7.1 Assessment Framework Guidance
SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER
This chapter takes account of Working Together to Safeguard Children 2010 revised in 2013. The emphasise is on the need to see the child during the assessment process and are contained in sections 4, 5 and 13, are shown in italics.
See also Using Genograms in Assessment Procedure.
- Dimensions of the Assessment Framework
- Pyramid of Needs and Threshold Criteria
- Planning Assessments
- Participation of Children and their Families and Carers
- Assessment of Children and Families from Black and Minority Ethnic Backgrounds
- Assessing the Needs of Disabled Children and their Families
- Assessing the Needs of Children and Families who have Lived Overseas or have been Associated with the Forces
- Refusal to Cooperate with an Assessment
- Child Protection
- Consent and Confidentiality
- Notifying, Consulting or Commissioning Other Agencies
- Ending Assessments, Planning and Review
The Assessment Framework for gathering and analysing information about all children and their families has three dimensions:
- The developmental needs of the child;
- The capacities of parents or carers to respond to those needs;
- The impact of wider family and environmental factors on parenting capacity and children.
The timescales outlined in the assessment procedures are maximum timescales. The urgency of the situation may dictate that the timescales are much shorter or that more time is required to complete the assessment.
However, the timescales should not be compromised unless there are exceptional circumstances and the manager approves it. Under normal circumstances, assessments should be completed within the required timescale and if new information comes to light later, the assessment can be updated and/or the manager must consider what actions to take.
Oxfordshire County Council and partner agencies provide a range of services for children and their families from universal services available to all, through targeted services for those requiring extra support, to specialist and rehabilitative services where crisis or urgent intervention is required.
These levels are set out in the Oxford Threshold of Needs Matrix.
In summary, the Threshold Criteria for Children in Need are divided into four levels:
Level 1: Universal
These are children including disabled children who make good overall progress in all areas of development. Broadly, these children receive appropriate universal services, or some specialist disability services such as health care and education. They may also use leisure and play facilities, housing or voluntary sector services.
Level 2: Vulnerable
These are children including disabled children whose needs require some additional support from a targeted service without which they would be at risk of not reaching their full potential.
Level 3: Children in Need/Significant
These are children including disabled children whose needs are more complex, and require support from more than one agency. This refers to the range of needs and depth or significance of the needs. They are at risk of social or educational exclusion. Their health, welfare, social, or educational development is being impaired
Level 4: Critical
These are children including disabled children whose needs are complex and enduring and cross many domains including children who are suffering or likely to suffer Significant Harm.
Children will move into/out of and between these levels of vulnerability according to their particular circumstances at a point in time.
The Assessment Process is summarised as follows:
- Gathering relevant information across all dimensions of the Assessment Triangle (see above)
- Analysing the information and reaching professional judgments
- Making decisions and planning interventions
- Intervening, service delivery and/or further assessment
- Evaluating and reviewing progress
This process is ongoing, or cyclical
All assessment should be planned, but planning is particularly important for Child and Family Assessments. Planning should identify the focus of the assessment including those who will be involved.
Questions to be considered in planning assessments include:
- Who will undertake the assessment and what resources will be needed?
- Who in the family will be included and how will they be involved (including absent or wider family and others significant to the child)?
- In what grouping will the child and family members be seen and in what order and where?
- When will the child be seen alone by the social worker undertaking the assessment or if it is not appropriate for the social worker to see the child alone, who else should be present and why?
- 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? (See Section 6, Assessment of Children and Families from Black and Minority Ethnic Backgrounds)
- What method of collecting information will be used? Which questionnaires and scales will be used?
- What information is already available?
- What other sources of knowledge about the child and family are available and how will other agencies and professionals who know the family be informed and involved?
- How will the consent of family members be obtained?
- What will be the timescales?
- How will the information be recorded?
- How will it be analysed and who will be involved?
- When will the outcomes be discussed, and service planning take place.
As indicated above children should be communicated with and seen alone by the social worker carrying out the assessment unless to do so would be inappropriate, e.g. because of a child’s expressed wishes, in which case the manager must authorise that the child may be seen by the social worker with some-one else present. Who should be present, the reasons and the manager’s agreement must be recorded.
It is expected that families should be encouraged and enabled to actively participate in an assessment unless this would place the child at increased risk of Significant Harm. This will include:
- Provision of verbal information and written information leaflets;
- Opportunities to express their views and have these recorded;
- Being encouraged to participate in planning meetings before and at the conclusion of assessment and at subsequent reviews;
- Identification of strengths within families as well as areas where further help may be needed;
- Early identification of any special needs of the child or relevant family members to enable any support needs to be addressed during the assessment process such as interpreting, advocacy etc;
- Careful selection of assessment tools, methods and approaches that will aid participation.
