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

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1.2 The Risk Framework

Core Components of the Framework - Risk, Resilience and Resistance

The Framework has been developed around three risk components that build upon the GIRFEC Practice Model - Risk, Resilience and Resistance (the 3R's). These three factors require to be considered when undertaking any assessment of need/risk. It is the complex interplay and weighting of these three factors that requires close exploration to help reach a clear understanding of risk.

Risk

Risk indicators are those factors that are identified in the child's circumstances or environment that may constitute a risk, a hazard or a threat to the child/young person. The My World Triangle and Well-being Wheel support practitioners to explore needs and risks across the three domains of the child's life.

The Framework provides a set of Generic Risk Indicators which directly relate to the three domains of the My World Triangle - the child, the parent/carer and the child's wider world - to actively guide practitioners through a series of potential risk indicators relating to each domain.

Risk indicators graph

Risk indicators need to be understood in relation to the potential for child abuse and neglect rather than accidental harm to children. However, this possibility should not be overlooked since accidental harm may also highlight safe caring issues, poor supervision or diminished parenting capacity. Simply recording the risk indicators is not sufficient. Each needs to be clearly identified and made sense of relative to the supporting information and evidence.

Resilience

Resilience has been viewed as "normal development under difficult conditions" (Fonagay et al, 1994).

Resilience graph

Focusing on the positives and the strengths in a child's life is likely to help improve outcomes by building the protective network around the child and the self protective potentials within the child. (Daniel B & Wassel S, 2002).

At the same time, it is important to be alert to factors of adversity or vulnerability, which may potentially impact upon the child's well-being and the interaction of these factors with any identified resilience and protective aspects.

This is the second core component of the Risk Framework and builds upon the Resilience/Vulnerability Matrix within the GIRFEC Practice Model. A set of Matrix Related Indicators have been developed here to support practitioners explore the key concepts of adversity/protective factors and vulnerability/resilience.

Resistance

The third component relates to families who, for whatever reason, are or may be difficult to engage. This may present through the family's aggression, conditional compliance, refusal to co-operate, missed appointments and other forms of avoidance, or it may be masked by superficial engagement and co-operation. There may also be unintended barriers to engagement that arise as direct consequence of an individual's circumstances, such as mental health, mental illness or disability. The common feature in all cases is resistance to change and an inability/unwillingness to acknowledge and/or address the risk/s to the child.

Before concluding that a family is resistant, practitioners should:

  • Respect the right of parents/carers to challenge any professional's interpretation of events, assessment of their child's needs or assessment of risk to the child
  • Confirm that the parents/carers understand the professionals concerns and what is expected of them relative to these
  • Assess what, if any, contribution the service approach and/or interventions may make to this

Risk assessment is therefore a complex task in which workers need to "… balance an empathic approach with a boundaried authoritative approach which avoids over-optimism and scrutinises apparent parental compliance" (Sen and Green Lister, 2011).

Risk Assessment

Work with children and young people and their family needs to be both supportive in character and investigative in approach. We have to acknowledge that intrusion in people's lives is sometimes necessary to support improvement and change in their life circumstances.

Assessment of risk in child protection needs to be comprehensive but can only be so if it methodically and analytically considers both past and present in order to identify future risks to the child or young person. When conducting an assessment of risk, the focus is on the safety and well-being of the child and it is important that the child's "whole needs" are fully assessed. This will assist agencies and families to better understand what contributes to a family crisis. It may also help identify the strengths and resources a family has that can be drawn upon when intervention may be necessary to protect a child.

Research provides evidence that parents who abuse/neglect their children are frequently struggling with a range of problems, such as poor mental health, substance/alcohol misuse and domestic violence. Such difficulties may increase the potential for abuse when they occur in combination or are compounded by other stressors such as parental capacity, material deprivation, housing problems and unsupportive/inadequate social and familial networks. A thorough risk assessment should take into account the strength/resilience factors, support networks and resources that a family has to draw upon to better identify the nature of intervention necessary to protect the child.

