Stage 1 - Beginnings
- 10 year old girl runs away from home. She is unhappy at home and
wants to go and live with her father
- There have been longstanding concerns about the family expressed
by school and health visitor
- There are five children at home aged 2 - 12, one boy of 3, the rest
- There are particular worries about two men - the step-father who
has recently left the family home and the father of the 10 year old,
who is a Schedule 1 offender
- Previous social work contact with the family has been difficult
and unproductive because of opposition from the men
- The previous social worker is on sick leave.
- What is currently known about this family from the SSD and other
- What is unknown and what are the areas of information where we need
to know more?
- Are there any considerations in relation the family’s ethnicity,
religion, cultural issues or any other special needs (e.g. does anyone
in the family have a disability or illness that might impact on the
assessment and intervention stages?)
- What is the mother's view of the situation?
- What are the children's views?
- Where is the 10 year old now?
- Who is in a position to provide the information we lack?
- What contact are the men currently having with the children?
- Are any members of the extended family subject to any current or
recent court orders?
- What personal support networks does the family, in particular the
Research focused questions
The questions that follow in bold are an attempt to
help social workers use one approach to evidence-based practice that
has four linked concepts: Need; Threshold;
Outcome; Service. The process begins
with questions about needs. What are the needs that
this family and these children present? Risks and protective factors
are seen within the same context and have to be balanced against each
other. The next concept is about thresholds, which
means making a judgement about levels of seriousness of concern. How
serious is the risk of significant harm without intervention?
The third linked concept is outcome.
Given the assessed needs and thresholds, what outcomes are we seeking
to achieve? What are our objectives? What is our timescale? The service
response is then about trying to put together a mix of services (in
complex cases you cannot rely on one service or one agency input to
do the trick) which will achieve the outcomes that have been agreed.
All of this will, of course, be recorded in your local care planning
form but the need, threshold, outcome
and service framework helps you see the connections
between the different parts.
- What are the needs of the individuals within this family?
- How serious are the risks of significant harm?
- What protective factors can be identified?
- What is the balance between needs, risks and protective factors?
outcome and service are the key concepts
in what Michael Little of Dartington Social Research Unit calls the
Common Language project which is designed as a means of helping child
care workers in different disciplines and across different cultures
communicate more effectively with each other. His Prediction:
perspectives on diagnosis, prognosis and interventions for children
in need (Warren House Press. 2002) offers a short text on how practitioners
can become more analytical and make more effective use of the case information
that they routinely gather. He looks in particular at the inter-relationship
of risk and protective factors.
for the Assessment of Children in Need and their Families Department
of Health (1999)
The Introduction to the case study referred to the conceptual framework
that the DoH has produced to help practitioners assess and plan more
effectively. The domains (Child's Developmental Needs, Parenting Capacity
& Family Environmental Factors) indicate the scope of a holistic
assessment and the dimensions are described on pages 19, 21 & 23.
These offer triggers to help you identify the key elements in relation
to the individual children, the crucial factors about the parental context
as well as wider issues about the availability of support or lack of
it in the family environment. In addition, there is an attempt on pages
39 & 40 to provide an explanation for parents about what an assessment
is - something that workers may be in danger of taking for granted.
Jenny Gray, one of the key officers at the SSI, has written a useful
summary article of the assessment framework in Child
Psychology and Psychiatry. You may also need to refer to the specialist
section on working with Black families or those with children with disabilities.
Child’s World: Assessing Children in Need was produced as
a companion volume to the Department of Health’s Assessment Framework.
The following chapters are of particular relevance: 3, Ecological
perspectives in assessing children and families by Gordon Jack;
4, The core assessment: how to synthesise information and make judgements
by Margaret Adcock; 7, Entering the child’s world: communicating
with children to assess their needs by Anne Bannister; 11, Promoting
positive outcomes for children in need: the assessment of protective
factors by Robbie Gilligan; and 16, David Jones' chapter
'The effectiveness of intervention'.
Gilligan has written a further work on resilience: Promoting
Resilience: A resource guide on working with children in the care system
which has wider relevance than for children looked after.
