintain a satisfactory level of
health and development, or their health and development will be significantly
impaired without the provision of services. The critical factors to be taken into
account in deciding whether a child is in need under the Children Act 1989 are what
will happen to a child’s health and development without services, and the likely effect
the services will have on the child’s standard of health and development. Determining
who is in need, what those needs are, and how services will have an effect on outcomes
for children requires professional judgement by social services staff together with
colleagues from other professional disciplines who are working with children and
1.19 The criteria for defining who is in need are spelt out above in section 17(10) of the
Children Act 1989. The criteria include a child who is disabled. A child is defined as
disabled ‘if he is blind, deaf or dumb or suffers from mental disorder of any kind, or is
substantially and permanently handicapped by illness, injury or congenital or other such
disability as may be prescribed’ (s17(11)). This definition does not preclude children
whose impairment may be less substantial from being defined as children in need
under the other categories. Thus, where the family, educational, social or environmental
circumstances may be preventing such a disabled child from achieving or
maintaining a reasonable standard of health or development without the provision of
services, the local authority should consider whether that child is a child in need.
Assessing Children in Need
1.20 The duties and powers of the local authority to assess the needs of a child and to
provide services are outlined in Part III of the Children Act 1989, in particular section
17, and Schedule 2 Part I. Part III is the main part of the Act (titled Local Authority
Support for Children and Families) about the delivery of services by social services
departments. Other Parts (I, II, IV and V) outline the way in which court orders may
be obtained to authorise or enforce certain actions, in relation to family proceedings,
care and supervision and the protection of children.
1.21 The Act gives local authority social services the power to assess children’s needs as
1.22 Professionals from a number of agencies, but in particular health and education, are a
key source of referral to social services departments of children who are, or may be, in
need. They may already know these children and their families well and, if so, they will
be key in assisting social services departments to carry out their assessment functions
under the Children Act 1989. Knowledge of the Assessment Framework will be of use
to all professionals when they are contributing to assessments of children in need,
A child shall be taken to be in need if –
a. he is unlikely to achieve or maintain or to have the opportunity of achieving or
maintaining, a reasonable standard of health or development without the
provision for him of services by a local authority …
b. his health or development is likely to be significantly impaired, or further
impaired, without the provision for him of such services; or
c. he is disabled,
And “family” in relation to such a child, includes any person who has parental
responsibility for the child and any other person with whom he has been living.
Children Act 1989 s17(10)
Where it appears to a local authority that a child within their area is in need, the
authority may assess his needs for the purposes of this Act at the same time as any
assessment of his needs is made under:
l the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970;
l the Education Act 1996;
l the Disabled Persons (Services, Consultation and Representation) Act 1986; or
l any other enactment.
Children Act 1989 (Schedule 2, paragraph 3)
including when they are undertaking or contributing to assessments as part of their
responsibilities for safeguarding children under Working Together to Safeguard
1.23 The following principles should guide inter-agency, inter-disciplinary work with
children in need. It is essential to be clear about:
l the purpose and anticipated outputs from the assessment;
l the legislative basis for the assessment;
l the protocols and procedures to be followed;
l which agency, team or professional has lead responsibility;
l how the child and family members will be involved in the assessment process;
l which professional has lead responsibility for analysing the assessment findings and
constructing a plan;
l the respective roles of each professional involved in the assessment;
l the way in which information will be shared across professional boundaries and
within agencies, and be recorded;
l which professional will have responsibility for taking forward the plan when it is
1.24 It is important to agree an assessment plan with the child and family, so that all parties
understand who is doing what, when, and how the various assessments will be used to
inform overall judgements about a child’s needs and subsequent planning. When joint
assessments are being undertaken, clarity is required about whether this means one
professional will undertake an assessment on behalf of the team or whether several
types of assessment are to be undertaken in parallel. In the latter situation, thought is
required regarding how these can be organised to avoid duplication. Service users, in
particular parents of disabled children, report that assessments are often repetitive and
uninformed by previous work. The agreed process should be based on what is
appropriate for the needs of the particular child and family, taking account of the
purpose of the assessment, rather than what fits best with professional systems. Agreed
protocols and procedures should be flexible enough to accommodate different ways of
undertaking assessments within the overall Assessment Framework.
Children Who are Suffering or are Likely to Suffer Significant
1.25 Some children are in need because they are suffering or likely to suffer significant
harm. Concerns about maltreatment may be the reason for referral of a family to social
services or concerns may arise during the course of providing services to a family. In
such circumstances, the local authority is obliged to consider initiating enquiries to
find out what is happening to a child and whether action should be taken to protect a
child. This obligation is set out in Part V s47 of the Children Act 1989 (Protection of
1.26 This section of the Act requires local authorities to consider if action is necessary. To
make enquiries implies the need to assess what is happening to a child. The procedures
for such action to be followed are laid down in Working Together to Safeguard Children
(1999). Where there is reasonable cause to suspect that a child may be suffering or is at
risk of suffering significant harm, section 47 (9)(10)(11) places a duty on:
l any local authority;
l any local education authority;
l any housing authority;
l any health authority, special health authority, National Health Service Trust or
Primary Care Trust; and
l any person authorised by the Secretary of State.
to help a local authority with its enquiries. In addition, the Police have a duty and a
responsibility to investigate criminal offences committed against children.
1.27 It is important to emphasise that the assessment should concentrate on the harm that
has occurred or is likely to occur to the child as a result of child maltreatment, in order
to inform future plans and the nature of services required. This is because there is
substantial research evidence to suggest that the health and development of children,
including their educational attainment, may be severely affected if they have been
subjected to child maltreatment (Varma (ed), 1993; Adcock and White (eds), 1998;
Jones and Ramchandani, 1999). It is not enough to have established the harm: action
should be taken to safeguard and promote children’s welfare. The duty to both
safeguard and promote the child’s welfare continues throughout the process of finding
out whether there are grounds for concern that a child may be suffering or is at risk of
suffering significant harm and deciding what action should be taken. Services may be
provided to safeguard and promote the child’s welfare (under Part III of the Act), while
enquiries are being carried out, or, after protective action has been taken while an
application is being made for a care or supervision order (under Part IV).
1.28 The local authority has a duty to respond to children in need in their area in the
l to provide services to children in need (s17);
Where a local authority –
a. are informed that a child who lives, or is found in their area –
i is the subject of an emergency protection order; or
ii is in police protection; or
b. have reasonable cause to suspect that a child who lives, or is found in their area
is suffering, or is likely to suffer, significant harm,
the authority shall make, or cause to be made, such enquiries as they consider
necessary to enable them to decide whether they should take any action to
safeguard or promote the child’s welfare.
Children Act 1989 s47(1)
l to provide such day care for children in need as appropriate (s18);
l to provide accommodation and maintenance to any child in need (s20 and s23);
l to advise, assist and befriend a child whilst he is being looked after and when he
ceases to be looked after by the authority (s24);
l to provide services to minimise the effect of disabilities (Schedule 2, paragraph 6);
l to take steps to prevent neglect or ill-treatment (Schedule 2, paragraph 4);
l to take steps to encourage children not to commit criminal offences (Schedule 2,
paragraph 7(b)); and
l to provide family centres (Schedule 2, paragraph 9).
1.29 The provision of services has a very broad meaning; the aim may be to prevent deterioration,
that is to stop situations from getting worse, as well as to improve a child’s
health and development. Decisions about which services to provide should be based
on an assessment of the child and families circumstances, in the following three
domains: child’s developmental needs, parenting capacity, and family and environmental
factors. This framework for assessing children in need and their families is
discussed fully in Chapter 2. It should be stressed that services, such as direct work
with children and families, may be offered at the same time as family proceedings are
in progress. The one does not preclude the other. Furthermore, services may be
provided to any members of the family in order to assist a child in need (s17(3) of the
Children Act 1989). The needs of parent carers are an integral part of an assessment.
Providing services which meet the needs of parents is often the most effective means of
promoting the welfare of children, in particular disabled children.
1.30 Services may include those provided by local authority children's services or by local
authority adult services or by other agencies, on a single agency, inter-agency or multiagency
basis. By inter-agency it is meant that services are provided by individual
agencies according to an agreed plan. By multi-agency, it is meant that services are
provided by agencies acting in concert and drawing on pooled resources or a pooled
budget or services defined as such in legislation, for example youth offending teams.
1.31 Services may be provided on a one off or episodic basis or over a longer period of time
as determined by the child’s plan (see paragraph 4.33). These provisions are often
described as a continuum of services to support children and their families, and
include care for a child in accommodation away from home. It is the function of
Children’s Services Planning to make sure this continuum of services is in place.
Services provided in parallel with court proceedings or following on from a court
order are provided under Part III of the Act.
1.32 In determining what services should be provided to a particular child and his family,
social services departments are not charged with the same duty as the courts that the
child’s welfare shall be the ‘paramount consideration’ (s1(1)). Rather they have a
broader duty to promote children’s welfare to achieve the best possible outcomes for
that particular child. Social services, in their assessment of whether a child is in need
and how to respond to those needs, also have to take into consideration other children
in the family and the general circumstances of that family. Social services have to
identify the impact of what is happening to the child and also the likely impact of any
intervention on that child and on other family members. Assessment requires careful
consideration of the repercussions or consequences of providing specific types of
services and the extent to which they will both safeguard and promote a particular
child’s welfare and development. This may be a complex equation which requires a
high level of skill and professional judgement, involving all agency partners.
Principles Underpinning Assessment of Children in Need
1.33 Important principles underpin the approach to assessing children in need and their
families which is outlined in this Guidance. They are important in understanding the
development of the framework and in considering how an assessment should be
1.34 Fundamental to establishing whether a child is in need and how those needs should be
best met is that the approach must be child centred. This means that the child is seen
and kept in focus throughout the assessment and that account is always taken of the
child’s perspective. In complex situations where much is happening, attention can be
diverted from the child to other issues which the family may be facing, such as a high
level of conflict between adult family members, or depression being experienced by a
parent or acute housing problems. This can result in the child becoming lost during
assessment and the impact of the family and environmental circumstances on the
child not being clearly identified and understood. The significance of seeing and
observing the child throughout any assessment cannot be overstated.
1.35 The importance, therefore, of undertaking direct work with children during
assessment is emphasised, including developing multiple, age, gender and culturally
appropriate methods for ascertaining their wishes and feelings, and understanding the
meaning of their experiences to them. Throughout the assessment process, the safety
of the child should be ensured.
Rooted in Child Development
1.36 A thorough understanding of child development is critical to work with children and
PRINCIPLES UNDERPINNING THE ASSESSMENT FRAMEWORK
l are child centred;
l are rooted in child development;
l are ecological in their approach;
l ensure equality of opportunity;
l involve working with children and families;
l build on strengths as well as identify difficulties;
l are inter-agency in their approach to assessment and the provision of services;
l are a continuing process, not a single event;
l are carried out in parallel with other action and providing services;
l are grounded in evidence based knowledge.
their families. Children have a range of different and complex developmental needs
which must be met during different stages of childhood if optimal outcomes are to be
achieved. Disabled children, including those with learning disabilities, may have a
different rate of progress across the various developmental dimensions. Many disabled
children will have quite individual patterns of development, for example a child with
autism may acquire some skills ahead of the usual milestones but may never develop
some communication skills. In addition, different aspects of development will have
more or less weight at different stages of a child’s life. For example, in the early years
there is an emphasis on developing cognitive and language skills, achieving physical
milestones and forming secure attachments; in middle childhood, social and
educational development become more prominent; while the adolescent strives to
reconcile the tensions between social and emotional dependence and independence.
1.37 Each child’s development is significantly shaped by his or her particular experiences
and the interaction between a series of factors. Some factors are intrinsic to individual
children, such as characteristics of genetic inheritance or temperament. Other factors
may include particular health problems or an impairment. Others may relate to their
culture and to the physical and emotional environment in which a child is living.
1.38 Children referred for help are frequently very vulnerable and their opportunities to
reach their full potential may have been or may be likely to be compromised in some
way, for a variety of reasons. It is, therefore, crucial to know about the importance of
developmental milestones which children need to reach, if they are to be healthy and
achieve their full potential. This knowledge should recognise also that children are
individuals and variations may occur in that sequence of development: such
variations, however, may indicate services are necessary. Professionals should
understand the consequences of variations for particular children of different ages,
some of whom may have special educational needs and profound difficulties.
Furthermore, they have to understand the significance of timing in a child’s life.
Children may not be getting what they require at a crucial stage in their development
and time is passing. Plans and interventions should be based on a clear assessment of
the developmental progress and difficulties a child may be experiencing and ensure
that planned action is timely and appropriate in terms of the child’s developmental
1.39 An understanding of a child must be located within the context of the child’s family
(parents or caregivers and the wider family) and of the community and culture in
which he or she is growing up. The significance of understanding the parent-child
relationship has long been part of child welfare practice: less so the importance of the
interface between environmental factors and a child’s development, and the influence
of these environmental factors on parents’ capacities to respond to their child’s needs
(Jack, 1997; Stevenson, 1998 and others). The association between economic
disadvantage and the chances that children will fail to thrive (Utting, 1995) and the
association between a teenager’s friendship group and pro-social and anti-social
behaviour (Rutter et al, 1998) are well researched. So is the impact on parenting
capacity of a supportive wider family or of struggling to bring up children in
impoverished living conditions. ‘Living on a low income in a run down
neighbourhood does not make it impossible to be the affectionate, authoritative
parent of healthy, sociable children. But it does, undeniably, make it more difficult’
(Utting, 1995, p. 40).
1.40 Assessment, therefore, should take account of three domains:
l the child’s developmental needs;
l the parents' or caregivers' capacities to respond appropriately;
l the wider family and environmental factors.
1.41 The interaction between the three domains and the way they influence each other
must be carefully analysed in order to gain a complete picture of a child’s unmet needs
and how to identify the best response to them.
Ensuring Equality of Opportunity
1.42 The Children Act 1989 is built on the premise that ‘children and young people and
their parents should all be considered as individuals with particular needs and
potentialities’ (Department of Health, 1989), that differences in bringing up children
due to family structures, religion, culture and ethnic origins should be respected and
understood and that those children with ‘specific social needs arising out of disability
or a health condition’ have their assessed needs met and reviewed (Department of
Health, 1998a). Ensuring that all children who are assessed as in need have the
opportunity to achieve optimal development, according to their circumstances and
age, is an important principle. Furthermore, since discrimination of all kinds is an
everyday reality in many children’s lives, every effort must be made to ensure that
agencies' responses do not reflect or reinforce that experience and indeed, should
counteract it. Some vulnerable children may have been particularly disadvantaged in
their access to important opportunities, such as those who have suffered multiple
family disruptions or prolonged maltreatment by abuse or neglect and are subsequently
looked by the local authority. Their health and educational needs will
require particular attention in order to optimise their long term outcomes in young
1.43 Ensuring equality of opportunity does not mean that all children are treated the same.
It does mean understanding and working sensitively and knowledgeably with
diversity to identify the particular issues for a child and his/her family, taking account
of experiences and family context. This is further elaborated in the chapters in the
accompanying practice guidance on working with disabled children and with black
Working with Children and their Families
1.44 The majority of parents want to do the best for their children. Whatever their circumstances
or difficulties, the concept of partnership between the State and the family, in
situations where families are in need of assistance in bringing up their children, lies at
the heart of child care legislation. The importance of partnership has been further
reinforced by a substantial number of research findings, including the child protection
studies (Department of Health, 1995d) and family support studies (Butt and Box,
1998; Aldgate and Bradley, 1999; Tunstill and Aldgate, 2000). In the process of
finding out what is happening to a child, it will be critical to develop a co-operative
working relationship, so that parents or caregivers feel respected and informed, that
staff are being open and honest with them, and that they in turn are confident about
providing vital information about their child, themselves and their circumstances.
1.45 Working with family members is not an end in itself; the objective must always be to
safeguard and promote the welfare of the child. The child, therefore, must be kept in
focus. It requires sensitivity to and understanding of the circumstances of families and
their particular needs, for example where English is not a parent’s first language or
where adults who are significant to a child are not living in the same household or
where a parent is disabled or mentally ill. For a disabled parent reasonable adjustments
will be needed, for example, it may be necessary to provide information to a blind
parent in an alternative format such as Braille or on audio tape, or to communicate
with a deaf parent using British Sign Language.
1.46 Parents value taking part in discussions about how and where the assessment will be
carried out, as well as what they hope it will achieve. Similarly, according to the age and
development of the child, listening to what children have to say and working openly
and honestly is valued by them and produces more effective outcomes. This is
discussed further in Chapter 3.
1.47 Developing a working relationship with children and family members will not always
be easy to achieve and can be difficult especially when there have been concerns about
significant harm to the child. However resistant the family or difficult the circumstances,
it remains important to continue to try to find ways of engaging the family in
the assessment process. Use of mediation may be helpful in assisting professionals and
family members to work together. The quality of the early or initial contact will affect
later working relationships and the ability of professionals to secure an agreed
understanding of what is happening and to provide help. Studies have found that even
in situations where child sexual abuse is alleged, despite early difficulties that may arise
because of having to take immediate child protective action, it may still be possible to
work with children and their parents (Cleaver and Freeman, 1995; Jones and
Ramchandani, 1999). Working with children and family members, where there are
concerns about a child suffering significant harm is discussed in paragraphs 7.2 to 7.12
in Working Together to Safeguard Children (1999).
Building on Strengths as well as Identifying Difficulties
1.48 It is important that an approach to assessment, which is based on a full understanding
of what is happening to a child in the context of his or her family and the wider
community, examines carefully the nature of the interactions between the child,
family and environmental factors and identifies both positive and negative influences.
These will vary for each child. Nothing can be assumed; the facts must be sought, the
meaning attached to them explored and weighed up with the family. Sometimes
assessments have been largely in terms of a child or family’s difficulties or problems, or
the risks seen to be attached to particular behaviours or situations. What is working
well or what may be acting as positive factors for the child and family may be
overlooked. For example, a single mother, in crisis over health, financial and housing
problems, may still be managing to get her child up in time in the mornings, washed,
dressed, breakfasted and off to school each day. An older child, living in a family
periodically disrupted by domestic violence, may be provided with welcome respite
care on a regular basis by a grandmother living locally. Working with a child or family’s
strengths may be an important part of a plan to resolve difficulties.
1.49 This is not to suggest that staff should suspend their critical professional judgement
and adopt a 'rule of optimism' (Dingwall et al, 1983). It is important, however, that
they not only identify the deficits in assessing a family’s situation, but also make a
realistic and informed appraisal of the strengths and resources in the family and the
relative weight that should be given to each. These can be mobilised to safeguard and
promote the child’s welfare.
Inter-Agency Approach to Assessment and Provision of Services
1.50 From birth, all children will become involved with a variety of different agencies in the
community, particularly in relation to their health, day care and educational
development. A range of professionals, including midwives, health visitors, general
practitioners, nursery staff and teachers, will have a role in assessing their general
wellbeing and development. Children who are vulnerable are, therefore, likely to be
identified by these professionals, who will have an important responsibility in
deciding whether to refer them to social services for further assessment and help. The
knowledge they already have about a child and family is an essential component of any
assessment. These agencies may also be required to provide more specialist assessment
for those smaller numbers of children where there are particular causes for concern.
Similarly, responding to the needs of vulnerable children may require services from
agencies other than social services or in combination with social services help. Interagency
work starts as soon as there are concerns about a child's welfare, not just when
there is an enquiry about significant harm. An important underlying principle of the
approach to assessment in this Guidance, therefore, is that it is based on a inter-agency
model in which it is not just social services departments which are the assessors and
providers of services.