A thorough approach to risk assessment also needs to take account of the GIRFEC key questions:

  • What is getting in the way of this child or young person's well-being?
  • Do I have all the information I need to help this child or young person?
  • What can I do now to help this child or young person?
  • What can my agency do to help this child or young person?
  • What additional help, if any, may be needed from others?

In addition, any assessment of risk must also consider the following.

Source of the Risk

  • Who or what presents the danger/threat to the child's well-being?
  • Where does the abuse occur - at home and/or in the wider community?
  • What is the level of intent - is the abuse an act of commission or omission?
  • Is the harm isolated to a single event or cumulative, reflecting more than one risk factor?
  • What is the actual or likely impact of any harm?

Capacity of the Parent/Carer to Effect the Necessary Changes

  • Does the parent have insight into self, child and the circumstances?
  • Is there a shared understanding of professional concern/s by the family?
  • What is the parents/carers understanding of the need for change - is change possible?
  • Do they sincerely want to change?
  • Are they able and willing to work with services to effect change?
  • Do we have the resources to help address needs/risk(s) and to build child and family resiliencies?
  • How long is it likely to take to effect change?
  • Can they maintain the change required?

The assessment information can then be used to help determine, if a child is safe, what agency resources are needed to keep the child safe with their family and where the risks are such that a child may need to be removed from immediate family.

A Staged Approach to Risk Assessment

The framework supports practitioners to take a staged appraoch to assessment, analysis and risk management and sets out a range of tasks and activities that can be undertaken within each stage. As noted previously, risk is dynamic and as such practitioners will often move between these stages as information and circumstances change. New information may also come to light that requires practitioners to revisit the assessment and revise their interventions with a family and reshape the Child's Plan. The graphic below sets out this staged process and highlights the various tools that practitioners can use at each particular stage to support them in the process of assessing, analysing and managing needs/risks.

A 3 staged approach to risk graph

STAGE 1: Collection and Collation of Information

All assessment, no matter the service or circumstances, is based upon the gathering of relevant information from across all areas of a child and family's life circumstances identified as having significance. Information is gathered from a range of sources around the three domains of the My World Triangle, and the Risk Framework supplements and further supports this process by setting out three sets of Risk Indicators - Generic, Matrix Related and Resistance Related. This allows practitioners to comprehensively cover generic aspects of risk as well as to actively consider particular aspects of vulnerability, resilience, adversity, protection and resistance within the three dimensions of the My World Triangle.

STAGE 2: Risk Analysis

Analysis is a key activity in assessment. Making sense of children's lives and relationships is fundamental to understanding their well-being and safety. Risk analysis is the process of understanding what the information gathered is saying about the actual and potential needs of and risks to the child. Information gathering should be purposeful, systematic and organised in approach and practitioners must consistently ask themselves, "what is this information telling me"?

Key consideration needs to be given to the following:

  • The abilities of the parent/carer to protect
  • The known resilience and protective factors, particular to and around the child that may help to better protect
  • The impact of the identified risk factors on the child's future safety
  • The capacity of the parents to effect any necessary changes in the timeframe commensurate with the childs age and development

Analysis is a continuous process: it begins as information is gathered and organised and explores circumstances which are identified as having meaning and significance for the child's safety and well-being. Analysis draws upon practitioner reasoning to make sense of circumstances and in this respect it can be deliberate, considered, formal, explicit and logical. However, as Eileen Munro (2005) noted, it can also draw upon the intuitive reasoning of the practitioners involved. Both approaches are acknowledged as having validity as part of a continnuum for analysing family circumstances and events, albeit that, where time and significance of decision making apply, the more deliberate approach is preferred. Analysis of the information gathered will then critically be used to inform professional interventions and any risk management strategy to be set out within the Child's Plan.

STAGE 3: Risk Management

Clear assessment through focused, systematic information gathering and analysis will better inform the risk management strategy framed within the single Child's Plan. The development of the Child's Plan is key in defining the actions necessary to be undertaken by services and parent/carers, to satisfactorily address need and reduce risk. This should clearly state who is doing what, when, within what timescale, to achieve what outcome and for what purpose.