SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER
Each child who has been accepted as a referral by local authority children's social care should have an individual assessment to identify their needs and to understand the impact of any parental behaviour on them as an individual. Local authorities have to give due regard to a child's age and understanding when determining what (if any) services to provide under Section 17 of the Children Act 1989, and before making decisions about action to be taken to protect individual children under Section 47 of the Children Act 1989.
This chapter was updated in March 2021 to reflect changes from the revised Working Together to Safeguard Children.
1. Focus on the Child
The SSCA is an assessment on each individual child in a family who has been referred into Children's social care. It will be a social worker led multi-agency assessment that is holistic and as far as possible is inclusive of the child and their family.
Children should to be seen and listened to and included throughout the assessment process. Their ways of communicating should be understood in the context of their family and community as well as their behaviour and developmental stage.
Assessments, service provision and decision making should regularly review the impact of the assessment process and the services provided on the child so that the best outcomes for the child can be achieved. Any services provided should be based on a clear analysis of the child's needs, and the changes that are required to improve the outcomes for the child.
Children should be actively involved in all parts of the process based upon their age, developmental stage and identity. Direct work with the child and family should include observations of the interactions between the child and the parents/care givers.
All agencies involved with the child, the parents and the wider family have a duty to collaborate and share information to safeguard and promote the welfare of the child.
All assessments will be planned and coordinated by the lead social worker and the purpose of the assessment will be transparent, understood and agreed by all participants. There should be an agreed statement setting out the aims of the assessment process.
Planning should identify the different elements of the assessment including who should be involved. The planning meeting will clarify roles and timescales and agencies likely to play a part in the process.
The planning meeting will include consideration of:
- Who will undertake the assessment and what resources will be needed?
- Who in the family will be included and how will they be involved (including absent or wider family and others significant to the child)?
- What information is already available?
- What other sources of knowledge about the child and family are available and how will other agencies and professionals who know the family be informed and involved?
- What services are to be provided during the assessment?
- Are there communication needs? If so, what are the specific needs and how they will be met?
- How will the assessment take into account the particular issues faced by black and minority ethnic children and their families, and disabled children and their families?
- What the timescales will be?
- When the outcomes will be shared and the next planning stage take place.
The assessment process can be summarised as follows:
- Gathering relevant information;
- Analysing the information and reaching professional judgments;
- Making decisions and planning interventions;
- Intervening, service delivery and/or further assessment;
- Evaluating and reviewing progress.
Assessment should be a dynamic process, which analyses and responds to the changing nature and level of need and/or risk faced by the child. A good assessment will monitor and record the impact of any services delivered to the child and family and review the support being delivered. Whilst services may be delivered to a parent or carer, the assessment should be focused on the needs of the child and on the impact any services are having on the child.
3. Developing a Clear Analysis
The SSCA retains the Framework for the Assessment for Children in Need and their Families (Department of Health et al. 2000) as an underpinning framework to examine children's developmental needs, parents' or care givers' capacity to respond appropriately and family and environmental factors which are specific to the purpose of assessment for that child.
The interaction of the Framework Triangle domains requires careful investigation during the assessment. The aim is to reach a judgement about the nature and level of needs and/or risks that the child may be facing within their family.
An assessment should establish:
- The nature of the concern and the impact this has had on the child;
- An analysis of their needs and/or the nature and level of any risk and harm being suffered by the child;
- How and why the concerns have arisen;
- What the child's and the family's needs appear to be and whether the child is a Child in Need;
- Whether the concern involves abuse or Neglect; and
- Whether there is any need for any urgent action to protect the child, or any other children in the household or community.
Note: if there is a concern with regards to exploitation or trafficking, a referral into the National Referral Mechanism should be made – see Digital Referral System: Report Modern Slavery.
The assessment will involve drawing together and analysing available information from a range of sources, including existing records, and involving and obtaining relevant information from professionals in relevant agencies and others in contact with the child and family. Where an FCAF (Family Common Assessment Framework) has already been completed this information should be used to inform the assessment. Any historical information known about the child or the family should be understood and analysed.
