Chapter 1: Assessing need and providing help

Contents

Early help
Identifying children and families who would benefit from early help
Effective assessment of the need for early help
Provision of effective early help services
Accessing help and services
Information sharing
Assessments under the Children Act 1989
The purpose of assessment
The principles and parameters of a good assessment
Focusing on the needs and views of the child
Developing a clear analysis
Focusing on outcomes
Timeliness
Local protocols for assessment
Processes for managing individual cases
Flow chart 1: Action taken when a child is referred to local authority children's social care services
Flow chart 2: Immediate protection
Flow chart 3: Action taken for an assessment of a child under the Children Act 1989
Flow chart 4: Action following a strategy discussion
Flow chart 5: What happens after the child protection conference, including the review?
Flow chart 6: Children returning home from care to their families

Early help

1.

Providing early help is more effective in promoting the welfare of children than reacting later. Early help means providing support as soon as a problem emerges, at any point in a child's life, from the foundation years through to the teenage years. Early help can also prevent further problems arising, for example, if it is provided as part of a support plan where a child has returned home to their family from care.

2.

Effective early help relies upon local agencies working together to:

  • identify children and families who would benefit from early help;
  • undertake an assessment of the need for early help; and
  • provide targeted early help services to address the assessed needs of a child and their family which focuses on activity to significantly improve the outcomes for the child. Local authorities, under section 10 of the Children Act 2004, have a responsibility to promote inter-agency cooperation to improve the welfare of children.

Section 10

Section 10 of the Children Act 2004 requires each local authority to make arrangements to promote cooperation between the authority, each of the authority's relevant partners and such other persons or bodies working with children in the local authority's area as the authority considers appropriate. The arrangements are to be made with a view to improving the wellbeing of all children in the authority's area, which includes protection from harm and neglect. The local authority's relevant partners are listed in Table A in Appendix B.


Identifying children and families who would benefit from early help

3.

Local agencies should have in place effective ways to identify emerging problems and potential unmet needs for individual children and families. This requires all professionals, including those in universal services and those providing services to adults with children, to understand their role in identifying emerging problems and to share information with other professionals to support early identification and assessment.

4.

Local Safeguarding Children Boards (LSCBs) should monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of training, including multi-agency training, for all professionals in the area. Training should cover how to identify and respond early to the needs of all vulnerable children, including: unborn children; babies; older children; young carers; disabled children; and those who are in secure settings.

5.

Professionals should, in particular, be alert to the potential need for early help for a child who:

  • is disabled and has specific additional needs;
  • has special educational needs;
  • is a young carer;
  • is showing signs of engaging in anti-social or criminal behaviour;
  • is in a family circumstance presenting challenges for the child, such as substance abuse, adult mental health problems and domestic violence;
  • has returned home to their family from care;[4] and/or
  • is showing early signs of abuse and/or neglect.

[4] Children return home to their families from local authority care under a range of circumstances. These circumstances and the related local authority duties are set out in flow chart 6.


Effective assessment of the need for early help

7.

Local agencies should work together to put processes in place for the effective assessment of the needs of individual children who may benefit from early help services.

8.

Children and families may need support from a wide range of local agencies. Where a child and family would benefit from coordinated support from more than one agency (e.g. education, health, housing, police) there should be an inter-agency assessment. These early help assessments, such as the Common Assessment Framework, should identify what help the child and family require to prevent needs escalating to a point where intervention would be needed via a statutory assessment under the Children Act 1989 (see paragraph 26).

9.

The early help assessment should be undertaken by a lead professional who should provide support to the child and family, act as an advocate on their behalf and coordinate the delivery of support services. The lead professional role could be undertaken by a General Practitioner (GP), family support worker, teacher, health visitor and/or special educational needs coordinator. Decisions about who should be the lead professional should be taken on a case by case basis and should be informed by the child and their family.

10.

For an early help assessment to be effective:

  • the assessment should be undertaken with the agreement of the child and their parents or carers. It should involve the child and family as well as all the professionals who are working with them;
  • a teacher, GP, health visitor, early years' worker or other professional should be able to discuss concerns they may have about a child and family with a social worker in the local authority. Local authority children's social care should set out the process for how this will happen; and
  • if parents and/or the child do not consent to an early help assessment, then the lead professional should make a judgement as to whether, without help, the needs of the child will escalate. If so, a referral into local authority children's social care may be necessary.
11.

If at any time it is considered that the child may be a child in need as defined in the Children Act 1989, or that the child has suffered significant harm or is likely to do so, a referral should be made immediately to local authority children's social care. This referral can be made by any professional.


Provision of effective early help services

12.

The early help assessment carried out for an individual child and their family should be clear about the action to be taken and services to be provided (including any relevant timescales for the assessment) and aim to ensure that early help services are coordinated and not delivered in a piecemeal way.

13.

Local areas should have a range of effective, evidence-based services in place to address assessed needs early. The early help on offer should draw upon the local assessment of need and the latest evidence of the effectiveness of early help and early intervention programmes. In addition to high quality support in universal services, specific local early help services will typically include family and parenting programmes, assistance with health issues and help for problems relating to drugs, alcohol and domestic violence. Services may also focus on improving family functioning and building the family's own capability to solve problems; this should be done within a structured, evidence-based framework involving regular review to ensure that real progress is being made. Some of these services may be delivered to parents but should always be evaluated to demonstrate the impact they are having on the outcomes for the child.


Accessing help and services

14.

The provision of early help services should form part of a continuum of help and support to respond to the different levels of need of individual children and families.

15.

Where need is relatively low level individual services and universal services may be able to take swift action. For other emerging needs a range of early help services may be required, coordinated through an early help assessment, as set out above. Where there are more complex needs, help may be provided under section 17 of the Children Act 1989 (children in need). Where there are child protection concerns (reasonable cause to suspect a child is suffering or likely to suffer significant harm) local authority social care services must make enquiries and decide if any action must be taken under section 47 of the Children Act 1989.

16.

It is important that there are clear criteria for taking action and providing help across this full continuum. Having clear thresholds for action which are understood by all professionals, and applied consistently, including for children returning home from care, should ensure that services are commissioned effectively and that the right help is given to the child at the right time.[5]

[5] Guidance on specific safeguarding concerns can be found in Appendix C.

