Luton Protocol for Single Assessments in Children's Social Care
SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER
This chapter describes the arrangements for the assessment of children who have been referred to Luton Children's Social Care and who meet the threshold for a Child in Need assessment. It should be read in conjunction with the threshold document: Meeting the Needs of Children, Young People and Their Families in Luton.
This chapter was devised by a multi-agency workshop which considered and agreed the way in which assessments to children's social care should be conducted.
This chapter is intended to assist readers in exercising their professional judgement because each child and their family has a unique set of circumstances all of which cannot be included in a single document.
This chapter relates to situations where Children's Social Care accepts a referral because they believe that it meets their threshold. They will always acknowledge receipt of the referral within one working day and they will provide feedback to all referrers including the timescales within which they are working.
2. Protocol for the Assessment of Children in Need in Luton
Working Together to Safeguard Children sets out a number of pre-requisites which should be contained in a local protocol for an assessment led by Children's Social Care. These are outlined below and should form the basis of the Local Assessment Protocol.
Whilst there are defined timescales for deciding on the outcome of a referral (one day); the time between agreement at a Strategy Discussion that a Section 47 Enquiry should be commenced to the time of a Child Protection Conference should be convened (15 working days) and the overall time in which an assessment is completed (45 days); the timeliness of the assessment is defined by the needs of the child that is being assessed. A suitably qualified and experienced social worker must complete the assessment in conjunction with the other professionals involved with the child and their family.
The needs of the child should drive the assessment; delay is not in the child's interest. The period in which the assessment is conducted should not exceed 45 working days from the point of referral, unless an extension is approved by the Team Manager who records the reasons and identifies new time limits. Delays should be related to the needs of the child (for example for the completion of a specialist assessment or piece of direct work) not the needs of the organisation (for example heavy caseloads). Some assessments will be completed more quickly.
Involvement of the child and their family
The child and their family have the most vital role in the process of assessment. Their agreement is required and they must understand the purpose of the assessment and who is to be involved. When families are reluctant to work with children's social care, the worker will need to try to persuade them that this is in their child's interests.
Consent from parents must be obtained in writing using the consent form. When the child's welfare could be compromised by requesting consent (for example from a parent that poses a risk to the child) the social worker must record why the consent has not been obtained and what steps are to be taken to involve them at a stage when it is safe to do so. Consideration should always be given to the involvement of absent parents in the assessment as their perspective may be essential to obtain an accurate analysis.
The child and their family must understand what is expected of them and what change is required and how this is to be measured. The Graded Care Profile is an example of a tool used in Luton to measure change for children.
Seeing the child
The social worker completing the assessment must have an understanding of the child's perspective of his or her life and what is or has happened. The views and the wishes of the child must be heard. To do this, the child should be seen alone and if this does not happen the reasons why must be recorded. Such information will form a part of the assessment.
Children must be helped to communicate and this help can take many forms including the use of appropriately trained translators (Social workers should not use family members/friends). Assessments which relate to children with disabilities, especially those whose ability to communicate is limited, need to identify ways of independently identifying their wishes and feelings without an over dependence on the analysis of the child's carers.
Significant harm and providing services
If at any point of the assessment, a concern arises that the child is likely to or is suffering Significant Harm, a Strategy Meeting must be convened. This meeting must consider any steps that need to be taken to provide immediate protection of the child.
There is a dedicated chapter in the multi agency child protection procedures which outlines the actions which must be taken in these circumstances. See Action to be taken where a child is at risk of Significant Harm (see Inter Agency Child Protection Procedures, Action to be taken where a Child is at Risk of Significant Harm).
Where particular needs are identified at any stage of the assessment, the social worker should not wait until the assessment is concluded before commissioning services to support the child and their family.
Each child in the family should be the subject of an assessment where there is a concern that the child is suffering Significant Harm or that they have had contact with the alleged perpetrator.
Involvement of Other agencies
Whilst Children's Social Care retains the responsibility for the completion of the assessment, it is the duty of any agency who knows the child and the family to contribute to the process. This contribution will vary depending on the circumstances of the child; it can include the provision of information and services. Agencies who contribute to the assessment should be involved in its planning, review and analysis. Contribution from the following agencies should always be considered:
- Police (whether or not an offence has been committed);
- Health, especially in relation to the child's development and the family history;
- Education, including where relevant, pre-school and further/higher education.
Other agencies and organisations may need to be asked to contribute to the assessment process, depending on the circumstances of the child and their family. This may include agencies which work with adults, for example where parents or another adult living in the household have drug, alcohol or mental ill health problems or learning difficulties or where there is domestic abuse. See Bedford Borough, Central Bedfordshire and Luton Safeguarding Children Boards Procedures Manual, Parents and Families (Section 1.8).
Professionals who are primarily providing a service to the child's parents or carers have a vital role to play in developing an understanding of the parent's capacity and capability and they have a duty to participate in the process of assessment.
3. New Referrals on Cases that are Being Assessed or That Have Recently Been Assessed
Where there is a pre-existing assessment conducted by a partner agency such as an Early Help or an Early Help Assessment, this should be used to inform the assessment, although it should be clear that the information must be up-to-date and when the child was seen, wherever possible. If not, the reasons why the child was not seen should be included in the early help assessment.
