14 Assessment of Children in Need
Whilst it is not the panel member's role to make a full assessment of a child's needs it is important that panel members have an understanding of the elements which may go into the making of such an assessment. This will help in the discussion with the professionals involved in hearings.
What Is An Assessment?
An assessment is the collection and evaluation of information relevant to an identified purpose. It has several phases which overlap:
- The acquisition of information.
- Exploring facts and feelings.
- Putting meaning to the situation.
- Reaching an understanding with the family, wherever possible, of what is happening, to include problems, strengths and difficulties and their impact on the child.
- Drawing up an analysis of the child's needs and the parenting capacity as a basis of formulating a plan.
It is the task of the professionals involved to undertake a full comprehensive assessment of the child and family. Families do not want to be subjected to repeated assessments. The process of assessment should cause the least possible intrusion to the child and family.
Panel members will need to take account of what assessments have previously been carried out - by whom, when and how. Information on this should be available in the background reports. In making any assessment of a child in need it is important to use a framework.
INTEGRATED FRAMEWORK FOR ASSESSMENT
The 'Integrated Framework for Assessment' is the tool being used by local authorities in Scotland and is part of the Getting It Right for Every Child ( GIRFEC) initiative. Getting it right for every child is a national programme that is changing the way adults think and act to help all children and young people grow, develop, and reach their full potential. This framework is the foundation for safeguarding and promoting a child's welfare and identifying whether their health and development is being or is likely to be impaired by their present circumstances. It represents a way of trying to show the complexity of a child's world and to construct a coherent way of collecting and analysing information about a child. It is based on the assumption that any assessment of a child and his or her family which aims to understand what is happening to a child should take account of the child's developmental needs, the parents capacity to respond to those needs and, the wider family and environmental factors. The interaction of these three systems or domains have a direct impact on the current and long-term wellbeing of the child - see figure 1
CHILDREN'S DEVELOPMENTAL NEEDS
Children develop along several dimensions and a series of developmental tasks must be completed successfully if optimal outcomes are to be achieved.
Includes growth and development as well as physical and mental wellbeing. Is the child taken to the doctor when ill, does the child receive dental and optical care? Does the child have a nutritious diet? Have they received immunisations?
Covers all areas of cognitive development from birth onwards. Are there frequent opportunities for play and interaction with other children? Do they have access to books? Are they given opportunities to acquire a range of skills and interests? Is a parent / adult interested in the child's educational activities?
Emotional and Behavioural Development
Concerns the appropriateness of response in children's feelings and actions, initially to parent/parent figures and then to others. Children need security and consistent boundaries within a context of emotional warmth and approval.
Concerns the child's growing sense of self as a separate and valued being. Children's needs are likely to be met if they encounter positive role models of their own gender and culture; if they are frequently praised or encouraged; if there is an openness about relationships within the family.
Family and Social Relationships
This involves the child's ability to make friends and get on with other people. They need opportunities to socialise.
The child's growing understanding of the way in which their appearance and behaviour are perceived by the outside world. Do parents take an interest and make sure that they are reasonably clean, pay attention to personal hygiene and are appropriately dressed, bearing in mind their age, gender, culture and religion.
Self care Skills
Both practical and emotional competence that all children need to acquire if they are to achieve independence in adulthood. This starts with learning how to dress and feed themselves, going on to cross roads safely and, as young people approach independence, budget and cook.
Each child will develop at a different pace and specific objectives can be matched with the parental tasks required to help the child achieve them.
There are a number of key parenting tasks which are prerequisites for a child's wellbeing and development.
These tasks will apply differently to children according to their stage of development. A key feature of parenting is the capacity of the parent to adapt their behaviour appropriately to the age and stage of development of the individual child. If a parent is experiencing difficulties in his or her parenting tasks then knowing the family history, assessing that parent's understanding of the impact on the child of what is happening both to him / herself and the capacity to adapt and change is crucial.
Providing for the child's physical needs and appropriate medical and dental care including appropriate clothing, shelter, food, and drink.
Ensuring that the child is adequately protected from harm or danger from hazards and danger in the home and elsewhere, from contact with adults or other children and from self-harm.
Ensuring that the child's emotional needs are being met and giving the child a sense of being specially valued. Child should receive praise and encouragement.
Promoting child's learning and intellectual development through encouragement and promoting social opportunities. Ensuring school attendance or equivalent opportunity. Helping child meet challenges in life.
Guidance and Boundaries
Enabling the child to regulate their own emotions and behaviour. Key parental tasks are demonstrating and modelling appropriate behaviour and control of emotions and interaction with others. Helping child to develop an internal model of moral values and conscience.
Providing a sufficient stable family environment to enable a child to develop and maintain a secure attachment to the primary care giver/s.
Mental illness, problem alcohol and drug use and domestic violence all affect parents' emotional and behavioural responses which will impact on their parenting capacity. When parents have difficulty in organising their own lives they fail to provide consistently for their children.