17.

The LSCB should agree with the local authority and its partners the levels for the different types of assessment and services to be commissioned and delivered. This should include services for children who have been or may be sexually exploited, children who have undergone or may undergo female genital mutilation and children who have been or may be radicalised. Local authority children’s social care has the responsibility for clarifying the process for referrals.

18.

The LSCB should publish a threshold document that includes:

  • the process for the early help assessment and the type and level of early help services to be provided;
  • the criteria, including the level of need, for when a case should be referred to local authority children's social care for assessment and for statutory services under:
    • section 17 of the Children Act 1989 (children in need);
    • section 47 of the Children Act 1989 (reasonable cause to suspect children suffering or likely to suffer significant harm);
    • section 31 (care orders); and
    • section 20 (duty to accommodate a child) of the Children Act 1989;
  • clear procedures and processes for cases relating to the sexual exploitation of children and young people.

LSCBs with youth secure establishments in their area should ensure that thresholds and criteria for referral and assessment take account of the needs of young people in these establishments.

19.

Anyone who has concerns about a child's welfare should make a referral to local authority children's social care. For example, referrals may come from: children themselves, teachers, a GP, the police, health visitors, family members and members of the public. Within local authorities, children's social care should act as the principal point of contact for welfare concerns relating to children. Therefore, as well as clear protocols for professionals working with children, contact details should be signposted clearly so that children, parents and other family members are aware of who they can contact if they require advice and/or support.

20.

When professionals refer a child, they should include any information they have on the child's developmental needs and the capacity of the child's parents or carers to meet those needs. This information may be included in any assessment, including the early help assessment, which may have been carried out prior to a referral into local authority children's social care. Where an early help assessment has already been undertaken it should be used to support a referral to local authority children's social care, however, this is not a prerequisite for making a referral.

21.

Feedback should be given by local authority children's social care to the referrer on the decisions taken. Where appropriate, this feedback should include the reasons why a case may not meet the statutory threshold to be considered by local authority children's social care for assessment and suggestions for other sources of more suitable support.


Information sharing

22.

Effective sharing of information between professionals and local agencies is essential for effective identification, assessment and service provision.

23.

Early sharing of information is the key to providing effective early help where there are emerging problems. At the other end of the continuum, sharing information can be essential to put in place effective child protection services. Serious Case Reviews (SCRs) have shown how poor information sharing has contributed to the deaths or serious injuries of children.

24.

Fears about sharing information cannot be allowed to stand in the way of the need to promote the welfare and protect the safety of children. To ensure effective safeguarding arrangements:

  • all organisations should have arrangements in place which set out clearly the processes and the principles for sharing information between each other, with other professionals and with the LSCB; and
  • no professional should assume that someone else will pass on information which they think may be critical to keeping a child safe. If a professional has concerns about a child's welfare and believes they are suffering or likely to suffer harm, then they should share the information with local authority children's social care.
25.

Information Sharing: Advice for practitioners providing safeguarding services to children, young people, parents and carers (2015) supports frontline practitioners, working in child or adult services, who have to make decisions about sharing personal information on a case by case basis.[6] The advice includes the seven golden rules for sharing information effectively and can be used to supplement local guidance and encourage good practice in information sharing.

[6] Information sharing: advice for practitioners providing safeguarding services to children, young people, parents and carers (2015).


Assessments under the Children Act 1989

Statutory requirements

26.

Under the Children Act 1989, local authorities are required to provide services for children in need for the purposes of safeguarding and promoting their welfare. Local authorities undertake assessments of the needs of individual children to determine which services to provide and what action to take. The full set of statutory assessments is set out in the box below.

Statutory assessments under the Children Act 1989

  • A child in need is defined under the Children Act 1989 as a child who is unlikely to achieve or maintain a reasonable level of health or development, or whose health and development is likely to be significantly or further impaired, without the provision of services; or a child who is disabled. Children in need may be assessed under section 17 of the Children Act 1989, in relation to their special educational needs, disabilities, as a carer, or because they have committed a crime. Where an assessment takes place, it will be carried out by a social worker. The process for assessment should also be used for children whose parents are in prison and for asylum seeking children. When assessing children in need and providing services, specialist assessments may be required and, where possible, should be coordinated so that the child and family experience a coherent process and a single plan of action.
  • When undertaking an assessment of a disabled child, the local authority must also consider whether it is necessary to provide support under section 2 of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act (CSDPA) 1970. Where a local authority is satisfied that the identified services and assistance can be provided under section 2 of the CSDPA, and it is necessary in order to meet a disabled child’s needs, it must arrange to provide that support.
  • Concerns about maltreatment may be the reason for a referral to local authority children’s social care or concerns may arise during the course of providing services to the child and family. In these circumstances, local authority children’s social care must initiate enquiries to find out what is happening to the child and whether protective action is required. Local authorities, with the help of other organisations as appropriate, also have a duty to make enquiries under section 47 of the Children Act 1989 if they have reasonable cause to suspect that a child  is suffering, or is likely to suffer, significant harm, to enable them to decide whether they should take any action to safeguard and promote the child’s welfare. There may be a need for immediate protection whilst the assessment is carried out.
  • Some children in need may require accommodation because there is no one who has parental responsibility for them, because they are lost or abandoned or because the person who has been caring for them is prevented from providing them with suitable accommodation or care. Under section 20 of the Children Act 1989, the local authority has a duty to accommodate such children in need in their area.
  • Following an application under section 31A, where a child is the subject of a care order, the local authority, as a corporate parent, must assess the child’s needs and draw up a care plan which sets out the services which will be provided to meet the child’s identified needs.
  • If a local authority considers that a young carer may have support needs, they must carry out an assessment under section 17ZA. The local authority must also carry out such an assessment if a young carer, or the parent of a young carer, requests one. Such an assessment must consider whether it is appropriate or excessive for the young carer to provide care for the person in question, in light of the young carer’s needs and wishes. The Young Carers’ (Needs Assessment) Regulations 2015 require local authorities to look at the needs of the whole family when carrying out a young carers’ needs assessment.[7] Young carer’s assessments can be combined with assessments of adults in the household, with the agreement of the young carer and adults concerned.
  • If a local authority considers that a parent carer of a disabled child (see glossary) may have support needs, they must carry out an assessment under section 17ZD. The local authority must also carry out such an assessment if a parent carer requests one. Such an assessment must consider whether it is appropriate for the parent carer to provide, or continue to provide, care for the disabled child, in light of the parent carer’s needs and wishes.

