Once the social worker has seen the child, discussed the situation with the parents and other professionals, and decided that emergency action is not required, what they do next will depend upon which of the following categories they think the child is in:
- has no needs: no further action is required
- has additional needs: a lead professional should be appointed
- is a child in need: if agreed with the parents (and the child, if able to make such a decision), an initial or core assessment should be completed and, if agreed, services provided
- is a child at risk of significant harm: they should call a strategy discussion and enquiries into suspicions of significant harm should be started.
How to do it
Whichever course of action is taken, the family (and the child, if old enough) should be told what is planned, as should all the other professionals involved. If no further action is to be taken, they should be told and given the reasons for that decision.
Lessons from research
Significant inequalities, in income, housing, employment and access to good quality services, pose a serious threat to the well-being and health of children. For example, it may be difficult or impossible to get a lift, borrow money or get help when ill in bed.
Families prefer choices that offer them control over what help to accept, rather than feeling pressurised into accepting services. Informal support such as community groups, children’s clubs, home visiting and volunteer support can improve a parent’s mental health, well-being, self-esteem and parenting skills, and so reduce childhood injury. Support networks offering practical help, emotional support, or information and advice should be encouraged wherever possible.
Minority ethnic families tend to rely on more restricted networks, and are dependent on local kin rather than friends or relatives who live further away.
Professionals tend to think that when they have explained something as clearly as they can, it will always be understood. Ask yourself: Have I double-checked with the family that they understand what will happen next? [WTSC 5.47]
See Cleaver H, Wattam C and Cawson P: Assessing Risk in Child Protection, London, NSPCC (1998)