A single assessment

The Committee for Health and Social Care has adopted a single assessment process, with the timescale being determined according to the needs and context for the child. Where the key issue identified is a danger or risk of significant harm to a child then the risk assessment tools linked to the framework must be used. In all cases, the stepwise model for assessment should be used.

Using this framework

This assessment framework should be applied for all assessment and case planning in relation to children, young people and families who are subject to a referral or who are in receipt of services from the Committee. It is designed to provide a consistent framework for the identification, analysis and management of needs and of risk to children and young people.

Where abuse or neglect of a child is known or suspected, the child protection procedures must be followed, and the risk assessment tools provided within this framework used to evaluate and manage the nature and level of risks to inform any child protection plan.

The same tools should be used to assess risks to children who are in receipt of other services, to ensure that their welfare is being promoted in line with the Committees practice standards, and the achievement of best outcomes for those children.

Professor Eileen Munro's Review of Child Protection - A child centred system, acknowledges that risk and uncertainty are inherent in social work, and that organisations must move from 'risk averse' practices and processes, to those which are 'risk sensible'. That is, to systems which support the exercise of professional judgement, evidence informed practice, and critical appraisal skills, and which require professionals to work together with children and their families to understand their experiences and to engage them in finding and implementing solutions, wherever possible.  Munro outlines in her earlier work, the key skills and knowledge required for professionals to operate in a safe and effective way, as follows:

                                                           Skills and knowledge Displays a larger version of this image in a new browser window

These skills underpin the effective assessment, analysis and management of risk of significant harm to children and young people and form the basis of training and staff development to support staff in utilising this framework.

The nature of risk

In risks affecting Society as a whole, personal factors tend to play a minor role in judgement, because the impact of decisions is much more remote.  Where the impact of decisions directly affects us, we are of course much more subjective in our judgements and this can overshadow 'objective' assessment - a key criticism made by many serious case reviews.

People are generally more averse to risks which are immediate, than to those which are long delayed. This is a factor in assessments of risk of physical abuse, where there is a possibility of immediate and visible injury, versus neglect, for example.  Research highlights the fact that agencies are less effective in dealing with the latter, but also highlights the impact of intervention or the lack of it on the long term outcomes for children.

Individuals have a strong, but unjustified, sense of subjective immunity!  They tend to under-estimate risks which they imagine to be under their own control, assume they can deal with familiar situations, and underestimate risk of events which are rarely expected to happen. That is, we engage in denial about risks due to our own subjective reality, rather than the facts before us. For Social Workers, this is translated as the 'rule of optimism', where we ignore signals which should alert us to dangers within families, and allow ourselves to be influenced by our own hopes for positive outcomes.

This means accepting that not all risks can be managed, and that indeed, risk is a positive aspect of life which enables children to develop positive coping skills and independence as they grow into adulthood. It is for this reason that in risk assessment we must consider the actual or likely significant harm of a child: the question of whether harm suffered by a child is significant relates specifically to the child's health and development. Their health or development should be compared with that which could reasonably be expected of a similar child and the parenting that we would reasonably expect them to receive from their parent or carer.

The Risk Assessment Framework

There are many models for needs assessment and analysis of risk and a great deal of research evidence on what actually works for families in differing situations. All of these have merit, and all have a range of practice tools which can aid practitioners in identifying and meeting the needs of children and in identifying and managing risk, together with other professionals, children, young people and their carers.

In order to provide consistency of experience for children, and to support the on-going development of effective and reflective practice, this framework draws on a number of these models and provides guidance for all staff in how to proceed from initial referral through the MASH to analysis and planning, and to effective and positive risk management, drawing on different evidence based approaches for different types of abuse.

The framework takes as it's starting place, the Framework for the Assessment of Children in Need and their Families, updated by Dalzell in 2011 to highlight the analysis of risk which was not clearly embedded within that framework. It uses the stepwise approach developed by De Mello and Yuille and highlighted in Calder and Hackett's Assessment in Child Care,(2003). This model is the framework for all assessment work, and provides a clear and structured approach for all managers and staff.

There are a number of underpinning analysis tools for all child protection work, for example, Paul Brearley's Hazards and Dangers approach, the risk and vulnerability matrix developed in the Child's World and for Neglect and emotional abuse, the Salford Graded Care Profile.

For sexual abuse, this framework will draw upon the work of David Finkelhor, Ray Wyre, Marcus Erooga, Ward and Siegert and the Lucy Faithfull Foundation as well as current research in Australia and in North America. It will reference the 4 'preconditions' to offending, the offending cycle, and the impact on children, family and professional systems to equip workers and managers with awareness of the potential tensions and pitfalls in managing risk as well as tools to inform and facilitate the protection of children.

Reference is also made to the use of the Signs of Safety approach developed by Edwards and Turnell, and also to the use of motivational interviewing as a means of engaging with families and with young people.

However, the provision of this framework does not replace the professional responsibility of practitioners to keep themselves updated in relation to evidence informed practice and the further development of their own skills and knowledge in order to support effective professional judgement and practice wisdom.

Managers and practitioners will also develop and use their own tools for direct work with children and their families which add to the evidence base for individual assessment, and the committee encourages staff to share these with senior managers and to link them to this framework via the intranet to support the continuous development of best practice.

The Committee and its partners have agreed that the My World Triangle assessment framework will form the basis of all assessment and planning for children and young people. This is complementary to the Framework for the Assessment of Children in Need and their Families on which much of the above is based, but it translates the approach into more child centred language. It can be accessed here.

The My World Triangle emphasises the need to take a holistic approach from the child's perspective and to consider the whole child or young person, including their physical, social, educational, emotional, spiritual and psychological development and well-being. This is then translated onto the Child's Plan.