A Continuing Process, not a Single Event
1.51 Understanding what is happening to a vulnerable child within the context of his or her
family and the local community cannot be achieved as a single event. It must
necessarily be a process of gathering information from a variety of sources and making
sense of it with the family and, very often, with several professionals concerned with
the child’s welfare.
1.52 This assessment process involves one or more of the following:
l establishing good working relationships with the child and family;
l developing a deeper understanding through multiple approaches to the assessment
l setting up joint or parallel assessment arrangements with other professionals and
agencies, as appropriate;
l determining which types of intervention are most likely to be effective for which
1.53 For many children who come to the attention of social services departments, the
process will be relatively straightforward and short term. The more complex or serious
a child’s situation, however, the more time it may take to understand thoroughly what
is happening to the child, the reasons why and the impact on the child and the more it
is also likely to involve several agencies in that process. Where there are concerns about
a child’s safety, decisions to safeguard the child may have to be made quickly pending
greater understanding of the child’s circumstances. Once it has been established
whether a child is in need, further questions will remain to be answered about:
l the parents’ views of the child’s needs and services required;
l the precise nature of these needs;
l the reasons for them;
l the priority for action and/or resources;
l the potential for change in the child and family;
l the best options to be pursued;
l the child’s and family’s response to intervention;
l how well the child is doing.
Assessment should continue throughout a period of intervention, and intervention
may start at the beginning of an assessment.
1.54 Assessment is thus an iterative process which for some children will continue
throughout work with the child and the family or caregivers. In order to achieve the
best outcomes, the framework should be used also at important decision making times
when reviewing the child’s progress and future plans. Use of the Assessment
Framework linked to the Looking After Children materials which have been used to
monitor the child’s progress whilst they have been looked after will enhance care
planning and reviewing processes. This will provide an integrated framework for
children looked after which should be used at key decision making points including
return home from residential or foster care, or longer term plans for an alternative
family placement such as adoption, or when leaving care.
1.55 This does not mean that assessment should be over intrusive, repeated unnecessarily
or continued without any clear purpose or outcome. Effective discrimination between
different types and levels of need are key considerations.
Action and Services are Provided in Parallel with Assessment
1.56 Although assessment is generally described in this Guidance as a discrete process
which will result in an understanding of need, from which a plan of action and
intervention can be developed, in many situations there is inevitably overlap between
these different activities. Undertaking an assessment with a family can begin a process
of understanding and change by key family members. A practitioner may, during the
process of gathering information, be instrumental in bringing about change by the
questions asked, by listening to members of the family, by validating the family’s
difficulties or concerns, and by providing information and advice. The process of
assessment should be therapeutic in itself. This does not preclude taking timely action
either to provide immediate services or to take steps to protect a child who is suffering
or is likely to suffer significant harm. Action and services should be provided
according to the needs of the child and family, in parallel with assessment where
necessary, and not await completion of the assessment.
Grounded in Evidence
1.57 Each professional discipline derives its knowledge from a particular theoretical base,
related research findings and accumulated practice wisdom and experience. Social
work practice, however, differs in that it derives its knowledge from theory and
research in many different disciplines. Practice is also based on policies laid down in
legislation and government guidance. It is essential that practitioners and their
managers ensure that practice and its supervision are grounded in the most up to date
knowledge and that they make use of the resources described in the practice guidance
as well as other critical materials, including:
l relevant research findings;
l national and local statistical data;
l national policy and practice guidance;
l Social Services Inspectorate Inspection Standards;
l Government and local inspection, audit and performance assessment reports;
l lessons learnt from national and local inquiries and reviews of cases of child
1.58 Practice is expected to be evidence based, by which it is meant that practitioners:
l use knowledge critically from research and practice about the needs of children and
families and the outcomes of services and interventions to inform their assessment
l record and update information systematically, distinguishing sources of
information, for example direct observation, other agency records or interviews
with family members;
l learn from the views of users of services ie. children and families;
l valuate continously whether the intervention is effective in responding to the needs
of an individual child and family and modifying their interventions accordingly;
l evaluate rigorously the information, processes and outcomes from the practitioner’s
own interventions to develop practice wisdom.
1.59 The combination of evidence based practice grounded in knowledge with finely
balanced professional judgement is the foundation for effective practice with children
1.60 The knowledge base from which these principles are derived and the application of the
principles to the process of assessing children in need and their families are developed
in subsequent chapters.
Framework for the Assessment of Children in Need
2.1 Assessing whether a child is in need and the nature of these needs requires a systematic
approach which uses the same framework or conceptual map for gathering and
analysing information about all children and their families, but discriminates
effectively between different types and levels of need. The framework in this guidance
is developed from the legislative foundations and principles in Chapter 1 and an
extensive research and practice knowledge which is outlined in the practice guidance
(Department of Health, 2000a). It requires a thorough understanding of:
l the developmental needs of children;
l the capacities of parents or caregivers to respond appropriately to those needs;
l the impact of wider family and environmental factors on parenting capacity and
2.2 These are described as three inter-related systems or domains, each of which has a
number of critical dimensions (Figure 2). The interaction or the influence of these
dimensions on each other requires careful exploration during assessment, with the
ultimate aim being to understand how they affect the child or children in the family.
2 Framework for the Assessment of Children in
Figure 2 The Assessment Framework (the above diagram has been reproduced at
Appendix A for ease of photocopying)
CHILD’S DEVELOPMENTAL NEEDS
FAMILY & ENVIRONMENTAL FACTORS
This analysis of the child’s situation will inform planning and action to secure the best
outcomes for the child. The Assessment Framework can be represented in the form of
a triangle or pyramid, with the child’s welfare at the centre. This emphasises that all
assessment activity and subsequent planning and provision of services must focus on
ensuring that the child’s welfare is safeguarded and promoted.
Dimensions of a Child’s Developmental Needs
2.3 Assessment of what is happening to a child requires that each aspect of a child’s
developmental progress is examined, in the context of the child’s age and stage of
development. This includes knowing whether a child has reached his or her expected
developmental milestones. Account must be taken of any particular vulnerabilities,
such as a learning disability or a physically impairing condition, and the impact they
may be having on progress in any of the developmental dimensions. Consideration
should also be given to the socially and environmentally disabling factors which have
an impact on a child’s development, such as limited access for those who are disabled
and other forms of discrimination. Children who have been maltreated may suffer
impairment to their development as a result of injuries sustained and/or the impact of
the trauma caused by their abuse. There must be a clear understanding of what a
particular child is capable of achieving successfully at each stage of development, in
order to ensure that he or she has the opportunity to achieve his or her full potential.
2.4 The child’s developmental dimensions are described on page 19. These descriptions
are intended to be illustrative rather than comprehensive of the different components
of each dimension.
2.5 The child development dimensions have been taken from the work of Roy Parker and
colleagues which was commissioned by the Department of Health (1991) to find
practical measures to assess the progress of children accommodated in children’s
homes and foster care, and to improve their outcomes. During the development stages
of that work, the materials were tested with a large number of families in the
community and it was found ‘that the Assessment and Action Records can be used
with parents and children in the community as a means of identifying difficulties and
discussing how to address them’ (Ward, 1995). These dimensions have therefore been
demonstrated to be salient for all children.
2.6 When practitioners are undertaking an assessment of a child’s developmental needs,
l identify the developmental areas to be covered and recorded;
l plan how developmental progress is to be measured;
l ensure proper account is taken of a child’s age and stage of development;
l analyse information as the basis for planning future action.
2.7 A number of questionnaires and scales have been assembled concurrently with the
development of this guidance to assist social services staff, in particular, in specific
areas when undertaking child and family assessments. Eight have been published in
The Family Pack of Questionnaires and Scales (Department of Health, Cox and
Bentovim, 2000) and a further two, the Home Inventory (Caldwell and Bradley, 1984)
DIMENSIONS OF CHILD’S DEVELOPMENTAL NEEDS
Includes growth and development as well as physical and mental wellbeing. The
impact of genetic factors and of any impairment should be considered. Involves
receiving appropriate health care when ill, an adequate and nutritious diet, exercise,
immunisations where appropriate and developmental checks, dental and optical care
and, for older children, appropriate advice and information on issues that have an
impact on health, including sex education and substance misuse.
Covers all areas of a child’s cognitive development which begins from birth.
Includes opportunities: for play and interaction with other children; to have access to
books; to acquire a range of skills and interests; to experience success and
achievement. Involves an adult interested in educational activities, progress and
achievements, who takes account of the child’s starting point and any special
Emotional and Behavioural Development
Concerns the appropriateness of response demonstrated in feelings and actions by a
child, initially to parents and caregivers and, as the child grows older, to others beyond
Includes nature and quality of early attachments, characteristics of temperament,
adaptation to change, response to stress and degree of appropriate self control.
Concerns the child’s growing sense of self as a separate and valued person.
Includes the child's view of self and abilities, self image and self esteem, and having a
positive sense of individuality. Race, religion, age, gender, sexuality and disability may
all contribute to this. Feelings of belonging and acceptance by family, peer group and
wider society, including other cultural groups.
Family and Social Relationships
Development of empathy and the capacity to place self in someone else’s shoes.
Includes a stable and affectionate relationship with parents or caregivers, good
relationships with siblings, increasing importance of age appropriate friendships with
peers and other significant persons in the child’s life and response of family to these
Concerns child’s growing understanding of the way in which appearance, behaviour,
and any impairment are perceived by the outside world and the impression being
Includes appropriateness of dress for age, gender, culture and religion; cleanliness and
personal hygiene; and availability of advice from parents or caregivers about presentation
in different settings.
Self Care Skills
Concerns the acquisition by a child of practical, emotional and communication
competencies required for increasing independence. Includes early practical skills of
dressing and feeding, opportunities to gain confidence and practical skills to undertake
activities away from the family and independent living skills as older children.
Includes encouragement to acquire social problem solving approaches. Special
attention should be given to the impact of a child's impairment and other vulnerabilities,
and on social circumstances affecting these in the development of self care
and the Assessment of Family Competence, Strengths and Difficulties developed by
Bentovim and Bingley Miller (forthcoming) will be published later this year. In
addition there are others which may be of use to assist the process of assessment.
2.8 Use of questionnaires and scales enables children and caregivers to express their views
about their particular circumstances. They have been found also to identify areas of
concern or difficulty which have not been identified previously through interviews or
Dimensions of Parenting Capacity
2.9 Critically important to a child’s health and development is the ability of parents or
caregivers to ensure that the child’s developmental needs are being appropriately and
adequately responded to, and to adapt to his or her changing needs over time. The
parenting tasks are described on page 21. Again, these descriptions are illustrative
rather than comprehensive of all parenting tasks.
2.10 It is important that parenting capacity be considered in the context of the family’s
structure and functioning, and who contributes to the parental care of the child (see
Family and Environmental Factors, paragraphs 2.13 to 2.25).
2.11 In family situations where there is cause for concern about what is happening to a
child, it becomes even more important to gather information about how these tasks
are being carried out by each parent or caregiver in terms of:
l their response to a child and his or her behaviour or circumstances;
l the manner in which they are responding to the child’s needs and the areas where
they are experiencing difficulties in meeting needs or failing to do so;
l the effect this child has on them;
l the quality of the parent – child relationship;
l their understanding of the child’s needs and development;
l their comprehension of parenting tasks and the relevance of these to the child’s
l the impact of any difficulties they may be experiencing themselves on their ability to
carry out parental tasks and responsibilities (distinguishing realisation from
l the impact of past experiences on their current parenting capacity;
l their ability to face and accept their difficulties;
l their ability to use support and accept help;
l their capacity for adaptation and change in their parenting response.
Observation of interactions is as critically important as the way they are described by
the adults involved.
2.12 The parenting tasks undertaken by fathers or father figures should be addressed
alongside those of mothers or mother figures. In some families, a single parent may be
DIMENSIONS OF PARENTING CAPACITY
Providing for the child’s physical needs, and appropriate medical and dental care.
Includes provision of food, drink, warmth, shelter, clean and appropriate clothing
and adequate personal hygiene.
Ensuring the child is adequately protected from harm or danger.
Includes protection from significant harm or danger, and from contact with unsafe
adults/other children and from self-harm. Recognition of hazards and danger both
in the home and elsewhere.
Ensuring the child’s emotional needs are met and giving the child a sense of being
specially valued and a positive sense of own racial and cultural identity.
Includes ensuring the child’s requirements for secure, stable and affectionate
relationships with significant adults, with appropriate sensitivity and responsiveness
to the child’s needs. Appropriate physical contact, comfort and cuddling sufficient
to demonstrate warm regard, praise and encouragement.
Promoting child’s learning and intellectual development through encouragement
and cognitive stimulation and promoting social opportunities.
Includes facilitating the child’s cognitive development and potential through
interaction, communication, talking and responding to the child’s language and
questions, encouraging and joining the child’s play, and promoting educational
opportunities. Enabling the child to experience success and ensuring school
attendance or equivalent opportunity. Facilitating child to meet challenges of life.
Guidance and Boundaries
Enabling the child to regulate their own emotions and behaviour.
The key parental tasks are demonstrating and modelling appropriate behaviour and
control of emotions and interactions with others, and guidance which involves
setting boundaries, so that the child is able to develop an internal model of moral
values and conscience, and social behaviour appropriate for the society within
which they will grow up. The aim is to enable the child to grow into an autonomous
adult, holding their own values, and able to demonstrate appropriate behaviour
with others rather than having to be dependent on rules outside themselves. This
includes not over protecting children from exploratory and learning experiences.
Includes social problem solving, anger management, consideration for others, and
effective discipline and shaping of behaviour.
Providing a sufficiently stable family environment to enable a child to develop and
maintain a secure attachment to the primary caregiver(s) in order to ensure optimal
Includes: ensuring secure attachments are not disrupted, providing consistency of
emotional warmth over time and responding in a similar manner to the same
behaviour. Parental responses change and develop according to child’s developmental
progress. In addition, ensuring children keep in contact with important
family members and significant others.
performing most or all of the parenting tasks. In others, there may be a number of
important caregivers in a child’s life, each playing a different part which may have
positive or negative consequences. A wide range of adults, for example grandparents,
step relations, child minders or baby sitters, may have a significant role in caring for a
child. A distinction has to be clearly made between the contribution of each parent or
caregiver to a child’s wellbeing and development. Where a child has suffered
significant harm, it is particularly important to distinguish between the capabilities of
the abusing parent and the potentially protective parent. This information can also
contribute to an understanding of the impact the parents’ relationship with each other
may have on their respective capacities to respond appropriately to their child’s needs.
The quality of the inter-parental relationship, which has an impact on the child's
wellbeing will be considered more explicitly in the following section on family and
Family and Environmental Factors
2.13 The care and upbringing of children does not take place in a vacuum. All family
members are influenced both positively and negatively by the wider family, the
neighbourhood and social networks in which they live. The history of the child’s
family and of individual family members may have a significant impact on the child
and parents. Some family members, for example, may have grown up in a completely
different environment to the child, others may have had to leave their country of
origin because of war or other adverse conditions, and others may have experienced
abuse and neglect as children.
2.14 The narration and impact of family histories and experiences can play an important
part in understanding what is happening currently to a family. An adult's capacity to
parent may be crucially related to his or her childhood experiences of family life and
past adult experiences prior to the current difficulties. The family may be in transition,
for example refugee families.
2.15 An understanding of how the family usually functions, and how it functions when
under stress can be very helpful in identifying what factors may assist parents in
carrying out their parenting roles. Of particular importance is the quality and nature
of the relationship between a child’s parents and how this affects the child. For
example, sustained conflict between parents is detrimental to children’s welfare. The
quality of relationships between siblings may also be of major significance to a child's
welfare. Account must be taken of the diversity of family styles and structures, particularly
who counts as family and who is important to the child.
2.16 The impact of multiple caregivers will need careful exploration, with an
understanding of the context in which the care is being provided. As Cleaver
(Department of Health and Cleaver, 2000) writes in the notes of guidance for use with
the assessment records:
Children can be protected from the adverse consequences of parenting problems
when someone else meets the child’s developmental needs.
She adds that it is important to record when there is evidence that no one is responding
appropriately to the child. In some circumstances children who have a number of
caregivers may be more vulnerable to being maltreated. Special attention should be
given to the needs of disabled children who experience multiple caregivers as part of
their regular routine, and to their need for reasonable continuity of caregivers.
2.17 In families where a parent is not living in the same household as the child, it is
FAMILY AND ENVIRONMENTAL FACTORS
Family History and Functioning
Family history includes both genetic and psycho-social factors.
Family functioning is influenced by who is living in the household and how they are
related to the child; significant changes in family/household composition; history of
childhood experiences of parents; chronology of significant life events and their
meaning to family members; nature of family functioning, including sibling
relationships and its impact on the child; parental strengths and difficulties, including
those of an absent parent; the relationship between separated parents.
Who are considered to be members of the wider family by the child and the
Includes related and non-related persons and absent wider family. What is their role
and importance to the child and parents and in precisely what way?
Does the accommodation have basic amenities and facilities appropriate to the age
and development of the child and other resident members? Is the housing accessible
and suitable to the needs of disabled family members?
Includes the interior and exterior of the accommodation and immediate
surroundings. Basic amenities include water, heating, sanitation, cooking facilities,
sleeping arrangements and cleanliness, hygiene and safety and their impact on the
Who is working in the household, their pattern of work and any changes? What
impact does this have on the child? How is work or absence of work viewed by
family members? How does it affect their relationship with the child?
Includes children’s experience of work and its impact on them.
Income available over a sustained period of time. Is the family in receipt of all its
benefit entitlements? Sufficiency of income to meet the family’s needs. The way
resources available to the family are used. Are there financial difficulties which affect
Family’s Social Integration
Exploration of the wider context of the local neighbourhood and community and its
impact on the child and parents.
Includes the degree of the family’s integration or isolation, their peer groups,
friendship and social networks and the importance attached to them.
Describes all facilities and services in a neighbourhood, including universal services
of primary health care, day care and schools, places of worship, transport, shops and
Includes availability, accessibility and standard of resources and impact on the
family, including disabled members.
important to identify what role that parent has in the child’s life and the significance to
the child of the relationship with that parent. It cannot be assumed that parents who
live apart are estranged. This arrangement may be by mutual agreement.
2.18 A wide range of environmental factors can either help or hinder the family’s
functioning. Here it is important to think broadly and creatively about the family and
environmental factors described on the previous page.
2.19 Careful account should be taken of how these factors are influencing both a child’s
progress and the parents’ responses. This can be illustrated by the following examples
of the inter-relationship between such factors and a child’s development:
l Family history
A child may have a genetic condition or pre-disposition, such as sickle cell disorder
or Huntington’s Chorea, which may affect current or future physical or mental
health and the need for services.
l Family Functioning
Despite a recent separation, the parents co-operate regarding decisions about key
events in a 10 year old boy’s life such that he continues to attend the same school,
maintains a strong group of friends, and is fully supported in his education by both
parents. This enables him to do well in school.
l Wider family
A child may have developed a close, affectionate attachment to a friend’s parent
who, over a number of years, compensates for chronic parental problems in the
family home, giving that child a sense of belonging and selfesteem. This may
become a resource to be mobilised at the time of family breakdown.
Accommodation which is damp, infested and overcrowded may be contributing to
a low birth weight baby’s failure to thrive and chronic ear, nose and chest problems,
requiring urgent action.