The social worker conducting the assessment must collate information from other pre-existing assessments such as a CAMHS, or a consultant paediatrician in relation to a child's specific health needs for example. Collating such assessment information will help the social worker understand the child's needs, improving understanding, assessment analysis and outcome decision making.
Particular care needs to be taken in relation to new assessments of disabled children and those who are being assessed in relation to Special Educational Needs (SEN). The experience of these children and their families is often that they have been subjected to many assessments which gather the same information over and over.
Review points within the assessment
The assessment should document the key decision or review points, which involve the child, family and relevant professionals, and actions by the social worker. These should be agreed by the social worker, in conjunction with partner agencies. The review points will be used to monitor the progress of the assessment and to ensure it is completed within the 45 working days timescale.
The assessment will be reviewed by the social worker and their manager after 10 days and 30 days.
This review will consider these issues:
- Has the social worker seen the child alone, and asked if their views and wishes have been heard and recorded. Has the child's home address been visited and the child's bedroom been seen? Have all the adults and regular visitors to the household been considered in terms of their impact on the child/ren?
- Whether all the children in the household have been seen and their needs considered;
- Whether children in another household are affected by the issues which have been identified;
- Have the parents been seen and their views and wishes have been recorded and taken into account. NB this should include absent parents particularly fathers;
- Whether early findings may indicate whether no further action is required, a Child is in Need, or a Section 47 Enquiry should be initiated;
- When the assessment analysis and evaluation has been completed.
Review points provide assurances that help will be given in a timely and appropriate way, and that the impact of this help will be analysed and evaluated in terms of the improved outcomes and welfare of the child.
It is the social worker's responsibility to analyse all the information gathered from the enquiry stage of the assessment, decide the nature and level of the child's needs and the level of risk, if any, they may be facing. The line manager should provide regular supervision (see Luton Supervision Framework), and challenge the social worker's assumptions as part of this process.
Every assessment will be focused on outcomes, including deciding which services and support to provide to deliver improved welfare for the child and reflect the child's best interests. In the course of the assessment the social worker and the line manager should determine:
- Is this a Child in Need? (Section 17 Children Act 1989);
- Is there reasonable cause to suspect that this child is suffering, or is likely to suffer, Significant Harm? (Section 47 Children Act 1989);
- If the outcome of a Section 47 Enquiry is that the child(ren) has suffered or is likely to suffer Significant Harm and following the decision of the Strategy Meeting that an Initial Child Protection Conference is convened, this should be done within 15 days of the Strategy Meeting which identified the need for the Section 47 Enquiry;
- Is this a child in need of accommodation? (Section 20 or Section 31A Children Act 1989).
The five key outcomes (as defined in Children Act 2004) will be the benchmark for children in Luton.
Children need to:
- Be Healthy;
- Stay Safe;
- Enjoy and Achieve;
- Make a Positive Contribution;
- Achieve Economic Wellbeing.
Assessments will use these benchmarks to measure change - i.e. is the child safer, healthier etc.; or not? An understanding of the child's development during the course of the assessment is required.
The assessment outcome should be decided by the social worker and line manager, who should also agree a plan of action setting out the services to be delivered, how and by whom with clear timescales. The outcome of the assessment should be discussed with the child and family and the outcome also provided to them in written form. Exceptions to this are where this might place a child at risk of harm or jeopardise an enquiry.
Partner agencies who have been involved in the assessment should also be informed of the outcome in writing. Where they are involved in providing services to the child, this information should clearly state action points, review dates and intended outcomes for the child, as agreed between them and the social worker.
Steps to ensure Quality in Assessments
As an organisation, Luton Children's social Care will take a variety of steps to ensure that there is a consistency in the quality of assessments. These include:
- Regular formal supervision;
- Induction and training that helps social workers who are new to Luton and to the assessment task understand the standards that are expected of them;
- Gathering the perspective of partner agencies in the assessment process;
- Creating an environment of scrutiny and challenge;
- Multi agency quality assurance processes including case file auditing.
4. Arrangements for Children in Specific Circumstances
See also: Bedford Borough, Central Bedfordshire and Luton Safeguarding Children Boards Procedures Manual.
All disabled children are Children in Need and they can be referred to Children's Social Care in the same way as other children. Where a referral relates to a family group of children one of whom is disabled, the Disability Team will advise the social worker in the Referral and assessment Team about the specialist issues. All other referrals of disabled children will be passed on and assessed by the Children's Disability Team who will undertake the single assessment.
All children who provide care to adult family members are entitled to an assessment in their own right. Such assessments are conducted and reviewed by the referral and assessment team. Family Action provide a service that support young carers in Luton.
Children and young people who commit offences
All children and young people who commit offences are referred to the Youth Offending Service which provides the primary service to this group. However, if it becomes apparent that such children may require additional services or that they are suffering or likely to suffer Significant Harm, the Youth Offending service will make a referral to Children's social Care. See Outcomes for further details of the children to whom this relates.