[7] The Young Carers’ (Needs Assessment) Regulations 2015 are due to come into force on 1 April 2015.

Other related assessments

27.

Where a local authority is assessing the needs of a disabled child, a carer of that child may also require the local authority to undertake an assessment of their ability to provide, or to continue to provide, care for the child, under section 1 of the Carers (Recognition and Services) Act 1995. The local authority must take account of the results of any such assessment when deciding whether to provide services to the disabled child.

28.

Under provisions in the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015, local authorities will be required to establish Channel panels from 12 April 2015. The panels will assess the extent to which identified individuals are vulnerable to being drawn into terrorism and arrange for support to be provided to those individuals. Panels must include the local authority and the chief officer of the local police. There are also a number of panel partners, including those within the criminal justice system, education, child care, health care and police who are required to cooperate with the panel in the discharge of its functions. Local authorities and their partners should consider how best to ensure that these assessments align with assessments under the Children Act 1989


The purpose of assessment

29.

Whatever legislation the child is assessed under, the purpose of the assessment is always:

  • to gather important information about a child and family;
  • to analyse their needs and/or the nature and level of any risk and harm being suffered by the child;
  • to decide whether the child is a child in need (section 17) and/or is suffering or likely to suffer significant harm (section 47); and
  • to provide support to address those needs to improve the child's outcomes to make them safe.
30.

Assessment should be a dynamic process, which analyses and responds to the changing nature and level of need and/or risk faced by the child. Any provision identified as being necessary through the assessment process should, if the local authority decides to provide such services, be provided without delay. A good assessment will monitor and record the impact of any services delivered to the child and family and review the help being delivered. Whilst services may be delivered to a parent or carer, the assessment should be focused on the needs of the child and on the impact any services are having on the child.[8]

[8] An assessment of the support needs of parent carers, or non-parent carers, of disabled children may be required (see Statutory assessments under the Children Act 1989 and paragraph 27).

31.

Good assessments support professionals to understand whether a child has needs relating to their care or a disability and/or is suffering, or likely to suffer, significant harm. The specific needs of disabled children and young carers should be given sufficient recognition and priority in the assessment process. Further guidance can be accessed at Safeguarding Disabled Children - Practice Guidance (2009) and Recognised, valued and supported: Next steps for the Carers Strategy (2010). [9][10]

[9] Safeguarding Disabled Children – Practice Guidance (2009).
[10] Recognised, valued and supported: Next steps for the Carers Strategy (2010).

32.

Practitioners should be rigorous in assessing and monitoring children at risk of neglect to ensure they are adequately safeguarded over time. They should act decisively to protect the child by initiating care proceedings where existing interventions are insufficient.

33.

Where a child becomes looked after the assessment will be the baseline for work with the family. Any needs which have been identified should be addressed before decisions are made about the child's return home. Assessment by a social worker is required before the child returns home under the Care Planning, Placement and Case Review (England) Regulations 2010. This will provide evidence of whether the necessary improvements have been made to ensure the child's safety when they return home. Appropriate support should be provided, following an assessment, for children returning home, including where that return home is unplanned. Any such support should ensure that children continue to be adequately safeguarded.[11]

[11] Changes to the Care Planning, Placement and Case Review (England) Regulations 2010 are expected to come into force on 1 April 2015.

34.

Where a child becomes looked after as a result of being remanded to youth detention accommodation (YDA), the local authority must visit the child and assess the child’s needs before taking a decision. This information must be used to prepare a Detention Placement Plan (DPP), which must set out how the YDA and other professionals will meet the child’s needs whilst the child remains remanded. The DPP must be reviewed in the same way as a care plan for any other looked after child.[12]

[12] Following the Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 all children and young people remanded by a court in criminal proceedings will be looked after.


The principles and parameters of a good assessment

35.

High quality assessments:

  • are child centred. Where there is a conflict of interest, decisions should be made in the child's best interests;
  • are rooted in child development and informed by evidence;
  • are focused on action and outcomes for children;
  • are holistic in approach, addressing the child's needs within their family and wider community;
  • ensure equality of opportunity;
  • involve children and families;
  • build on strengths as well as identifying difficulties;
  • are integrated in approach;
  • are a continuing process not an event;
  • lead to action, including the provision of services;
  • review services provided on an ongoing basis; and
  • are transparent and open to challenge.
36.

Research has shown that taking a systematic approach to enquiries using a conceptual model is the best way to deliver a comprehensive assessment for all children. A good assessment is one which investigates the following three domains, set out in the Assessment Framework diagram below:

  • the child's developmental needs, including whether they are suffering, or likely to suffer, significant harm;
  • parents' or carers' capacity to respond to those needs;[13][14] and
  • the impact and influence of wider family, community and environmental circumstances.

[13] An assessment of the support needs of parent carers of disabled children may be required (see blue box on pages 18-19)
[14] See paragraph 23 of Chapter 2 (page 59) on adults with parental responsibility for disabled children.

37.

The interaction of these domains requires careful investigation during the assessment. The aim is to reach a judgement about the nature and level of needs and/or risks that the child may be facing within their family. It is important that:

  • information is gathered and recorded systematically;
  • information is checked and discussed with the child and their parents/carers where appropriate;
  • differences in views about information are recorded; and
  • the impact of what is happening to the child is clearly identified.

Assessment Framework
38.

Assessments for some children – including young carers, children with special educational needs (who may require statements of SEN), unborn children where there are concerns, asylum seeking children, children in hospital, disabled children, children with specific communication needs, children considered at risk of gang activity, children who are in the youth justice system – will require particular care. Where a child has other assessments it is important that these are coordinated so that the child does not become lost between the different agencies involved and their different procedures.


Focusing on the needs and views of the child

39.