The expectation that a 13 year old girl will assist regularly in the family business may
result in her sudden failure to keep up with school work and difficult behaviour in
A low income over many years and parents’ inability to manage on this income may
mean a young adolescent being bullied at school simply because he is wearing
clothes which do not have the correct designer logo.
l Family’s social integration
Constant racial harassment and bullying in a neighbourhood may result in a
teenager from a minority ethnic family being isolated and excluded from positive
and affirming friendship group experiences at a formative stage of developing his
l Access to community resources
Knowledge of resources available in the community which are accessible and
accommodate disabled children may enable an isolated single mother to organise
out of school care and activities for her 6 year old disabled child, thus enabling her
to remain in work.
2.20 The complex interplay of factors across all three domains should be carefully
understood and analysed. Parents may be experiencing their own problems which
may have an impact through their behaviour on their capacity to respond to their
child’s needs. This could cover a variety of situations. It could include parents who are
unable to read or write and are therefore unable to respond to notes sent home from
school. On the other hand, it could include a child being traumatised by witnessing
her mother being regularly assaulted by her father.
2.21 The publication Children’s Needs – Parenting Capacity by Cleaver et al (1999) focuses
on the impact of particular parental problems (mental illness, domestic violence, drug
and alcohol misuse) on a child’s development while Crossing Bridges (Falkov (ed)
1998) addresses parental mental illnesses in more detail. Such problems may adversely
affect a parent's ability to respond to the needs of his or her child. While some children
grow up apparently unscathed, others exhibit emotional and behavioural disorders as
a result of these childhood experiences. This knowledge can assist professionals to be
clear about the impact of a parent’s difficulties on a child. In some situations, where the
parents’ problems are severe, such as major psychiatric illness or substance misuse,
there may need to be joint or concurrent assessments; to examine the parent’s
problems, the impact of those problems on the child, and the effect of the child on the
parent. Such assessments should be carried out within a clear focus on the needs of the
2.22 There is increasing knowledge about the characteristics of adults who maltreat
children. Research has shown a strong association between domestic violence and
child abuse. It has shown also, that not all parents who have suffered childhood abuse
or deprivation go on to maltreat their children, but a significant proportion of parents
who harm their children have been abused themselves (Department of Health,
2.23 The interactions between different factors are often not straightforward which is why
it is important that:
l information is gathered and recorded systematically with care and precision;
l information is checked and discussed with parents and, where appropriate, with the
l differences in views about information and its importance are clearly recorded;
l the strengths and difficulties within families are assessed and understood;
l the vulnerabilities and protective factors in the child’s world are examined;
l the impact of what is happening on the child is clearly identified.
Chapter 4 elaborates on the processes of analysis, judgement and decision making
which follow on from the information gathering and collation stages.
2.24 Ward (1995, p.85) in her community study of almost 400 children and their families
It is likely to be the interaction between a number of factors rather than any specific
characteristic that leads to parenting difficulties. Thus most families are able to
overcome adversities and provide their children with a sufficiently nurturing
environment, although they may fall down in one or two areas. Only a very small
proportion are unable to provide a sufficiently consistent standard of care across all
seven (child development) dimensions, but it is they who form the group whose
children are most likely to be admitted to care or accommodation.
2.25 The framework for assessment is, therefore, a conceptual map which can be used to
understand what is happening to all children in whatever circumstances they may be
growing up. For most children referred or whose families seek help, the issues of
concern will be relatively straightforward, parents will be clear about requiring
assistance and the impact on the child will not be difficult to identify. For a smaller
number of children, the causes for concern will be serious and complex and the
relationship between their needs, their parents’ responses and the circumstances in
which they are living, less straightforward. In these situations, further, more detailed
and, in some cases, specialist assessment will be required. These issues are considered
in the next chapter on the process of assessment.
2.26 The Assessment Framework is predicated on the principle that children are children
first, whatever may distinguish some children from others. This poses a challenge for
staff - how to develop inclusive practice which recognises that all children share the
same developmental needs to reach their optimal potential but that the rate or pattern
of progress of individual children may vary because of factors associated with health
and impairment. At the same time, due weight needs to be given to other important
influences on children’s development. Prominent amongst these are genetic factors,
the quality of attachment to primary caregivers and the quality of everyday life
2.27 When assessing a child’s needs and circumstances, care has to be taken to ensure that
issues which fundamentally shape children’s identity and wellbeing, their progress and
outcomes are fully understood and incorporated into the framework for assessment.
Dutt and Phillips (Department of Health, 2000a) write:
Issues of race and culture cannot be added to a list for separate consideration during
an assessment, they are integral to the assessment process. From referral through to
core assessment, intervention and planning, race and culture have to be taken
account of using an holistic framework for assessment.
2.28 In assessing the needs of children, practitioners have to take account of diversity in
children, understand its origins and pay careful attention to its impact on a child’s
development and the interaction with parental responses and wider family and
2.29 Use of the framework requires that children and families’ differences must be
approached with knowledge and sensitivity in a non-judgemental way. Ignorance can
result in stereotyping and in inappropriate or even damaging assumptions being
made, resulting in a lack of accuracy and balance in analysing children’s needs. To
achieve sensitive and inclusive practice, staff should avoid:
l using one set of cultural assumptions and stereotypes to understand the child and
l insensitivity to racial and cultural variations within groups and between
l making unreasoned assumptions without evidence;
l failing to take account of experiences of any discrimination in an individual’s
response to public services;
l failing to take account of the barriers which prevent the social integration of
families with disabled members;
l attaching meaning to information without confirming the interpretation with the
child and family members.
2.30 The use of the framework, derived from children’s developmental needs and which
also takes account of the context in which they are growing up, takes on more
significance in relation to children for whom discrimination is likely to be part of their
life experience. Such children and their families may suffer subsequent disadvantage
and a failure of access to appropriate services. It is for this reason that chapters have
been included in the practice guidance which consider in more detail issues of race and
culture and of disability in assessing the needs of children in the context of their family
and their environment.
Disability Discrimination Act 1995
2.31 Under Part III of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (rights of access to goods,
facilities and services) service providers, including social services departments and
health but not as yet education, must not discriminate against disabled people
(including children) by refusing to provide any service which is provided to members
of the public, by providing a lower standard of service or offering a service on less
favourable terms. These requirements came into force on 2 December 1996.
2.32 Since October 1999, service providers have had to take reasonable steps to:
l change any policy, practice or procedure which makes it impossible or unreasonably
difficult for disabled people to make use of services;
l provide an auxiliary aid or service if it would enable (or make easier for) disabled
people to make use of services; and
l provide a reasonable alternative method of making services available to disabled
people where a physical feature makes it impossible or unreasonably difficult for
disabled people to make use of them.
2.33 From 2004 service providers will have to take reasonable steps to remove, alter or
provide reasonable means of avoiding physical features that make it impossible or
unreasonably difficult for disabled people to use the services.
Process of Assessment and Timing
3.1 Assessment is the first stage in helping a vulnerable child and his or her family, its
purpose being ‘to contribute to the understanding necessary for appropriate planning’
(Compton and Galaway, 1989) and action. Assessment has several phases which
overlap and lead into planning, action and review:
l clarification of source of referral and reason;
l acquisition of information;
l exploring facts and feelings;
l giving meaning to the situation which distinguishes the child and family’s
understanding and feelings from those of the professionals;
l reaching an understanding of what is happening, problems, strengths and
difficulties, and the impact on the child (with the family wherever possible);
l drawing up an analysis of the needs of the child and parenting capacity within their
family and community context as a basis for formulating a plan.
3.2 Prior to social services departments becoming involved with a child and family, a
number of other agencies and community based groups may have had contact with
the family. For some children, assessments will have already been carried out for
purposes other than determining whether they are a child in need. In particular, health
and education will have undertaken routine assessments as part of monitoring
children’s developmental progress. The familiarity of other agencies with the
Assessment Framework will assist when making a referral to a social services
department or contributing to an assessment of a child in need, thereby facilitating a
common understanding of the child’s needs within their family context.
3.3 The response from social services departments to an initial contact or a referral
requesting help is critically important. At that point the foundation is laid for future
work with the child or family. Children and families may have contact with social
services staff in a wide range of settings. These may be as diverse as a family or day
centre, a social services area office, an accident and emergency, adult or paediatric unit
in a hospital, an education setting, an adolescent drop-in service or specialist services
for adults. Not all staff in these settings will be professionals or qualified in work with
children and families. This will apply particularly to those who work predominantly
3 The Process of Assessing Children in Need
with adults. Whoever has first contact with a child or family member, however, has a
vital role in influencing the course of future work. It is quite clear from research that
the quality of the early or initial contact affects later working relationships with professionals.
Furthermore, recording of information about the initial contact or referral
contributes to the first phase of assessment. It is essential, therefore, that all staff
responding to families or to referrers are familiar with the principles which underpin
the Assessment Framework and are aware of the importance of the information
collected and recorded at this stage.
3.4 For unqualified or inexperienced staff, the NSPCC chart Referrals Involving A Child
(Cleaver et al, 1998) may act as a useful aide memoire to ensure that important
information, which will assist later decision making, is not overlooked. It should not
be treated as a check list but, used alongside local agency referral forms, it can serve as
a reminder of:
l issues which may need to be covered in a response to the referrer;
l matters raised by the referrer that should be recorded.
The chart is included in Appendix C.
3.5 Arrangements for managing the reception of initial contacts or referrals vary widely
according to local circumstances. It is important that social services for adults are
aware of their responsibilities to children of adults who have parenting responsibilities
and ensure that an initial assessment takes place to ascertain whether the children are
children in need under s17 of the Children Act 1989 (Department of Health,
3.6 It is important also that each social services department has structures and systems in
place to ensure an effective, accessible and speedy response to children and families.
Some local authorities are developing innovative approaches to referrals and initial
assessment. These include local telephone help lines, help desks, multi-agency
information and advice centres and drop-in services. An example of this is the help
desk service established in a rural county below (Figure 3). When there are such
arrangements, it becomes imperative that reception staff are carefully selected and
l one accessible, responsive point of contact in a district for child and family
l staffed by a team of specially selected and trained unqualified referral and
information co-ordinators, administrative reception staff, qualified social
workers (to undertake assessments of children whose welfare may need
safeguarding and promoting) and a team manager.
l priority to provide a safe short term service at the front end through:
– advice and advocacy eg. welfare benefits
– help eg. by signposting
– referral taking by telephone and personal interview
– initial and core assessments of children in need
– direct access to practical services
Figure 3 Helpdesk for Children’s Services in a Rural County
trained for their tasks. Reception staff will also need the support of qualified practitioners
and managers to ensure that situations of serious or immediate concern about
a child receive prompt and expert professional attention.
3.7 Time, as discussed in Chapter 1, is critical in a child’s life. A timely response to
responding to a child’s needs means that the process of assessment cannot continue
unchecked over a prolonged period without an analysis being made of what is
happening and what action is needed, however difficult or complex the child’s circumstances.
Prior to the publication of the Government's Objectives for children’s social
services (Department of Health, 1999e), no timescales had been set for completing
assessments of children in need, although there had been timescales for action to be
taken to protect children where there were concerns that a child was suffering or likely
to suffer significant harm. This has now been remedied and timescales have been
specified in the objectives for children’s social services.
3.8 There is an expectation that within one working day of a referral being received or
new information coming to or from within a social services department about an open
case, there will be a decision about what response is required. A referral is defined as a
request for services to be provided by the social services department. The response may
include no action, but that is itself a decision and should be made promptly and
recorded. The referrer should be informed of the decision and its rationale, as well as
the parents or caregivers and the child, if appropriate.
3.9 A decision to gather more information constitutes an initial assessment. An initial
assessment is defined as a brief assessment of each child referred to social services with
a request for services to be provided. This should be undertaken within a maximum of
7 working days but could be very brief depending on the child's circumstances. It
should address the dimensions of the Assessment Framework, determining whether
the child is in need, the nature of any services required, from where and within what
timescales, and whether a further, more detailed core assessment should be
undertaken. An initial assessment is deemed to have commenced at the point of
referral to the social services department or when new information on an open case
indicates an initial assessment should be repeated. All staff responding to referrals and
undertaking initial assessments should address the dimensions which constitute the
Assessment Framework. There is more detailed discussion about the contribution of
respective agencies in Chapter 5.
3.10 Depending on the child's circumstances, an initial assessment may include some or all
of the following:
l interviews with child and family members, as appropriate;
l involvement of other agencies in gathering and providing information, as
l consultation with supervisor/manager;
l record of initial analysis;
l decisions on further action/no action;
l record of decisions/rationale with family/agencies;
l informing other agencies of the decisions;
l statement to the family of decisions made and, if a child is in need, the plan for
As part of any initial assessment, the child should be seen. This includes observation
and talking with the child in an age appropriate manner. This is further discussed in
paragraphs 3.41 to 3.43.
3.11 A core assessment is defined as an in-depth assessment which addresses the central or
most important aspects of the needs of a child and the capacity of his or her parents or
caregivers to respond appropriately to these needs within the wider family and
community context. While this assessment is led by social services, it will invariably
involve other agencies or independent professionals, who will either provide
information they hold about the child or parents, contribute specialist knowledge or
advice to social services or undertake specialist assessments. Specific assessments of the
child and/or family members may have already been undertaken prior to referral to
the social services department. The findings from these should inform this assessment.
At the conclusion of this phase of assessment, there should be an analysis of the
findings which will provide an understanding of the child’s circumstances and inform
planning, case objectives and the nature of service provision. The timescale for
completion of the core assessment is a maximum of 35 working days. A core
assessment is deemed to have commenced at the point the initial assessment ended, or
a strategy discussion decided to initiate enquiries under s47, or new information
obtained on an open case indicates a core assessment should be undertaken. Where
specialist assessments have been commissioned by social services from other agencies
or independent professionals, it is recognised that they will not necessarily be
completed within the 35 working day period. Appropriate services should be provided
whilst awaiting the completion of the specialist assessment.
3.12 The Department of Health has published an Initial Assessment Record, which has
been developed for all staff to record salient information about a child’s needs, the
parents’ capacity and the family’s circumstances, to assist in determining the social
services’ response and whether a core assessment should be considered. This record is
consistent with the Core Assessment Record. These have been developed to assist in
assessing the child’s developmental needs in an age appropriate manner for the
following age bands: 0–2 years, 3–4 years, 5–9 years, 10–14 years and 15 and
upwards. These age bands are the same as those used in Looking After Children
Assessment and Action Records (Department of Health, 1995b). The initial and core
assessment recording forms have been designed to assist in the analysis of a child and
family’s circumstances (Department of Health and Cleaver, 2000) and in the
development and reviewing of a plan of action.
3.13 At the conclusion of either an initial or core assessment, the parent(s) and child, if
appropriate, should be informed in writing, and/or in another more appropriate
medium, of the decisions made and be offered the opportunity to record their views,
disagreements and to ask for corrections to recorded information. Agencies and
individuals involved in the assessment should also be informed of the decisions, with
reasons for these made clear. This sharing of information is important to assist
agencies’ own practice in their work with the child and family. Local authorities are
required by section 26 of the Children Act 1989 to establish complaints procedures,
and children and parents should be provided with information about these. Parents
Figure 4 Maximum Timescales for Analysing the Needs of Child and Parenting
Timescale: maximum of seven working days
Referral to SSD
Timescale: maximum of one
Children in need
where there are
Timescale: maximum of 35 working days
Decision to undertake
Section 47 enquiries
Core and specialist
Analysis of needs of child
and parenting capacity
Children in need
Further assessments (if
intervention and review
End of contact with SSD
who have a complaint about a particular agency's services should take it up with the
3.14 The maximum timescales for completing an analysis of the needs of children and the
parenting capacity to respond to those needs are represented in Figure 4. The needs of
some children, in particular those who require emergency intervention, may mean
that the initial assessment stage is brief. It may also be brief where the needs of the child
can be determined in a period of less than seven working days. The same considerations
apply to the minimum and maximum timescales for the core assessment.
S47 and Core Assessment
3.15 At any stage, should there be suspicions or allegations about child maltreatment and
concern that the child may be or is likely to suffer significant harm, there must be
strategy discussions and inter-agency action in accordance with the guidance in
Working Together to Safeguard Children (1999). Assessment of what is happening to a
child in these circumstances is not a separate or different activity but continues the
same process, although the pace and scope of assessment may well have changed (see
paragraphs 5.33 to 5.38 in Working Together to Safeguard Children (1999)). A key part
of the assessment will be to establish whether there is reasonable cause to suspect that
this child is suffering or is likely to suffer significant harm and whether any emergency
action is required to secure the safety of the child.
3.15 The way in which the initial and core assessments have been integrated into the
processes for children who are considered to be, or likely to be suffering significant
harm are set out in Figure 5. This flow chart concerning individual cases is reproduced
from Working Together to Safeguard Children (1999, p.116).
3.16 As indicated in paragraphs 5.39 to 5.41 of Working Together to Safeguard Children
(1999) sometimes it will be appropriate to undertake an investigative interview of a
child who may have been a victim to a crime or a witness, with a view to gathering
evidence for criminal proceedings. These interviews should take account of
information known from any previous assessments. A child should never be
interviewed in the presence of an alleged or suspected perpetrator of abuse, or
somebody who may be colluding with a perpetrator. The guidance (which is currently
being revised) in the Memorandum of Good Practice on video recorded interviews for
child witnesses for criminal proceedings (Home Office and Department of Health,
1992) should be followed for all video-recorded investigative interviews with
3.17 All such interviews with children should be conducted by those with specialist
training and experience in interviewing children. Additional specialist help may be
necessary if the child's first language is not English; the child appears to have a degree
of psychiatric disturbance but is deemed competent; the child has an impairment; or
where interviewers do not have adequate knowledge and understanding of the child's
racial, religious or cultural background. Consideration should also be given to the
gender of interviewers particularly in cases of alleged sexual abuse.
3.18 Following the publication of Speaking Up For Justice (Home Office, 1998), the report
of the Working Group on Vulnerable or Intimidated Witnesses, Part II of the Youth
Children in Need
Child in Need
NFA Charge Outline
Children in Need
Not in Need
Child in Need
Children in Need
Figure 5 Working Together to Safeguard Children
(Individual Cases Flowchart)
Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999 extends the range of measures available to
assist child witnesses.
The Act provides different levels of protection for three groups of child witnesses
according to the nature of assistance each group is considered to need. These are:
l All children in need of special protection – because they are giving evidence in a case
that involves a sexual and/or violent offence – will give video-recorded evidence-inchief
unless this would not be in the interests of justice.
l Children under 17 who are giving evidence in a case involving violence, neglect,
abduction or false imprisonment will be cross-examined via a live link at the trial.
l When facilities are available, children under 17 who are giving evidence in a sexual
offence case will be cross-examined at a video-recorded pre-trial hearing unless the
child informs the court that he would prefer to be cross-examined at trial (on live
link or in court).
There is a presumption that all children who are giving evidence in cases involving
other offences will give evidence-in-chief by means of a video recording, and will be
cross-examined on live link at the trial.
3.19 The Act also provides a range of other measures to assist child witnesses including:
l assistance with communication;
l the use of an intermediary to assist with the questioning;
l screening the witness from the accused in court;
l the removal by judges of their wigs and gowns;
l clearing the public gallery in sexual offence cases.
The majority of these measures will be available to the Crown Court and youth courts
by the end of 2000.
Use of Assessments in Family Proceedings
3.20 It may be appropriate to use evidence gathered during the assessment process for
family proceedings. This may arise where an assessment has been completed before
the commencing of proceedings or because it is necessary to undertake an assessment
during the proceedings. The following paragraphs set out some issues around the
interface between the assessment processes and reporting in writing in family
3.21 The term family proceedings is one that is defined statutorily in section 8 of the
Children Act 1989. It includes all public law applications (care, adoption, emergency
protection, contact) and a large range of private law matters concerning divorce and
separation, including those within applications under section 8 for contact, residence,
specific issue and prohibited steps.
