Step Four: Test and Evaluate

This stage of any assessment, and particularly risk assessment is particularly important, but often given limited attention.  Workers frequently use most of the time allotted to the assessment to gather information and produce a report which details this but fails to evaluate the information or draw conclusions. This step requires asking:

"Is my information right?

Have I missed anything?

Do I understand correctly- or have I misunderstood something?

Have I proven or disproven one or more of my hypotheses about what is happening and am I now in a position to state what is actually evidenced or still of sufficient concern for me to be worried about possible danger or harm to the child?"

Although it is usually only the social worker who evaluates the information gained through a risk assessment, this is not good practice as inconsistencies, different interpretations of evidence gathered and differences of opinion may only come to light as the assessment report is being presented to parents, other professionals, a conference or a court.  Following this testing step at this stage will support a more accurate analysis which parents and other professionals are able to understand as they have been engaged in proving or disproving the hypotheses about danger or risk of harm and know what the areas of disagreement and consensus are likely to be.

Each hypothesis should be tested against the evidence gathered and the findings of the assessment must be evaluated by the 'team' including the family. The analysis of risk should then be undertaken jointly with them, unless this places the child in greater danger and/or there is immediate risk which needs to be addressed through emergency action, as outlined in the child protection procedures. Emergency action to protect should not however remove the need to follow the step wise process once the child is in a safe place.

Professional supervision will also provide the opportunity for practitioners to reflect on the evidence and it's relevance to the initial hypothesis and resulting analysis of risk. At this stage, the practitioner should be using the theoretical models outlined below as a frame of reference, and checking back with others about the validity of their hypotheses and conclusions and the accuracy of the data collected.