3.1.2 Early Intervention Services and Social Care Guidance
This guidance provides a guide for practitioners and managers, in every agency, who work with, or come into contact, with children, young people and their families.
It should be read as an up-date to Section 3, Making Threshold Judgements about the Needs of Children: How Serious is a Child’s Situation? in the Derby and Derbyshire Safeguarding Children procedures and seeks to clarify new arrangements for the provision of early interventions for families and children experiencing difficulties and clarifies how these services may be accessed, when Social Care services need to become involved and how this transition should be made.
There are differences between the City and the County in terms of systems and services, and on-going development in both. Each Authority has its own detailed guidance which should be referred to. This document summarises the principles and processes common to both.
The guidance sets out how practitioners and managers can assess and identify children’s needs in partnership with them and their families and how to work together to obtain the resources and services that are needed.
Enabling practitioners to assess the needs of children underpins all procedures that keep them safe. Using analysis of information about the child and what it means helps practitioners to begin to decide how serious the situation is and what should be the appropriate response to their needs, including risks to their health and development. These decisions may often be subject of changing circumstances and differing degrees of concern.
New arrangements for supporting children and the families in Derby and Derbyshire, have been established to help at an early stage to meet the additional needs of children. These are Multi Agency Teams (MAT).
This guidance sets out how the practitioners can access the involvement of multi agency teams, know when the changing circumstances of families may require changing levels of involvement by different agencies and be clear about situations that require the involvement of Children’s Social Care.
Set out below are key areas where practitioners may have to apply thresholds to decide the appropriate response to meet the needs of children. These include:
- Services for children and their families;
- Making threshold judgements about the needs of children: How serious is a child’s situation?
- Professional judgement: Principles for decision making;
- Escalating concerns to Children’s Social Care.
This guidance is issued by the Derby and Derbyshire Safeguarding Children Boards prior to the revision of the National Guidance and Local Safeguarding Children Procedures. The Safeguarding Children Procedures provide more in depth information about the action to be taken to keep children safe.
There is a range of support is provided for families, some who actively seek services and those who actively avoid contact with agencies about specific problems. Many families will need additional support at some time. Often the changing nature of needs of the child or parent means that the level of support required is likely to vary. This can be linked to the developmental stages of the child, challenges for parents (such as parental mental ill health / substance misuse / domestic abuse) and factors that impact on the family (such as unemployment / bereavement / isolation / lack of support networks).
Early Intervention can have a lasting impact on all children, especially the most vulnerable. If we intervene early enough, we can give children a vital social and emotional foundation which will help to keep them happy, healthy and achieving throughout their lives and, above all, equip them to raise children of their own, who will also enjoy higher levels of well-being.
Practitioners in universal services cannot and should not replace the function of social work. However they have an excellent opportunity to understand the presenting circumstances of families and children:
- At the point they seek help;
- When they are identified as needing help; or
- Whilst using a service.
Practitioners are expected to use the common assessment framework (including the Pre- CAF checklist) to help identify additional needs; this process may identify the need for further support and may lead to requests for services to individual agencies or the multi agency teams.
A response from Children’s Social Care may be required either because their needs are sufficiently complex and the local authority has a duty to complete an assessment and identify appropriate services, or because there are concerns about abuse and neglect.
Practitioners should be supported with professional training and be able to obtain advice in their workplace to be able to identify situations where the circumstances in the family are getting worse and it is likely to affect the development of the child and those situations where that are so serious that urgent action is needed.
This guidance sets out how practitioners can work with families and other agencies to ensure that the levels of support responds to changes in the circumstances of families, including those cases where there are concerns about maltreatment.
Children, young people and their families experience a range of needs at different times in their lives. However, while all children and young people require access to high-quality universal services, some of them also benefit from targeted support to address additional needs which may relate to their education, their health, their social welfare or other issues. An estimated 20% to 30% of children and young people have additional needs at some point in their lives. This could be for a limited period, or on a longer-term basis. It is this group for whom targeted support within universal settings will be most appropriate. The needs of children and young people with additional needs will, in many cases, be cross-cutting and might be associated with:
- Overt parental conflict or lack of parental support/boundaries;
- Poor nutrition or inadequate clothing;
- Ill health/health issues;
- Poor attendance or exclusion from school;
- Disengagement from education, training or employment post-16;
- Experiencing bullying;
- Special educational needs;
- Disruptive or anti-social behaviour;
- Involvement in, or risk of, offending;
- Substance misuse;
- Anxiety or depression;
- Experiencing domestic violence;
- Housing issues/home conditions;
- Teenage pregnancy and parenthood (including the risk of early parenthood, as well as actual pregnancies and parenthood among young people);
- Young carers who exhibit additional needs which are as a direct result of their caring responsibilities, e.g. truancy/lateness, ill health, housing issues.