Care Applications and Assessment
3.22 In court proceedings involving the local authority, such as an application for a care or
supervision order, the local authority’s main evidence will be set out by way of one or
more formal statements. These include the relevant history and the facts to support
the threshold criteria (ie. significant harm) for an order under section 31. Information
concerning the welfare checklist (section 1(3)) to which the court must have regard
will also be included in the application.
3.23 Before making any order, the court must also consider the no order principle (section
1(5)). The court will look to the detail of the local authority’s care plan for evidence as
to how the care order, if made, would be implemented. Guidance about the structure
and contents of care plans was issued in 1999 (Care Plans and Care Proceedings under
the Children Act 1989 LAC (99(29)).
3.24 Evidence arising from assessments may be used within the proceedings in one or more
of the following ways by providing evidence:
l in support of the threshold criteria;
l around issues in the welfare checklist;
l about the rationale for the overall aim of the care plan or specific details within it
(such as contact arrangements).
3.25 In family proceedings, documents produced by parties are normally shared among all
parties – typically, the local authority, the parents and the guardian ad litem. It should
be remembered that an assessment undertaken for the purpose of the proceedings will
generate information for the court and this cannot, save exceptionally with the court's
agreement, be withheld in full or in part because aspects may be unfavourable to one
of the parties.
3.26 Assessments may be commissioned before the commencement of court proceedings
or where such proceedings have not been anticipated. Where such an assessment
includes information, opinions and recommendations from professionals not
employed by the local authority (such as specialists in child and adolescent mental
health), those persons should be advised that their contribution may be used in family
3.27 Appendix D sets out a number of practice issues to be considered when using
information gathered during assessment for family proceedings.
Court Sanctioned Assessments
3.28 A range of assessments may be made without legal restriction in respect of a child who
is not the subject of care or related court applications.
3.29 Section 38(6) provides that where the Court makes an interim care order or interim
supervision order it may give such directions (if any) as it considers appropriate with
regard to the medical or psychiatric examination or other assessment of the child. By
subsection (7) a direction may be to the effect that there is to be no such examination
or assessment unless the Court directs otherwise.
3.30 Rule 18 of the Family Proceedings Courts (Children Act 1989) Rules 1991 provides
that no person may without leave of the Justice’s Clerk or the Court cause the child to
be medically or psychiatrically examined, or otherwise assessed, for the purpose of the
preparation of expert evidence for use in the proceedings. (See also paragraphs 3.61 to
3.62 in An Introduction to the Children Act 1989 (1989) which deal with assessments in
the context of care proceedings.) There are corresponding Rules for the County and
High Court. Where care proceedings are underway, the nature and scope of any
specialist assessment to be commissioned should be discussed in advance with legal
advisers. Legal advisers will also help ensure that the implications of relevant case law,
Practice Directions, Human Rights Act 1998, European Court of Human Rights
judgments and other authoritative guidance are brought to the attention of those
preparing assessments and subsequent reports for courts.
3.31 The assessment provides the basis for formal written evidence for use in the
proceedings. However, it may be necessary for the professional(s) undertaking the
assessment to give additional evidence orally. In family proceedings, there is less
emphasis on restrictions such as hearsay and generally the proceedings are considered
to be less adversarial than non-family cases. The key worker should liaise closely with
the local authority legal department in anticipating those issues likely to be raised.
Working with Children and Families
3.32 Gathering information and making sense of a family’s situation are key phases in the
process of assessment. It is not possible to do this without the knowledge and
involvement of the family. It requires direct work with children and with family
members, explaining what is happening, why an assessment is being undertaken, what
will be the process and what is likely to be the outcome. Gaining the family’s cooperation
and commitment to the work is crucially important. Families often have a
number of fears and anxieties about approaching social services departments for help
or about being referred to them by other agencies. Parents are fearful, for instance, that
they will be perceived as failing in some way (Cleaver and Freeman, 1995; Aldgate and
Bradley, 1999). They are also very clear about what they value from the professionals
they meet, even in the most difficult circumstances. In particular, parents ask for clear
explanations, openness and honesty, and to be treated with respect and dignity.
Children’s needs for explanations of what is happening may sometimes be overlooked.
They should be informed clearly and sensitively even when they do not communicate
through speech and where professionals may be unclear how much of what is being
said is understood. They do not want to be kept in the dark or patronised. Studies have
found that ‘children are particularly sensitive to professionals who treat them
personally, with care, and above all respect’ (Jones and Ramchandani, 1999). It is
especially important to help children handle uncertainty while plans are being
3.33 Different ways of providing explanations to families have been developed, some in
written form accompanying the use of local authority records or materials for
gathering information, which are shared with family members. An example of one
such approach developed by a local authority is included above (Figure 6). Other local
authorities have produced leaflets for families or use materials published by specialist
What is an assessment?
l Either you, or someone else on your behalf, has asked the social services
departments for help with some difficulty you are having which affects your
child (or children).
l Before we can help you, we need to know more about you and your family. This
will involve collecting information, talking this through with you and agreeing
what might be done. We call this an assessment.
Why is an assessment being carried out?
l Through making an assessment of your situation, it should be possible to see
what help and support you and your family might need, and who could best give
l Information will be gathered and written down. Although social workers and
other professionals will normally take the lead in completing the assessment, this
should always be done in a way which helps you to have your say, and
encourages you to take part.
l Any information you give to us will be held in confidence within the social
services department. If there is a need to discuss this information with anyone
else, we will normally ask for your permission. The only exception to this is if
information comes to light which, in the social worker's view, may indicate a
serious threat to the welfare of your child. If this is the case, you will be told what
your rights are in this new situation.
What will happen?
l Completing an assessment usually means the social worker will meet with you
and members of your family a number of times.
l When children are old enough to take part in the assessment, the social worker
will encourage and help them to do so.
l The assessment will take into consideration your ethnic and cultural background.
If required, help will be provided in your first language.
l When other people are already helping you and your family, it is likely the social
worker will talk to them too. We shall discuss this with you.
l If you do not agree with what the social worker says in the assessment, there will
be an opportunity for you to record your point of view on the assessment record.
l The purpose of assessment is to draw up a plan of action to address the needs of
your child (or children) and how you might need help to respond to these. You
will be given a copy of the plan.
What will be expected of you?
l We know that almost all parents want to do their best for their children, and
completing the assessment will help the social workers recognise the strengths
you and your family have, as well as your difficulties.
l We can help you best if you tell us about what you do well in your family and
your difficulties. We will keep you informed about what we are doing and
l An assessment is an important part of our working with you. In a very small
number of cases, there are serious concerns about a child’s safety. Making sure
the child is safe will be our first concern. Please ask your social worker to explain
this to you. You have a right to know.
Figure 6 Explaining Assessment to Family Members: An Example Accompanying a
groups such as Family Rights Group, NSPCC or Who Cares? Trust. Key to the use of
written materials is that they must be accompanied by direct communication and
involvement by practitioners with family members and that repeated explanations
may be necessary.
3.34 The issues of working with children and families where there are concerns that a child
is being maltreated are explored in The Challenge of Partnership in Child Protection
(Department of Health, 1995a). That publication provides detailed practice guidance
about how to work with families throughout the process of enquiries being made and
action taken to protect a child. It warns that ‘those under the stress associated with
allegations of child abuse may drift away from a working method which is sensitive to
families’ needs and which encourages their participation in the process’ (p.46).
3.35 There will be situations where family members do not wish to work co-operatively
with statutory agencies. This may be for a variety of reasons; they are too afraid or they
believe they or their child have no problem or they are generally hostile to public
welfare agencies. They may be resistant because of the nature of their own difficulties,
such as psychiatric illness or problems of alcohol and drug misuse, or because of
allegations being made against them. Whatever the reasons for their resistance, the
door to co-operation should be kept open. At the very least, family members should be
informed of what is happening and how they could participate more fully. Ways
should be explored to engage some family members in the assessment process. The
experience of research and practice confirms that, even after initial difficulties, the
prospect of working in partnership with one or more family members may not be lost
for ever, and that to do so will have long term beneficial outcomes for the child and
family. The desirability of working with family members, however, must not override
the importance of ensuring that children are safe.
3.36 Where there is resistance, ‘a determination not to be overwhelmed, distracted or
immobilised by the parents’ initial response is essential’ (Department of Health,
1995a). However, in a small number of instances, resistance to co-operation by a
parent is accompanied by overtly aggressive, abusive or threatening behaviour or by
more subtle underlying menace. Staff may be aware of the threat and in response
either avoid family contact or unwisely place themselves in situations of danger
(Cleaver et al, 1998). It is in these circumstances that access to available, skilled, expert
supervision is essential so that the nature of the threat can be understood, the
implications for the child and other family members identified and strategies found
for maintaining work with the family. These may include co-working with
What can you expect of us?
l We will listen carefully to what you have to say, offer advice and, if necessary,
support to help you bring up your children and resolve your difficulties.
l We know that with a little help most families can sort out their own problems,
and our aim is to help you do that.
l We will try our best to offer you any services you need as soon as possible. But
there are often many more people needing services than there are services to
give. This means that sometimes although everyone is agreed that you need a
service, it might not be available at the time. If this happens we will always look
to find an alternative, but we cannot guarantee to provide a particular service.
experienced staff within or across agencies, changing times and venue for meetings
with the family and other measures. Concerns about such matters should always be
taken seriously and acted upon. It may be necessary to involve the expertise of professionals
from a number of agencies to arrive at an understanding of the risks a particular
individual may pose to the safety of staff, as well as to family members.
3.37 Gathering information requires careful planning. However difficult the circumstances,
the purpose of assessing the particular child and the family should always be
kept in mind and the impact of the process on the child and family considered. It has
to be remembered that:
l the aim is to clarify and identity the needs of the child;
l the process of assessment should be helpful and as unintrusive to the child and
family as possible;
l families do not want to be subjected to repeated assessments by different agencies;
l if, during the assessment, the child’s safety is or becomes a concern, it must be
secured before proceeding with the assessment.
3.38 It is essential, therefore, that the process of assessment should be carefully planned,
whatever the pressure to begin work. ‘Preparation, process and outcome are
inextricably linked’ (Adcock, 2000). This planning should take place in discussion
with the child and family members unless to do so would place the child at increased
risk of significant harm (Working Together to Safeguard Children, 1999, paragraph 5.6).
As part of the preparation, key questions should be considered:
l Who will undertake the assessment and what resources will be needed?
l Who in the family will be included and how will they be involved (remembering
absent or live-out family members, wider family and others significant to the child)?
l In what groupings will the child and family members be seen and in what order?
l Are there communication issues? If so, what are the specific communication needs
and how will they be met?
l What methods of collecting information will be used? Which questionnaires and
scales will be used?
l What information is already available?
l 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 family members consent be gained?
l Where will assessment take place?
l What will be the timescale?
l How will information be recorded?
l How will it be analysed and who will be involved?
3.39 The nature of concerns about a child’s needs will determine how the process is carried
out and the extent of detail collected. The greater the concern, the greater the need for
specificity, for use of specialist knowledge and judgement in the process and,
therefore, the need for careful co-ordination and management of work with the family
and other agencies. The more complex or difficult the child’s situation, the more
important it will be that multiple sources of information are used. These may include:
l Direct work with the child through shared activities, interviews, questionnaires,
scales and play, which are age and culturally appropriate to the child’s age,
development and culture.
l Direct work with the parents through interviews with one or more parental
members; parental discussions; taking parental histories; using scales, questionnaires
and other resources to gain a shared view of parental issues and parental
l Direct work with the family through interviews with the family in appropriate
groupings of family members; taking family histories; using scales, questionnaires
and other resources to gain a shared view of family issues and family functioning.
l Direct work with the child and current caregivers, if the child is not living with
l Observation of the child alone and of the child/parent(s)/caregiver(s) interaction.
Consideration should be given to doing this in the home, in school (both classroom
and play areas) and with friends as well as family members.
l Other sources of knowledge, including those who have known the child over time,
such as the midwife, health visitor, general practitioner, nursery staff or school
teachers, and others who know the family such as staff from voluntary agencies,
housing departments and adult health and social services. Other professionals may
have become involved with the child or other children in the family for a specific
purpose, for example educational psychologists, speech therapists, youth offending
team members. Police and probation may also be important sources of information
where there are concerns about a child or family members’ safety.
l Other information held on files and records and from previous assessments.
These should always be carefully checked as far as possible.
l Specialist assessments from a range of professionals may be commissioned to
provide specific understanding about an aspect of the child’s development, parental
strengths and difficulties or the family’s functioning. The timing of these and their
particular contribution to the analysis of the child’s needs and the plan of
intervention will require careful consideration.
3.40 As a general principle, any records of assessments, plans or reports should be routinely
shared with family members and children as appropriate, in addition to being shared
with relevant professionals. These may require explanation and re-explanation to
family members. Copies of assessments and plans, in their first language, should be
given to family members wherever possible. Care should be taken to ensure that the
meaning and implications of assessments are understood by the child and family
members, as far as is possible.
Communicating with Children
3.41 In responding to a request for help or a referral, the importance of working with family
members has been emphasised. However, if the process of assessment is to be child
centred, an understanding of what is happening to the child cannot only be gained
from information contributed by family members or other professionals who know
the child. Direct work with children is an essential part of assessment, as well as
recognising their rights to be involved and consulted about matters which affect their
lives. This applies to all children, including disabled children. Communicating with
some disabled children requires more preparation, sometimes more time and on
occasions specialist expertise, and consultation with those closest to the child. For
example, for children with communication difficulties it may be necessary to use
alternatives to speech such as signs, symbols, facial expression, eye pointing, objects of
reference or drawing. Communicating with a child with very complex difficulties may
benefit from help of a third party who knows the child well and is familiar with the
child's communication methods (see Chapter 3 in Department of Health, 2000a).
Children whose first language is not English should have the opportunity to speak to
a professional in their first language, wherever possible. It is particularly important at
turning points in their lives that ‘children are enabled to express their wishes and
feelings; make sense of their circumstances and contribute to decisions that affect
them’ (NSPCC et al, 1997).
3.42 It is essential that a child’s safety is addressed, if appropriate, during the course of
undertaking direct work with him or her. There are five critical components in direct
work with children: seeing, observing, talking, doing and engaging:
l Seeing children: an assessment cannot be made without seeing the child, however
young and whatever the circumstances. The more complex or unclear a situation or
the greater the level of concern, the more important it will be to see the child
regularly and to take note of appearance, physical condition, emotional wellbeing,
behaviour and any changes which are occurring.
l Observing children: the child’s responses and interactions in different situations
should be carefully observed wherever possible, alone, with siblings, with parents
and/or caregivers or in school or other settings. Children may hide or suppress their
feelings in situations which are difficult or unsafe for them, so it is important that
general conclusions are not reached from only limited observations.
l Engaging children: this involves developing a relationship with children so that
they can be enabled to express their thoughts, concerns and opinions as part of the
process of helping them make real choices, in a way that is age and developmentally
appropriate. Children should clearly understand the parameters within which they
can exercise choice. In offering children such options, adults must not abdicate
their responsibilities for taking decisions about a child’s welfare.
l Talking to children: although this may seem an obvious part of communicating
with children, it is clear from research that this is often not done at all or not done
well. It requires time, skill, confidence and careful preparation by practitioners.
Issues of geographical distance, culture, language or communication needs because
of impairments may require specific consideration before deciding how best to
communicate with the child. Children themselves are particularly sensitive to how
and when professionals talk to them and consult them. Their views must be sought
before key meetings. Again, a range of opportunities for talking to children may be
needed, appropriate to the child’s circumstances, age and stage of development,
which may include talking to the child on their own, in a family meeting or
accompanied by or with the assistance of a trusted person.
l Activities with children: undertaking activities with children can have a number of
purposes and beneficial effects. It is important that they are activities which the
child understands and enjoys, in which trust with the worker can develop and
which give the child an experience of safety. They can allow positive interaction
between the worker and the child to grow and enable the professional to gain a
better understanding of the child’s responses and needs.
3.43 Children have been asked what they consider to be good professional practice. They
value social workers who:
3.44 The exercise of professional judgement will be important in deciding when and how
to communicate with children during the assessment process and how to interpret
their communication in the context of the circumstances. Consideration should be
given as to how children are informed and involved at each stage of the process, so that
they have the opportunity to agree what the key issues are, what they would like to
happen and to discuss what is possible and not possible. ‘Children need to trust that
they will be understood as individuals in their own right; usually they will want
reassurance about what their parent/carer will be told about what they say’ (Brandon,
3.45 Consideration of when and how to involve specific professionals with expertise and
experience in assessing children’s development will also be important throughout the
assessment process. Professionals in a variety of child welfare agencies may be able to
assist social services staff through discussion or advice based on their understanding
and interpretation of information and views gathered from children. There may,
however, be aspects of children’s development and behaviour which require specialist
assessment, either by joint work or referral to specific agencies. For example, assessing
the strength of a child’s attachment to a parent in circumstances of maltreatment or
the educational potential of a school leaver who is living rough on the streets and
seeking help. Children will require careful and straightforward explanations about
why new professionals are being involved.
l Listen – carefully and without trivialising or being dismissive of the issues raised;
l are available and accessible – regular and predictable contact;
l are non-judgemental and non-directive – accepting, explaining and suggesting
options and choices;
l have a sense of humour – it helps to build a rapport;
l are straight-talking – with realism and reliability; no ‘false promises’;
l can be trusted – maintain confidentiality and consult with children before taking
Butler and Williamson (1994) reproduced from Turning Points: A Resource Pack for
Communicating with Children. Introduction. pp. 1–2. (1997)
Consent and Confidentiality
3.46 When a family approaches social services for help or is referred, the family is generally
the first and most important source of information about the child and the family’s
circumstances. However, in establishing whether this is a child in need and how best
those needs may be met, it is likely to be important to gather information from a
number of professionals who have contact with and knowledge of the child and
3.47 Personal information about children and families held by professionals and agencies 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: that
is, the public interest in child protection may override the public interest in
maintaining confidentiality. Disclosure should be justifiable in each case, according to
the particular facts of the case, and legal advice should be sought in cases of doubt.
3.48 Children are entitled to the same duty of confidence as adults, provided that, in the
case of those under 16 years of age, they have the ability to understand the choices and
their consequences relating to any treatment. In exceptional circumstances, it may be
believed that a child seeking advice, for example on sexual matters, is being exploited
or abused. In such cases, confidentiality may be breached, following discussion with
3.49 All agencies working with children and families should make their policies about
sharing personal information available to users of their services and other agencies.
This includes ensuring that such information is accessible and appropriate to children
and families. Individual professionals should always make sure their agency’s policies
are known to the family with whom they are working. There will be variations in
policy between agencies in accordance with their roles and responsibilities. Personal
information about a child and family should always be respected but, in order to
achieve good outcomes for the child, it may be appropriate to share it between professionals
and teams within the same agency. Sensitive and careful judgements are
required in the child's best interests.
3.50 In obtaining consent to seek information from other parties or to disclose information
about the child or other individuals under the Data Protection Act 1998 it is
important that explanations include:
l clarity about the purpose of approaching other individuals or agencies;
l reasons for disclosure of any information, for example about the referral or details
about the child or family members;
l details of the individuals or agencies being contacted;
l what information will be sought or shared;
l why the information is important;
l what it is hoped to achieve.
