Step Three: Gather Information

Information for the assessment should be gathered from all adults who are significant to the child (including separated or estranged parents depending on the specifics of the case), plus, of course, from the child.  The assessment team will need to be clear about who, when and why they are approaching people. Issues of confidentiality and consent will need to be addressed as per the Child Protection procedures.

There are a range of tools available to assist workers in gathering information, many of which can be used equally well with adults and children, but which will need to be adapted to meet particular needs e.g. the age and understanding of the child,  the abilities of parents with learning disabilities. Key to all of these is the role of direct observation of the interaction between family members and the quality of care given to children. The Salford Graded Care scale places huge emphasis on this, and regardless of whether this specific tool is being use, it is crucial that practitioners note their observations and use these as part of their evidence base when forming judgements in the analysis stage of assessment. Clarity about the interpretation of observed action can also form the basis of helpful, if challenging, discussion with parents about what needs to change and why.

For babies and young children or children with severe learning disabilities who have limited or no language skills detailed observation using specialist workers e.g. nursery nurses can provide invaluable information.

Information gathering tools

The use of genograms (or family trees) is a particularly helpful way to engage families and to clarify complex relationships, to indicate gaps in knowledge and to make visible intergenerational and life cycle issues.  They can be used to gather information and to work therapeutically. As they can be powerful in raising painful and suppressed memories, it is important to explain what a genogram is and what it is likely to raise before undertaking this task.  Some of the symbols used can have a considerable but unintentional impact.  For example the use of X to symbolise the death of a family member may be very hurtful.  Family members should be asked what symbols they would wish to use. Once the process is completed with the family, a neat version should be produced on the child's record.

Eco-maps are also a useful visual tool but should not be seen as a static record of the child or families eco-system. Family relationships change - children may feel hostile towards a parent one week and have resolved the conflict the following week.  Therefore eco-maps should be undertaken on a number of occasions to map the changes. It is preferable, particularly when working with children not to draw eco-maps on paper but to use moveable objects to represent their ecosystem. Play people can be used or cardboard circles on to which can be drawn happy, sad and angry faces. The child can then choose the appropriate play person or face to represent themselves and the people or things they are identifying as significant and be able to move them around to indicate what their feelings are and how they can change. This type of approach is empowering as it gives children and families greater control over the information-giving process, it can provide information that a structured question and answer session would not illicit, and may help families to gain insights and to assess their own situations.

Scales, and questionnaires - To accompany the Assessment Framework, the Department of Health developed a number of models, scales and questionnaires for social workers to use in their work with families, children and adolescents. These can form part of the workers 'tool box' to help assess different aspects of risk, neglect, emotional abuse, resilience and vulnerability, as well as models of change and are available on the intranet.

The use of these tools will assist analysis later in the stepwise model.