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National Risk Framework to Support the Assessment of Children and Young People

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Introduction

Risk is a difficult and complex notion that can create understandable anxiety for many. It is, however, also a core consideration of any intervention that is undertaken with children and families.

Risk is not just about considerations of concern or harm. It is also an inherent aspect of all healthy human development. Children and young people have to be exposed to experiences that may raise their risk potential at differing stages of their growth and development to help them develop into rounded, secure, healthy individuals. It is further an aspect of life in every area of society. Staff within every service at every level, no matter where they work and with whom, are at some point going to be working directly with children and young people who may be both in need and at risk.

Risk is also a dynamic concept that can be multi-dimensional in character - it's not static and seldom mono-dimensional, it is fluid and critically shaped and characterised by a range of events and movement in the context and setting where it occurs. For instance, when supporting an individual adult to address a substance misuse issue, it may become apparent that there are also clear parenting issues, self-esteem and confidence concerns, possible mental health matters, relationship difficulties with partner and child, aspects of violence and aggression and so on. Thus, practitioners may be faced with trying to address a single area of need (eg. parental substance misuse) while this in itself may be reflective of a wider combination of risk variables that also require close consideration.

In approaching risk within the assessment task, thus, there is a need to take account of, not only current circumstances but past history and future potentials. This means we have to investigate and explore family circumstances in some detail in order to acquire adequate grasp of how needs may have gone unmet and how risk circumstances may have emerged. Using the understandings acquired, Named Persons, Lead Professionals and others then need to project the future probability or likelihood of harm and to determine if this harm is significant in nature or not. Projection of probable risk of harm significantly also means that there is a potential for error in terms of what we think may occur. This is no small task indeed.

This Guidance therefore, aims to support and assist practitioners at all levels, in every agency, to be able to approach the task of risk identification, assessment, analysis and management with more confidence and competence. It seeks to provide tools that, if used, support methodical and systematic approaches to not only better understanding risk and its presentation with children and families, but also en hance interventions and potential outcomes.

The Guidance should not, though, be viewed as prescriptive in character; it requires practitioners to consider the use and application of the tools with each individual set of circumstances they are faced with. The expectation is not to follow slavishly each element but to apply these proportionately when focusing upon the child's needs, their well-being and the strengths and pressures within their life circumstances. This Framework, the Guidance and Tools it contains, seek to support and complement existing assessment processes. Risk is an element of all assessment, it does not stand alone. Children and young people's needs and emerging risks require to be considered along the continuum of their lifespan.

Drawing upon current research, theory and practice knowledge the Framework provides a toolkit through which practitioners can work more confidently with risk. By using the materials and guidance provided practitioners may be enabled to reach more informed understandings of risk and build greater competence and ability in its identification, assessment, analysis and management.

Importantly, this Guidance, and risk considerations with children and families sit firmly within Scotland's national policy of Getting It Right for Every Child (GIRFEC) and as such it should be used in conjunction with the tools provided by the GIRFEC National Practice Model. Local application of GIRFEC may vary across Authorities, however, the Risk Framework provides a consistent practice approach that can be integrated into existing assessment and recording processes.

In Scotland, GIRFEC sets out clear roles and responsibilities for practitioners to promote well-being and ensure safety across the child's/young person's lifespan via the identification of Named Persons, Lead Professionals and others. This means that all children, through universal service provision should have a Named Person responsible for them, and where required, a coordinated child's plan to meet their needs.

Set firmly within the context of GIRFEC in Scotland, the Framework aims to help practitioners establish a common language and cultures of practice around considerations of risk. Risk is a global concept in the lives of children, young people and their families and as such the materials within the toolkit also have integrity and application beyond the Scottish context.

Martin C. Calder, Moira McKinnon and Rikki Sneddon, October 2012