The social worker should analyse all the information gathered from the enquiry stage of the assessment to decide the nature and level of the child's needs and the level of risk, if any, they may be facing. The social work manager should provide regular supervision and challenge the social worker's assumptions as part of this process. An informed decision should be taken on the nature of any action required and which services should be provided. Social workers, their managers and other professionals should be mindful of the requirement to understand the level of need and risk in a family from the child's perspective and ensure action or commission services which will have maximum positive impact on the child's life.
When new information comes to light or circumstances change the child's needs, any previous conclusions should be updated and critically reviewed to ensure that the child is not overlooked as noted in many lessons from Serious Case Reviews.
4. Contribution of the Child and Family
The SSCA will engage with children to explore their wishes and feelings, focussing upon the child's journey and the impact of the concern upon their safety and wellbeing from the child's perspective.
The child should participate and contribute directly to the assessment process based upon their age, understanding and identity. They should be seen alone and if this is not possible or in their best interest, the reason should be recorded. The social worker should work directly with the child in order to understand their views and wishes, including the way in which they behave both with their care givers and in other settings.
The pace of the assessment needs to acknowledge the pace at which the child can contribute. However, this should not be a reason for delay in taking protective action. It is important to understand the resilience of the individual child in their family and community context when planning appropriate services.
Every assessment should be child centred. Where there is a conflict between the needs of the child and their parents/carers, decisions should be made in the child's best interests. The parents should be involved at the earliest opportunity unless to do so would prejudice the safety of the child.
The Parents'The parents' involvement in the assessment will be central to its success. At the outset they need to understand how they can contribute to the process and what is expected of them to change in order to improve the outcomes for the child. The assessment process must be open and transparent with the parents. However, the process should also challenge parents' statements and behaviour where it is evidenced that there are inconsistencies, questions or obstacles to progress. All parents or care givers should be involved equally in the assessment and should be supported to participate whilst the welfare of the child must not be overshadowed by parental needs. There may be exceptions to the involvement of parents or care givers in cases of Sexual Abuse or domestic violence for example, where the plan for the assessment must consider the safety of an adult as well as that of the child.
5. Contribution of Agencies Involved with the Child and Family
All agencies and professionals involved with the child, and the family, have a responsibility to contribute to the assessment process. This might take the form of providing information in a timely manner and direct or joint work. Differences of opinion between professionals should be resolved speedily but where this is not possible, the Effective Challenge and Escalation Procedure should be used.
It is possible that professionals have different experiences of the child and family and understanding these differences will actively contribute to the understanding of the child / family.
The professionals should be involved from the outset and through the agreed, regular process of review.
6. Actions and Outcomes
Every assessment should be focused on outcomes, deciding which services and support to provide to deliver improved welfare for the child and reflect the child's best interests. In the course of the assessment the social worker and their line manager should determine:
- Is this a Child in Need? (Section 17 Children Act 1989);
- Is there reasonable cause to suspect that this child is suffering, or is likely to suffer, Significant Harm? (Section 47 Children Act 1989);
- Is this a child in need of accommodation? (Section 20 or Section 31A Children Act 1989).
The outcomes of the assessment will be decided on by the social worker and the social work team manager, who will agree a plan of action setting out the services to be delivered how and by whom in discussion with the child and family and the professionals involved.
The outcomes may be as follows:
- No further action;
- Additional support which can be provided through universal services and single service provision; early help services such as the FCAF process;
- The development of a multi-agency child in need plan for the provision of child in need services to promote the child's health and development;
- Specialist assessment for a more in-depth understanding of the child's needs and circumstances;
- Undertaking a Meeting, and a Section 47 child protection enquiry;
- Emergency action to protect a child.
The outcome of the assessment should be:
- Discussed with the child and family and provided to them in written form. Exceptions to this are where this might place a child at risk of harm or jeopardise an enquiry;
- Taking account of confidentiality, provided to professional referrers;
- Given in writing to agencies involved in providing services to the child with the action points, review dates and intended outcomes for the child stated.
Though the rigid timescales of initial and Core assessments are no longer adhered to, there is still a maximum time limit of 45 days to complete an assessment, however timescales can be tailored to the purpose of the assessment and the individual needs of children and their families. Timeliness in the identification of children's needs and the provision of help is still important therefore procedures and guidance are in place that will ensure that assessments are timely and drift is avoided.
