Purpose of the core assessment phase
The purpose of this phase of assessment is to work with the family/whānau to:
- assess current and future safety and harm or the likelihood of harm to te tamaiti
- determine whether te tamaiti has needs that require addressing, and if so who is best to provide those services
- inform the decision about future involvement by Oranga Tamariki, such as a family group conference, no further action (NFA) or referral to other services.
Depth and breadth of assessment in the core assessment phase
The breadth and depth of the assessment needs to be proportionate to the purpose of assessment at this phase – having sufficient information to identify whether te tamaiti is suffering, or is likely to suffer, serious and/or ongoing harm and determining the best response to concerns for their safety or wellbeing.
The assessment should build on the information and analysis summarised in the pathway rationale casenote from the initial assessment. This casenote provides the reasons for decisions and the key areas of concern that the assessment needs to explore further.
Consider how the concerns identified in the initial phase of assessment map to the domains of the Tuituia framework and plan with your supervisor and colleagues which areas your assessment will need to focus on and how you will work with the family/whānau to explore these areas in more detail.
When the core phase of assessment is covered by the Child Protection Protocol (CPP)
The purpose of the core phase of assessment does not change even if the CPP is being followed. The decisions at this point don’t depend on the completion of the Police investigation or court outcomes.
The CPP acknowledges the discrete roles of Police and Oranga Tamariki and states what activities Oranga Tamariki is responsible for during the core phase of assessment. These are:
- addressing the immediate safety of tamariki together with the Police
- completing an assessment of harm and the severity of this
- taking action to ensure the ongoing safety of tamariki
- facilitating and assisting tamaiti victims and their family/whānau to engage with support services.
How we undertake the core phase of assessment
1 Use the Tuituia assessment framework
The Tuituia assessment framework helps us develop an understanding of:
- te tamaiti and their needs, vulnerabilities and strengths
- the strengths, needs and resources within the family/whānau
- te tamaiti and their family/whānau within the wider system.
2 Engage with te tamaiti
The way we engage with te tamaiti is a critical component of the core assessment phase. In this phase of assessment, we need to have face-to-face engagement with te tamaiti to:
- share with them the process and timeframes of the assessment
- establish their safety
- hear their views and understand what they are experiencing
- build a picture of their vulnerabilities, needs, strengths and resources, and their whakapapa and whanaungatanga relationships
- talk with them about what we are seeing and how we might proceed at the end of this phase of assessment.
Think about how we can support this engagement – where it might best take place, who may be able to assist, what tools or resources may support engagement and how to consider factors such as age and developmental level.
3 Engage with whānau
Early and ongoing engagement with family/whānau is critical to this phase of assessment. Tamariki and family/whānau are inherently connected – tamariki belong to family/whānau as family/whānau belong to tamariki – so an assessment of the needs, vulnerabilities and safety of te tamaiti cannot be understood in isolation of their family/whānau. We want to work with the family/whānau to strengthen their understanding of, and opportunity to, respond to any concerns for the care or safety of te tamaiti.
Key aspects of working with family/whānau in this phase of our assessment include:
- involving our kairaranga ā-whānau or specialist Māori advice to support engagement with tamariki and whānau Māori
- seeking advice from Pacific cultural advisors and other relevant ethnic cultural or spiritual leaders
- using hui ā-whānau or family meetings to:
- support and enhance the rights, participation and decision-making of tamariki and their family/whānau, hapū, iwi and support network as early as possible
- inform the assessment and safety planning for te tamaiti
- hear and understand the family/whānau views about te tamaiti, including how they view the concerns held by Oranga Tamariki
- understand the vision the family/whānau has for their tamaiti
- seeking to understand te tamaiti in the context of their family/whānau – we need to:
- broaden and deepen our understanding of te tamaiti within their family/whānau – talk with te tamaiti and their family/whānau about who they are, where they are from, who and what they feel connection to, what significance is held in the name given to te tamaiti, what family/whānau stories they have that help you understand their journey as a family/whānau and what is important to them
- interact with parents/carers/whānau and observe their interactions with te tamaiti
- gather observations and information from family/whānau, friends and neighbours that may provide vital insights into the workings of the family/whānau
- supporting, strengthening and assisting family/whānau to:
- establish who the family/whānau wants to be involved, who they see as resources for them, who they believe can help Oranga Tamariki understand, and who can help them to provide safety and meet the needs of te tamaiti
- explore with family/whānau how to make the process work for them, and what the family/whānau needs to work with Oranga Tamariki
- make decisions about how to address concerns for their tamaiti
- co-working with non-statutory agencies, kaumātua or key cultural advisors to help facilitate involvement with family/whānau.
Take into account the diversity of family/whānau life and households. Too often, assessment is overly focused on mothers, leaving fathers, partners and other members of households out of the analysis. Ensure the assessment explores maternal and paternal family/whānau, partners, and sibling relationships.