Every assessment should be child centred. Where there is a conflict between the needs of the child and their parents/carers, decisions should be made in the child's best interests.

40.

Each child who has been referred into local authority children's social care should have an individual assessment to respond to their needs and to understand the impact of any parental behaviour on them as an individual. Local authorities have to give due regard to a child's age and understanding when determining what (if any) services to provide under section 17 of the Children Act 1989, and before making decisions about action to be taken to protect individual children under section 47 of the Children Act 1989.

41.

Every assessment must be informed by the views of the child as well as the family. Children should, wherever possible, be seen alone and local authority children's social care has a duty to ascertain the child's wishes and feelings regarding the provision of services to be delivered [15]. It is important to understand the resilience of the individual child when planning appropriate services.

[15] Section 17 of the Children Act 1989, amended by section 53 Children Act 2004.

42.

Every assessment should reflect the unique characteristics of the child within their family and community context. For example, a young carer’s needs assessment must consider the impact of the child’s caring role on their health and development; and reach a view about whether, in view of the child’s needs and personal circumstances, any care tasks are “inappropriate” or excessive. The Children Act 1989 promotes the view that all children and their parents should be considered as individuals and that family structures, culture, religion, ethnic origins and other characteristics should be respected. Where the child has links to a foreign country, a social worker may also need to work with colleagues abroad.[16],[17]

[16] A child with links to a foreign country may be a foreign national child, a child with dual nationality or a British child of foreign parents/national origin.
[17] Further guidance can be found in Working with foreign authorities on child protection cases and care orders (2014).

43.

Every assessment, including young carer, parent carer and non-parent carer assessments, should draw together relevant information gathered from the child and their family and from relevant professionals including teachers, early years workers, health professionals, the police and adult social care. Where a child has been looked after and has returned home, information from previous assessments and case records should  also be reviewed.

44.

A high quality assessment is one in which evidence is built and revised throughout the process. A social worker may arrive at a judgement early in the case but this may need to be revised as the case progresses and further information comes to light. It is a characteristic of skilled practice that social workers revisit their assumptions in the light of new evidence and take action to revise their decisions in the best interests of the individual child.

45.

The aim is to use all the information to identify difficulties and risk factors as well as developing a picture of strengths and protective factors.


Developing a clear analysis

46.

The social worker should analyse all the information gathered from the enquiry stage of the assessment, including from a young carer’s, parent carer’s or non-parent carer’s assessment, to decide the nature and level of the child’s needs and the level of risk, if any, they may be facing. The social work manager should challenge the social worker’s assumptions as part of this process. An informed decision should be taken on the nature of any action required and which services should be provided. Social workers, their managers and other professionals should be mindful of the requirement to understand the level of need and risk in a family from the child’s perspective and ensure action or commission services which will have maximum impact on the child’s life.

47.

No system can fully eliminate risk. Understanding risk involves judgement and balance. To manage risks, social workers and other professionals should make decisions with the best interests of the child in mind, informed by the evidence available and underpinned by knowledge of child development.

48.

Critical reflection through supervision should strengthen the analysis in each assessment.

49.

Social workers, their managers and other professionals should always consider the plan from the child’s perspective. A desire to think the best of adults and to hope they can overcome their difficulties should not trump the need to rescue children from chaotic, neglectful and abusive homes. Social workers and managers should always reflect the latest research on the impact of neglect and abuse and relevant findings from serious case reviews when analysing the level of need and risk faced by the child. This should be reflected in the case recording.

50.

Assessment is a dynamic and continuous process which should build upon the history of every individual case, responding to the impact of any previous services and analysing what further action might be needed. Social workers should build on this with help from other professionals from the moment that a need is identified.

51.

Decision points and review points involving the child and family and relevant professionals should be used to keep the assessment on track. This is to ensure that help is given in a timely and appropriate way and that the impact of this help is analysed and evaluated in terms of the improved outcomes and welfare of the child.


Focusing on outcomes

52.

Every assessment should be focused on outcomes, deciding which services and support to provide to deliver improved welfare for the child.

53.

Where the outcome of the assessment is continued local authority children's social care involvement, the social worker and their manager should agree a plan of action with other professionals and discuss this with the child and their family. The plan should set out what services are to be delivered, and what actions are to be undertaken, by whom and for what purpose.

54.

Many services provided will be for parents or carers (and may include services identified in a parent carer’s or non-parent carer’s needs assessment).[18] The plan should reflect this and set clear measurable outcomes for the child and expectations for the parents, with measurable, reviewable actions for them.

[18] Section 17ZD of the Children Act 1989 and section 1 of the Carers (Recognition and Services) Act 1995 (see Statutory assessments under the Children Act 1989 and paragraph 27)

55.

The plan should be reviewed regularly to analyse whether sufficient progress has been made to meet the child’s needs and the level of risk faced by the child. This will be important for neglect cases where parents and carers can make small improvements. The test should be whether any improvements in adult behaviour are sufficient and sustained. Social workers and their managers should consider the need for further action and record their decisions. The review points should be agreed by the social worker with other professionals and with the child and family to continue evaluating the impact of any change on the welfare of the child.

56.

Effective professional supervision can play a critical role in ensuring a clear focus on a child’s welfare. Supervision should support professionals to reflect critically on the impact of their decisions on the child and their family. The social worker and their manager should review the plan for the child. Together they should ask whether the help given is leading to a significant positive change for the child and whether the pace of that change is appropriate for the child. Any professional working with vulnerable children should always have access to a manager to talk through their concerns and judgements affecting the welfare of the child. Assessment should remain an ongoing process, with the impact of services informing future decisions around action.


Timeliness

57.

The timeliness of an assessment is a critical element of the quality of that assessment and the outcomes for the child. The speed with which an assessment is carried out after a child’s case has been referred into local authority children’s social care should be determined by the needs of the individual child and the nature and level of any risk of harm faced by the child. This will require judgements to be made by the social worker in discussion with their manager on each individual case. Adult assessments, i.e. parent carer or non-parent carer assessments, should also be carried out in a timely manner, consistent with the needs of the child.

58.

Within one working day of a referral being received, a local authority social worker should make a decision about the type of response that is required and acknowledge receipt to the referrer.