7. Regular Review
The assessment plan must set out timescales for the actions to be met and stages of the assessment to progress, which should include regular points to review the assessment. The work with the child and family should ensure that the agreed points are achieved through regular reviews. Where delays or obstacles occur these must be acted on and the assessment plan must be reviewed if any circumstances change for the child.
The social work team manager will review the assessment plan regularly with the social worker and ensure that actions such as those below have been met:
- There has been direct communication with the child alone and their views and wishes have been recorded and taken into account when providing services;
- All the children in the household have been seen and their needs considered;
- The child's home address has been visited and the child's bedroom has been seen;
- The parents have been seen and their views and wishes have been recorded and taken into account;
- The analysis and evaluation has been completed;
- The assessment provides clear evidence for decisions on what types of services are needed to provide good outcomes for the child and family.
A useful comment from 'Working Together to Safeguard Children' to bear in mind for all professionals when reviewing progress:
'A high quality assessment is one in which evidence is built and revised throughout the process and takes account of family history and the child's experience of cumulative abuse.A social worker may arrive at a judgment early in the case but this may need to be revised as the case progresses and further information comes to light. It is a characteristic of skilled practice that social workers revisit their assumptions in the light of new evidence and take action to revise their decisions in the best interests of the individual child. Decision points and review points involving the child and family and relevant practitioners should be used to keep the assessment on track. This is to ensure that help is given in a timely and appropriate way and that the impact of this help is analysed and evaluated in terms of the improved outcomes and welfare of the child'.
Recording by all professionals should include information on the child's development so that progress can be monitored to ensure their outcomes are improving. This is particularly significant in circumstances where neglect is an issue.
Records should be kept of the progress of the assessment on the individual child's record and in their Chronology to monitor any patterns of concerns.
Assessment plans and action points arising from plans and meetings should be circulated to the participants including the child, if appropriate, and the parents.
The recording should be such that a child, requesting to access their records, could easily understand the process taking place and the reasons for decisions and actions taken.Supervision records should reflect the reasoning for decisions and actions taken.
9. Principles for a Good Assessment
Assessment should be a dynamic process, which analyses and responds to the changing nature and level of need and/or risk faced by the child from within and outside their family. It is important that the impact of what is happening to a child is clearly identified and that information is gathered, recorded and checked systematically, and discussed with the child and their parents/carers where appropriate.
10. Assessment of Risk Outside the Home
As well as threats to the welfare of children from within their families, children may be vulnerable to abuse or exploitation from outside their families. These extra-familial threats might arise at school and other educational establishments, from within peer groups, or more widely from within the wider community and/or online.
These threats can take a variety of different forms and children can be vulnerable to multiple threats, including: exploitation by criminal gangs and organised crime groups such as county lines; trafficking, online abuse; teenage relationship abuse (including controlling or coercive behaviour); sexual exploitation and the influences of extremism leading to radicalisation.
Assessments of children in such cases should consider whether wider environmental factors are undermining effective intervention being undertaken to reduce risk with the child and family. Parents and carers have little influence over the contexts in which the abuse takes place and the young person's experiences of this extra-familial abuse can undermine parent-child relationships.
Interventions should focus on addressing the wider environmental factors, which are likely to be a threat to the safety and welfare of a number of different children who may or may not be known to local authority Children's Social Care. Effective information sharing and intelligence gathering is crucial in developing effective coordinated multi-agency responses.
The International Child Abduction and Contact Unit includes the form for local authority staff to ask the authorities in another country for information or assistance in a child protection case.
Modern Slavery (GOV.UK) details about the government’s work to end modern slavery, including details about how to refer victims into the national referral mechanism (NRM).
Working with foreign authorities: child protection cases and care orders Departmental advice for local authorities, social workers, service managers and children's services lawyers (GOV.UK) – Guidance on child protection cases and care orders where the child has links to a foreign country
Cross-border child protection cases: the 1996 Hague Convention (GOV.UK) – Guidance for local authorities dealing with international child protection cases.