4 Engage with other professionals
This phase of assessment requires the perspective and insights of others working with te tamaiti and their family/whānau. We should:
- consult with the care and protection resource panel for local advice and knowledge
- identify multi-agency involvement which may need to be coordinated so it’s easier for tamariki and family/whānau
- gather information related to the concerns from other agencies who know te tamaiti and their family/whānau, for example schools, early childhood education, health professionals, iwi and community organisations
- include professionals in the child and family consult and visits to family/whānau – work with the family/whānau to identify who is meaningful to them and who would assist engagement and understanding.
5 Undertake safety planning
Complete the safety and risk screen to establish the immediate safety of te tamaiti. The safety and risk screen identifies if there are concerns that warrant immediate action by Oranga Tamariki and others to establish the safety of te tamaiti while the assessment of their longer-term safety continues.
Hui ā-whānau or family meetings allow the family/whānau to share their perspectives, and how they see any concerns being managed. Hui ā-whānau or family meetings provide the family/whānau with an opportunity to use their strengths to build safety around te tamaiti and address any concerns – either by themselves, with support from other professionals/agencies, or while a family group conference is convened to develop a future plan for te tamaiti and their family/whānau. Remember, the family/whānau does not have to agree that abuse has occurred, but they must be willing to work with a safety plan to ensure future harm does not occur.
If this phase of assessment does not identify any concerns for the safety of te tamaiti, then a safety plan is not needed. However, if a family group conference is required, but there is enough safety to keep te tamaiti at home until the conference is held, then a safety plan needs to be put in place. Use the safety plan template located under the Safety and Risk Screen in CYRAS to record the safety plan that has been developed with the family/whānau.
6 Analyse information and determine next steps
When discussions with te tamaiti, family/whānau and professionals have concluded and hui ā-whānau or family meetings have been held, we work with the family/whānau to determine next steps and formulate the outcome of this phase of the assessment. Analysis of the information gathered should lead to a judgement about the needs of te tamaiti and how well their parents, family/whānau, hapū and iwi are able to meet these needs within their current social context. The options for the outcome of the core assessment phase are:
- no further action (NFA)
- refer to services
- family group conference.
Serious harm and the family group conference
A key consideration is determining whether te tamaiti has suffered, is suffering or is likely to suffer serious harm. And if so, whether they are in need of care or protection. If they are in need to care or protection, then a referral for a care and protection family group conference must be made. If not, then it is important to work with the family/whānau to identify if there are other supports that they may need to help them strengthen and maintain their ability to protect and provide safe, effective care of te tamaiti.
Determining whether te tamaiti has suffered, is suffering or is likely to suffer serious harm and whether ongoing statutory involvement from Oranga Tamariki is required can be complex. There are several factors that require consideration. Take time to explore your thinking with others, discuss in supervision and ensure you involve te tamaiti and their whānau in seeking to understand the impact on te tamaiti.
If, following an assessment, we find that te tamaiti or rangatahi is not at risk of serious harm, then we need to consider whether there are identifiable risks or wellbeing concerns that should be addressed through other pathways.
7 Share the assessment with others
We should share our developing assessment with te tamaiti, family/whānau and involved professionals, so we can test our analysis and provide them with an opportunity to understand how we are seeing the situation. Advise referrers of assessment outcomes.
The primary decision is whether there are current or future concerns for the safety or wellbeing of te tamaiti that meet the threshold for section 14 of the Oranga Tamariki Act 1989 and the requirement for a family group conference, or whether the family/whānau can meet and provide sustained safety for te tamaiti with non-statutory supports, if needed.
8 Record the core assessment outcome
The Tuituia recording tool does not need to be completed for this phase of assessment but we should use the Tuituia report template to record the written assessment. The assessment is recorded at the end of the Child and Family Assessment phase on CYRAS.
Complete the relevant sections of the Tuituia report (including the red text prompts in each section):
- important information about te tamaiti and the context for the report
- why we are involved and what we are worried about (including harm related to the experience of trauma and impact on future wellbeing for te tamaiti)
- where the report relates to te tamaiti who is in care, outline the key reasons for being in care and what still needs to be done to recover from the experience and impact of trauma
- te tamaiti needs and strengths, including how these strengths can be fostered
- te tamaiti views and participation
- the views of parents/caregivers and their hopes and wishes for te tamaiti
- whanaungatanga connection
- kaitiaki mokopuna needs and strengths
- family/whānau, hapū, iwi and family group perspective and aspirations for te tamaiti
- cultural considerations
- engagement of other professionals
- what outcomes we are seeking to achieve and how we get there.
In the report you need to clearly describe the areas of concern and what change we want to see. What has been done, or needs to be done, to address the risk statements and ensure enduring safety and wellbeing for te tamaiti? What is the best way to achieve this (referral to a community-based service or other government agency, family group conference, family/whānau agreement, court order)? Why is this the best way? How will we know when the goal has been achieved? Where this is a youth justice referral, what needs to happen to hold the rangatahi to account for their offending and address the underlying causes of their offending?