59.

For children who are in need of immediate protection, action must be taken by the social worker, or the police or NSPCC if removal is required, as soon as possible after the referral has been made to local authority children's social care (sections 44 and 46 of the Children Act 1989).

60.

The maximum timeframe for the assessment to conclude, such that it is possible to reach a decision on next steps, should be no longer than 45 working days from the point of referral. If, in discussion with a child and their family and other professionals, an assessment exceeds 45 working days the social worker should record the reasons for exceeding the time limit.

61.

Whatever the timescale for assessment, where particular needs are identified at any stage of the assessment, social workers should not wait until the assessment reaches a conclusion before commissioning services to support the child and their family. In some cases the needs of the child will mean that a quick assessment will be required.

62.

The assessment of neglect cases can be difficult. Neglect can fluctuate both in level and duration. A child's welfare can, for example, improve following input from services or a change in circumstances and review, but then deteriorate once support is removed. Professionals should be wary of being too optimistic. Timely and decisive action is critical to ensure that children are not left in neglectful homes.

63.

It is the responsibility of the social worker to make clear to children and families how the assessment will be carried out and when they can expect a decision on next steps.

64.

To facilitate the shift to an assessment process which brings continuity and consistency for children and families, there will no longer be a requirement to conduct separate initial and core assessments. Local authorities should determine their local assessment processes through a local protocol.


Local protocols for assessment

65.

Local authorities, with their partners, should develop and publish local protocols for assessment. A local protocol should set out clear arrangements for how cases will be managed once a child is referred into local authority children's social care and be consistent with the requirements of this statutory guidance. The detail of each protocol will be led by the local authority in discussion with their partners and agreed with the relevant LSCB.

66.

A local protocol should set out and clarify how statutory social care assessments will be informed by, and inform, other specialist assessments (for example, an assessment for an Education Health and Care Plan, or an assessment by adult services).

67.

The local authority is publicly accountable for this protocol and all organisations and agencies have a responsibility to understand their local protocol.


The local protocol for assessment should:

  • ensure that assessments are timely, transparent and proportionate to the needs of individual children and their families;
  • set out how the needs of disabled children, young carers and children involved in the youth justice system will be addressed in the assessment process;
  • clarify how agencies and professionals undertaking assessments and providing services can make contributions;
  • clarify how the statutory assessments will be informed by other specialist assessments, such as the assessment for children with special educational needs (Education, Health and Care Plan) and disabled children;
  • clarify how assessment will address the issue of female genital mutilation;
  • ensure that any specialist assessments are coordinated so that the child and family experience a joined up assessment process and a single planning process focused on outcomes;
  • set out how shared internal review points with other professionals and the child and family will be managed throughout the assessment process;
  • set out the process for assessment for children who return home from care to live with their families;
  • seek to ensure that each child and family understands the type of help offered and their own responsibilities, so as to improve the child's outcomes;
  • set out the process for challenge by children and families by publishing the complaints procedures; [19] and
  • require decisions to be recorded in accordance with locally agreed procedures. Recording should include information on the child's development so that progress can be monitored to ensure their outcomes are improving. This will reduce the need for repeat assessments during care proceedings, which can be a major source of delay.

[19] Including as specified under Section 26(3) of the Children Act 1989 and the Children Act 1989 Representations Procedure (England) Regulations 2006.


Processes for managing individual cases

68.

The following descriptors and flow charts set out the precise steps that professionals should take when working together to assess and provide services for children who may be in need, including those suffering harm. The flow charts cover:

  • the referral process into local authority children's social care;
  • the process for determining next steps for a child who has been assessed as being 'in need'; and
  • the essential processes for children where there is reasonable cause to suspect that the child is suffering, or likely to suffer, significant harm (this includes immediate protection for children at serious risk of harm).

Response to a referral

Once the referral has been accepted by local authority children's social care the lead professional role falls to a social worker.

The social worker should clarify with the referrer, when known, the nature of the concerns and how and why they have arisen.

Within one working day of a referral being received a local authority social worker should make a decision about the type of response that is required. This will include determining whether:

  • the child requires immediate protection and urgent action is required;
  • the child is in need, and should be assessed under section 17 of the Children Act 1989;
  • there is reasonable cause to suspect that the child is suffering, or likely to suffer, significant harm, and whether enquires must be made and the child assessed under section 47 of the Children Act 1989;
  • any services are required by the child and family and what type of services; and
  • further specialist assessments are required in order to help the local authority to decide what further action to take.


Action to be taken:

The child and family must be informed of the action to be taken.

Local authority children's social care should see the child as soon as possible if the decision is taken that the referral requires further assessment.

Where requested to do so by local authority children's social care, professionals from other parts of the local authority such as housing and those in health organisations have a duty to cooperate under section 27 of the Children Act 1989 by assisting the local authority in carrying out its children's social care functions.


Flow chart 1: Action taken when a child is referred to local authority children's social care services


Flow chart 1


Immediate Protection

Where there is a risk to the life of a child or a likelihood of serious immediate harm, local authority social workers, the police or NSPCC should use their statutory child protection powers to act immediately to secure the safety of the child.

If it is necessary to remove a child from their home, a local authority must, wherever possible and unless a child's safety is otherwise at immediate risk, apply for an Emergency Protection Order (EPO). Police powers to remove a child in an emergency should be used only in exceptional circumstances where there is insufficient time to seek an EPO or for reasons relating to the immediate safety of the child.

An EPO, made by the court, gives authority to remove a child and places them under the protection of the applicant.

When considering whether emergency action is necessary an agency should always consider the needs of other children in the same household or in the household of an alleged perpetrator.

The local authority in whose area a child is found in circumstances that require emergency action (the first authority) is responsible for taking emergency action.

If the child is looked after by, or the subject of a child protection plan in another authority, the first authority must consult the authority responsible for the child. Only when the second local authority explicitly accepts responsibility (to be followed up in writing) is the first authority relieved of its responsibility to take emergency action.


