June 24, 2016 2:00 pm
Assessments are done all the time in Child Protection work and they are mostly done by Local Authorities. These are often carried out by social workers who are assigned to cases, be that as the child’s social worker, perhaps a fostering or an adoption social worker and in many cases, the information that feeds into those assessments is taken from information shared by other professionals. This could be the referral but it could also be other information that you already hold on file.
When referrals are made a Local Authority is under an obligation to make an enquiry under Section 47 of The Children Act 1989. After making their enquiry, a Local Authority has to decide what further steps, if any, it needs to take in order to meet a child’s welfare needs. It’s the welfare needs of a child that are continually at the forefront of all assessments that are being undertaken. Questions always have to be asked, ‘what are the right steps to be taken for a child at any particular moment in time’. In order to assist Local Authorities in making those decisions, social workers undertake a number of assessments. This may include an initial assessment after a referral has been made and after a Section 47 enquiry has been completed. Core assessments will be undertaken, there could also be a social work assessment of needs, or a ‘Swan Assessment’ as it’s colloquially known. There may be risk assessments of the parents or alternative carers, and perhaps other family members that want to have contact with a child. There are likely to be parenting assessments of either both parents together or parents separately with other partners. And there may be viability assessments of alternative carers for the children.
Increasingly, I have seen in some Local Authorities that these assessments aren’t being undertaken until a very late stage. My own view is that these assessments, such as the risk assessment, parenting assessment and viability assessments which need to be at least part of the planning process, very much at an early stage of being involved with the family. Perhaps even before you’ve got to a pre-proceedings meeting or before you’re considering taking legal advice. The reason for this is that these assessments will form your view and form part of your evidence as to how best to work with a family. Assessments will highlight the sort of work which needs to be done with them and the level support they need. It also offers the opportunity to ask yourself as to what level of involvement does a child need, particularly in terms of maybe CAHMS involvement, or possibly extra support in school?
All of these assessments ultimately assists a Local Authority in deciding what steps need to be taken in order to meet the welfare needs of a child or children. It’s important to note that any assessment that’s been conducted and completed could be challenged, particularly the outcome of a risk assessment, a parenting assessment or perhaps an assessment such as a fostering assessment of alternative carers if the outcome is negative.
In my experience, a well written and well-balanced assessment that has taken place with the parents’ cooperation, although I accept that this can be difficult sometimes, can help to prevent difficulties arising at a later stage. Perhaps during pre-proceedings meetings or perhaps when you’ve got into the Court arena, should the matter go that far? In my experience, good quality assessments often prevent the need for matters going into Court because you’ve done the work, you’ve assessed the situation and if a child can go home with the right support, and then sometimes there is absolutely no need for Court involvement at all. If there is need for Court involvement, your evidence has already been prepared. Your evidence is there and you may only need to make some minor amendments before you go further through into the proceedings phase.
So, in terms of your assessments, I’m well aware that for some social workers who are already stressed, already tired, already absolutely overworked; it can be very difficult to get these assessments done on time. I’m also aware that most social workers are absolutely amazing at doing these assessments and getting them right in terms of being balanced, being fair and I want to reassure you that your assessments can be so powerful that they can stop the need for Court proceedings and at worst, you can slow matters down and prevent children being away from their families for longer than necessary. If needed, your assessments will demonstrate that you have given a family every opportunity in order to safely parent their child, or to make sure that they are able to meet the welfare needs of the children and your assessment will show that they either can do that or they can’t do that. Therefore, take your time with assessments, make sure that they’re well written, well balanced and prevent those difficulties arising at a later stage.