3.51 The Data Protection Act 1998 allows for disclosure without the consent of the subject
in certain conditions, including for the purposes of the prevention or detection of
crime, or the apprehension or prosecution of offenders, and where failure to disclose
would be likely to prejudice those objectives in a particular case.
3.52 Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights states that:
(1) Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his
(2) There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right
except such as in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society
in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic wellbeing of the
country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or
morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.
3.53 Disclosure of information without consent might give rise to an issue under Article 8.
Disclosure of information to safeguard children will usually be for the protection of
health or morals, for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others, and for the
prevention of disorder or crime. Disclosure should be appropriate for the purpose and
only to the extent necessary to achieve that purpose.
3.54 Obtaining consent and respecting confidentiality may not always be straightforward,
particularly in situations of family conflict or dispute, or where a number of parental
figures including absent parents are involved or where there are allegations of abuse
about which enquiries are being made. The consent of any one parent acting alone,
rather than all those with parental responsibility, is required to disclose information
about a child (section 2(7) of the Children Act 1989).
3.55 Where there are concerns that a child may be suffering or is likely to suffer significant
harm, it is essential that professionals and other people share information for it is often
‘only when information from a number of sources has been shared and is then put
together that it becomes clear that a child is at risk of or is suffering harm’ (Working
Together to Safeguard Children, 1999, paragraph 7.27). Unless to do so would place the
child or children at increased risk of significant harm the nature of the child protection
concerns should be explained to family members and to children, where appropriate,
and their consent to contact other agencies sought. This requires careful explanation
in plain language. It may be helpful to have written as well as verbal explanations (an
example of this is the statement for family members on pages 39 and 40). For some
families under stress or coping in difficult circumstances, explanations may need to be
repeated several times. In all cases where the police are involved the decision about
when to inform the parents will have a bearing on the conduct of police investigations
and should inform part of the strategy discussion.
3.56 In any potential conflict between the responsibilities of professionals towards children
and towards other family members, the needs of the child must come first. Where
there are concerns that a child is or may be at risk of suffering significant harm, the
overriding principle must be to safeguard the child. In such cases, when it is
considered that a child may be in danger or that a crime is being or has been
committed, the duty of confidence can be overridden. However, it will be important
that the respective duties and powers of different agencies are clearly understood by all
3.57 These matters are fully discussed in paragraphs 7.27 to 7.46 of Working Together to
Safeguard Children (1999) in the context of the legal framework and professional
guidelines for different agencies. In this publication, Appendix E reproduces an
abridged version of the Data Protection Registrar’s checklist for setting up
information sharing arrangements.
Assessment of Children in Special Circumstances
3.58 Some of the children referred for help because of the nature of their problems or
circumstances, will require particular care and attention during assessment. These are
children who may become lost to the statutory agencies, whose wellbeing or need for
immediate services may be overlooked and for whom subsequent planning and
intervention may be less than satisfactory. This may be for a number of reasons
including the following:
l They are children in transition. For example, their families may be moving from
one geographical location to another; they may be moving schools, leaving school
or leaving care, or moving into young adulthood and into the remit of adult rather
than children’s services. They may be disabled young people and their families,
moving from child to adult services (Morris, 1999). They may be part of a travelling
community or in families based periodically overseas, such as the armed forces.
l They are children in hospital for long periods of time. Under section 85 of the
Children Act 1989 the social services department has a duty to assess the welfare of
a child in hospital for longer than three months consecutively. This assessment is to
ascertain whether the child's welfare is being adequately safeguarded and promoted
and whether the child and their family require services.
l They (or their parents) have specific communication needs, for example they do
not use English as a first language, or they do not communicate through speech.
l They (or their families, including siblings) have a long history of contact with
social services and other child welfare agencies. Their circumstances may be
chaotic; files numerous; many staff may have been involved; they may not currently
have an allocated worker. Any of these circumstances may result in the need for
assessment or reassessment at this point in time not being recognised.
l They are children whose problems or those of their parents are not sufficiently
serious to receive services under social services priorities. These children’s health or
development may not be considered to be being impaired, but an analysis of the risk
factors and stressors in their lives would suggest they are likely to suffer impairment
in the future. What is required is recognition of the interaction of child and/or
parental problems on a child’s health and development and the cumulative effect of
such problems over time. For example, a mother with a mild learning disability may
not reach the criteria for help from an adult services team and her child’s standard of
care may not be sufficiently poor to meet the criteria for children’s services
intervention. However, the failure to recognise the need for early intervention to
provide support to the child and family on a planned basis from both children’s and
adult’s services may result in the child’s current and future development being
l They are children and young people involved in the use of drugs where the level
and nature of their drug use is unknown to their parents and/or any professionals to
whom they are known, for example, teachers, although their general health or
behaviour may be a cause for concern. These children may be fearful of asking for
help from statutory agencies and may be more receptive to approaches from
voluntary agencies or specialist drug services.
l They are young people about whom there are concerns that they are becoming or
might be involved in prostitution. Draft government Guidance on Children
Involved in Prostitution, issued for consultation in December 1998, sets out an
inter-agency approach to helping this group of young people. The emphasis is on
both preventing these vulnerable children from becoming involved in prostitution
and safeguarding and promoting the welfare of those who are being abused through
prostitution. These situations may require careful assessment of the young person’s
needs and consideration of how best to help him or her.
l They are children separated from their country of origin who are without the care
and protection of their parents or legal guardian, often referred to as unaccompanied
asylum seeking children. Their status, age and circumstances may all be
uncertain, in addition to their having experienced or witnessed traumatic events,
and they may be suffering the most extreme forms of loss. The situations in which
they are accommodated, albeit on a temporary basis, may be less than adequate, for
example, where an 18 year old Eritrean young woman is caring for her 10 year old
brother in bed and breakfast accommodation for homeless people. There is a
helpful Statement of Good Practice (Separated Children in Europe Programme,
1999) which provides a straightforward account of the policies and practice
required to act to protect the rights of such children.
l They are children of asylum seeking families who may have extensive unmet needs
while the focus of activity is on resolving the adults’ asylum applications, accommodation
or other pressing issues.
l They have a parent in prison. It is estimated that 125,000 children have a parent in
prison at any one time (Ramsden, 1998). In 1997, approximately 8,000 women
were received into the prison system (either untried and/or following custodial
sentences). A survey by the Home Office (Caddle and Crisp, 1997) suggests that
over 60% have children under the age of 18 and over half the women have had their
first or only child as teenagers. At the very least, children in these circumstances
experience disruptions in their care, but for some the consequences are much more
severe and long lasting. Furthermore, social services departments may be asked by
the Prison Service to contribute to assessments when there are children involved
(See paragraph 5.82).
3.59 There are common features which apply to the assessment of children in all these and
other similar situations:
l they require a high degree of co-operation and co-ordination between staff in
different agencies, in planning or preparing for assessments, in undertaking and
l extra care must be taken to ensure that there is an holistic view of the child and that
the child does not become lost between the agencies involved and their different
systems and procedures;
l as most children are registered with a GP, this route could be used for locating lost
children and obtaining information about their past histories;
l particular attention should be given to health and education assessments of these
children. The older the child, the more these may be overlooked or found difficult
l consideration must be given to the means by which information will be analysed
and action planned, how the outcome of assessment is communicated and to
l responsibility for action and providing services must be clearly identified and
recorded, with specific timescales;
l overall responsibility for ensuring the welfare of the child in need must be clearly
3.60 It is significant that, where adolescents are the subject of assessment, studies emphasise
the importance of staff finding time to engage in direct work with young people and
getting to know them well, although it may be difficult sometimes ‘to get below the
surface’ (Sinclair et al, 1995). Sadly, such studies reveal that all too often assessments
with older children fail to be completed, especially where specialist professional
assessments are required. Even greater efforts are necessary to co-ordinate and achieve
co-operation from all parties in these situations.
Assessing the Needs of Young Carers
3.61 A group of children whose needs are increasingly more clearly recognised are young
carers for example those who assume important caring responsibilities for parents and
siblings. Some children care for parents who are disabled, physically or mentally ill,
others for parents dependent on alcohol or involved in drug misuse. For further
information and guidance refer to the Carers (Recognition and Services) Act 1995:
Policy Guidance and Practice Guide (Department of Health, 1996a) and Young Carers:
Making a Start (Department of Health, 1998a).
3.62 An assessment of family circumstances is essential. Young carers should not be
expected to carry inappropriate levels of caring which have an adverse impact on their
development and life chances. It should not be assumed that children should take on
similar levels of caring responsibilities as adults. Services should be provided to parents
to enhance their ability to fulfil their parenting responsibilities. There may be
differences of view between children and parents about appropriate levels of care. Such
differences may be out in the open or concealed. The resolution of such tensions will
require good quality joint work between adult and children’s social services as well as
co-operation from schools and health care workers. This work should include direct
work with the young carer to understand his or her perspective and opinions. The
young person who is a primary carer of his or her parent or sibling may have a good
understanding of the family's functioning and needs which should be incorporated
into the assessment.
3.63 Young carers can receive help from both local and health authorities. Where a child is
providing a substantial amount of care on a regular basis for a parent, the child will be
entitled to an assessment of their ability to care under section 1(1) of the Carers
(Recognition and Services) Act 1995 and the local authority must take that assessment
into account in deciding what community care services to provide for the parent.
Many young carers are not aware that they can ask for such an assessment. In addition,
consideration must be given as to whether a young carer is a child in need under the
Children Act 1989. The central issue is whether a child’s welfare or development
might suffer if support is not provided to the child or family. As part of the National
Strategy for Carers (1999a), local authorities should take steps to identify children with
additional family burdens. Services should be provided to promote the health and
development of young carers while not undermining the parent.
The Assessment Framework and Children Looked After
3.64 The Assessment Framework has been designed to assess children’s needs across the
same developmental dimensions as the Looking After Children materials (Parker
(eds), 1991; Department of Health, 1995b). This will enable the Looking After
Children system to be revised during 1999–2001 in a way which will result in an
integrated model for assessing and providing services to the wider group of children in
need and their families than looked after children. Most children who come into
contact with social services departments do not enter the care system. However,
should a child need to be looked after, congruence in the system will ensure that good
quality baseline information is available about the child’s developmental and wider
needs at the point of entry to the looked after system. This will support improved
assessment of the child’s needs which will enable better placement matching in foster
and residential care. The parenting capacity domain within the Assessment
Framework can also be used with foster carers in assessing suitability for a particular
child. It will also inform the provision of services to children and birth and foster
families during the care episode. When children return home, or are placed with a
permanent substitute family, using the same Assessment Framework will ensure
continuity of planning to secure the best outcomes for the child.
3.65 The parenting capacity dimensions in the Assessment Framework will be particularly
useful for evaluating improvements in parenting capacities as part of any decision
making processes and, where appropriate, a reunification programme. This
information will also be important in planning and managing contact. Once baseline
information on parenting capacity has been collected during the core assessment, it
will be possible to identify key areas for change and target social work and other
resources more effectively whilst the child is looked after and reunification plans are
being implemented. It should also enable social workers to decide when family
reunification will not be possible and an alternative placement is required.
Children Being Placed for Adoption
3.66 In circumstances where there are children for whom adoption is planned, the
Assessment Framework may be used as part of the assessment of the capacities of
potential adopters, matching children with approved adopters, and planning what
kinds of services a child and adopting parents might benefit from post placement and
post adoption. These services might include help to understand any specific needs the
child has and how best to respond to them. Some needs may require time limited
interventions whereas others may exist on a continuing basis. The medical adviser to
the social services department has a critical role to play in offering advice and
information from the point at which a child is being considered for adoption and
throughout the adoption process. A holistic approach to the consideration of what are
likely to be complex needs of the child requires good inter-disciplinary co-operation
Children Leaving Care
3.67 Where children leave care and live independently of their families, family links often
remain very important. Research has pointed to the considerable potential of working
in partnership with the child and their family during this transition period (Marsh and
3.68 The Children (Leaving Care) Bill which has been introduced in the 1999/2000
Parliamentary Session will, subject to Royal Assent, provide for every looked after
child to have a personal adviser and a pathway plan by their sixteenth birthday. The
pathway plan will be informed by an assessment of need based on the Assessment
Framework and will, in effect, extend existing assessment and planning requirements
to cover the child’s transition to adulthood. The plan will be subject to regular review
irrespective of whether the child remains looked after or has left care and the Bill
provides for the continuation of the plan and contact by the personal adviser until the
young person reaches the age of 21 and, where supported in higher education and
training, up to the age of 24.
4 Analysis, Judgement and Decision Making
Treatment itself is intimately bound up with assessment, relying on it as a house
relies on its foundation. Consequently, assessment continues throughout the
treatment process, despite a change in focus during its course (Jones, 1997).
4.1 The Guidance has emphasised that assessment is not an end in itself but a process
which will lead to an improvement in the wellbeing or outcomes for a child or young
person. The conclusion of an assessment should result in:
l an analysis of the needs of the child and the parenting capacity to respond
appropriately to those needs within their family context;
l identification of whether and, if so, where intervention will be required to secure
the wellbeing of the child or young person;
l a realistic plan of action (including services to be provided), detailing who has
responsibility for action, a timetable and a process for review.
4.2 Generally, all these phases of the assessment process should be undertaken in
partnership with the child and key family members, and with their agreement. This
includes finalising the plan of action. There may be exceptions when there are
concerns that a child is suffering or may be suffering significant harm.
4.3 In many approaches or referrals to social services departments, families are clear about
their problems but may not be sure where to turn or how to obtain services. With
advice and information, they are able to take appropriate action. This action may be
all that is required by a social services department. Where there is a question about
whether a child is in need and therefore services are necessary an assessment is
required. For some families, the process of assessment is in itself a therapeutic
intervention. Being able to look at problems in a constructive manner with a professional
who is willing to listen and who helps family members to reflect on what is
happening, is enough to help them find solutions. During the assessment process, it
may emerge that families will best be helped by agencies other than social services.
Armed with this information, families may wish to seek solutions themselves; others
may wish to have help in gaining access to other agencies or practical services.
4.4 A significant proportion of families who seek help from social services are unable to
resolve stresses or problems solely from within their own emotional or practical
resources or from their own support network. It is for these families that assessment
may be important in order to identify the nature of their children’s needs and,
simultaneously, may be the first stage in a longer process of positive intervention.
Ultimately, careful judgements must be made about balancing the needs of children
4.5 In most situations, meeting children’s needs will almost always involve responding
also to the needs of family members. The two are closely connected and it is rarely
possible to promote the welfare of children without promoting the welfare of
significant adults in their lives. In some cases, meeting the children’s needs may mean
giving others either parenting responsibility or legal parental responsibility for the
child, either for short periods or on a longer term basis. Where consideration is being
given to meeting parents’ needs, as part of the plan of intervention, this must be
because it is in the best interests of the child and will assist in securing better outcomes
for the child. Parents may also require help in their own right as adults who have
4.6 In Chapter 3 it was emphasised that gathering information is a crucial phase in the
assessment process, which requires careful planning about how best to undertake it.
Information may be gathered from a variety of sources, using methods which will be
determined by the purpose of the assessment and the particular circumstances of each
child and family (see paragraph 3.38). Some of the information may have been
gathered through the use of questionnaires and scales, such as those published in the
accompanying materials (Department of Health, Cox and Bentovim, 2000). The
Home Inventory (Caldwell and Bradley, 1984) and the Assessment of Family
Competence, Strengths and Difficulties (Bentovim and Bingley Miller, forthcoming),
due for publication later in 2000 will also provide important information
about the child’s world and family functioning respectively.
4.7 The information should be organised according to the dimensions of the Assessment
Framework as a necessary beginning to the next phase of analysis. Information should
be summarised under each of the three domains ie. children’s developmental needs,
parents’ or caregivers’ capacities to respond, and wider family and environmental
factors. The Department of Health has developed assessment recording forms to assist
practitioners and their managers in this phase of work (Department of Health and
4.8 In organising the information, there may be different perspectives to be explored,
recorded and taken into account, for example, the child may have a different
understanding and interpretation of what is happening from that of either parent or of
a professional. These differences are important when developing an understanding of
the child’s needs within the family context. Different family members may attach
different meanings to the same information, for example, the significance of past
family history or events. The same information may vary in its salience for different
family members, for example, the impact of a bereavement in a family. Sometimes
these differences in perception can lead to conflicts in the family or between family
members and professionals. In reaching a shared understanding of what is happening
in a family, it is important to keep the focus on the needs of the child. This enables
family members and professionals to agree a plan of action, even in the context of
some differences or tensions, that will address the identified needs of the child with the
aim of improving outcomes for the child.
4.9 By this point, there should be clear summaries which identify from the information
gathered the child’s developmental needs, parenting capacity and family and environmental
factors. In each of these domains, both strengths and difficulties should be
identified. Children’s needs do not exist in a vacuum (Jones, 2000) and, therefore, the
inter-relationships between the child, family and environment must be understood.
Some factors will work positively to support children’s growing up while others will
militate against or undermine their healthy development. In weighing up the impact
that various factors have on a child, it has to be borne in mind that not all factors will
have equal significance and the cumulative effect of some relatively minor factors may
be considerable. Thus the analysis of a child’s needs is a complex activity drawing on
knowledge from research and practice combined with an understanding of the child’s
needs within his or her family.
4.10 The elements of parenting capacity can be described, and minimum parenting
standards or requirements assessed by the practitioner and related to their child.
However, it is not possible to ascribe numerical values to each element because
parenting capabilities and behaviours are complex and subject to influences from
within and outside the family (Jones, 2000). Parenting capacity can only be
understood within the overall context in which children are being brought up. The
analysis should identify the family and environmental factors which have an impact
on the different aspects of the child’s development and on the parent(s) capacity in
order to explore the relationship between the three domains (Department of Health
and Cleaver, 2000). At some points in time judgements may be made (based on the
analysis of their parental functioning) that the parent is unable to respond to their
4.11 To summarise the analysis stage:
l A child’s needs must be based on knowledge of what would be expected of this
l Parenting capacity should draw on knowledge about what would be reasonable to
expect of parental care given to a similar child;
l Family and environmental factors should draw on knowledge about the impact
these will have on both parenting capacity and directly on a child’s development.
4.12 Professionals will be drawing on their respective knowledge bases to inform the
judgements they come to about a child’s circumstances, whether the child is in need
and whether their health and development is likely to be impaired without the
provision of services. For some children, decisions will also have been made about
whether they are suffering or are likely to suffer significant harm. The knowledge base
will include information about the factors which are intrinsic to all children such as
temperament, genetic make-up and race, and other factors which may be intrinsic to
some children, such as physical or sensory impairments.
4.13 Critical to an understanding of what is happening to a child is the knowledge of the
way in which children need to achieve certain tasks at particular ages and stages of
development. Bentovim (1998) summarises current views on child development
which ‘emphasise that what matters for development is that the various systems –
biological and psychological – should be well integrated. Development is about
progression, change and re-organisation throughout life’ (p.66). This normal pattern
of development may not be achieved for some children either because of unavoidable
factors such as impairments or because they are suffering significant harm (Bentovim,
4.14 There is a considerable literature to assist professionals when making a judgement
about a parent’s capacity and assessing what is a reasonable standard of care (Jones,
2000; Cleaver et al, 1999) ‘even though research cannot provide the kind of
numerical accuracy which is often sought’ (Jones, 2000).
4.15 Critical at this phase will be judgements about a number of key issues (Jones, 1998):
l determining what has been happening and whether this is a child in need or is
suffering significant harm;
l understanding the child and family context sufficiently to be able to secure the
child’s wellbeing or safety;
l assessing the likelihood of change;
l reviewing whether such change is being achieved.