Multi-agency working

Planned emergency action will normally take place following an immediate strategy discussion. Social workers, the police or NSPCC should:

  • initiate a strategy discussion to discuss planned emergency action. Where a single agency has to act immediately, a strategy discussion should take place as soon as possible after action has been taken;
  • see the child (this should be done by a practitioner from the agency taking the emergency action) to decide how best to protect them and whether to seek an EPO; and
  • wherever possible, obtain legal advice before initiating legal action, in particular when an EPO is being sought.

Related information: Related information: For further guidance on EPOs see Chapter 4 of Court orders and pre-proceedings: For local authorities (April 2014).


Flow chart 2: Immediate protection


Flow chart 2: Immediate protection


Assessment of a child under the Children Act 1989

Following acceptance of a referral by the local authority children's social care, a social worker should lead a multi-agency assessment under section 17 of the Children Act 1989. Local authorities have a duty to ascertain the child's wishes and feelings and take account of them when planning the provision of services. Assessments should be carried out in a timely manner reflecting the needs of the individual child, as set out in this chapter.

Where the local authority children's social care decides to provide services, a multi-agency child in need plan should be developed which sets out which agencies will provide which services to the child and family. The plan should set clear measurable outcomes for the child and expectations for the parents. The plan should reflect the positive aspects of the family situation as well as the weaknesses.

Where information gathered during an assessment (which may be very brief) results in the social worker suspecting that the child is suffering or likely to suffer significant harm, the local authority should hold a strategy discussion to enable it to decide, with other agencies, whether to initiate enquiries under section 47 of the Children Act 1989.

Purpose:

Assessments should determine whether the child is in need, the nature of any services required and whether any specialist assessments should be undertaken to assist the local authority in its decision making.

Social workers should:

  • lead on an assessment and complete it in line with the locally agreed protocol according to the child's needs and within 45 working days from the point of referral into local authority children's social care;
  • see the child within a timescale that is appropriate to the nature of the concerns expressed at referral, according to an agreed plan;
  • conduct interviews with the child and family members, separately and together as appropriate. Initial discussions with the child should be conducted in a way that minimises distress to them and maximises the likelihood that they will provide accurate and complete information, avoiding leading or suggestive questions;
  • record the assessment findings and decisions and next steps following the assessment;
  • inform, in writing, all the relevant agencies and the family of their decisions and, if the child is a child in need, of the plan for providing support; and
  • inform the referrer of what action has been or will be taken.

The police should:

  • assist other agencies to carry out their responsibilities where there are concerns about the child's welfare, whether or not a crime has been committed. If a crime has been committed, the police should be informed by the local authority children's social care.

All involved professionals should:

  • be involved in the assessment and provide further information about the child and family; and
  • agree further action including what services would help the child and family and inform local authority children's social care if any immediate action is required.

Flow chart 3: Action taken for an assessment of a child under the Children Act 1989


Flow chart 3

Strategy discussion

Whenever there is reasonable cause to suspect that a child is suffering, or is likely to suffer, significant harm there should be a strategy discussion involving local authority children’s social care (including the fostering service, if the child is looked after), the police, health and other bodies such as the referring agency. This might take the form of a multi-agency meeting or phone calls and more than one discussion may be necessary. A strategy discussion can take place following a referral or at any other time, including during the assessment process.

Purpose:

Local authority children's social care should convene a strategy discussion to determine the child's welfare and plan rapid future action if there is reasonable cause to suspect the child is suffering, or is likely to suffer, significant harm.

Strategy discussion attendees:

A local authority social worker and their manager, health professionals and a police representative should, as a minimum, be involved in the strategy discussion. Other relevant professionals will depend on the nature of the individual case but may include:

  • the professional or agency which made the referral;

  • the child's school or nursery; and

  • any health services the child or family members are receiving.

All attendees should be sufficiently senior to make decisions on behalf of their agencies.

Strategy discussion tasks:

The discussion should be used to:

  • share available information;
  • agree the conduct and timing of any criminal investigation; and
  • decide whether enquiries under section 47 of the Children Act 1989 should be undertaken.

Where there are grounds to initiate an enquiry under section 47 of the Children Act 1989, decisions should be made as to:

  • what further information is needed if an assessment is already underway and how it will be obtained and recorded;
  • what immediate and short term action is required to support the child, and who will do what by when; and
  • whether legal action is required.

The timescale for the assessment to reach a decision on next steps should be based upon the needs of the individual child, consistent with the local protocol and certainly no longer than 45 working days from the point of referral into local authority children's social care.

The principles and parameters for the assessment of children in need at chapter 1 paragraph 35 should be followed for assessments undertaken under section 47 of the Children Act 1989.

Social workers with their managers should:

  • convene the strategy discussion and make sure it:
  • considers the child's welfare and safety, and identifies the level of risk faced by the child;
  • decides what information should be shared with the child and family (on the basis that information is not shared if this may jeopardise a police investigation or place the child at risk of significant harm);
  • agrees what further action is required, and who will do what by when, where an EPO is in place or the child is the subject of police powers of protection;
  • records agreed decisions in accordance with local recording procedures; and
  • follows up actions to make sure what was agreed gets done.

The police should:

  • discuss the basis for any criminal investigation and any relevant processes that other agencies might need to know about, including the timing and methods of evidence gathering; and
  • lead the criminal investigation (local authority children's social care have the lead for the section 47 enquires and assessment of the child's welfare) where joint enquiries take place.



Flow chart 4: Action following a strategy discussion


Flow chart 4: Action following a strategy discussion


Initiating section 47 enquiries

A section 47 enquiry is carried out by undertaking or continuing with an assessment in accordance with the guidance set out in this chapter and following the principles and parameters of a good assessment.

Local authority social workers have a statutory duty to lead assessments under section 47 of the Children Act 1989. The police, health professionals, teachers and other relevant professionals should help the local authority in undertaking its enquiries.

Purpose

A section 47 enquiry is initiated to decide whether and what type of action is required to safeguard and promote the welfare of a child who is suspected of, or likely to be, suffering significant harm.

