Our starting point is the UK Working Together 2010 statement of the principles underpinning our work to safeguard and promote the welfare of children. Whilst there have been several updates to this document, these principles hold true in relation to best practice: "All of the principles and guidance in this framework are underpinned by training for staff and supported by a range of practice tools, available on the intranet, and linked to these procedures to aid implementation."

Principles of good assessment

Child centred

The child should be seen (alone when appropriate) by the lead social worker in addition to all other professionals who have a responsibility for the child's welfare. His or her welfare should be kept sharply in focus in all work with the child and family. The significance of seeing and observing the child cannot be overstated. The child should be spoken and listened to, and their wishes and feelings ascertained, taken into account (having regard to their age and understanding) and recorded when making decisions about the provision of services. Some of the worst failures of the system have occurred when professionals have lost sight of the child and concentrated instead on their relationship with the adults.

Rooted in child development

Those working with children should have a detailed understanding of child development and how the quality of the care they are receiving can have an impact on their health and development. They should recognise that as children grow, they continue to develop their skills and abilities. Each stage, from infancy through middle years to adolescence, lays the foundation for more complex development. Plans and interventions to safeguard and promote the child's welfare should be based on a clear assessment of the child's developmental progress and the difficulties the child may be experiencing. Planned action should also be timely and appropriate for the child's age and stage of development.

Focus on CYPP priority outcomes for children

When working directly with a child, any plan developed for the child and their family or caregiver should be based on an assessment of the child's developmental needs and the parents/caregivers' capacity to respond to these needs within their family and environmental context. The child's plan should set out the planned outcomes for the child; progress against these should be regularly reviewed and the actual outcomes should be recorded. The purpose of all interventions should be to achieve the best possible outcomes for each child, recognising that each child is unique. These outcomes should contribute to the key outcomes set out for all children in the Children and Young People Plan 2016 -22. These are that children should: Be Safe and Nurtured; Be Healthy and Active; Achieve Individual and Economic Potential, and Be Included and Respected. In relation to risk the child's plan should clearly identify the danger to the child that will be prevented as a result of the planned intervention, and how this will happen.

Holistic in approach

Having a holistic approach means having an understanding of a child within the context of their family (parents or caregivers and the wider family) and of the educational setting, community and culture in which he or she is growing up. The interaction between the developmental needs of children, the capacities of parents or caregivers to respond appropriately to those needs, the impact of wider family and environmental factors on children and on parenting capacity, requires careful exploration during an assessment.

The ultimate aim is to understand the child's developmental needs and the capacity of the parents or caregivers to meet them and to provide services to the child and to the family members that respond to these needs. The child's context will be even more complex when they are living away from home and looked after by adults who do not have parental responsibility for them.

Ensuring equality of opportunity

Equality of opportunity means that all children have the opportunity to achieve the best possible developmental outcomes, regardless of their gender, ability, race, ethnicity, circumstances or age. Some vulnerable children may have been particularly disadvantaged in their access to important opportunities and their health and educational needs will require particular attention in order to optimise their current welfare as well as their long-term outcomes into adulthood.

Involving children and families

In the process of finding out what is happening to a child it is important to listen to the child, develop a therapeutic relationship with the child and through this gain an understanding of his or her wishes and feelings. Practitioners should use a range of age appropriate tools to engage the child in describing their day to day experiences, hopes and feelings and these should be referenced in all assessments, including how the child's views will be addressed in the resulting plan.

The importance of developing a co-operative working relationship is emphasised so that parents or caregivers feel respected and informed; they believe staff are being open and honest with them and in turn they are confident about providing vital information about their child, themselves and their circumstances. The consent of children or their parents/caregivers, where appropriate, should be obtained for sharing information unless to do so would place a child at risk of suffering significant harm. Similarly, decisions should also be made with their agreement, whenever possible, unless to do so would place the child at risk of suffering significant harm. This includes being clear and transparent about working hypotheses and how these are being tested and evaluated.

Building on strengths as well as identifying difficulties

Identifying both strengths (including resilience and protective factors) and difficulties (including vulnerabilities and risk factors) within the child, his or her family and the context in which they are living is important, as is considering how these factors are having an impact on the child's health and development.

Too often it has been found that a deficit model of working with families predominates in practice and ignores crucial areas of success and effectiveness within the family on which to base interventions. Working with a child or family's strengths becomes an important part of a plan to resolve difficulties.

Integrated in approach

From birth there will be a variety of different agencies and services in the community involved with children and their development, particularly in relation to their health and education. Multi- and inter-agency work to safeguard and promote children's welfare starts as soon as it has been identified that the child or the family members have additional needs requiring support/services beyond universal services, not just when there are questions about possible harm.

A continuing process not an event

Understanding what is happening to a vulnerable child within the context of his or her family and the local community and taking appropriate action are continuing and interactive processes, and not single events. Assessment should continue throughout a period of intervention and intervention may start at the beginning of an assessment. Crucially, a good assessment which fully engages the family and the child can in itself begin and support a change process and can therefore be an integral part of intervention.

Providing and reviewing services

Action and services should be provided according to the identified needs of the child and family in parallel with assessment where necessary.

It is not necessary to await completion of the assessment process. Immediate and practical needs should be addressed alongside more complex and longer term ones. The impact of service provision on a child's developmental progress should be reviewed at regular intervals and should always be included in the evaluation of risk - what impact will the removal of services have on sustainable improvement in the child's life chances and safety?

Informed by evidence

Effective practice with children and families requires sound professional judgements which are underpinned by a rigorous evidence base, and draw on the practitioner's knowledge and experience. Decisions based on these judgements should be kept under review, and take full account of any new information obtained during the course of work with the child and family.