Assessment planning should consider how many and which workers can contribute to the assessment, and ensure the roles of each worker are clear to the family. In general, it would be best to be as un-intrusive as possible, and to minimise the numbers of people working directly with the family for the purpose of assessment.
The following guidance should be read in conjunction with Chapter 2 of the Framework for the Assessment of Children in Need and their Families: Practice Guidance (DOH 2000).
The population of England comprises many white ethnic minority groups as well as black and minority ethnic groups and their differences, e.g. in culture/religion, have to be taken into account as for other ethnic minority groups. Oppression can also be experienced by these groups and this too needs to be acknowledged and addressed. However, here the focus is on assessments of black and minority ethnic children in need and their families.
Whilst there are some similarities and parallels in the experiences of black, minority ethnic and white minorities in Britain, there is also a fundamental difference. Institutional racism has resulted in the significant impairment of the life opportunities of black and minority ethnic people in this country (MacPherson, 1999).
Assessing the developmental needs of children is a complex process that requires all relevant aspects of a child’s life experience to be addressed. For black and minority ethnic children assessments should address the impact that racism has on a particular child and family and ensure that the assessment process itself does not reinforce racism through racial or cultural stereotyping.
Black, minority ethnic and white children require their parents or carers to respond to their same fundamental care needs. They all need basic care, warmth, stimulation, guidance, boundaries and stability. Any child who grows up without access to these basic life blocks (as a result of poor parental care) will suffer to a greater or lesser extent.
The base lines for assessing parenting capacity and the child’s developmental needs should be the same irrespective of whether a black, minority ethnic or a white child is being assessed.
Domain: Children’s Developmental Needs
Health - Pointers for Practice
Assessments of black and minority ethnic families should take account of the specific health needs of different black/minority ethnic communities and address:
- The extent to which the physical health of the child may be affected by adverse social conditions;
- The extent to which the child and family have direct access to appropriate advice support and services in relation to their health care needs;
- Whether the child or family members may be likely to suffer from sickle cell disorder;
- Whether past life experiences or trauma has had any affect on the physical health of the child.
Education Pointers for Practice
Assessment of black and minority ethnic children’s educational and cognitive development should take account of racism as it may manifest itself within the educational system and address:
- Whether the child has had the opportunity to realise their educational potential without the limitations imposed upon them by negative stereotyping;
- For an excluded child, the extent to which the exclusion is appropriate in relation to the child’s behaviour;
- The extent to which the child’s parents are consulted about and involved in the child’s education.
Identity and Emotional /Behavioural Development Pointers for Practice
Identity allows individuals to understand and conceptualise themselves as distinct from others and allows individuals to form group identities with other individuals who have similar characteristics to their own. Race, culture, religion and language are central to group and individual identity. Assessments should to address identity holistically by considering:
- Any difficulties which the child may be having in acquiring a positive racial identity, and what help the child requires to enable them do so;
- The child’s awareness of their own ethnicity and personal, family and community history. Where this is not available, what steps can be taken to obtain such information;
- The child’s access to a lived experience of their culture, for example, attendance at a wedding, or participation in celebrations which include music, food and traditional rituals will give a child a far more profound and effective sense of their cultural identity than any amount of visual or written material;
- The religious and spiritual needs of black and minority ethnic children and their families this will require professionals to discuss the family’s belief systems religion, rites and traditions and record them routinely;
- The identity of disabled black and minority ethnic children holistically and not as a hierarchy of need, in that being black or minority ethnic gives the child a specific perspective on their disability;
- The extent to which the child has the opportunity to learn about and maintain family languages. Where the child has not had this opportunity, what steps can be taken to address this deficiency;
- The extent to which a black or minority ethnic disabled child has the opportunity to learn their first language. As some disabled children rely upon other forms of communication apart from the written or spoken work, it is vital that communication with their families is facilitated in a way that accounts for their own modes of communication as well as the family’s first language. For example, the basis of British Sign Language is English. Translating BSL into English will facilitate the understanding of English speakers, but for those who speak other languages, further translation is required. Although the provision of interpreters is seen sometimes as a logistical nightmare for social welfare agencies, the ability to communicate and to be understood has to be promoted as a basic human right, without which any attempt at assessment would be impossible.
