2.1 Getting Started
How to Use the Framework
All child assessments should be undertaken using the GIRFEC National Practice Model with its Well-being Wheel, the My World Triangle and the Resilience-Vulnerability Matrix. This allows practitioners to assess the child's "whole world" and the interplay between the three domains of the triangle (as set out in the National Practice Model).
In this section you will be guided through the staged approach to risk assessment and the tools that are available to support practitioners in the assessment task. However, before commencing any risk assessment practitioners should take account of the factors that may increase the likelihood of abuse occurring or recurring.
Messages from Research
- Once a person has been a perpetrator of an incident of abuse or neglect, there is an increased probability that their behaviour may recur
- People can change but there is a need to anchor any signs of change against any identified historical or current risk factors to offset against any tendency for over-optimism
- The likelihood of recurrence is increased by the degree to which the functioning of the perpetrator and their partner is impaired by substance abuse and other issues such as mental health, disability etc
- If a partner is active or complicit within the abuse or neglect, the possibility of recurrence is increased. Conversely, a partner who is actively opposed the abuse can lower the risk of recurrence
- People, who are violent in any context, are more likely to behave in a violent manner with their children than someone who never uses violence as a means of coping with difficulty
- If the parents/carers perceive children as objects, or merely as extensions of themselves, there will be a higher probability of the recurrence of abuse or neglect than if the children are viewed as individuals in their own right
- The greater the vulnerability of the child, the greater the further probability of being exposed to abuse or neglect
- The higher the level of stress experienced by the family, the greater the probability of being exposed to further abuse or neglect
Practitioners also need to be aware of other significant research which notes a tendency to overlook or minimise the role of fathers and father figures, either as posing risk/s of harm or as providing potential protective factors. Linked to this is the tendency to hold women to account for the protection of children, even in circumstances where this may be very difficult for them to do so - for example, in circumstances of living with violent and abusive partners.
10 Key Assessment Principles
1. Gather and read the available records and information - all of them
2. Identify and gather information that is referenced but not at hand
3. Build as full a history as possible relating to the child, parent/carer and child's wider world
4. Check this history for corroboration and/or disagreement with the various parties involved - child, family and other professionals
5. Build the case chronology of significant events (single or multi-agency)
6. Consider the 4 C's - Cause, Character, Context and Consequence - of any significant event for all involved
- Cause - What is stated or noted to be triggering the event
- Character - Describe the concerns/abuse - be specific on the detail not just the generalities (eg. "assault to the body" - assault by punches targeting the chest and arms, causing fracture, bruising and lacerations)
- Context - What was happening at the time - actual circumstances of the event/s (eg. timing, location, presence of others, etc)
- Consequence - What is the impact and outcome of the event or circumstances - individual and/or cumulative? Again note the detail and specifics, identify individual or collective vulnerabilities, risks and harm/s
7. Examine the evidence base - Identify where circumstances and events are corroborated, challenged or contradicted by information from other sources. Note the different sources, how long concerns have existed and/or if prevalent across generations. Identify the significance of the concerns for individual and family functioning, for the particular child/young person, for effecting potential change, for efforts to be made at addressing needs and reducing risks
8. Build the visual reference material to support your analysis and help convey understandings with the family and other colleagues through the use of Chronologies, EcoMaps, Genograms - ensure copies are retained within core records
9. Balance informed reasoned analysis with practitioner intuition- practitioner intuition is an inherent part of assessment and should be acknowledged within the analysis process
10. Revisit and reconsider the initial analysis and conclusions reached through single/multi-agency case planning and review processes
R. Sneddon (2012)
Using the Tools - Some Things to Think About
- When undertaking a comprehensive assessment, practitioners should consider ALL indicators, as it is the interplay between the domains of the My World Triangle (Generic Risk Indicators) and strengths and vulnerabilities of the child and their family (Matrix Related Indicators) that will help to identify the level of risk and inform what action may be necessary to keep the child safe.
At early stages of investigation however, practitioners may be time limited and may wish simply to draw on the Generic Risk Indicators and the Risk Questions/Prompts.
- Practitioners are required to use local existing assessment frameworks/paperwork and the Risk Framework needs to be incorporated to build upon locally established processes (eg. the IAF - Integrated Assessment Framework).
- The Risk Recording Sheets should not be given out to children/families to complete. Rather, they should be used by practitioners to provide as comprehensive a picture as possible. They are, thus, an aid to ensuring that all relevant information is being gathered and where information is not known, to assist professionals make a decision as to whether this information is necessary to the decision making process. The risk indicators may also help support and inform discussions between the child and their family and the services involved in developing appropriate and proportionate responses to the needs/risks identified.
In all circumstances practitioners should seek to obtain an overview of the child's world (the child's/family's history, family composition and relationships) in order to make better sense of what may be going on. To achieve this all work with children and young people should be supported by the use of clear Chronologies, Genograms and EcoMaps.