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Undertaking a care and protection assessment

Updated: 28 October 2016

What's Important To Us

Assessment is a social work skill that is central to the work we do with children, young people and their families/whānau. Ongoing assessment and critical reflection helps to ensure that we remain focused on safety and the best possible outcomes for children and young people, and that our interactions with families/whānau is purposeful.

Working in partnership with the child or young person, their family/whānau and professionals, we seek to understand the concerns, the context for those concerns, identify goals and possible solutions, and articulate what progress and success might look like in order to make a decision about the next steps.

Assessment is not limited to a particular phase of work in CYRAS (our computer recording system). However, our first engagement with a child or young person and their family/whānau most often occurs when we are completing a care and protection assessment in either a child and family assessment (CFA) or investigation phase.

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Getting ready for your first visit

Think about the reason for your visit and the sorts of things you will want to talk about. The report of concern may contain some of the worries from the referrer, however also be alert to additional potential risks for the child or young person.

Do some research before the visit to help you feel more confident and clear; this could include reviewing records and consulting with others. Also consider the following:

  • What are your risk statements? Be clear about these before you knock on the door, and keep them simple enough to be understood by the youngest verbal family member
  • Become familiar with the Safety and risk screen guidelines to complete a screen after your first visit
  • Use the Tuituia assessment framework (PDF 338 KB)to map out the areas you need to cover in your visit an what is already known
  • Assessing requires you to be confident. If you are unsure or have concerns about meeting the family/whānau talk with your supervisor, discuss strategies about your own safety and exit plan for emergencies, and talk about whether the visit should be announced or unannounced
  • When arranging your visit, ask the family/whānau if they would like to invite their wider family/whānau to be part of the visit. If they choose not to, remember to get names and contact details for family/whānau members you can talk with for additional information at a later point
  • Is a specialist child interview required in cases when there is abuse that may constitute a criminal offence? Refer to Specialist child interviewing when making this decision
  • If you are completing an investigation, refer to the Child Protection Protocol which contains detailed information about Oranga Tamariki and Police roles and responsibilities when there is abuse that may constitute a criminal offence
  • What do you need to think about when talking with the child or young person (considering their age, developmental needs or any disability)?
  • Do you need cultural advice before visiting or the services of an interpreter for the visit?
  • The family/whānau may present as angry, distressed or shocked when you visit – be prepared for this reaction, assess it in the context of what was happening at the time, and do not automatically consider it as a risk factor for the child or young person
  • If you are visiting a family/whānau who have had a child or children previously removed from their care due to safety concerns, familiarise yourself with Assessing safety and wellbeing when parents or caregivers have lost the care of other mokopuna.
  • If you are visiting a family/whānau who meet the s18B criteria for subsequent children, familiarise yourself with Subsequent Children: a step by step guide (PDF 419 KB)

There is a statutory requirement to consult with the Care and Protection Resource Panel as soon as is practicable after the commencement of a s17(1) investigation or child and family assessment. The Panel’s role is to help the social worker in their work with a family/whānau and to provide a process for review.

Working with the Care and Protection Resource Panel

Social work visits

Meeting with the family/whānau to discuss the concerns

Speaking with parents/caregivers and other family/whānau is crucial to understanding and responding to concerns for the child or young person. This includes any parent or other caregiver not living in the home.

The purpose of engaging with the family/whānau is to gather information to inform your care and protection assessment and help you work with the family/whānau to address the concerns for the child or young person. You may need to complete a number of visits to gather all of the information you need. Explore the following elements with the family/whānau:

  • Tell them calmly who you are, what your role is, why you are visiting, and be prepared to show them your ID card and present them with a When we visit booklet
  • Be specific about the issues in the report of concern – tell them your risk statements – and allow the family/whānau to respond to each point you raise
  • Be honest and clear, use plain language that they can understand and avoid jargon
  • Be transparent about the areas of need you will be exploring with the family/whānau, and share the Tuituia assessment framework (PDF 338 KB) with them
  • Explore the areas of strength for the family/whānau and ask about times when things were going well and what this looked like for the family/whānau. These factors may be able to be used to build safety around the child or young person
  • Ask questions that create a space for dialogue. Try using scaling questions or questions that encourage the family/whānau to consider how other people may see their situation
  • Map out the family relationships using a genogram or family tree. This provides an immediate visual representation of the family/whānau and where the child or young person fits and is a participative activity that can help form an effective working relationship
  • Use family safety circles to map the networks available in the environment in which the child or young person and their family/whānau lives
  • Let the family/whānau know what the process of working with them will involve, who you will be talking with, why and how long you think your care and protection assessment will take. Make sure they have your contact details and know who else they can contact if they can’t get hold of you
  • Keep your eyes and ears open when engaging with the family/whānau to needs or risks that may present for other children or young people who were not mentioned in the report of concern
  • If you believe that further assessment is not required, let the family/whānau know. Likewise, if you have concerns that may warrant immediate action (e.g. referral for a family group conference), do not keep this from the family/whānau and perhaps preface this with a comment that you will need to consult with a supervisor.

Talking with children and young people

Consent from the child or young person’s parent/guardian (and the child or young person themselves) should occur before visiting and talking to them. You could do this by asking the parent/guardian if you can speak to their child when you are setting up your first visit. A critical factor that can contribute to an effective assessment is building a good relationship with the parent/caregiver. Doing so may help in securing consent to speak to their child.