Social workers with their managers should:

  • lead the assessment in accordance with this guidance;
  • carry out enquiries in a way that minimises distress for the child and family;
  • see the child who is the subject of concern to ascertain their wishes and feelings; assess their understanding of their situation; assess their relationships and circumstances more broadly;
  • interview parents and/or caregivers and determine the wider social and environmental factors that might impact on them and their child;
  • systematically gather information about the child's and family's history;
  • analyse the findings of the assessment and evidence about what interventions are likely to be most effective with other relevant professionals to determine the child's needs and the level of risk of harm faced by the child to inform what help should be provided and act to provide that help; and
  • follow the guidance set out in Achieving Best Evidence in Criminal Proceedings: Guidance on interviewing victims and witnesses, and guidance on using special measures, where a decision has been made to undertake a joint interview of the child as part of any criminal investigation.[20]
[20] Ministry of Justice Achieving Best Evidence in Criminal Proceedings: Guidance on interviewing victims and witnesses, and guidance on using special measures (2011).

The police should:

  • help other agencies understand the reasons for concerns about the child's safety and welfare;
  • decide whether or not police investigations reveal grounds for instigating criminal proceedings;
  • make available to other professionals any evidence gathered to inform discussions about the child's welfare; and
  • follow the guidance set out in Achieving Best Evidence in Criminal Proceedings: Guidance on interviewing victims and witnesses, and guidance on using special measures, where a decision has been made to undertake a joint interview of the child as part of the criminal investigations.[21]

[21] Ministry of Justice Achieving Best Evidence in Criminal Proceedings: Guidance on interviewing victims and witnesses, and guidance on using special measures (2011).

Health professionals should:

  • undertake appropriate medical tests, examinations or observations, to determine how the child's health or development may be being impaired;
  • provide any of a range of specialist assessments. For example, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, speech and language therapists and child psychologists may be involved in specific assessments relating to the child's developmental progress. The lead health practitioner (probably a consultant paediatrician, or possibly the child's GP) may need to request and coordinate these assessments; and
  • ensure appropriate treatment and follow up health concerns.

All involved professionals should:

  • contribute to the assessment as required, providing information about the child and family; and
  • consider whether a joint enquiry/investigation team may need to speak to a child victim without the knowledge of the parent or caregiver.

Outcome of section 47 enquiries

Local authority social workers are responsible for deciding what action to take and how to proceed following section 47 enquiries.

If local authority children's social care decides not to proceed with a child protection conference then other professionals involved with the child and family have the right to request that local authority children's social care convene a conference, if they have serious concerns that a child's welfare may not be adequately safeguarded. As a last resort, the LSCB should have in place a quick and straightforward means of resolving differences of opinion.

Where concerns of significant harm are not substantiated:

Social workers with their managers should:

  • discuss the case with the child, parents and other professionals;
  • determine whether support from any services may be helpful and help secure it; and
  • consider whether the child's health and development should be re-assessed regularly against specific objectives and decide who has responsibility for doing this.

All involved professionals should:

  • participate in further discussions as necessary;
  • contribute to the development of any plan as appropriate;
  • provide services as specified in the plan for the child; and
  • review the impact of services delivered as agreed in the plan.

Where concerns of significant harm are substantiated and the child is judged to be suffering, or likely to suffer, significant harm:

Social workers with their managers should:

  • convene an initial child protection conference (see next section for details). The timing of this conference should depend on the urgency of the case and respond to the needs of the child and the nature and severity of the harm they may be facing. The initial child protection conference should take place within 15 working days of a strategy discussion, or the strategy discussion at which section 47 enquiries were initiated if more than one has been held;
  • consider whether any professionals with specialist knowledge should be invited to participate;
  • ensure that the child and their parents understand the purpose of the conference and who will attend; and
  • help prepare the child if he or she is attending or making representations through a third party to the conference. Give information about advocacy agencies and explain that the family may bring an advocate, friend or supporter.

All involved professionals should:

  • contribute to the information their agency provides ahead of the conference, setting out the nature of the agency's involvement with the child and family;
  • consider, in conjunction with the police and the appointed conference Chair, whether the report can and should be shared with the parents and if so when; and
  • attend the conference and take part in decision making when invited.

Initial child protection conferences

Following section 47 enquiries, an initial child protection conference brings together family members (and the child where appropriate), with the supporters, advocates and professionals most involved with the child and family, to make decisions about the child's future safety, health and development. If concerns relate to an unborn child, consideration should be given as to whether to hold a child protection conference prior to the child's birth.

Purpose:

  • To bring together and analyse, in an inter-agency setting, all relevant information and plan how best to safeguard and promote the welfare of the child. It is the responsibility of the conference to make recommendations on how agencies work together to safeguard the child in future. Conference tasks include:
    • appointing a lead statutory body (either local authority children's social care or NSPCC) and a lead social worker, who should be a qualified, experienced social worker and an employee of the lead statutory body;
    • identifying membership of the core group of professionals and family members who will develop and implement the child protection plan;
    • establishing timescales for meetings of the core group, production of a child protection plan and for child protection review meetings; and
    • agreeing an outline child protection plan, with clear actions and timescales, including a clear sense of how much improvement is needed, by when, so that success can be judged clearly.

The Conference Chair:

  • is accountable to the Director of Children's Services. Where possible the same person should chair subsequent child protection reviews;
  • should be a professional, independent of operational and/or line management responsibilities for the case; and
  • should meet the child and parents in advance to ensure they understand the purpose and the process.

Social workers with their managers should:

  • convene, attend and present information about the reason for the conference, their understanding of the child's needs, parental capacity and family and environmental context and evidence of how the child has been abused or neglected and its impact on their health and development;
  • analyse the information to enable informed decisions about what action is necessary to safeguard and promote the welfare of the child who is the subject of the conference;
  • share the conference information with the child and family beforehand (where appropriate);
  • prepare a report for the conference on the child and family which sets out and analyses what is known about the child and family and the local authority's recommendation; and
  • record conference decisions and recommendations and ensure action follows.

All involved professionals should:

  • work together to safeguard the child from harm in the future, taking timely, effective action according to the plan agreed.

LSCBs should:

  • monitor the effectiveness of these arrangements.