Parents, carers, children and young people may tell us that they require support or practitioners identify that services might be required as there is an emerging concern about the progress being made by the child. In such cases practitioners and families would expect to have an open and transparent discussion about the services and support that might help and agree how they would be accessed.
Where the additional needs of the child or parent are likely to require a number of agencies to work together to understand what packages of support will best fit, practitioners should discuss the use of the common assessment framework with the child and / or their parents/carers.
There are families who do not recognise that or accept agencies have concerns regarding their children, this should form part of the assessment and a judgement should be made as to whether this indicates that a referral is required to children’s social care.
The CAF is an assessment tool and process that practitioners should use with the family to understand additional needs at an early stage and promote the joining up and co-ordination of services to meet them.
The CAF consists of a:
- A pre-assessment checklist to help decide who would benefit from a common assessment;
- A team around the family meeting to share information and co-ordinate responses either before or after completion of the assessment form;
- A process to enable practitioners in the children and young people’s workforce to undertake a common assessment and then act on the result;
- A standard form to record the assessment;
- A delivery plan and review form.
Unless there are serious concerns that a child is suffering or likely to suffer abuse and maltreatment, practitioners should use a CAF to start the process of understanding the needs of the child and the parent/carers.
This will make sure that an in depth understanding of the child’s needs are understood at the earliest opportunity. Additionally if services need to be obtained or coordinated by the multi agency teams or Children’s Social Care, a multi agency assessment increases the likelihood that the most effective decisions are made to improve the situation for the child and their family.
When a parent, carer, child, member of the public or practitioner wishes to request services in Derby the following occurs:
- In both areas it will be established whether the child has an allocated Lead Professional within the Multi Agency Team (MAT) or within Specialist Services, for example a social worker, and the referrer will be advised of who they are.
Please note: Requests for advice, services and concerns about children will always be analysed to make sure that all concerns about abuse and maltreatment are immediately dealt with by a social worker.
The team of community care workers and Common Assessment Framework advisors will provide information and support to help the process and completion of common assessments if necessary. They will assist with the coordination of practitioners from different agencies to establish team around the family (TAF) meetings to consider both the needs of the child and where appropriate the needs of the parent /carer (such as those who have mental health needs).
An Initial Contact will be created for all cases where it is judged the child may have additional needs. This Initial Contact will be then passed to the Team Manager for screening.
The Team Manager will, within 24 hours, decide whether the child requires:
- The CAF assessment and planning process to be commenced or continued;
- A referral to a social worker;
- No further action.
The referrer will be advised of the outcome within 24 hours.
If a CAF is recommended, the support of the CAF advisor will be offered.
If additional needs are identified by the completion of a CAF and it is likely that services are needed from the Multi Agency Teams or Children’s Social Care, then the CAF will be submitted to the Vulnerable Children’s Panel by the practitioner who has completed the CAF.
The following principles underpin the decision making and professional judgement of all practitioners when considering how serious the needs or concerns are about a child or their parent / carer.
Parenting can be challenging. Patterns of family life vary and there is no one, perfect way to bring up children. Parents themselves may require support. Asking for help should be seen as a sign of responsibility rather than as a failure.
Only in exceptional cases should there be compulsory intervention in family life: for example, where this is necessary to safeguard a child from Significant Harm. Such intervention should – provided this is consistent with the safety and welfare of the child – support families in making their own plans for the welfare and protection of their children.
Accurate information and a clear understanding of what is happening to a child within their family and community are vital to any assessment. The usual and most effective way to achieve this is by engaging parents and children in the process of assessment, reaching a shared view of what needs to change and what support is needed, and jointly planning.
All practitioners should expect to work in partnership with parents and this includes agreement about sharing information. All practitioners will need to decide what it means for the outcomes of the child in situations where a parent or carer either doesn’t want to work in partnership, avoids contact or is actively hostile or undermining the care of their child by their actions. This will affect the analysis of how serious a situation is (see below).
Lack of engagement by a parent or child does not prevent communication between professionals within the terms of the Information Sharing Agreement, or completion of an assessment of the needs of the child in order to establish the level of concerns.
It is essential that the child is seen and listened to, whatever their method of communication, when enquiries are carried out into their welfare. Engaging with and listening to what children and young people have to say about what is happening to them in their lives, should be the cornerstone of effective intervention and support. There may be circumstances where the information from the child or young person will inform the nature of further action and will take place prior to the matter being raised with the parent or carer, for example concerns about forced marriage.
The wishes and feelings of children should be considered in assessing whether a particular child on a particular occasion has sufficient understanding to consent, or refuse consent, to sharing of information about them.
In all situations the overriding consideration as to whether to share information should be the safety and welfare of the child.