Good practice requires that a rationale is provided when consent has not been given but this is believed to be acceptable in the circumstances e.g. when a parent/caregiver is the alleged abuser, seeking their consent could pose a safety risk for the child or young person.

Meet and speak directly with the child or young person and, where possible, do so in private. This may be a difficult time for them and they may be anxious. Having a trusted third party (a friend or safe adult) sit with them during your visit is an option to consider.

When meeting with the child or young person for the first time, explain who you are and what your role is. You may want to practice this with a colleague before you visit the child or young person to get the language right.

When speaking with the child or young person, keep in mind the issues that were raised in the report of concern and remain open to other needs or risks that may present during the conversation.

Listen carefully to the child or young person and explore with them how they feel about their family/whānau and home situation. Children often respond positively to the idea of drawing their house and who lives in it – you can then use this drawing to explore who else visits or has access to their house, and to better understand the personalities of each person. The Key information: Keeping our focus on mokopuna provides more tips on engaging with children and young people.

Using the Three Houses child version (PDF 322 KB) and Three Houses young person version (PDF 290 KB) provides an opportunity to obtain information about their worries but also about what they see as strengths or good things in their lives. Building safety around children and young people outlines ways in which you can build safety when engaging with children and young people and their families/whānau.

If, during your visit, the child or young person tells you about abuse they have been subjected to which may constitute a criminal offence, a referral for a specialist child interview will likely be needed.

Once the child or young person has told you about the alleged abuse, stop asking questions about it ; reassure them that you want them to talk about what happened with the right people. Tell them that your job is to make sure everyone works together to keep them safe and explain what will happen next.

The Suicide risk factors can help guide your assessment of the risks and needs when there are worries for the child or young person with regards to their emotional wellbeing or self harm/suicide. If there are concerns for the child or young person relating to substance abuse, the Substances and Choices Scale (SACS) and Kessler and Suicide screens (PDF 288 KB) will help you identify any problem areas.

Gathering information from other sources

A robust assessment needs information that gives depth and context to the child or young person and their family/whānau. Consider who else knows the child or young person and family/whānau well and might be able to provide relevant information and support to the family/whānau.

We never work in isolation – there is always someone else who has eyes on the family/whānau – and some family/whānau members and professionals may give you an insight into the family/whānau’s situation that you might not have yet had the opportunity to see.

Having conversations with support agencies and other people who can advise and shape the care and protection assessment is important, however remember to be specific when requesting information from them and be clear about the purpose of gathering the information.

If a written information request is required, ask your supervisor or colleagues how you can do this. Read Working with professionals for further tips on gathering information from them.

It is essential that you check the history for the family/whānau both from our computer system (CYRAS) and its paper files. This could include information about siblings and other family/whānau members, legal files (with the consent of the Oranga Tamariki solicitior) and, where appropriate, information held at other Oranga Tamariki offices.

Take note of any previous assessments completed in respect of the child or young person and their family/whānau. Analyse the history and patterns/trends for this family/whānau, and link this analysis to your current assessment.

Recording your analysis

When assessing strengths, risks and needs there are certain points when your social work analysis needs to be recorded. The first record you complete after you have met with the child or young person and their family/whānau is the safety and risk screen. The screen is designed to support social workers to consider the factors that may indicate the possibility of danger or harm for a child or young person (click here for the guidelines).

If you have an immediate concern about the child or young person’s safety it is essential that a plan is developed to secure their safety while further assessment and planning takes place. The Key information: Custody, guardianship and wardship contains details about the different orders you may wish to consider; talk with your site solicitor, supervisor, practice leader or manager if you require advice.

Record your analysis in the Tuituia assessment record on CYRAS as you gather information and formulate your thinking throughout your work with the family/whānau. Remember that the Tuituia assessment record can be completed at any time (there will also be specific points at which it must be completed - refer to the Assessment and decision making policy to learn more); you do not have to wait until you have all the information and, in fact, the Tuituia assessment can help you see where the gaps are and what you still need to find out.

Your analysis will include examining the interrelationships between the strengths, risks and needs in the child or young person’s life. There needs to be clear links between the information gathered, how it relates to the identified risk statements, and the decision regarding the next steps – whether this is no further action or an intervention. You will also need to link any information you collect through conversations or through exploring the case files to the impact on each child or young person, taking into account their unique needs and vulnerabilities.

When analysing the information you have gathered, consider the impact of cumulative harm and exposure to on-going family violence in combination with the history and trends you see for this specific family/whānau, and keep in mind any vulnerability associated with age and disability – the vulnerable infant, disability and family violence triggers will assist your thinking.

The child and family consult can also help guide your discussions with your supervisor, colleagues, other professionals and the family/whānau when putting all of the pieces of the puzzle together.

Recording your finding and outcome

The last step in the investigation or child and family assessment involves completing the Tuituia report and recording your finding/s – making sure that this aligns with the information you recorded in the report – and the outcome.

What did we find? Recording findings in child and family assessments and investigations

Share both your Tuituia assessment and report with the family/whānau – they have a right to know what you think about their ability to provide safe care for their child and how you came to a particular conclusion or finding. It’s also a great way to initiate conversations about what might need to happen next.