ADOPTION POLICY REVIEW GROUP -REPORT PHASE I
Problems relating to assessment of children's needs and risks have been raised by the local authorities, SWSI and various working groups such as the LAC Steering group. Increasingly, local authorities and others are asking the Scottish Executive to take a lead on developing (or co-ordinating efforts to develop) an assessment framework for Scotland's children.
- Consequence of poor or inadequate assessments
2.1 Late assessments of children's needs and parental abilities are leading to delays in permanence decisions and thereby, in some cases, removing the possibility of adoption. Inadequate assessments of children's short and long term needs at the time of placement may leave adoptive parents without the support they need when faced with difficulties post adoption i.e. they may be unable to access services to help them.
2.2 Child protection. Lack of assessments and subsequent protective plans increase the risk that abuse will not be recognised or prevented.
2.3 Integrated services for children require integrated assessments with overlaps and gaps minimised.
2.4 Parents who are being poorly assessed in terms of drug or alcohol misuse leave some young children vulnerable to abuse.
- Current Developments
3.1 The Department of Health's Assessment Framework has generated considerable interest across Scotland and a number of authorities are either using the framework or are considering its use. Health and education professionals have also indicated an interest. In discussions with local authorities, it is the DoH framework they refer to when seeking the Scottish Executive to take a lead on developing a framework for Scotland. The Assessment Framework consists of a 'package' of resources. Firstly there are extensive materials outlining the theory and research, there is guidance, there is an accompanying training programme and finally there is a recording schedule. Initially there was some hostility to the model in Scotland as being too prescriptive and detailed. Increasingly these objections are heard less although most local authorities would wish to have flexibility in their use.
3.2 IT developments are, to an extent, driving the speed of change in recording practice in some local authorities. Glasgow, for example, has developed a case recording system with integrated assessment elements and other local authorities are seeking to do likewise
3.3 A number of local authorities have commissioned Dundee University to assist them in training staff in assessment and the use of the Dundee University assessment tools for abuse and neglect. The Scottish Executive contributed funding towards these tools. All those authorities that have participated in the project (and all those attending the project's national seminar) have concluded that a national framework is needed for Scotland.
3.4 The development of the post qualifying award in child protection has increased the level of skills and knowledge both in child protection and assessment but the comparatively small numbers of practitioners undertaking the course (and the length of time they stay in child care practice subsequently) means there is not a substantial body of knowledge at practitioner or supervisor level. There is also some concern that the skills and knowledge learned on the course are lost through lack of support back in the work place.
3.5 Some local authority or health board areas are developing more integrated assessment approaches to children, particularly with special needs. This is patchy, is more under development than established and continuation is sometimes dependent on individuals and short term funding.
- What needs to be done?
4.1 There is agreement on the problems. Staff need to be more skilled in assessment and the work needs to be integrated with other services such as health and education; there needs to be good mechanisms for recording and these need to be linked with current computerised case records, integrated with other services and reasonably consistent across Scotland; social work services need to put assessment at the centre of practice with appropriate time allowed for the task and teams need to be properly resourced for it.
4.2 The solutions are less clear. Many local authorities are currently arguing that a national assessment framework is needed. Previous experience of developing and promoting the use of frameworks (the Risk Assessment Guidance and Framework for criminal justice services or the DoH Assessment Framework for example) suggest that whilst such frameworks can promote and assist in the development of good practice, successful implementation requires significant investment in practice and management skills. The introduction of frameworks needs to be considered within a longer term strategy which includes training for managers, change management projects, monitoring and evaluation and considerable training and retraining on their use. The preliminary research on the DoH framework suggests there are many problems with the framework's implementation because of lack of staff and management skills and a framework is not a short term fix. It is also resource intensive - during the change process, as the work loads increase and as the demand for services increases.
- The LAC Steering Group has suggested that a joint Association of Directors of Social Work/Scottish Executive strategy to improve assessment methods is developed in partnership with health, education and other interests (including academics). This is currently being considered within the Executive.