Obtaining parental, or where appropriate the child’s consent, should be a first consideration when practitioners first have contact with a child and/or their family. A lack of consent should never compromise the safety or welfare of a child. However, consideration should be given to seeking the views of the parent/child as to why consent may be being withheld in line with their human rights. Written consent to share information should be sought wherever possible.
A practitioner should record their decision and the reasons for it, whether or not they decide to share information. If the decision is to share, a practitioner should record what information was shared and with whom. They should also record any consultations and views sought which were undertaken as part of the process.
All staff involved with children should be able to address any issues in relation to action needed to safeguard and keep the child at the centre of all they do. In multi-agency work, it is necessary for professionals to understand and respect the individual roles of all agencies. The constraints of certain roles may be the reason that matters are not taken up as expected and it is important to discuss these with the professionals concerned.
Communication is extremely important and is the key to resolving professional misunderstandings or disagreements. At no time should the safety of the child be compromised because professionals are unable to communicate appropriately. The principle is that concerns should be resolved at the lowest possible level, and at an early stage.
The following questions will be central to establishing appropriate decisions to escalate a concern and difference of opinion both within the same agency and between different agencies:
- Do all parties clearly understand why there is a difference of opinion? If a shared understanding is established of why there is a difference of opinion then the opportunity arises to jointly work out how it can be resolved;
- What are the specific areas of difference of opinion? Is this clear? What needs to be looked at by the parties involved to work out those areas where there is agreement and those areas where there remains difference?
- Can more information clarify this for either party? Is it possible to get more information to clarify the opinions of the parties involved? Where might this information come from – family, other agencies, specialists? Is full picture over time apparent? Is a multi agency meeting needed to bring together historical and current information from different agencies to decide how to proceed?
If professionals involved remain of the opinion that this is not the case, action must be taken to escalate concerns within the agency and ensure that they are addresses at a suitable level within or across agencies.
In Derby, the multi agency teams will work at an early stage to help parents and carers meet the additional needs of children and young people.
Multi agency teams work across Derby and are organised in three different areas called localities. The teams are comprised of practitioners from a number of services including:
- Social care workers;
- Education welfare officers;
- Youth workers;
- Mental health workers;
- Youth Offending Service officers;
- Personal Advisors.
The teams have close links with the health visiting and school health services across Derby.
On completion of a CAF or Children’s Social Care assessment by the Vulnerable Children’s Panel will lead to a decision about allocation to the MAT or escalation to Children’s Social Care for further assessment and action. In some cases there is no need for MAT or CSC involvement and a referral to other services will best meet the needs of the child or no action is identified at that time.
The person responsible for co-ordinating the actions identified in the assessment process; a single point of contact for children and young people with additional needs, supported by more than one practitioner within a team around the child.
Where a multi-agency response is required, the Team around the Child (TAC) brings together practitioners from across different services that work together to co-ordinate and deliver an integrated package of support to meet the needs identified during the common assessment process. The common assessment and delivery plan are regularly reviewed by the TAC to monitor the progress towards the agreed outcomes. The review identifies any unmet or additional needs for the child or young person’s smooth transition between universal, targeted and specialist services.
The work undertaken by MAT teams in both Derby and Derbyshire will identify an emerging understanding of the success of the services that are in place to improve the outcomes for the child and their family.
It is therefore essential that the changing picture of whether the circumstances and outcomes are improving or not are explicitly analysed. The views of parents / carers and young people about what is making a difference has an important contribution to make to this analysis.
If the case is managed through a multi-agency team but a specialist service is required, the specialist service will provide additional support to the child and family through the team around the child process.
If the child becomes subject of a statutory service the lead professional responsibility will transfer to the relevant specialist service.
Where a child has been in receipt of specialist services, and that service is coming to an end, a request for service should be made to the appropriate Multi Agency Team. It is then the responsibility of the specialist service to convene a team around the child meeting to ensure a smooth transition and continuity of service.
There will be occasions for practitioners in all agencies when they are asked to provide services to families who prove to be reluctant, resistant, and sometimes angry or hostile to their approaches. In extreme cases there can be intimidation, abuse, threats of violence and actual violence.
An initial lack of co-operation may be resolved within a short space of time. It is important that practitioners use their skills to engage with families through a variety of means and are persistent in these attempts. Practitioners should share information with each other in such situations in order to maximise their chances of engagement and/or to agree a lead role for someone who may have been able to establish contact.
Despite this, there may be a few families who continue to avoid professional contact. They may appear to engage with practitioners, but only superficially and with no real commitment on their part.
In some cases, despite making every effort to understand and work with family, practitioners may find the family continues to be resistant to allowing workers to become involved.
