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

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1.1 Introduction

The GIRFEC National Practice Model and Risk Assessment

The Getting it right for every child[1] (GIRFEC) approach is the key thread running through policy and practice affecting children, young people and their families in Scotland. At its heart is the National Practice Model, which provides the foundation for identifying concerns, assessing needs and initial risks and making plans for children in ALL situations. It helpfully provides a shared language and a common understanding and approach for all practitioners across all services. This single system of planning for a child should be used in every case. All agencies, thus, need to use and contribute to the model in a way that reflects their core responsibilities; this includes all adult services.

To fully assess a child's circumstances when a concern has been identified the GIRFEC Practice Model combines a number of useful tools for practitioners addressing the needs of children and young people: the Well-being Wheel, My World Triangle and Resilience/Vulnerability Matrix. The diagram below shows these, and the concepts it contains underpin this toolkit as a whole.

GIRFEC National Practice Model

GIRFEC National Practice Model
Image Source: Scottish Government 2010 (http:/www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications/2010/05/27095736/4)

At all points in a child's/young person's life there are identified needs and when such needs go unmet, are partially met or inappropriately met, risks may arise. Risk is fluid; it can change over time dependent on the relationships across a whole range of different factors and may require different interventions at different stages to ensure a child's safety and well-being. Within the context of any assessment of need, the child's need to be safe should always be the priority.

Key Principles in Applying the Framework

To optimise the protection of children, ALL agencies should collaborate and undertake the tasks of assessment and analysis of family circumstances together. When services operate in a collaborative and co-ordinated way; where all the needs and circumstances of the child and their family are openly and honestly explored, the impact and longer-term outcomes for children and young people can be considerably improved. To do this, practitioners need to take a holistic approach to practice that ensures the child is kept at the centre.

Involving Children and Families

Practitioners need to take a whole child approach to practice. When undertaking a risk assessment, there should always be an explicit agreement as to how the views of children and parents are to be obtained and how they will be represented, either within the context of a report or at a child protection meeting, such as a case conference. Involving parents where there are child protection concerns should lead to improved family assessments, more focused interventions and better outcomes for children. The assessment process should also, where possible, be fully shared with parents to encourage and support their understandings of service interventions and their potential participation.

Working Together

The application of the Framework aims to build upon the cumulative and complementary skills, knowledge and abilities of ALL practitioners working with vulnerable children and their families. While some practitioners may not define or perceive their core role as a "child focused" one (ie. practitioners who may be working primarily with the adults in the household), their information and involvement remains crucial in ascertaining and managing present and future needs/risks to a child or young person. In applying the Framework, it is essential that practitioners do so: collaboratively through good joint working arrangements; proportionately balancing strengths/resilience's against the identified vulnerabilities/need for protection; and transparently via open exploration of family circumstances.

Evidence Based Practice (EBP)

All practice interventions with children/young people and their families should operate to evidence based principles. This refers to the process by which practitioners gather relevant information about what is happening to a child and use their knowledge from research, theory and practice experience to arrive at a better understanding of a child and family's experience/s. This is graphically represented below:

Evidence Based Practice Chart

Risk and Significant Harm

The National Child Protection Guidance for Scotland (2010) sets out a definition of risk and significant harm that underpins this toolkit. Indeed, the Guidance as a whole should be used in conjunction with this toolkit where child protection concerns are involved. On risk and significant harm, the Guidance states:

"Risk is the likelihood or probability of a particular outcome given the presence of factors in a child or young person's life. Risk is part and parcel of everyday life: a toddler learning to walk is likely to be at risk from some stumbles and scrapes but this does not mean the child should not be encouraged to walk. Risks may be deemed acceptable; they may also be reduced by parents/carers or through the early intervention of universal services. At other times, a number of services may need to respond together as part of a co-ordinated intervention. Only where risks cause, or are likely to cause, significant harm to a child would a response under child protection be required. Where a child has already been exposed to actual harm, assessment will mean looking at the extent to which they are at risk of repeated harm and the potential effects of continued exposure over time."

Where a child's/young person's core needs are not appropriately met, whatever the parental intent, this poses potential risk to the child's/young person's future long-term development, for example, through neglect. Children can also be at risk from more immediate threats - eg. physical or sexual abuse - which can have both a short- and long-term impact on the child's physical and emotional well-being and development.

The likelihood of future significant harm occurring as defined in the Scottish National Child Protection Guidance, establishes the point beyond which children in need begin also to be treated as children at significant risk and may become involved in the child protection system. There is no simple definition of the degree of concern or level of risk that sets this threshold; this is a matter for collective professional judgement dependent upon identified prevailing circumstances. However, the following elements should be considered when reaching judgements as to the likelihood of future significant harm:

  • The seriousness of the abuse, particularly in terms of harm to the child
  • The likely level of risk to the future safety and welfare of the child
  • The degree of professional confidence in the information that either the abuse has occurred and is likely to be repeated, or that the child is at risk of harm

To understand and identify significant harm, it is necessary to consider:

  • The character of the actual/likely harm, in terms of abuse or failure to provide adequate care and protection
  • The impact on/potential consequences for the child's health and development
  • The child's development within the context of their family and wider environment
  • Any special individual needs, such as a medical condition, communication impairment or disability, that may affect the child's development or vulnerability and care within the family
  • The capacity of the parents or carers to adequately meet the child's needs, including their need to be safe
  • The wider familial and environmental context

If children do not feel safe, arrangements should always be in place to provide them with opportunity to say so, as many vulnerable children may not always be able to communicate this directly or articulate this clearly.