FAMILY AND ENVIRONMENTAL FACTORS
Bringing up a child does not take place in a vacuum. The influence on family members include the immediate environment of the family such as accommodation, work and income, as well as the networks of wider family, neighbours and friends and the community with its facilities of shops, transport, playgrounds, schools, clinics and other services. The presence or absence of these factors and the extent to which they support or undermine the family's functioning are all relevant in the assessment of what is happening to a child and the family.
Family History and Functioning
The following aspects need to be considered:
- Who is living in the household and how they are related to the child?
- Significant changes in family / household composition.
- History of childhood experiences of parents.
- Chronology of significant events and their meaning to family members.
- Nature of family functioning, including sibling relationships, and its impact on the child.
- Parental strengths and difficulties, including those of an absent parent.
- The relationship between separated parents.
Adverse family circumstances interact with one another to increase the likelihood of the child's health and development becoming impaired. Certain features in parents' histories and circumstances, including a history of psychiatric problems or offending, low socio-economic status, marital discord and poor parenting when found in combination, should alert workers to the potential for the child requiring the provision of services to safeguard and promote their welfare. It must be remembered that many children can successfully overcome early disadvantage.
Wider Family and Social Support
- Who are considered by the child and parents to be members of the wider family? This includes related and non-related persons and absent wider family. What is their role and importance to the child and parents and in what way?
- What is the degree of the family's integration or isolation, its peer groups, friendship and social networks and the importance attached to them?
It should be recognised that network relationships can be sources of both support and stress so it is important that assessment considers the content and quality of relationships within networks to understand the influence they are likely to have on parenting capacity and child development.
Social Integration, Housing, and Community Resources
The communities and neighbourhoods in which families live can have a major influence on both parenting capacity and children's development. Professionals need to consider:
- An exploration of the wider context of the local neighbourhood and community and its impact on the child and parents.
- Whether the accommodation has basic amenities and facilities appropriate to the age and development of the child and other resident members. This includes the interior and exterior of the accommodation and immediate surroundings. Basic amenities include water, heating, sanitation, cooking facilities, sleeping arrangements and cleanliness, hygiene and safety and their impact on the child's upbringing.
- The range of facilities and service in the neighbourhood.
Aspects of the physical environment may also influence social interactions and behaviour. Some locations, e.g. shops, can facilitate social exchanges whilst others like the design of the housing estate can increase levels of crime and disorder.
Income and Employment
The links between inequalities in income and health are well documented. People living in poverty are more likely to suffer ill health, disability, and premature death than their more affluent counterparts. Poor health and disability also contribute towards the risk of experiencing poverty.
A CORE ASSESSMENT
This is a means of acquiring and synthesising information that will assist practitioners and their managers making decisions and planning for children and families. The following questions are centred on the three domains of the Framework for Assessment:
The Developmental Needs of the Child
- What are the developmental needs of the child?
- How are these needs being met by the parent / child?
- Are other people meeting any of these child's needs?
- Which needs are not being met?
- What is the likely outcome for the child if these needs remain unmet?
- What are the parenting strengths and weaknesses in terms of the dimensions of parenting capacity?
- What parenting issues impact on parenting capacity?
- What is the parent's attitude to the concerns expressed by the referrer and / or other professionals?
Family and Environmental Factors
- Are there members of the extended family or other people who could meet the child's needs?
- Are there members of the community network who can meet the unmet needs of the child?
Some of the important questions that will determine the purpose of assessment are for example:
- What are the strengths to be built on?
- What are the difficulties which need addressing?
- What are the best options for the child?
- How will this child cope with services / interventions?
- How well is this child doing (following intervention / services / placement?
- What is the impact on the child and family?
- Does the plan need amending?
Critical is the importance of not repeating assessments unnecessarily but thoroughly reviewing information already gathered and careful planning any further assessment and intervention with the family and between agencies. Effective collaborative work between professionals is essential.
It is very helpful to observe adults and children together in order to assess the quality of their relationship and the child's attachment to each parent. Also child and sibling interactions and behaviours could be important as well as observations of the child in the company of other adults may confirm or otherwise the parent's picture. Information on this should be included in reports for hearings. If it is not, you may wish to ask if this has taken place and what conclusions have been reached.
ASSESSMENT OF FAMILIES FROM ETHNIC MINORITIES
Cultural differences will affect the three domains of development needs, parenting capacity and family and environmental factors.
Children from minority ethnic groups have specific identity needs related to knowledge about origins of self, culture, and identity. There may be basic care needs and minority ethnic children will have additional needs to those of white children. These include skin products and dietary requirements. Account should also be taken of different approaches to parenting tasks. Stereotyping and making erroneous assumptions should be avoided. There may differences in the use of language and, difficulties in interpretations could lead to a worker drawing the wrong conclusion.
It is important that panel members have an understanding of what might be included in an assessment. It will assist them to consider issues in a meaningful context as well as how the specific aspects of a child's life will be affected by those various influences.
Information in this section has been taken from:
'The Child's World - Assessing Children in Need' editor Jan Howarth, Jessica Kingsley, London, 2001
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