4.16 It is important to identify strengths in the child’s family system and to use these areas
as the basis on which the child’s development can be promoted. The more complex
the family’s problems, the more these will involve sophisticated inter-disciplinary and
inter-agency co-operation in order to reach judgements about these issues. Stevenson
(1998) provides a cautionary note in such circumstances. ‘The families themselves
may seem overwhelmed to the point of powerlessness, so the workers may experience
similar feelings’ (p.18). The reflective process for professionals working with children
and families may be stressful, particularly in difficult circumstances. Some children’s
lives are such that profound, sensitive judgements may be required. This could
include judgements about medical treatment in life threatening situations;
judgements about whether to separate a child from his or her parents or caregivers;
judgements about whether to place children with permanent substitute families.
However, careful and systematic gathering of information, and its summary and
analysis according to the framework can assist professionals in making sound
evidence based judgements. The practice guidance has been developed to assist this
process (Department of Health, 2000a).
4.17 Sometimes, where there are multi-faceted problems, assessments can become stuck
and little progress made. Reder and Duncan (1999) talk about the danger of
assessment paralysis which they describe as ‘an impasse in the professional network
where the issue of whether the parent has a psychiatric diagnosis becomes the context
for deciding about all interventions’. Assessment paralysis can apply in other
situations, where the focus of attention becomes stuck on a particular diagnostic issue
and decision making is driven by this consideration rather than the child’s needs. It
requires vigilance and careful management by those staff who hold responsibility for
the child’s welfare to ensure that progress continues to be made to help the child.
Use of Consultation
4.18 Social services departments have lead responsibility for undertaking assessments of
children in need. In order to arrive at well balanced judgements about the needs of
children, practitioners and their managers may benefit from the expertise and
experience of professionals in other disciplines. These professionals can act as
consultants or advisers to assist and contribute to the assessment processes, which
includes analysis of information gathered. This type of input may be as useful to the
assessment as the commissioning of specialist assessments.
4.19 In some situations, where the available evidence requires careful analysis by those with
particular expertise, sufficient information about a child and the family may already
be available. Therefore, the specialist task is to assist in the analysis of available
material, drawing on knowledge in particular areas about likely outcomes of certain
courses of action. This expert knowledge can assist the practitioner and his or her
manager when constructing a plan and deciding how to implement it.
4.20 In drawing up a plan of intervention, careful distinction should to be made between
judgements about the child’s developmental needs and parenting capacity and
decisions about how best to address these at different points in time. These decisions
will have to take account of a number of factors including:
l how existing good relationships and experiences can be nurtured and enhanced;
l what type of interventions are known to have the best outcomes for the particular
circumstances of the child who has been assessed as in need;
l what the child and family can cope with at each stage. Complicated arrangements
regarding the provision of services and interventions might well overwhelm the
child or individual family members;
l how the necessary resources can be mobilised within the family’s network and
within professional agencies, including social services;
l what alternative interventions are available if the resources of choice cannot be
l ensuring interventions achieve early success and have a beneficial impact. The selfesteem
of children and parents is critical to the outcome of longer term
intervention. Good experiences are important when many other aspects of family
life may be in chaos or problems feel insurmountable;
l there may be an optimal hierarchy of interventions which will require distinguishing
between what is achievable in the short term, what will have maximum
impact on the child and family’s wellbeing and what are the long term goals;
l identifying what the child regards as highest priority, for example, learning to ride a
bicycle may be far higher on a child’s list of wants than therapy, and such practical
wishes should be taken account of because they may result in changes which will
enable the child to make use of therapeutic help.
l It will be essential to achieve some parts of a proposed intervention within a
predetermined timescale, in order to meet the child’s needs. Other components of a
plan will be less pressing and although desirable to achieve, not considered
necessary for the prevention of future significant harm.
4.21 Underlying these critical considerations is the importance of keeping the child at the
centre of the planning processes. Three key aspects of a child’s health and development
must inform the content and timing of the plan:
l ensuring the child’s safety;
l remembering that a child cannot wait indefinitely;
l maintaining a child’s learning.
4.22 The development of secure parent-child attachments is critical to a child’s healthy
development. The quality and nature of the attachment will be a key issue to be
considered in decision making, especially if decisions are being made about moving a
child from one setting to another, or re-uniting a child with his or her birth family.
(For further discussion of attachment see Crittenden and Ainsworth, 1989; Schofield,
1998; Howe, 2000).
4.23 In complex situations, it may be helpful for those involved in the assessment process to
meet to discuss the findings and formulate the plan. This should involve the parents
and, as appropriate, the child. Family Group Conferences or multi-disciplinary
meetings may provide for the construction of plans for children in need. Working
Together to Safeguard Children (1999) sets out the processes to be followed for children
about whom there are concerns that they are suffering or likely to suffer significant
harm. The role of the key worker appointed when a child’s name has been placed on a
child protection register, the role of the group of professionals responsible for
developing and implementing the child protection plan and the aims, content and
processes for constructing such a plan are set out in paragraphs 5.75 to 5.84 of Working
Together to Safeguard Children (1999).
4.24 For some families, the findings from the core assessment will indicate that the parents
are responding appropriately to their child’s needs, but in order to maximise the child’s
health and developmental outcomes, specific services are required to assist the parents
and/or the child. In the absence of particular stress factors, such as those resulting from
having a chronically ill child, the parents would be able to bring up their children
without external help. However, the presence of these stressors require parents and
families to develop new ways of functioning, as well as to accept support from outside
their family and friendship networks. In these families, siblings may be affected
significantly and services should address their needs.
4.25 It has to be recognised that in families where a child has been maltreated there are some
parents who will not be able to change sufficiently within the child’s timescales in
order to ensure their children do not continue to suffer significant harm (Jones, 1998).
In these situations, decisions may need to be made to separate permanently the child
and parent or parents. In these circumstances decisions about the nature and form of
any contact will also need to be made, in the light of all that is known about the child
and the family, and reviewed throughout childhood. Key in these considerations is
what is in the child’s best interests, informed by the child’s views (Cleaver, 2000).
4.26 The following criteria have been identified as suggesting a poor outcome for reuniting
children who have been maltreated with their parents (Bentovim et al, 1987; Silvester
et al, 1995):
l the abusing parent completely or significantly denies any responsibility for the
child’s developmental state or abuse;
l the child is rejected or blamed outright;
l the child’s needs are not recognised by their parents who put their own needs first;
l parents have frequently failed to show concern, or acknowledge, long-standing
difficulties such as alcoholism or psychiatric problems;
l during therapeutic interventions, the relationships within the family and with
professionals remain at breaking point.
4.27 However, most parents are capable of change, and following appropriate
interventions, able to provide a safe family context for their child. At times, children
may need to be separated temporarily from their parent or parents. This enables
change to take place while the child is living away from home in a safe environment.
During this time, it will be important to address the changes required in the parent(s)
as well as meeting any therapeutic needs of the child and other family members by
active programmes of intervention, appropriate deployment of resources and careful
review of progress. If a child is separated from their parent(s), it is essential that parents
are able to sustain any improvements made whilst the child is living away from home,
when the child returns to live with them. Careful thought should be given to the
nature of services required by the parents and child during this transition phase, to
ensure that earlier achievements are able to be maintained and continue to be
improved upon. For some families continued intervention may be necessary for a
considerable length of time until the child is no longer vulnerable.
4.28 Jones (1998, p.108) summarising relevant child maltreatment research findings
reports the following features as having been identified in those cases where there are
better prospects of achieving good outcomes for children:
l Those infants and children who despite abuse do not have residual disability,
developmental delay or special educational needs;
l Those children subjected to less severe abuse or neglect;
l Children who have had the benefit of non-abusive or corrective relationships with
peers, siblings and/or a supportive adult;
l Children who have developed more healthy and appropriate attributions about the
maltreatment which they had suffered;
l Children and families who are able and willing to co-operate with helping agencies;
l Children and families who have been able to engage in therapeutic work;
l Situations where successful partnerships between professionals and family
members have occurred;
l Children and families where the psychological abuse component of the
maltreatment experience has been amenable to change.
4.29 When an analysis of a child’s needs and parenting capacity within their family context
is completed, there is then a baseline from which further assessment and reassessment,
using the Assessment Framework, can be undertaken to review progress as
services are provided.
4.30 In a number of family situations where there is concern about a child’s safety and
future wellbeing whilst living in his or her family, the findings from a core assessment
may provide an uncertain picture of the family’s capacity to change. These families are
characterised by one or more of the following (Bentovim et al, 1987; Silvester et al,
l uncertainty as to whether the parents are taking full responsibility for either the
abuse or the child’s developmental state;
l whereas the child’s needs may sometimes be viewed as primary, the parents put their
own needs as dominant;
l the child may be scape-goated and parent-child attachments are ambivalent or
l family patterns are rigid rather than healthily flexible;
l relationships with professionals are ambivalent.
4.31 These families often cause professionals considerable concern. It is important that
services are provided to give the family the best chance of achieving the required
changes. It is equally important that in circumstances where the family situation is not
improving or changing fast enough to respond to the child’s needs, decisions are made
about the longterm future of the child. Delay or drift can result in the child not
receiving the help she or he requires and having their health and development
Plans for Children in Need
4.32 The details of the plan are bench marks against which the progress of the family and
the commitment of workers are measured, and therefore it is important that they
should be realistic and not vague statements of good intent (Department of Health,
4.33 The analysis, judgement and decisions made will form the basis of a plan of work with
a child in need and his or her family. The complexity or severity of the child’s needs will
determine the scope and detail of the plan. The different circumstances under which
the assessment has been carried out will also determine the form in which it is recorded
and the status of the plan:
l Children in Need Plan at the conclusion of a core assessment, which will involve
the child and family members as appropriate and the contributions of all agencies.
A format for the plan is contained in assessment records (Department of Health and
l Child Protection Plan as a decision of an inter-agency child protection conference,
following enquiries and assessment under s47. The expectations of a child
protection plan are outlined in paragraphs 5.81 to 5.84 of Working Together to
Safeguard Children (1999).
l Care Plan for a Child Looked After as a result of an assessment that a child will need
to be looked after by the local authority either in the short term or long term and
placed in foster or residential care. The requirements for a care plan in these circumstances
are laid out in Volume 3 of the Children Act 1989, Guidance and
Regulations (paragraphs 2.59 to 2.62). A format for the care plan is an integral part
of the Department of Health’s Looking After Children materials (Department of
l Care Plans for a child who is the subject of a care or supervision order or for whom
the plan is adoption (see paragraphs 3.22 to 3.24).
l Pathway Plan for a young person who is in care or leaving care as outlined in the
Government’s intentions for young people living in and leaving care (Department
of Health, 1999f; Children (Leaving Care) Bill, 1999).
4.34 There are some general principles about plans for working with children and families,
whatever the circumstances in which they have been drawn up. First that, wherever
possible, they should be drawn up in agreement with the child/young person and key
family members and their commitment to the plan should have been secured. There
are two caveats which the professionals responsible for the plan need to bear in mind:
l objectives should be reasonable and timescales not too short or unachievable;
l plans should not be dependent on resources which are known to be scarce or
Failure to address these issues can be damaging to families and jeopardise the overall
aim of securing the child’s wellbeing. Second, the plan must maintain a focus on the
child, even though help may be provided to a number of family members as part of the
plan. As Jones et al (1987) write ‘It is never acceptable to sacrifice the interests of the
child for the therapeutic benefit of the parents’.
4.35 Department of Health practice guidance (1995a) recommended that professional
workers and relevant family members should be clear about the following aspects of
the plan which have general application (an abridged list is in Figure 7). With clarity
about these matters, it is possible for both professionals and the family to take issue
with the other when their expectations are not met or when perceptions and objectives
begin to differ.
4.36 Fundamental to the plan, from the beginning, is the commitment of all the parties
involved and the signatures to the plan of those who have lead responsibility for
ensuring it is carried forward (in social services, this should include the team
manager/supervisor as well as the practitioners). There should also be a clear recorded
statement on the plan about when and how it will be reviewed. Reviewing the child’s
progress and the effectiveness of services and other interventions is a continuous part
of the process of work with children and families. The timescales and procedures for
reviewing plans for children in need which are also part of other guidance, regulations
and legislation (child protection plans, care plans for children looked after and
pathway plans) are already prescribed. For children in need plans, where work is being
undertaken to support children and families in the community, it is good practice to
review the plan with family members at least every six months, and to formally record
it. Key professionals should also be involved in the review process and in constructing
the revised plan.
4.37 The purpose of an assessment is to identify the child’s needs within their family
context and to use this understanding to decide how best to address these needs. It is
essential that the plan is constructed on the basis of the findings from the assessment
and that this plan is reviewed and refined over time to ensure the agreed case objectives
are achieved. Specific outcomes for the child, expressed in terms of their health and
development can be measured. These provide objective evidence against which to
evaluate whether the child and family have been provided with appropriate services
and ultimately whether the child’s wellbeing is optimal.
Figure 7 AREAS IN WHICH CLARITY IS REQUIRED IN CHILD CARE PLANNING
l the objective of the plan, for example to provide and evaluate the efficacy of
l what services will be provided by which professional group or designated agency
l the timing and nature of contact between the professional workers and the
l the purpose of services and professional contact
l specific commitments to be met by the family, for example attendance at a
l specific commitments to be met by the professional workers, for example the
provision of culturally sensitive services or special assistance for those with
l which components of the plan are negotiable in the light of experience and
which are not
l what needs to change and the goals to be achieved, for example the child’s
weight to increase by a specific amount in a particular period, regular and
appropriate stimulation for the child in keeping with her or his development and
l what is unacceptable care of the child
l what sanctions will be used if the child is placed in danger or in renewed danger
l what preparation and support the child and adults will receive if she or he
appears in court as a witness in criminal proceedings.
Principles of Inter-Disciplinary and Inter-Agency Assessment
5.1 A key principle of the Assessment Framework is that children’s needs and their families
circumstances will require inter-agency collaboration to ensure full understanding of
what is happening and to ensure an effective service response. This chapter elaborates
further on the roles and responsibilities of different disciplines and agencies when
assessing whether a child is in need under the Children Act 1989. Some children in
need may be being assessed concurrently under legislation other than the Children Act
1989. Other children may have already been assessed under different legislation and
may be in receipt of services from agencies but not from social services. A further
group of children may have parents or other significant family members or caregivers
who are in receipt of social services.
5.2 In order to ensure optimal outcomes for children, whilst at the same time avoiding
duplication of services or children receiving no service at all, it is important for all
disciplines and agencies to work in a co-ordinated way to an agreed plan. Increasingly,
there are service developments designed on a multi-agency basis, where teams operate
with a pooled budget and shared objectives. An example is Youth Offending Teams.
5.3 There may be a number of voluntary and private organisations and community based
groups, whose staff and volunteers have knowledge of a child and their family. In
undertaking an assessment, it is important to find appropriate ways of using their
understanding of the family to inform the overall analysis of the child’s needs and how
best to help the family. Communication with staff and volunteers from other agencies
and groups should be based on the principles of confidentiality and consent set out in
paragraphs 3.46 to 3.57.
5.4 Inter-agency, inter-disciplinary assessment practice requires an additional set of
knowledge and skills to that required for working within a single agency or
independently. It requires that all staff understand the roles and responsibilities of staff
working in contexts different to their own. Having an understanding of the
perspectives, language and culture of other professionals can inform how communication
is conducted. This prevents professionals from misunderstanding one another
because they use different language to describe similar concepts or because they are
influenced by stereotypical perceptions of the other discipline. The use of the
Assessment Framework for assessing children in need provides a language which is
common to children and their family members, as well as to professionals and other
5 Roles and Resposibilities in Inter-Agency
Assessment of Children in Need
Corporate Responsibilities for Children in Need
5.5 Under s17 of the Children Act 1989, social services departments carry lead responsibility
for establishing whether a child is in need and for ensuring services are provided
to that child as appropriate. This may not require social services to provide the service
itself. Following a child in need assessment, for example, a child with communication
impairment may require the help of a NHS speech therapist and additional classroom
support at school rather than any specialist services of the social services department.
The voluntary sector may have an important role to play in contributing to an
assessment and providing services to a family.
5.6 This inter-agency responsibility is spelt out in s17(5) of the Children Act 1989.
5.7 The corporate responsibilities for working with children in need and their families
have been emphasised in the Government’s objectives for children’s social services
(Department of Health, 1999e).
The Government believes that local authorities corporately have a responsibility to
address the needs of such children and young people. There should be effective
joint working by education, housing and leisure in partnership with social services
and health. Social services alone cannot promote the social inclusion and
development of these children and families. However, in partnership with others,
social services can play a vital role (p.4).
Inter-Agency Responsibilities for Assessments of Children in
5.8 The next section sets out the responsibilities of local authority departments and
health authorities for assessing children in need and their families and the basis on
which professionals working in statutory agencies and independent settings work
with social services staff who have lead responsibility for this task. This section should
be read in conjunction with Chapter 3 in Working Together to Safeguard Children
(1999) which addresses the primary roles and responsibilities of statutory agencies,
professionals, the voluntary and private sector and the wider community in respect of
children, and in particular children about whom there is concern that they may be
suffering or are suffering significant harm. The following sections address specifically
some of the key issues about agency roles and responsibilities when assessing children
in need or contributing to other assessments of children and their families. It includes
most of the major agencies but is not comprehensive.
Every local authority –
a shall facilitate the provision by others (including in particular voluntary organisations)
of services which the authority have power to provide by virtue of this
section, or section 18, 20, 23 or 24; and
b may make such arrangements as they see fit for any person to act on their behalf
in the provision of any such service.
Children Act 1989 s17(5)
Social Services Departments
5.9 The social services department has the lead role for ensuring initial and core
assessments are carried out according to the Framework for the Assessment of Children in
Need and their Families. In practice this means, planning, preparation, co-ordination
and communication with professionals in other agencies, in accordance with the
principles set out in paragraph 1.23. This is where inter-agency protocols (and intraagency
where adults services are concerned) can be an effective means of providing a
structure for collaboration and lines of communication.
5.10 With any child or family referral, social services should check whether the person with
parenting responsibility has needs independent of the child’s needs, which may call for
the provision of adult community care services. If so, those needs should be further
assessed in accordance with Achieving Fairer Access to Adult Social Care Services
(Department of Health, forthcoming, a). The assessment of the child’s needs and the
capacity of their parent(s) to respond appropriately to those needs within their family
context, should follow the Framework for the Assessment of Children in Need and their
5.11 With any adult referral, social services should check whether the person has parenting
responsibility for a child under 18. If so, the initial assessment should explore any
parenting and child related issues in accordance with the Framework for the Assessment
of Children in Need and their Families. This will determine if the child is in need, and
the nature of services required to support his or her family, under Section 17 of the
Children Act 1989. Further assessment should be undertaken and services provided as
appropriate, following this Guidance. The assessment of adult needs should follow the
Achieving Fairer Access to Adult Social Care Services Guidance.
5.12 Where the child is looked after or there is concern about significant harm, the responsibilities
of local authorities are clearly laid out in Children Act 1989 Guidance and
Regulations (1991) and in Working Together to Safeguard Children (1999). Although
social services will continue to work closely with other agencies in such circumstances,
it is social services which has a statutory duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of
children and to ensure that this is effectively carried out.
5.13 The role of the key worker for a child whose name has been placed on a Child
Protection Register is set out in paragraph 5.76 of Working Together to Safeguard
Children (1999). It states that the key worker has responsibility for completing the
core assessment of the child and family and securing contributions from core group
members and others as necessary.