The child protection plan

Actions and responsibilities following the initial child protection conference

Purpose:

The aim of the child protection plan is to:

  • ensure the child is safe from harm and prevent him or her from suffering further harm;
  • promote the child's health and development; and
  • support the family and wider family members to safeguard and promote the welfare of their child, provided it is in the best interests of the child.
Local authority children’s social care should:
  • designate a social worker to be the lead professional as they carry statutory responsibility for the child's welfare;
  • consider the evidence and decide what legal action to take if any, where a child has suffered, or is likely to suffer, significant harm; and
  • define the local protocol for timeliness of circulating plans after the child protection conference.
Social workers with their managers should:
  • be the lead professional for inter-agency work with the child and family, coordinating the contribution of family members and professionals into putting the child protection plan into effect;
  • develop the outline child protection plan into a more detailed inter-agency plan and circulate to relevant professionals (and family where appropriate);
  • ensure the child protection plan is aligned and integrated with any associated offender risk management plan;
  • undertake direct work with the child and family in accordance with the child protection plan, taking into account the child's wishes and feelings and the views of the parents in so far as they are consistent with the child's welfare;
  • complete the child's and family's in-depth assessment, securing contributions from core group members and others as necessary;
  • explain the plan to the child in a manner which is in accordance with their age and understanding and agree the plan with the child;
  • coordinate reviews of progress against the planned outcomes set out in the plan, updating as required. The first review should be held within 3 months of the initial conference and further reviews at intervals of no more than 6 months for as long as the child remains subject of a child protection plan;
  • record decisions and actions agreed at core group meetings as well as the written views of those who were not able to attend, and follow up those actions to ensure they take place. The child protection plan should be updated as necessary; and
  • lead core group activity.
The core group should:
  • meet within 10 working days from the initial child protection conference if the child is the subject of a child protection plan;
  • develop the outline child protection plan, based on assessment findings, and set out what needs to change, by how much, and by when in order for the child to be safe and have their needs met;
  • decide what steps need to be taken, and by whom, to complete the in-depth assessment to inform decisions about the child's safety and welfare; and
  • implement the child protection plan and take joint responsibility for carrying out the agreed tasks, monitoring progress and outcomes, and refining the plan as needed.

Child protection review conference

The review conference procedures for preparation, decision-making and other procedures should be the same as those for an initial child protection conference.

Purpose:

To review whether the child is continuing to suffer, or is likely to suffer, significant harm, and review developmental progress against child protection plan outcomes.

To consider whether the child protection plan should continue or should be changed.

Social workers with their managers should:

  • attend and lead the organisation of the conference;
  • determine when the review conference should be held within 3 months of the initial conference, and thereafter at maximum intervals of 6 months;
  • provide information to enable informed decisions about what action is necessary to safeguard and promote the welfare of the child who is the subject of the child protection plan, and about the effectiveness and impact of action taken so far;
  • share the conference information with the child and family beforehand, where appropriate;
  • record conference outcomes; and
  • decide whether to initiate family court proceedings (all the children in the household should be considered, even if concerns are only expressed about one child) if the child is considered to be suffering significant harm.

All involved professionals should:

  • attend, when invited, and provide details of their involvement with the child and family; and
  • produce reports for the child protection review. This information will provide an overview of work undertaken by family members and professionals, and evaluate the impact on the child's welfare against the planned outcomes set out in the child protection plan.

Flow chart 5: What happens after the child protection conference, including the review?


Flow chart 5


Discontinuing the Child Protection Plan

A child should no longer be the subject of a child protection plan if:

  • it is judged that the child is no longer continuing to, or is likely to, suffer significant harm and therefore no longer requires safeguarding by means of a child protection plan;
  • the child and family have moved permanently to another local authority area. In such cases, the receiving local authority should convene a child protection conference within 15 working days of being notified of the move. Only after this event may the original local authority discontinue its child protection plan; or
  • the child has reached 18 years of age (to end the child protection plan, the local authority should have a review around the child's birthday and this should be planned in advance), has died or has permanently left the United Kingdom.

Social workers with their managers should:

  • notify, as a minimum, all agency representatives who were invited to attend the initial child protection conference that led to the plan; and
  • consider whether support services are still required and discuss with the child and family what might be needed, based on a re-assessment of the child's needs.

Children returning home

There are three sets of circumstances where a child may return to live with their family but only in two of these do children cease to be looked after. This section covers circumstances where a child is no longer looked after, but a decision has been taken that local authority children’s social care will continue to provide support and services to the family following reunification.

Where the decision to return a child to the care of their family is planned, the local authority will have undertaken an assessment while the child is looked after – as part of the care planning process (under regulation 39 of the Care Planning Regulations 2010). This assessment will consider the suitability of the accommodation and maintenance arrangements for the child and consider what services and support the child (and their family) might need. The outcome of this assessment will be included in the child’s care plan. The decision to cease to look after a child will, in most cases, require approval under regulation 39 of the Care Planning Regulations 2010.

Where a child who is accommodated under section 20 returns home in an unplanned way, for example, the decision is not made as part of the care planning process but the parent removes the child or the child decides to leave, the local authority must consider whether there are any immediate concerns about the safety and well-being of the child. If there are concerns about a child’s immediate safety the local authority should take appropriate action, which could include enquiries under section 47 of the Children Act 1989.

Whether a child’s return to their family is planned or unplanned, there should be a clear plan that reflects current and previous assessments, focuses on outcomes and includes details of services and support required. These plans should follow the process for review as with any child in need and/or child protection plan.

Action to be taken following reunification:

  • Practitioners should make the timeline and decision making process for providing ongoing services and support clear to the child and family.
  • When reviewing outcomes, children should, wherever possible, be seen alone. Practitioners have a duty to ascertain their wishes and feelings regarding the provision of services being delivered.
  • The impact of services and support should be monitored and recorded, and the help being delivered should be reviewed.


Flow chart 6: Children returning home from care to their families


Flow chart 6: Children returning home from care to their families
See flow chart 4 on strategy discussionSee flow chart 4 on strategy discussionSee flow chart 4 on strategy discussionSee flow chart 2 on mmediate protection See flow chart 2 on mmediate protection See flow chart 3 on assessment See flow chart 3 on assessment See flow chart 4 on strategy discussion See flow chart 4 on strategy discussion See flow chart 3 See flow chart 4 See flow chart 3 See flow chart 4 See flow chart 4 See flow chart 5