NUMBER 1100 • 5 DECEMBER • assessment
There has been a considerable amount of interest in the UK, in recent years, in the content and organisation of social workers’ assessments, particularly with the introduction of the Framework for the Assessment of Children in Need and Their Families (DoH, 2000) and its subsequent evaluations. With some notable exceptions, less attention has been given to the decision-making that arises from those assessments, and to the ways in which social workers evaluate the information collected. This paper uses data from a wider study of social workers’ initial assessments to shed light on the processes by which social workers analysed the content of their assessments.
It begins by reviewing recent literature on decision-making in childcare and child protection work, and uses that literature to explore the more intuitive or ‘common sense’ aspects of social workers’ decisions. A number of themes emerge from this review, which link to findings from the research. The research itself explored the practice issues for social workers in carrying out initial assessments in borderline child protection cases, in the light of the refocusing initiative in the UK (Platt, 2004; Platt, forthcoming, a). In the present context, the findings are presented with particular attention to the processes by which the social workers evaluated the content of their assessments. They build on a previous paper examining decision-making at the referral stage (Platt, forthcoming, b). It is argued that an understanding of these processes may have wider applicability in enhancing social workers’ reasoning in practice.
To appreciate this analysis, for readers unfamiliar with the British context, it is necessary to understand that local authority social work with children and young people in the UK is underpinned by two particular legislative principles set out in the Children Act, 1989. The first is the response to children in need, governed by s. 17 of the Act. It leads to the assessment of needs and, where appropriate, the provision of a range of supportive services. The second is the response to allegations of child abuse: s. 47 of the Children Act is generally interpreted as requiring investigation of the allegations, and may lead to an inter-agency, child protection conference, state monitoring, service provision, and, where necessary, measures to remove the child from the family. Practice developments in recent years have tended to identify the need for greater integration between the two approaches, and the Assessment Framework, for example, is applicable to children falling into either category.
Platt, D.(2004/5) Social workers’ decision-making following initial assessments of children in need in the UK. International Journal of Child & Family Welfare. Vol.8 (4) pp. 177– 178.