You will need to know how to access information related
to legal frameworks, for example the Children
It may also help you to be familiar with what being
a Schedule 1 offender means for the assessment and the family. See the
Offenders Act 1997.
You may need to refer to these throughout all the stages of the process.
Ann Hagel's short 1998 research review,
Dangerous care: Reviewing the risks to children from their carers,
highlights some of the characteristics of abuse that lead to serious
harm. She cautions that this is a complex area that it is impossible
to summarise adequately but identifies three key factors. The first
is what she calls abuse that damages attachments, where
abuse comes from a parent or primary care giver with all the implications
for the betrayal of trust. The second she describes as acute
versus chronic abuse with the focus on abuse that persists
over time. The third factor is severity of abuse. She
quotes material that was reported in the well-known Blue Book, Child
Protection: Messages from Research.
'…in a generally warm and supportive environment,
children who had been hit once or twice seldom suffer long-term negative
effects. It is equally clear that even a short period of neglect,
whether physical or emotional, could cause children harm. However,
in families that were low in warmth and high in criticism the consequences
of the same maltreatment accumulated in a way that they do not in
more benign family contexts. Moreover, these low warmth/high criticism
environments are not only potentially damaging to children's general
development, but are also contexts in which the risk of physical maltreatment,
sexual abuse and neglect is high.'
Even when children are removed from such environments
and placed in good quality substitute family placements, there is no
guarantee that the damage can be undone.
Children's Emotional Well-being, Ann Buchanan & Barbara Hudson,
Oxford University Press (2000) (ISBN 0 19 263174 8). Child Abuse Inquiries
like Climbie typically concentrate on cases that have gone tragically
wrong and on key turning points that, with different case management,
might have led to different outcomes. Buchanan and Hudson's work offers
a valuable review of a range of studies that focus on children's emotional
well-being rather than their physical safety. This includes among its
chapters one by Katz on young people's views of being parented and what
matters to them. Another by Wells demonstrates the important contribution
of school-based interventions towards the mental health of young people.
A very useful text for social workers that relates
child development issues to their specific issues in child care and
child protection is by Brigid Daniel, Robbie Gilligan and Sally Wassel,
Child Development for Child Care and Protection Workers London, Jessica
Kingsley (1999). Its use of concepts of developmental pathways, risks,
resilience, adverse and protective environments and the impact of social
circumstances is helpfully illustrated through practice case studies.
Another useful recent research resource is Dorota Iwaniec
and Dominic McSherry's Understanding
Child Neglect: Contemporary Issues and Dilemmas, 2002, available
from the Institute of Child Care Research at Queen's University, Belfast.
They argue in this paper that neglect is the poor relation of the child
protection world, too often overshadowed by physical and sexual abuse.
Of course, we need to learn to respond effectively to child abuse of
any kind but these last two works point to forms of child suffering
that, because they are not so readily described in terms of dramatic
incidents, rarely grab the headlines.
Another recent practice tool that helps you assess the
varying weights of different risk factors is contained in a chapter
by David Jones called The
effectiveness of intervention. This pages 107-113, provides indicators
to identify those cases with better or worse prospects of success. Indicators
for less successful intervention include:
- Continual parental denial of abuse or impairment;
- Parents who refuse or who do not co-operate with professional
- Severe parental personality problems;
- Parental learning disabilities with accompanying mental illness;
- Persistent parental substance misuse;
- Parental psychosis with delusions involving the child;
- Severe child neglect or psychological abuse;
- Severe sexual abuse (involving penetration and of long duration);
- Sadistic, premeditated abuse.
Provided that the men can be kept under control out
of the family household, none of the above indicators is present in
our case example, but the situation could quickly change if one of the
men returned or another 'dangerous' adult joined the family.
It is important not to use these tools simplistically
i.e. they provide solid research information to inform practice decision-making
but they are not a substitute for thinking critically how an individual
case fits or does not fit what is known from previous studies. Applying
research to practice always requires making links between what is known
generally - research knowledge comprises, typically, generalisations
about groups - and the unique individuals with whom practitioners are