Family and Social Relationship Pointers for Practice
Information about family history and cultural heritage are vital not only to the child’s sense of personal identity and wellbeing, but also to their sense of group identification, in assessing the child’s relationship it is important to consider:
- The child’s relationships within the context of their wider social networks and connections;
- The extent of quality and quantity of information the child has about their own roots and heritage, and how deficiencies in this information can be addressed;
- The specific family structure in which the child lives, and the patterns of attachment which operates within this particular black or minority ethnic family including any attachment figures who may not be blood relatives;
- The impact of migration, separation and trauma on the child and wider family network.
Domain: Parenting Capacity
Basic Care / Ensuring Safety Pointers for Practice
Issues of race and culture cannot simply be added to a list for separate consideration during an assessment. They are integral to the assessment process. In undertaking assessments of black and minority ethnic families professionals, should be mindful that;
- From referral through to Child and Family Assessment, intervention and planning, race and culture have to be addressed using the Assessment Framework;
- Culture can explain the context in which an abusive incident took place, but not the behaviour or action of an individual parent. For example a parent who injures their child with a belt may say that this form of punishment is “cultural”. Their cultural context may explain the parents anger within the expectations that he or she has of the child, but will not explain why the parent acted upon this anger by using a belt to hit the child. Other parents from the same culture in a similar context may choose to punish the child without recourse to any physical punishment at all;
- Racial and cultural stereotyping of black and minority ethnic families can lead to inappropriate interventions in families as well as a failure to protect black and minority ethnic children from abuse.
Racial Abuse and Harassment Pointers for Practice
Racial abuse damages children both physically and emotionally and as such warrants professional intervention to address the effects of this form of abuse whether it comes from within or outside the family. Assessments should consider:
- Whether racial abuse, racial bullying or racial violence impacts on the child or on the wider family;
- The extent of support, advice and intervention offered to the family, or the family require, and how this can be provided.
Emotional Warmth Pointers for Practice
There are differences in the way in which affection and love are shown to children by adults. Some of these will be based on established cultural patterns of behaviour whilst some will be related more to individual, family or social influences. In assessing emotional warmth:
- Assessments should take account of such variations, whilst still maintaining consistency in the application of minimum standards of child care;
- Professionals need to ensure that base lines are consistent across cultures. It is not acceptable that parents who demonstrate cold and unloving responses to children are able to justify their behaviour on the grounds of cultural differences;
- In an extended family or clan family structure the whole family may participate in the parenting of the child, including providing emotional warmth for the child. The parent-child interaction will only be one of many adult-child, child-child interactions which should be addressed in an assessment.
Stimulation - Pointers for Practice
- In assessing stimulation in black and minority ethnic families it is important to recognise that children’s learning may be encouraged in a range of ways, and that the trappings of a stimulating environment, such as toys and play equipment are not guarantors of a stimulating environment for children. In assessing families workers should make sense of different practices;
- In western societies the concept of childhood is underpinned by the desire to be free of adult responsibilities and to have opportunities for explanation, learning and play. In many black and minority ethnic families children are not expected to take on adult responsibilities, but they are expected to learn certain skills that will prepare them for adult life. Whilst western values encourage pretend play, many black and minority ethnic families take pride in teaching children the basics of cooking and child care at quite young ages.
Guidance, Boundaries and Stability - Pointers for Practice
In assessing guidance and boundaries, professionals should understand the context in which these are developed. In undertaking assessments:
- Professionals should be aware that black and minority ethnic families at present perceive child welfare professionals as undermining of black and minority ethnic communities, particularly in relation to the guidance of and boundaries for young people;
- The imposition of a western and individualised model of autonomy and independence is at variance with the values of many black and minority ethnic families, and it’s application in assessment and intervention can de-stabilise families and family support networks;
- Where intergenerational or family conflicts arise in relation to guidance and boundaries, negotiations are necessary to reconcile differences.
Domain: Family and Environmental Factors
Each of the dimensions identified should not be seen in isolation from each other. For instance, having a large family may not in itself be a problem for any one family but if the family are also experiencing overcrowding and low income it may result in family members experiencing additional stress. Any assessment process should take account of the impact on the family of the various factors interacting with each other.
Family History and Functioning - Pointers for Practice
- In assessing black and minority ethnic families it is important to take account of family size and structure. For instance, a family with three or more children with a low income and poor housing is a family likely to experience hardship. Any assessment process should address the implications of this for families;
- Although the fact of a lone parent household in itself may not be an issue for an individual family, a lone parent household with no support networks may impact on family functioning. Furthermore, lone parenthood can have an impact on income and wealth, and in turn can impact on the material wellbeing of children. This should be taken account of in an assessment;
- In relation to a child of dual heritage assessments should consider the implications of family arrangements on the child and family. For instance how does living in a white only household impact on the child’s position within the family, or how does a single white mother’s isolation from her community affect her relationship with her child?