5.14 For children looked after and children whose names have been placed on the child
protection register and who are subject to a child protection plan, the responsibilities
for monitoring and reviewing the children’s progress (including safety) are set out in
the same Regulations and Guidance (Department of Health 1991; Department of
Health et al, 1999). Social services departments have lead responsibility for ensuring
these reviews take place within the prescribed time scales. As stated in Chapter 4, there
are no such regulations governing the review of welfare of other children in need.
However, it is essential that agreements are reached on an inter-agency basis about
how best to monitor and review children in need plans. The lead agency for this
activity may not necessarily be the social services department, as another agency may
be better placed to undertake this responsibility.
5.15 In the process of all relevant agencies working collaboratively to construct and agree
the child in need plan, decisions will have been made about which agencies will
provide the necessary services. Careful thought should be given to which professional
would be best placed to have lead responsibility for co-ordinating the review of the
child in need plan. Amongst the considerations will be the respective roles and responsibilities
of the various agencies.
Voluntary and Independent Agencies
5.16 Voluntary and independent agencies are key providers of a number of different types
of services for children and families. They may be undertaking or contributing to
assessments for a range of purposes: under the terms of a service agreement with a
social services department, in partnership with other agencies or organisations or as
part of the service they provide in response to direct referrals from children and
families. Their staff ’s knowledge and use of the Assessment Framework when
undertaking an assessment will enable information to be organised within a common
framework, using a common language. This will be particularly important where the
assessment has been commissioned by a social services department.
5.17 Every Health Authority is required to work with local agencies and trusts to consider
the health needs of their residents and then determine local priorities and ways to
address those needs. In particular Health Authorities and Primary Care Groups and
Trusts should ensure that they participate in inter-agency planning and co-operation
through Children’s Services Plans and Quality Protects Management Action Plans,
and that there are clear cross references in the Health Improvement Programmes.
5.18 The Health Improvement Programme is a jointly agreed health strategy which has the
support of the local authority, NHS Trusts and Primary Care Groups. Services for
healthcare for vulnerable children should be described and the health authority should
ensure that local services and professionals contribute fully and effectively to local
inter-agency working to safeguard children and promote their welfare.
5.19 The Health Authority should agree with Primary Care Groups and Trusts (PCG/Ts)
how the local health service obligation to contribute to assessments involving interagency
working should be discharged locally. Service specifications drawn up by
PCG/Ts should include clear service standards for assessments of children in need. For
children where there are grounds for concern that they are suffering significant harm
these must be consistent with local Area Child Protection Committee protocols.
5.20 NHS Trusts and PCG/Ts are responsible for providing acute and community health
services in hospital and community settings, and a wide range of staff will come into
contact with children and parents in the course of their normal duties. Staff should be
alert to concerns about a child’s health and development and should know how to act
upon these concerns in line with local protocols. Conversely, they should also be aware
of how adult patients with, for example, physical or mental illness may require help to
carry out their parent roles successfully.
5.21 Most health professionals, in the NHS, private sector, and other agencies play an
important part in the lives of children and their parents. Because of the universal
nature of health provision, health professionals are often the first to become aware of
the needs of children or that some families are experiencing difficulties looking after
their children. They should consider what help would benefit those families. Social
services departments can assist health professionals by providing information about
help that is available in the community and through their own departments.
The General Practitioner and the Primary Health Care Team
5.22 The General Practitioner (GP) and other members of the primary health care team
(PHCT) are well placed to recognise when a child is potentially in need of extra
support or services to promote health and development, or may be at risk of suffering
significant harm. Primary care team members should know when it is appropriate to
refer a child, as a potential child in need, to social services for help and support, and
how to act on concerns that a child may be at risk of harm through abuse or neglect.
When other members of the primary care team become concerned about the welfare
of a child, the GP should be involved in discussing these concerns. The GP and
primary health care team will have an important contribution to make to initial and
core assessments of children in need.
5.23 The GP and the primary health care team are also well placed to recognise when a
parent or other adult has problems which may affect their capacity as a parent or carer,
or which may mean that they pose a risk of harm to a child. While GPs have responsibilities
to all their patients, the child is particularly vulnerable and the welfare of the
child of paramount importance. If they have concerns that an adult’s problems or
behaviour may be causing, or putting a child at risk of harm, they should follow the
procedures set out in Working Together to Safeguard Children (1999).
Nurses, Midwives, Health Visitors and School Nurses
5.24 Nurses work in a variety of settings where they are likely to meet vulnerable children
and their families. They will consider the circumstances in which it would be
appropriate to refer them to social services departments for further assessment. They
will then continue to work in partnership with social workers, general practitioners
and others to contribute to integrated assessments, through sharing facts and professional
opinions and by helping children and families identify and address their own
5.25 The midwife and health visitor are uniquely placed to identify risk factors to a child
during pregnancy, birth and the child’s early care. Health visitors and school nurses
monitor child health, growth and physical, emotional and social development. In
addition, health visitors are aware of the health of the parents and may identify
particular difficulties, for example, postnatal depression in mothers. The regular
contact health visitors and school nurses have with children and families gives them an
important role to play in the promotion of children’s health and development and the
protection of children from harm. Many of these staff provide parental support
services or parenting sessions and programmes. Some also offer leadership to local
schemes which support parents.
5.26 If, in the course of a social services department assessments of children in need, an
opinion from a specialist paediatric service (including child development teams which
are multi-disciplinary and may include a social worker) is required, the service should
be requested by or after consultation with the appropriate member of the Primary
Health Care Team. Where an urgent opinion is required, because there are grounds for
concern that a child is suffering significant harm, this should be sought in line with
local child protection procedures.
5.27 A paediatrician and/or a child development team may already know a child who is
being assessed by a social services department. This will certainly be the case for
children with chronic or recurrent significant illnesses and for disabled children.
Social workers based in child development teams should be guided by the Assessment
Framework when preparing their contribution to a multi-disciplinary assessment of a
disabled child and family. Health professionals seeing such a child will have a contribution
to make both to an assessment of need and in advising on medical and child
development services that would be of benefit to the child and family. Information
should be shared with the informed consent of the parents and of the child (obtained
in a way appropriate to the child’s age and understanding).
5.28 Many paediatric services have an identified lead Community Paediatrician for
children in need who can advise social workers and parents on how to gain access to
services. Within the health services, community paediatricians can raise awareness of
the difficulties faced by vulnerable and disadvantaged families. Innovations are being
proposed (eg. within Health Action Zone schemes) for the introduction of one stop
shops where social services and health staff can work together to provide supportive
and therapeutic services for children and their families.
Professionals Allied to Health
5.29 Other professionals allied to health, for example audiologists, physiotherapists,
occupational therapists and speech therapists will also have important roles to play in
the lives of some disabled and developmentally delayed children. Of these professionals,
speech therapists are the most likely to be involved in the assessment of
children in need. This is because the language development of children is most often
affected by adverse environmental and family circumstances. Speech and language
therapists can also provide expertise to facilitate communication with a child during
Mental Health Services
5.30 Mental health problems are relatively common in children. Preliminary results of a
recent survey found that around 10 per cent of 5–15 year olds in England, Scotland
and Wales has some type of mental disorder sufficient to cause considerable distress
and substantial interference with personal functioning in most cases (Office for
National Statistics, 1999). Children of families in Social Class V (unskilled
occupations) were about three times as likely to have a mental health problem
compared with those in Social Class I (professionals). There are strong associations
between family income and the mental health of children.
5.31 The evident increased likelihood of children in need having a significant mental
health problem indicates the importance of specific consideration being given to their
mental health needs. Not all children and young people, however, will require the help
of specialists and, for many, effective and straightforward interventions at an early
stage may prevent more serious problems developing later.
5.32 Those children and young people with more severe and complex disorders will require
both specialist services and community based support to ensure the best possible
outcomes. Social workers and other staff working within such services, whether in
hospital or community child and family mental health service settings, should draw
on knowledge of the Assessment Framework to inform their contributions.
5.33 An assessment of the mental health of a child or young person will attempt to unravel
the various factors that have played a part in the causation of any particular problem or
difficulty. This will include an assessment of those factors that are protective as well as
those that constitute a risk to the child. As understanding about the aetiology of
mental disorders in children increases, it is clear that attention must be given as much
to intrinsic factors in the child, such as inherited temperamental characteristics, as to
the external social and family influences. This is particularly relevant for children with
hyperkeinetic disorder, for instance, whose parents otherwise might feel totally
responsible for their child’s difficult, demanding and hyperactive behaviour.
5.34 Child and adolescent mental health services provide a range of psychiatric and psychological
assessment and treatment services for children and families. There may be very
specific reasons why a specialist child mental health professional may become
involved. The possibility of a psychotic illness (eg. schizophrenia), suicide or risk of
self harm, the consideration of medical or psychological treatment for hyperkeinetic
disorder or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), attachment disorders
and an assessment of post traumatic stress following severe trauma are all clear cut
examples. A referral may also be made for an assessment of individual family factors
which contribute to a child’s disorder and to ascertaining the therapeutic needs of the
child and family members. Many requests, however, are less specific and these often
relate to the complexity and chronicity of problems experienced by children who have
suffered from a variety of disadvantages and adversities. Assessments of aggressive and
oppositional behaviour of a child, family functioning, parenting capacity, and
attachment between parent and child are other examples of important mental health
tasks where child and mental health services might usefully contribute. In these
circumstances a consultation or planning session may help clarify who is best able to
undertake which task and what types of intervention may be most appropriate to help
the child and family.
5.35 Some children and young people may require admission to hospital for psychiatric
treatment. The legal framework governing the admission to hospital and treatment of
children is complex. The use and relevance of the Mental Health Act 1983 or the
Children Act 1989 should be considered particularly where consent is an issue.
Professionals charged with responsibility for helping the child will use the statutory
framework which reflects the predominant needs of the child. The Mental Health Act
1983 Code of Practice (Department of Health and the Welsh Office, 1999) contains
essential guidance (see in particular chapter 31) which should inform the assessment
and treatment of children who are either formal or informal patients.
5.36 Adult mental health services, including those providing general adult and
community, forensic, psychotherapy, alcohol and substance misuse and learning
disability services, have a key role to play in the assessment process when parental
problems in these areas have an impact on their capacity to respond appropriately to
their children’s needs (see paragraphs 6.18 to 6.22 on commissioning specialist
services). Crossing Bridges (Falkov (ed), 1998) was developed to help staff working
with mentally ill parents and their children. It provides a rich source of training
material for both adult and children’s services staff.
5.37 There are two specific pieces of guidance regarding children visiting parents, other
family members and close friends in psychiatric settings where social services
departments may be asked to assess whether it is in the best interests of a child to visit
a named patient.
5.38 The Visits by Children to Ashworth, Broadmoor and Rampton Hospital Authorities
Directions (HSC 1999/160) and the Guidance to Local Authority Social Services
Departments on Visits by Children to Special Hospitals (LAC(99)23) sets out the
assessment process to be followed when deciding whether a child can visit a named
patient in these hospitals. When a social services department considers it has powers
under the Children Act 1989 to undertake the necessary assessment, it is required to
assist the hospital by assessing whether it is in the interests of a particular child to visit
a named patient and providing the special hospital with this information.
5.39 The Circular Mental Health Act 1983 Code of Practice: Guidance on the visiting of
psychiatric patients by children (HSC1999/222 LAC(99)32) sets out principles to
underpin child-visiting policies in respect of children visiting patients in other
psychiatric units. This guidance emphasises the importance of facilitating a child’s
contact especially with their parents or other key family members, wherever possible.
Where there are child welfare concerns, the Trust may ask the social services
department where the child is resident to assess whether it is in the best interests of a
child to visit a named patient.
5.40 Psychologists – clinical, counselling, educational, forensic – who work with children
and families are well placed to contribute to core assessments and to offer a range of
services to support children in need and their families. In particular, educational
psychologists working with children, their parents, schools and other agencies to
promote children’s social, emotional and intellectual development will have a
significant contribution to make.
5.41 A major protective factor in a child’s life is having good relationships and succeeding
in school. Education staff, through their day to day contact with pupils, have a crucial
role to play enabling children to have positive experiences in school – academically
and through good relationships – as well as ensuring and observing their wellbeing.
Education Welfare Officers and Educational psychologists may, through their work
with schools, have knowledge of a particular child. If a child is thought to be in need,
social services departments may be able to assist. With parental agreement, these
concerns may be discussed with the local social services department and a way forward
agreed on identified matters.
5.42 Schools and colleges may on occasions be asked by a social services department for
information about a child for whom there are concerns about their health or
development, abuse or neglect. The education service itself does not have a direct
investigative responsibility in child protection work, but schools and other
maintained establishments have a role in assisting the social services department by
referring concerns and providing information for s47 child protection enquiries. The
role of the independent schools in relation to child protection is the same as that of any
other school (Paragraphs 3.12 and 3.15 in Working Together to Safeguard Children,
5.43 When a child has special educational needs, or is disabled, schools and educational
psychologists will have important information about the child’s development, their
level of understanding and the most effective means of communicating with the child.
This information should be sought before beginning an assessment. The school and
the educational psychologist will also be well placed to give a view on the impact of
different types of treatment or intervention on the child’s care or behaviour.
5.44 Social Inclusion: Pupil Support (Department for Education and Employment,1999a)
sets out government guidance on pupil attendance, behaviour, exclusion and reintegration
of children at school. It takes a multi-agency approach to supporting
schools and enabling them to help pupils with behavioural difficulties, including poor
attendance. Where a pupil may be at serious risk of permanent exclusion from school
or engaging in criminal activity, a Pastoral Support Programme should be set up to
plan interventions to help the pupil remain in school. The social services department
should as appropriate be involved in the programme (see paragraph 5.5 of Circular
10/99). In addition to contributing to work undertaken with pupils by staff from
other agencies, social services departments can assist directly by working with
individual children and their families who are experiencing difficulties which impact
on the child’s educational progress. This could include work with children who are
caring for a sick or disabled adult, or where there are relationship difficulties within the
family, or where a child has suffered abuse or neglect. In such situations where a child
and family is referred to a social services department for help with difficulties
identified at school, an initial assessment will be undertaken using the dimensions in
the Assessment Framework to ascertain if the child is in need and what help could be
offered to respond to the particular needs of the child and their family.
5.45 Children looked after can experience a range of problems at school due to the
disruptions experienced prior to and during care. These disruptions often include
breaks in education. Good liaison with schools is important, both to ascertain the
school’s assessment of these young people and their current needs and to plan with the
school how these needs can best be met. Guidance on the Education of Children and
Young People in Public Care (Department for Education and Employment and
Department of Health, forthcoming) sets out the importance of education to young
people in public care and the action that local authorities (education and social
services departments) must take to safeguard the education and thus the future of
these young people.
5.46 Learning Mentors are a new resource, being introduced in secondary schools in major
cities as part of the Government’s Excellence in Cities initiative. They will work closely
with pupils to help them to overcome barriers to learning. They will provide intensive
counselling and support to a small number of pupils facing significant problems, and
will perform a ‘signposting’ function for others, helping them to access other agencies
and local systems of support, such as business and community mentoring schemes
and social services. It will be important for learning mentors to work closely with local
social services departments in supporting the pupils in their charge.
5.47 Part of the learning mentor function is to participate in progress checks for pupils in
year 7 and year 9. They will also draw up individual targets for the pupil to achieve at
school. Each school will have its own assessment arrangements in place for progress
checks, but all learning mentors will be informed about the Assessment Framework,
and encouraged to use a consistent format in order to facilitate effective information
5.48 The Connexions strategy (Department for Education and Employment, 2000) will
introduce a universal network of Personal Advisers for young people. The Connexions
Service will seek to develop a common assessment tool, with a common core and
sections related to specific problems a young person might face, that can be used by all
Personal Advisers to assess a young person’s needs. Its use will allow different agencies
to agree on how a young person’s needs can be met either directly or through referral,
and encourage a co-ordinated response to a young person’s needs. The development of
this assessment tool will take full account of this framework for assessing children in
5.49 For most young people, the end of compulsory education (at around the age of 16)
marks a significant decision and transition point in their development towards
adulthood. Government maintained schools have a legal duty to prepare children for
this decision and transition by providing a programme of careers education and
guidance during the last three years of their compulsory education. Various
assessment methods are used to help children identify their occupational interests and
potential. The methods include self-assessment questionnaires, standardised tests and
practical tasks which are formally assessed.
5.50 In 1999 the Department for Education and Employment established a new form of
provision for young people who had failed to make a successful transition from
compulsory education. This programme – known as the Learning Gateway – is run
jointly by careers services and Training and Enterprise Councils. Personal advisers
help 16 and 17 year olds who are struggling to find their way to identify realistic career
goals and to obtain a suitable learning or employment opportunity. This often
involves some remedial education/preparatory training in basic skills and personal
effectiveness before the young person is ready for mainstream provision. The
Department for Education and Employment has provided comprehensive Guidance
on Assessment in the Learning Gateway (Department for Education and Employment,
1999b). This covers both vocational assessment and the assessment of pre-vocational
learning and development needs such as personal effectiveness and social skills.
5.51 Youth and Community Workers have close contact with young people. They should
be alert to any concerns about a young person’s welfare and know how to refer to the
social services department if they consider a child would benefit from its help. They
will also be well placed to assist in a child in need assessment. In some instances joint
working may be appropriate.
Special Educational Needs Code of Practice
5.52 Education legislation does not distinguish between disability and special educational
needs. Not all children with special educational needs have a disability. Equally some
disabled children do not have special educational needs. In January 1999, schools in
England identified 20% (1.52 million) of their pupils as having some form of special
educational needs, and 3% (248,000) of pupils had statements of Special Educational
5.53 Special educational needs cover a wide spectrum of needs/difficulties including
emotional and behavioural difficulties which are described within the code as:
l Emotional and behavioural difficulties may result, for example, from abuse or
neglect; physical or mental illness; sensory or physical impairment; or psychological
trauma. In some cases emotional and behavioural difficulties may arise from, or be
exacerbated by, circumstances within the school environment. They may also be
associated with other learning difficulties.
l Emotional and behavioural difficulties may become apparent in a wide variety of
forms – including withdrawal, depressive or suicidal attitudes; obsessional preoccupations
with eating habits; school phobia; substance misuse; disruptive,
antisocial and unco-operative behaviour; and frustration, anger and threat of actual
violence (Special Educational Needs Code of Practice, paragraphs 3.65 and 3.66).
5.54 Under the Education Act 1996, local education authorities have a duty to identify and
make a statutory assessment of those children for whom they are responsible who have
special educational needs and who probably require a statement of their special
educational needs. A child is said to have special educational needs if (s)he has:
A learning difficulty which calls for special educational provision to be made for him
5.55 A child has a learning difficulty if:
5.56 Having decided that a statutory assessment should be made, the local education
authority must seek parental, educational, medical, psychological and the social
services department’s advice. Where a child is known to a social services department,
the social worker should draw on information which has already been gathered and is
on the child’s file. At the same time, the social services department may decide to
a. he has a significantly greater difficulty in learning than the majority of children
b. he has a disability which either prevents or hinders him from making use of
educational facilities of a kind generally provided for children of his age in
schools within the area of the LEA, or
c. he is under the age of five and is, or would be if special educational provision
were not made for him, likely to fall within paragraph (a) or (b) when over that
undertake a child in need assessment under s17 of the Children Act 1989, to ascertain
whether social services would benefit the child and family.
