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Pitfalls for practitioners 5

There is no assessment on file

A review of case records carried out by the Social Services Inspectorate in six local authorities found that identifiable assessments were present in only 57% of children's' records (1). This echoes the findings of inquiry reports where the absence of assessments is a consistent feature (2).

'It is a duty placed on social services to assemble and analyse information about children who may need to have their welfare safeguarded and promoted. This needs to be done in a rigorous way, viewed, as far as possible through the eyes of the child….Had a proper assessment been done at that point it is possible that Victoria would have received the necessary protection'. (3)

Information is gathered but not evaluated

A common research finding is that practitioners are extremely effective in collecting information (4). In many cases this information is brought together in one place in the record. However, information alone, no matter how well it has been gathered or recorded, does not constitute an assessment. It is only when the information recorded has been subjected to analysis by the practitioner that it becomes an assessment.

For some practitioners analysis takes place outside of the file, 'the typical evaluation process is largely hidden, intuitive and approximate' (5).This makes it difficult, if not impossible, for others reading the file, including the family to understand why decisions were made.

There is no plan of intervention

The relationship between assessment and planning is well established. 'Clarity of purpose in practice gives the record structure, and contrarily, lack of clarity of purpose leaves the worker without focus in both the service transaction and the record' (6). The assessment and resulting plan provide a clear focus for intervention and any records should, unless an unexpected event or issue arises, be focused around the issues identified in the assessment and plan. Although things do not always go according to plan, a thorough assessment will assist practitioners to judge the significance and impact of the unexpected on both the family and their plan.

There is no systematic framework for assessment

Research carried out in the late 1980's showed that even where assessments were present in social work files there was often considerable differences in structure and content. Families could be assessed against a range of standards, which were sometimes not explicit on the file, changed over time and included factors such as the practitioner had worked with 'similar cases in the past' (7).

To support practitioners undertaking assessments practice guidance was increasingly used. The 'Framework for the Assessment of Children in Need and their Families' (2000), provides a 'systematic way of analysing, understanding and recording what is happening to children and young people' (8).

The introduction of detailed guidance and supporting recording formats, such as the Looking After Children Materials and Assessment Recording Forms, have been viewed by some practitioners as an erosion of their professional autonomy and evidence of the increasing bureaucratisation of social work (9).

However, this view ignores the evidence that prior to their introduction assessments were absent in almost 50% of cases.

The introduction of the written formats for looked after children have improved outcomes for children looked after. Greater consistency in written formats has assisted supervisors and managers to identify areas of poor practice or where workers may be having difficulty (10).

Avoid the pitfall

  • Ensure that each child has an up to date assessment on file. That the assessment has been shared with the family and is easily located in the file.
  • Ensure that Closing and Transfer Summaries include evaluations of progress made and the conclusions of family members and practitioners about the effectiveness of interventions.
  • Use the assessment findings and subsequent plan to focus your recording

Activity

Review your Case file and use Audit Sheet 5 (Microsoft Word format).

References

1. Social Services Inspectorate (1999) Recording With Care Inspection of Case Recording in Social Services Departments. Department of Health, London.

2. Department of Health (1991) Child Abuse: A Study of Inquiry Reports 1980 – 1989. HMSO, London.

3. Laming (2003) The Victoria Climbie Inquiry Report HMSO, London p69

4. Cleaver H, Walker S and Meadows P (2002) A structured approach to understanding family capacities and children’s needs. Report to Department of Health.

5. Monnickendam M, Yaniv H and Geva, N (1984)) Practitioners and the Case Record: Patterns of Use. Administration in Social Work 18: 73-87.

6. Monnickendam M, Yaniv H and Geva, N (1984)) Practitioners and the Case Record: Patterns of Use. Administration in Social Work 18: 73-87

7. Monnickendam M, Yaniv H and Geva, N (1984)) Practitioners and the Case Record: Patterns of Use. Administration in Social Work 18: 73-87

8. Department of Health et al (2000) The Framework for the Assessment of Children in Need and their Families. The Stationary Office, London.

9. Ovreveit J (1986) Improving Social Work Records and Practice. BASW, Birmingham.

10. Ovreveit J (1986) Improving Social Work Records and Practice. BASW, Birmingham. Kagle J D (1982) Social work records in health and mental health organisations: A status report. Social Work in Health Care 8: 37-46. Kagle J D (1983) The Contemporary Social Work Record. Social Work 17: 1983, pp149-153. Kagle J D (1984) Restoring the Clinical Record. Social Work, 19: 46-50. Kagle J D (1993) Record Keeping for the 1990s. Social Work 38: 190 196.

 

 
 
 
By Steve Walker, David Shemmings and Hedy Cleaver
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