- It is important for assessors to understand that the evidence of a higher incidence of lone parenthood amongst Caribbean people does not rule out exploration of the issue of ‘visiting’ relationships, where the responsibility for care of the children may be shared although the parents may not live together.
Parenting strengths and difficulties - Pointers for Practice
- Assessments should inform interventions which build on the strengths of black and minority ethnic families, whilst ensuring that areas of difficulty or potential risk to the child’s safety are identified and addressed appropriately;
- An empowerment model of assessment should recognise the life experiences of black and minority ethnic families, particularly the ability of families to survive and resist a system that is disadvantaging;
- Targeted support to address family problems should be based on an understanding of a family’s circumstances as the result of the assessment process rather than on the basis of assumptions underpinned by stereotypical beliefs of black and minority ethnic families.
Wider Family - Pointers for Practice
- In assessing black and minority ethnic families, practitioners should ascertain from children and family members their perception of who constitutes their wider family and tap into the strengths that may be present in that wider family network.
Housing, Employment and Income - Pointers for Practice
- In assessing the needs of children and their families it is important to understand the implications of social and economic context within which families live and more importantly how fears and worries about money, health, education and employment impact on family life;
- In assessing black and minority ethnic families any attempts to disregard the impact of racism on the social and economic context in which black and minority ethnic families live will result in an assessment which is incomplete.
Families Social Integration - Pointers for Practice
- Any assessment with individual black and minority ethnic families should recognise that although many black and minority ethnic families gain strength from living amongst their own community, there are individual black and minority ethnic families whose experience of living amongst black and minority ethnic people may not necessarily be a positive one. As with the white community, the reasons for any black and minority ethnic family feeling either isolated or ostracised from the majority community will vary. Whatever the reason it is important to think of the support networks for such families;
- Alongside the individual impact which racial abuse and bullying has on children, it is important to consider the impact of racial violence on communities. Fear of abuse or attacks can affect whole ways of life in particular communities which are targeted for such treatment by reducing the freedom of movement of women, children and older people in both the hours of daylight and at night. In such cases local authorities should plan for community safety in a more pro-active and coordinated way, using the auspices of children’s planning processes and area child protection committees, alongside initiatives to reduce crime and improve safety in the locality.
Community Resources - Pointers for Practice
During the assessment process professionals should ascertain from families what are their perceptions of available community resources what kinds of services would be most helpful to them and how to make statutory sector services appropriate and accessible to them.
The following guidance should be read in conjunction with Chapter 3 of the Framework for the Assessment of Children in Need and their Families (DOH 2000).
- The basic needs of disabled children are no different to those of any other child. However, their impairments may create additional needs and you need to be aware of this in making an assessment;
- Disabled Children are far more likely than non-disabled children to be the subject of multiple assessments by health, education and social services. There are several reasons for this:
- There are more disabled children in groups already socially disadvantaged;
- Disabled children are more likely to have a number of experiences that may trigger assessment;
- Assessment has become the route to ordinary entitlements for many disabled children and their families;
- Assessment of special educational needs.
- Think about your own understanding of disability;
- Take into account the child’s experience and understanding of assessment;
- Take into account the family’s experience and understanding of assessment;
- Be clear about the focus of an assessment;
- Find out who else is currently involved with the child;
- Gather information from existing assessments;
- Access helpful information on specific childhood impairments.
In carrying out an assessment, the social worker should try to involve disabled children and young people. This demonstrates a respect and valuing of the child as a person.
The social worker may face a number of barriers in doing this, not least lack of confidence in their own skills. Other barriers may be:
- Others may not expect this to happen;
- Workers may not feel confident about their own skills;
- Develop a broad and flexible definition of communication;
- Standard assessment approaches may not work;
- Involve others who can support communication with the child;
- If parents or others are to be directly involved negotiate clear ground rules at the start;
- Be responsive and flexible.
8. Assessing the Needs of Children and Families who have Lived Overseas or have been Associated with the Forces
Where it appears that a child has lived elsewhere in the UK, Overseas or where the family may have been associated with the Forces, relevant enquiries must be made into their backgrounds from the relevant areas – see Overseas Children and Forces Children for contact details that may assist.