5.57 The Code of Practice on the Identification and Assessment of Special Educational Practice
(1994) sets out the duties of health authorities and social services departments in
respect of children who may have special educational needs as follows:
All those bodies to which the Code applies must, of course, fulfil their duties. But it
is up to them to decide how to do so, in the light of the guidance in the Code of
Practice. All those to whom the Code applies have a statutory duty to have regard to
it; they must not ignore it. Whenever the health services and social services help
schools and LEAs take action on behalf of such children those bodies must consider
what the Code says.
5.58 When a statement of special educational needs has been completed, the social services
department will be provided with a copy of the statement and the accompanying
advice from professionals. This information can assist social services in current or
future work with the child and family.
Day Care Services
5.59 Day care services – family centres, early years centres, nurseries (including workplace
nurseries), childminders, playgroups and holiday and out of school schemes – play an
increasingly important part in the lives of growing numbers of children. Many services
will be offering a range of support to children and families experiencing problems and
stress. This makes them well placed to intervene early and resolve difficulties before
they become more serious or entrenched.
5.60 Day care services may identify children where there are concerns about their developmental
progress or wellbeing, or alternatively parents who may have difficulties in
responding to their child’s needs sufficiently or appropriately. Day care services may
l identifying and referring families to social services departments;
l contributing to the assessment of children and their parents or caregivers,
sometimes providing a specialist assessment of family relationships;
l providing services which support the child’s development and strengthen the
parents’ capacity to respond, through routine work or as part of a child care plan
which is monitored and reviewed.
5.61 Sure Start is an area based programme providing universal services for children under
four and their families in some of the most disadvantaged communities. Sure Start
aims to improve the health and wellbeing of children and families before and from
birth, so children are ready to thrive and succeed when they go to school.
5.62 Local programmes work with parents and parents-to-be to improve the life chances of
young children through better access to:
l family support;
l advice on nurturing;
l health services;
l early learning.
5.63 Sure Start programmes provide a range of co-ordinated services, locally determined, to
meet national objectives and targets and local priorities. These are likely to include:
l outreach and home visiting;
l support for families and parents;
l support for good quality play, learning and childcare experiences for children;
l primary and community health care, including advice about family health and
child health and development;
l support for children and parents with special needs, including help accessing
5.64 Sure Start programmes are run by local partnerships bringing together people from
statutory agencies, voluntary and community organisations and local parents to plan
and organise local services. The involvement of local parents in Sure Start partnerships
ensures that services are responsive to local needs and will strengthen local
communities, and build capacity and confidence.
5.65 Sure Start provides an opportunity for early support and intervention and to ensure
that health, education and social services are actively engaged in supporting the most
vulnerable pre-school children. Some children and families using Sure Start services
may be referred to or known to social services departments as children in need. Coordinated
assessments will therefore be essential as part of providing effective services
to secure optimal outcomes.
Youth Offending Teams
5.66 The principal aim of the youth justice system, to prevent offending by children and
young people, is set out in the Crime and Disorder Act 1998. Under this Act, the Local
Authority, acting in co-operation with every chief officer of police and police
authority and every probation committee and health authority in the local authority’s
area, has a duty to ‘secure that, to such extent as is appropriate for their area, all youth
justice services are available there’ (s38) and that a Youth Offending Team is in place
(s40) comprising police and probation officers, social workers and education and
health staff. The Youth Offending Teams (YOTs), which are multi-agency, have
responsibility for co-ordinating or delivering the provision of local youth justice
services and helping to implement the Youth Justice Plan (s41).
5.67 The Youth Justice Board for England and Wales has developed an assessment profile,
ASSET, for use with all youth offenders who enter and leave the youth justice system.
ASSET provides YOTs with a consistent means of assessing the needs of individual
young people and the risks of their re-offending, causing harm to themselves or to
others. The profile covers the areas of a young person’s life most linked to offending
behaviour including living arrangements, family and personal relationships,
education, employment and training, lifestyle, substance use, physical health,
emotional and mental health, personal identity and cognitive and behavioural
development. In addition, there is a detailed risk of harm assessment for use when the
profile suggests that the young offender has the potential to commit serious harm to
others. The profile will assist practitioners plan a programme of interventions to meet
the identified needs of the young person and reduce the factors associated with risks of
re-offending, causing harm to themselves or to others.
5.68 It will be important for YOTs completing ASSET to liaise within social services
departments about young people with whom social services have had or have contact.
Prior assessments of need undertaken by social services departments can inform the
work of YOTs. Similarly, assessments undertaken by YOTs will be an important source
of knowledge if the young person continues to be worked with as a child in need under
the Children Act 1989 or is re-referred to the social services department for help
following their involvement with the youth justice system. The dimensions of the
Assessment Framework in this Guidance are consistent with those of the youth
offending assessment profile. The key difference is that ASSET concentrates in depth
on areas of a young person’s life most likely to be associated with offending behaviour.
5.69 Housing Authority staff, through their day to day contact with members of the public,
may become aware of concerns about the welfare of particular children and should
refer to one of the statutory agencies as appropriate.
5.70 Equally, Housing Authorities may have important information about families which
could be helpful to social services departments carrying out assessments under s17 or
s47 of the Children Act 1989. In accordance with their duty to assist under s27 of the
Children Act 1989, they should be prepared to share relevant information verbally or
in writing, including attending child protection conferences when requested to do so.
5.71 The provision of appropriate housing can make an important contribution to meeting
the health and developmental needs of children. Housing Authorities should be
prepared to assist in the provision of accommodation, either directly, through their
links with other housing providers or by the provision of advice.
5.72 Social services departments have a duty under section 20(3) of the Children Act 1989
to accommodate any child in need aged 16 and 17 whose welfare is likely to be
seriously prejudiced without the provision of accommodation. At the same time,
Housing Authorities are required under the Housing Act 1996 to secure accommodation
for people who are homeless, eligible for assistance and in priority need.
Homeless young people may frequently come to the notice of both housing and social
services and will need to be assessed to establish whether they should be provided with
accommodation. There is a danger that in these circumstances young people may be
passed from one agency to another and it is important therefore that joint protocols
are agreed between housing and social services in the matter of how and by whom they
are to be assessed.
5.73 The role of members of the Police Force can be seen quite broadly in terms of the
overall wellbeing and welfare of children and their families. They have a key role in
their knowledge of local communities. Information may be available from the police
either generally about local environmental factors or specifically about family or
household members. Their contribution in referring children and families to social
services departments and in providing information and advice should be considered
when undertaking a child in need assessment. The role of the police in relation to
safeguarding children is set out in paragraphs 3.57 to 3.64 of Working Together to
Safeguard Children (1999).
5.74 Protecting life and preventing crime are primary tasks of the police. Children are
citizens who have the right to the protection offered by the criminal law. The police
have a duty and responsibility to investigate criminal offences committed against
children, and such investigations should be carried out sensitively, thoroughly and
professionally. The police should be notified as soon as possible where a criminal
offence has been committed, or is suspected of being committed, against a child.
5.75 The police have a responsibility to co-ordinate and lead the risk assessment and
management process for the exchange of information about all those who have been
convicted of, cautioned for, or otherwise dealt with by the courts for a sexual offence;
and those who are considered to present a risk to children and others (see paragraphs
7.37 and 7.38 of Working Together to Safeguard Children (1999)).
5.76 Probation Services have a statutory duty to supervise offenders effectively in order to
reduce offending and protect the public. In the execution of that duty, probation
services will be in contact with, or supervising, a number of men (and, to a far lesser
extent, women) who have convictions for offences against children. When
undertaking assessments of children in need social services staff should draw on the
knowledge probation services have about family members or other adults in contact
with a child and family, who may have committed offences against children.
5.77 The Probation Service has an important role in working with men and women in
prison who may be parents of children under the age of 18. Probation should be
informed by social services if an assessment of a child whose parent is in prison is being
undertaken and should be asked to contribute. There may be a range of issues when a
parent is in prison which will need careful assessment and planning, for example,
contact between parent and child; reunification and release arrangements;
resettlement in the community. Joint working between probation and social services
may be essential to securing the wellbeing of the child.
5.78 In addition, specialist probation officers working in the family courts may be alerted
to child care concerns through their investigations as court welfare officers, for
example, through work with families under Family Assistance Orders (s16 of the
Children Act 1989).
The Prison Service
5.79 The Prison Service works closely with other agencies to identify any prisoner who may
represent a risk to the public on release. Regular risk assessment takes account of
progress made during the sentence, and informs decisions on sentence planning for
individual prisoners, including sex offender treatment programmes. Governors are
required to notify social services departments and the probation service of plans to
release prisoners convicted of offences against children and young people so that
appropriate action can be taken by agencies in the community to minimise any risk to
children or young people (Instruction to Governors 54/1994).
5.80 The Prison Service has a duty to safeguard the welfare of those children aged under 18
in its custody. From 1 April 2000, all Prison Service Establishments in the new under
18 estate are required to appoint a child protection co-ordinator; and to establish, in
consultation with local ACPCs, arrangements for acting on allegations or concerns
that a young person may have suffered, or is at risk of suffering significant harm
(HM Prison Service, 2000). A s47 enquiry and core assessment is undertaken concurrently
drawing on knowledge of the Assessment Framework.
5.81 When a young person is entering or leaving a Young Offender Institution or prison, it
will be important for there to be close liaison between staff in the prison service and
the social services department, regarding children already known to a social services
department or who are considered likely to benefit from the provision of social services
assistance on their release.
5.82 The Prison Service may ask a social services department to carry out an assessment
regarding a baby whose mother is in prison (HM Prison Service, 1999). This may be
to assist the Service decide whether it is in the best interests of a baby to live with his or
her mother in a mother and baby unit. In rare instances, it may be as part of the process
of making s47 enquiries where there are concerns about the safety of a child who is
living with his or her mother in a mother and baby unit. Mother and baby units are not
a place of safety. A prison governor may refer children to a social services department if
she or he believe the baby is at risk with the identified carer or other adults.
5.83 In England, social services departments have statutory responsibility for safeguarding
and promoting the welfare of children of Services families. When Services families (or
civilians working with the Armed Forces) are based overseas, the responsibility for
their welfare is vested with the Ministry of Defence. All three Services provide professional
welfare support and in some cases, medical support, to augment those provided
by local authorities.
5.84 When social services departments are undertaking assessments of children in need,
contact should be made with the welfare service appropriate to the particular Service.
Appendix 2 of Working Together to Safeguard Children (1999) gives details of these
Services and contact numbers. The roles and responsibilities of the Armed Forces in
respect of safeguarding children of Services families or of ex-Services families are set
out in paragraphs 3.89 to 3.96 of Working Together to Safeguard Children (1999).
5.85 This chapter has elaborated the roles and responsibilities of a range of agencies,
organisations and disciplines that work with children and families. Understanding
these roles and responsibilities is a cornerstone of effective inter-agency, interdisciplinary
working. Individual practitioners will use their professional relationships
and networks to assist them achieve good outcomes for children and their families.
Quality collaboration at an inter-personal level requires effective organisational
arrangements to support these informal processes and ensure good inter-agency
working is not solely dependent on the commitment of dedicated individuals.
6.1 This chapter considers the organisational arrangements which should be in place to
support effective practice in assessing children in need and their families. A key longer
term measure of success of the Assessment Framework will be evidence of improving
outcomes for children as described in the Government’s Objectives for Children’s
Social Services (Department of Health, 1999e). Another measure is whether the
timescales set out in the objectives for undertaking initial and core assessments and
responding to referrals are met. Chief Executives of local authorities have overall
responsibility for ensuring that all departments of their authority play their part in
achieving these objectives (Department of Health and Department for Education and
Government’s Objectives for Children’s Social Services
6.2 The White Paper Modernising Social Services (Department of Health, 1998e) set out
the Government’s objectives for both children’s and adults’ social services, together
with objectives common to both on user involvement and training. A consolidated
version of the Government’s objectives for children’s social services, incorporating
more detailed sub-objectives, targets and performance indicators was published in
September 1999. They outline the social services role, and what they are expected to
achieve together with other agencies in the community for some of society’s most
disadvantaged families and most vulnerable children. This and other work has made
clear that targeted help is required to ensure that disadvantaged children and young
people are able to take maximum advantage of universal services – in particular
education and health – as well as any specialist services.
6.3 In addition to working with children requiring support from social services, the
Government believes that local authorities have a corporate responsibility to address
the needs of a wider group of disadvantaged children, defined as children at risk of
social exclusion. These are children who would benefit from extra help from public
agencies in order to make the best of their life chances. To this end, there should be
effective joint working by education, social services, housing, leisure and health.
Social services alone cannot promote the social inclusion and development of these
children and families. However, as part of a corporate endeavour, in partnership with
others, social services can play a vital role.
6.4 Local authorities have to work closely with the NHS to ensure that shared objectives
for children’s services – particularly in areas such as services for disabled children and
6 Organisational Arrangements to Support
Effective Assessment of Children in Need
child and adolescent mental health services – are delivered effectively. The targets for
child welfare in Modernising Health and Social Services : National Priorities Guidance
(Department of Health, 1999j) are incorporated into the Government’s objectives for
children’s social services.
6.5 A comprehensive performance assessment system based on the Best Value regime has
been put into place to monitor the delivery of all social services and progress towards
the objectives, priorities and targets set out by the Government. This includes in-year
monitoring information, end-year performance data and in-depth evaluation
through inspections and Joint Reviews. A set of 50 performance indicators were
confirmed in July 1999 after a wide-ranging consultation exercise and 13 of these were
designated statutory Best Value performance indicators in December 1999. Baseline
data for 35 of the indicators were published in Social Services Performance in 1998–99
(Department of Health, 1999k).
6.6 Elected members have a vital role in ensuring that the corporate responsibilities of
local authorities are carried out. This was emphasised in a joint Department of
Health/Local Government Association communication to local government
As a councillor, you need to be involved in setting strategic objectives for children’s
services and monitoring how health care, education and life chances are improving
for children who are looked after by your council, or who are in need of support in
your community (Department of Health and the Local Government Association,
6.7 Good partnerships with the voluntary and private sector are also important to the
delivery of the Government’s objectives. In children’s services, voluntary and private
organisations are important providers of services. In addition to the family based
services they already provide, they have a role in representing the voice of service users
and carers, and in developing new and flexible approaches to service delivery. Local
authorities should make sure that such organisations are fully involved in
implementing the Assessment Framework.
6.8 Good assessment of the needs of children and families plays an important part in
meeting the Government’s children’s social services objectives, by enabling needs to be
identified at an early stage, so that services and support can be provided before
problems escalate. The Framework for the Assessment of Children in Need and their
Families will assist all agencies in making judgements about which children are in need
and how best to help them.
Children’s Services Planning
6.9 Children’s Services Planning should provide the local vehicle for determining how the
contributions of all the relevant agencies fit together and support each other in
delivering shared objectives for vulnerable children and, in particular, children in need
(Children’s Services Planning Order, 1996). It is the Department of Health’s intention
to issue new guidance on planning for children’s services which will address joint
working towards these objectives.
6.10 A prime purpose of the children’s services planning process is to ensure co-ordination
and coherence across local planning arrangements for children and to improve the
outcomes and efficiency of the services provided. Planning for children’s services
should ensure that local objectives in different plans are consistent and support each
other. It is important to reduce duplication of planning effort. A balance has to be
struck between ensuring that the separate policy intentions behind each set of plans
are preserved and that planning is not carried out in separate compartments.
6.11 Fundamental to this will be effective information systems which identify the needs of
local children and the nature of services required to meet those needs. Social services
departments have an important contribution to make in this respect, in line with their
responsibilities under the Children Act 1989:
6.12 Record keeping and the aggregation of data from case records is a critical part of
providing an information base for planning purposes. The assessment recording forms
(Department of Health and Cleaver, 2000) have been designed to provide the means
by which good quality data can be collected and aggregated by social services
departments. They can be adapted for use by other agencies working with children,
often the same children in need. A common recording system not only ensures data
are collected in a consistent manner across agencies, but also facilitates communication
about the particular needs of a child and about the needs of all children in an
6.13 These records will also provide a means by which supervisors and managers can
monitor the quality of practitioners’ work with children and families. They will enable
them to monitor compliance in implementing the Assessment Framework. This
monitoring is an integral part of the overall quality assurance process which
departments should have in place.
Departmental Structures and Processes
6.14 The way in which a social service department is structured and the processes it uses to
process requests for advice or information, referrals and further work with children
and families should be organised to support staff responding to these requests and
undertaking assessments of children in need within the required timescales. One
example of how a department has organised itself was described in paragraph 3.6.
6.15 The formats for recording information about individual children and their families
and the systems by which this information will be used for management and planning
purposes will also make a significant contribution both to the effectiveness by which
assessments of children in need can be undertaken and to the processes by which the
appropriate services are planned and delivered in a local authority area, regionally and
Every local authority shall take reasonable steps to identify the extent to which
there are children in need within their area.
Children Act 1989, Schedule 2, Part 1, paragraph 1 (1).
Departmental Protocols and Procedures
6.16 Departmental procedures, and intra- and inter-agency protocols between adult’s and
children’s services and between agencies involved in work with children and families
respectively, which are consistent with the Assessment Framework, will facilitate
working within social services departments and across agency boundaries. These
should assist in reducing the amount of time spent on duplicated or unfocused work.
These should not only benefit children and families but also achieve efficiency in this
area and to contribute to Best Value in local government services.
6.17 It will be important to be explicit about expectations regarding staff having knowledge
of and using the Assessment Framework when partnership arrangements, which
include undertaking assessments, are being agreed between agencies. Similarly, when
service level agreements are being drawn up, it will be essential for the social services
department to be clear about it’s expectations regarding the use of the Assessment
Framework when, for example, a voluntary or independent agency is undertaking a
specific type of assessment with a child and family.
Commissioning Specialist Assessments
6.18 There will be circumstances, where a specialist assessment will be necessary to provide
information to social services departments when they are undertaking a core
assessment. This is in addition to information that would normally be available about
a child from other agencies in the community or information that is known as a result
of a previous or current assessment.
6.19 In deciding who to commission to undertake a particular specialist assessment, social
services should be clear about what type of assessment is required, for what purpose,
within what timescale and who or what agency/professional is best placed to
undertake it. This careful planning of specialist assessments not only contributes to
the quality of the individual child in need assessment but also to the effective use of
available resources. Local inter-agency protocols should provide guidance about how
to commission specialist assessments, and who will implement the decision(s).
6.20 When commissioning a specialist assessment, it is important to ask questions which
are within the remit of the particular professional to answer. For example, when a
parent is being treated for alcohol addiction, it is appropriate for a social services
practitioner to ask for an adult psychiatric opinion on the likelihood of the parent
being able to stop or reduce his or her drinking, and the impact of the parent’s
addiction on behaviour, but not necessarily to ask whether that parent is capable of
responding appropriately to the child’s needs. The adult psychiatrist may also be able
to offer an opinion on whether the parent is likely to both engage in and benefit from
treatment. This could include treatment for personality disorders or mental health
problems, as well as alcohol addiction.
6.21 Another example may occur where there are issues of sex offending; a practitioner who
is involved in assessing a child’s situation may need to know how effective a treatment
programme has been for a particular sex offender, and how that information will assist
the assessment of the child in need. It will be essential to check out with the professional
who undertook the therapeutic work, the areas in which they consider they have
expertise, and what questions the professionals they consider they are qualified to
answer. Some may have an excellent understanding of child and family work; others
may conceive of their role solely within an adult context.
6.22 When an agency is commissioned to undertake a specialist assessment, this should be
undertaken as part of the overall assessment. The findings should be integ