If this arises, practitioners must seek advice from their manager or designated person to explicitly identify whether this parental behaviour is having a detrimental impact on the development of the child and together consider if other action might be necessary.
The behaviour may prevent or restrict opportunities to assess and observe the child in their own home. It may also restrict other sources of information from other practitioners or family members.
It is important to explicitly work out and record what areas of assessment are difficult to achieve and why. The presence of violence or intimidation needs to be included in any assessment of risk to the child living in such an environment.
Deterioration in the cooperation and engagement of a parent / carer that impacts on the welfare of the child should be explicitly analysed to identify whether concerns should be escalated and a referral made to Children’s Social Care.
Sharing confidential information without consent in the public interest is normally justified:
- Where, in the interest of the child, reasonable concerns identify that their health or development will be impaired without the provision of services;
- Where there is evidence that the child is suffering or is at risk of suffering Significant Harm;
- Where there is reasonable cause to believe that a child may be suffering or at risk of suffering significant harm;
- To prevent significant harm arising to children and young people or serious harm to adults, including through the prevention, detection and prosecution of serious crime.
The key factor in deciding whether or not to disclose confidential information is proportionality and pressing need. Is the proposed disclosure a proportionate response to the need to protect the welfare of the child? Is there an urgent need to disclose the information to protect the welfare of the child?
Sometimes practitioners may identify that a single traumatic event has occurred that is so serious it requires action, for example a physical or sexual assault, suffocation or poisoning. More often, significant harm is a compilation of significant events, both acute and longstanding, which interrupt, change or damage the child’s physical and psychological development.
Practitioners working with families to intervene in neglect cases early and prevent an escalation of the long term emotional, physical and psychological harm to the child will need to identify measures in each family that will indicate whether suitable progress is being made.
Many such cases will be held by MAT teams and the analysis of the evidence of deterioration within a family will be key to the decision to escalate to Children’s Social Care. In each case, it is necessary to consider any maltreatment alongside the family’s strengths and supports.
Some children with complex needs may be defined as being In Need, under S17 of the Children Act 1989. The criteria for S17 are those children whose vulnerability is such that they are unlikely to reach or maintain a satisfactory level of health or development, or their health and development will be significantly impaired, without the provision of services plus those who are disabled.
Most frequently the assessment and analysis of the MAT in Derby and Derbyshire will inform the need to escalate a concern that a child requires services from Children’s Social Care as a “Child in Need”.
Some children are “in need” because they are suffering, or likely to suffer, significant harm. The Children Act 1989 introduced the concept of significant harm as the threshold that justifies compulsory intervention in family life in the best interests of children, and gives Local Authorities a duty to make enquiries to decide whether they should take action to safeguard or promote the welfare of a child who is suffering/likely to suffer, significant harm.
All concerns about abuse and maltreatment – that a child is suffering, or is likely to suffer, significant harm will be immediately dealt with by a social worker in the city wide reception team.
There are no absolute criteria when judging what constitutes significant harm. Consideration of the severity of ill-treatment may include the degree and the extent of physical harm, the duration and frequency of abuse and neglect, and the extent of premeditation, degree of threat and coercion, sadism, and bizarre or unusual elements in child sexual abuse.
In addition Children’s Social Care have a statutory responsibility in respect of:
- Children who are privately fostered;
- Unaccompanied asylum seeking children;
- Children who are abandoned.
A brief assessment is required prior to offering services and for others the assessment needs to be more in-depth, broader in scope and takes longer in order to get a sufficient accurate understanding of the child’s needs and circumstances to inform effective planning. Ten key principles underpin the assessment process.
- Are child centred;
- Are rooted in child development;
- Are ecological in their approach;
- Ensure equality of opportunity;
- Involve working with children and families;
- Build on strengths as well as identify difficulties;
- Are inter-agency in their approach to assessment and the provision of services;
- Are a continuing process, not a single event;
- Are carried out in parallel with other action and providing services; and
- Are grounded in evidence based knowledge.
Analysis of information underpins the decision making about the needs of the child or young person and how serious these might be. This means that all practitioners will need to understand not only what the needs are and what has happened but also why.
Analysis will also need to include identifying which information is relevant, are there important gaps, is it based on fact or opinion and how relevant research it is be considered? Key questions for all practitioners include:
- What are the child's needs based on what would be expected of the child’s development?
- What would be reasonable to expect of parental care given to a similar child?
- What impact will family and environmental factors have on both of the above?
Analysis will enable practitioners to make sense of the information and lead to effective professional judgement about the changes need to be made to improve safety.
This document provides a summary of the spectrum of support to children and their families. It is acknowledged that decisions about how and who is best to meet a child’s needs are based on individual judgements and involves professional and personal values. Professionals are encouraged to discuss concerns with their own agency line manager or with Children’s Social Care.