There will be occasions when an assessment is needed but a parent or young person refuses to become involved. In these instances, the social worker should:
- Read carefully any case files, particularly noting the type and level of concerns expressed in previous referrals and including the most recent referral;
- Discuss the circumstance of this child with the Team Manager in order to decide whether:
- To carry out checks without consent;
- To hold a Planning Meeting in order to inform other professionals of the situation and to negotiate with them the level of safeguards that can be put in place;
- To consider whether further intervention including a Child Protection Assessment is now needed.
Where a parent is refusing to co-operate, the social worker should endeavour to have a face-to-face meeting with that parent to explain the potential consequences of refusal and to see whether the reasons for refusal can be overcome. Written communication should accompany attempts to open up a dialogue with the parent rather than replace it.
Where attempts to engage the parent in the assessment are unsuccessful, the manager must consider what action or approach is required to safeguard the child and take legal advice as necessary.
If, at any stage, there are suspicions or allegations about child maltreatment and reasonable cause for concern that a child may be suffering or is likely to suffer Significant Harm, there must be a Strategy Discussion and interagency action in accordance with the guidance in Working Together to Safeguard Children 2013 and the Oxfordshire Safeguarding Children Board’s Inter Agency Procedures. If there is a risk to the life of a child or a likelihood of serious immediate harm, immediate action should be taken to safeguard the child.
Where the concerns are confirmed at the Strategy Discussion, a Child and Family Assessment incorporating a Child Protection Assessment must be undertaken. As with all assessments, the Assessment Framework provides the structure for helping to collect and analyse information obtained. The assessment of what is happening to a child in these circumstances is not a separate or different activity, but is part of the same assessment process, although the pace and scope of the assessment will be different. The 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 action, including emergency action, is required to secure the safety of the child.
Personal information about children and families held by professionals is subject to a legal duty of confidence and should not normally be disclosed without the consent of the subject. However, the law permits the disclosure of confidential information if it is necessary to safeguard a child or children in the public interest. Disclosure without consent would be justifiable to safeguard a child (see Children's Policy Values and Principles Procedure, Confidentiality Values and Principles Policy, as well as Confidentiality Policy Procedure and Information Sharing Protocol).
All agencies should obtain the family’s prior agreement to sharing information unless this would place the child at risk of Significant Harm. Subject to this important exception, it is therefore good practice to check with the family before contacting another agency.
In obtaining consent to seek information from other parties or to disclose information about the child or other individuals, it is important that the explanation includes:
- Clarity about the purpose of approaching other individuals or agencies;
- Reasons for the disclosure of any information, for example about the referral or details about the child or family members;
- Details of the individuals or agencies being contacted;
- What information will be sought or shared;
- Why the information is important;
- What it is hoped to achieve.
Where there are concerns about Significant Harm, it is essential that professionals and others share information, since it is only when all of this information is compiled that it becomes clear whether the child is at such risk.
Other relevant agencies, known to or with a potential interest in the child, must be consulted at the outset and during the assessment.
Where information has already been gathered by other agencies as part of their assessments, there is no need to duplicate the information gathering although the social worker should check with the child and family that the information gained from the other agencies is correct.
If, during the course of an assessment, it is discovered that a school age child is not attending an educational establishment, the social worker should contact the local education authority to establish a reason for this.
If, at any time, it is suspected that a Child has suffered or is likely to suffer Significant Harm, a Strategy Meeting/Discussion must immediately be initiated - see Strategy Discussion Procedure in the Oxfordshire Safeguarding Children Board Procedures.
If, at any time, there is suspicion that a crime may have been committed including sexual or physical assault or Neglect, the Police must immediately be notified.
During the course of the Assessment it may be necessary to provide or refer the child for services or to commission additional specialist assessments; the manager must authorise such decisions.
Assessments are not deemed to have been completed until they have been discussed with the child (depending on his or her age) and the family and authorised by the manager.
A manager must approve the outcome of all assessments and authorise any plan.
Where an assessment concludes that a child should be Looked After, a Care Plan will be required see Decision to Look After and Care Planning Procedure for details of all the documentation required for looked after children. See also Care Proceedings Procedure for the procedure where it is considered that court proceedings should be considered.
Where a Child is subject to a Child Protection Plan, the Plan will be reviewed at a Child Protection Review Conference.
All assessments and plans must be reviewed as determined by relevant procedures or within six months see Child in Need Plans and Reviews Procedure. All Reviews must involve the child (depending on his or her age), the parents and significant family members and will include a systematic check to see if the plan has been carried out and whether it has been successful.