If it is not already in progress, a core assessment must be started at the point when a decision is made to begin an enquiry into suspicions about a child suffering significant harm (a Section 47 enquiry). The core assessment should be completed within 35 working days. However the initial child protection conference will be held within 15 days of the strategy meeting, so the Children and Families Team will need to produce an interim report within that shorter timescale.
If at any point during the core assessment it seems that there are grounds for an emergency protection order (or any other emergency legal action), the social worker, or their manager, should consult with the Council’s solicitor immediately, to decide what should be done to ensure the child’s safety.
Although Children and Young People’s Services are responsible for the coordination and completion of the core assessment, other relevant professionals should be actively involved in contributing to the assessment by means of interviews with the family, reports to the social worker, telephone discussions and meetings.
How to do it
The relevant children should be seen and involved in the assessment. How this is done should be determined by the age and ability of each child. Parents are usually willing for their children to be seen.
However, sometimes parents are not happy for their children to be involved, or seen alone. In this case there are four possible scenarios:
In the case of a younger or less able child who is not suffering, or at risk of suffering, significant harm, the social worker should still try to see the child, with or without the parent. But the worker would not be able to insist if the parent continues to refuse contact.
In the case of an older and competent child who wants to see the social worker and is not suffering, or at risk of suffering, significant harm, the child has the right to be seen and the social worker should see them. It may not be possible to complete an assessment without the agreement of the parents, but the social worker should make sure that the child is not suffering, or at risk of suffering, significant harm.
In the case of a younger or less able child who may be suffering, or at risk of suffering, significant harm, the social worker must see the child alone, unless this is inappropriate, as would be the case with a very young child. If the parents continue to deny contact, the social worker should contact their manager. A strategy discussion should be held immediately to decide the best course of action.
In the case of an older, competent child who wants to see the social worker and who may be suffering, or at risk of suffering, significant harm, the child has the right to be seen and the social worker should see them.
The social worker should give a copy of the completed core assessment to the child and parents. It may be appropriate to give copies to other family members as well, but only with the agreement of the child and parents.
Lessons from research
Based on their research with children and young people the Children’s Rights Office has drawn up a list of questions for adults to ask when deciding whether children understand something enough to make a decision about it:
- can the child understand the question they are being asked?
- does the child reasonably understand the main reasons for what is being proposed?
- does the child understand what choices they have to decide between?
- does the child reasonably understand what will happen if they choose each of the choices they can decide to take?
- can the child weigh up these different choices against each other?
- can the child tell you their personal choice, rather than repeating what someone else thinks they should do?
- can the child keep to one decision, without constantly changing their mind?