3 ways newly qualified social workers can approach child and family assessments

3 ways newly qualified social workers can approach child and family assessments

20 Jul 2023

This informal CPD article, ‘3 ways newly qualified social workers can approach child and family assessments’, was provided by Victoria Shevlin of Social Work Sorted: Training and Consultancy, who provides high quality training to equip new social workers with the skills they need for practice.

Student social workers learn a great deal around theory when it comes to assessment skills. These theories are extremely valuable, but when it comes to practice, it is vital that newly qualified social workers understand the type of assessment they are undertaking.

Child and family assessments are undertaken under section 17 of the children act 1989. Many local authority teams refer to section 17 assessments with different terms and abbreviations, e.g. CAFA, CAF, C&F. This can leave new social workers feeling confused about the requirements of the assessment they are tasked to complete.

An ideal starting place for newly qualified social workers is a refresher on legislation and policy to truly embed the guidance into their practice. This connects with the importance of communication in social work. Social Workers undertaking assessments must be able to communicate why they are undertaking an assessment, what it entails and how it could impact the individual or family who are subjects of the assessment.

Problems can occur within local authority teams when newly qualified social workers are confused about why they are completing an assessment. They need to know how they are going to carry out an assessment within the parameters of statutory guidance. If they don’t feel confident in the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of assessment, they won’t be able to communicate this to the children and families they work with. This can inhibit assessment processes and create a block in building positive working relationships.

Statutory guidance Working Together to Safeguard Children 2018, states that a good assessment should involve children and involve families (2018: p.29). The first stage of involvement is an explanation of what will happen when an assessment is undertaken.

Newly qualified social workers must understand that the children and families they come into contact with may have no prior knowledge of child and family assessment processes. It can be helpful to begin breaking down the elements of an assessment to offer clarity and simplicity.

Child is prioritised as central part of assessment

Here are three ways that NQSW’s can make the assessment process accessible to children and families:

1. Make the format clear 

A child and family assessment is a written document. To social workers this may appear to be a given fact, but to children and families who equate the term assessment with a formal test, it is helpful to make it clear. A child and family assessment document follows a specific format and order. It is possible to print out a blank copy of this document to show as an example, reduce further anxiety and progress further conversations or questions.

2. Talk about who is involved

Children and families need to know who is involved in a child and family assessment. There can be assumptions that only social workers are involved, so it is vital that families are aware of multi-agency working and recommendations that various agencies working with a family are consulted for child and family assessments. This can be as simple as explaining, ‘we need to understand what the world looks and feels like for your child, so we would like to talk to some of the people around them, for example their teacher’. It is important for new social workers to be aware of legislation, policy and local guidelines when considering consent for sharing information with other agencies.

3. Make time for direct work

Child and family assessments should be child centred and ensure children’s voices are heard (Working Together 2018, p.29). It is important that new social workers communicate this to families when they are at the initial stages of explaining an assessment. This sets a precedent for the assessment process and ensures that discussions can take place with families around the importance of direct work with children and what this entails. This can support parents in understanding what will happen and allow them the opportunity to ask questions. It ensures that the social worker’s time with the child is prioritised as a central part of assessment and that the child’s wishes, feelings and voice are at the heart of further planning and support.

We hope this article was helpful. For more information from Victoria Shevlin, please visit their CPD Member Directory page. Alternatively, you can go to the CPD Industry Hubs for more articles, courses and events relevant to your Continuing Professional Development requirements.

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