Updated: 01 April 2017
It is important that the information gathered as part of a child and family assessment or investigation, along with its underpinning analysis, clearly shows why we arrive at the ‘finding’ for that particular child or young person.
This key information provides guidance on the accurate recording of findings when completing a child and family assessment or an investigation.
Determining whether the actions of a parent or caregiver can be defined as abusive or neglectful is not always straightforward and there are a number of things that need to be considered. Take time to think about the evidence you have to support a finding, and talk these things through with others about the circumstances of your case. Using a child and family consult to strengthen decision-making is a good idea, particularly in complex situations. Some ideas that you may need to factor into your thinking:
When deciding on a finding take the time to consider what has happened to them - what has been the actual impact of the abuse or neglect?
Use the Tuituia assessment framework and other practice tools, consult with your colleagues, and support your findings with clear evidence and sound analysis.
The purpose in recording a ‘finding’ is to identify the nature of any harm to the child or young person.
Being clear about this will help us to identify and put in place an intervention for the child or young person that will support the best possible outcomes for them.
In addition to supporting case planning, information from ‘findings’ informs us about the overall rates of child abuse in our community and is used to influence practice developments and service provision. It is therefore important we are accurate in our determination of findings following the assessment or investigative process.
Findings should not be attributed ‘lightly’ or ‘matter-of-factly’. Over the course of your child and family assessment or investigation you need to gather clear and sufficient evidence to substantiate a particular finding or findings. This evidence, along with its underpinning analysis, needs to be clearly recorded on the child or young person’s CYRAS record.
Careful consideration needs to be given to determining the most appropriate finding for each particular child or young person. For example, in a sibling group there may be different findings for each child as a consequence of their age and developmental level. You can also record more than one finding for a child or young person if this is appropriate.
The tools you use over the course of the child and family assessment or investigation - Substances and Choices Scale, Kessler and Suicide screens, child and family consult (PDF 359 KB), the Tuituia assessment framework (PDF 338 KB) will support your finding.
If a case involves actions or behaviour which may constitute a criminal (physical abuse, sexual abuse, neglect) refer to the Child Protection Protocol (PDF 811 KB) (CPP) for details on how to work alongside the Police when investigating these matters.
When we talk about physical abuse, we are talking about situations where the child or young person has sustained an injury or was at serious risk of sustaining an injury. We are not talking about situations of a smack or where parents may have been a little rougher in their handling of their child than is desirable. Physical abuse may be the result of a deliberate attempt to hurt the child or young person, but not always.
Signs to look out for include:
In determining whether physical abuse has occurred there are three areas of information that we need to consider:
A single injury or action may justify a finding of physical abuse, or an injury or action in combination with other circumstances may raise additional concern and may justify a physical abuse finding. Remember, injuries may be deliberately inflicted or the unintentional result of the adult's behaviour (e.g. shaking of an infant). Regardless of motivation, the result for the child or young person is physical abuse.
Currently, findings are recorded for all child and family assessments. However given the level of harm required of a physical abuse determination, we would not generally expect to see findings of physical abuse in the child and family assessment pathway. If you are in the process of completing a child and family assessment and think that physical (or sexual) abuse may be an issue, refer to the Child Protection Protocol to check that you are using the correct pathway and that appropriate consultation with the Police has occurred.
Remember that physical abuse is not about ‘light' smacking. In these situations an assessment finding of ‘Not Found' is more likely to be appropriate (in the absence of any other care or protection concerns for the child or young person). If you are unsure about whether or not an instance of smacking could be regarded as physical abuse refer Key information: The smacking issue and talk with your supervisor.
Sexual abuse is any action where an adult or a more powerful person uses a child or young person for a sexual purpose. This may be consensual or not, and can happen within and outside the family/whānau. Most sexual abuse is done by someone the child or young person knows and trusts. Sexual abuse of children and young people is an especially complicated form of abuse because of its layers of guilt and shame. It is important to recognise that sexual abuse doesn't always involve body contact. Exposing a child or young person to inappropriate sexual situations or to sexually explicit material can be sexually abusive, whether or not touching is involved.
Sexual abuse can include:
Sexual abuse can be found to have occurred regardless of whether or not criminal charges were laid against the alleged perpetrator, as long as this finding is supported by clear evidence (e.g. obtained via child-focused and/or forensic interviews, medical examinations, etc) and analysis. In these situations, it is particularly important that we record the rationale for the finding.
There will be times where children and young people engage in sexualised behaviour with other children or young people. This behaviour can often be part of a normal phase of experimentation (e.g. two 5 year old children showing each other their genitals), but there may be situations when children or young people are affected in more serious ways (for example, a 14 year old engaging in sexual acts with a 6 year old). It can be really tricky to know how to deal with these situations, and to determine the most appropriate finding.
It is important to consider:
Thinking about the actual impact of the behaviour for the child or young person will help you to clarify the appropriateness of a finding.
When we talk about emotional abuse we are talking about situations where the child or young person's mental health, social and/or emotional functioning and development have been damaged by their treatment. Situations of emotional abuse are likely to result from repeat exposure to negative experiences, particularly in a context of insecurity.
Examples of behaviours that may result in emotional abuse include:
A child or young person who is being emotionally abused may show the following signs:
When determining a finding of emotional abuse, it is important to have an understanding of the impact that the behaviour has had on the child or young person. The one-off exposure to any one of these experiences, while hurtful for the child or young person, is unlikely to impact on their emotional or social functioning or on their development. It is the impact of ongoing or repeat exposure to harmful negativity that results in a determination of emotional abuse.
A child or young person witnessing adult-to-adult family violence may experience distress and be at risk of direct harm - sometimes the effect of this harm may be profound and lasting. While family violence is undesirable for children, not all incidents which result in a call-out from the Police will automatically result in serious harm to a child or young person. The physical and/or emotional impact of the incident on the child or young person needs to be considered (i.e. age, understanding, past history, the relationship context, severity of incident), and from this, the most appropriate finding or findings should be determined. Emotional abuse will only be recorded as a finding in relation to family violence when the assessment indicates the functioning, safety or care of the child or young person has been adversely affected or put at risk.
Regardless of whether or not a finding of emotional abuse is determined, it is important that we do whatever we can to reduce harm in these family situations. Exposure to family violence is deleterious for children and we need to go the extra mile to make sure families/whānau have the services and support they need to protect their children well.
Neglect is evidenced through failing to provide for a child or young person's basic needs - adequate food, clothing, hygiene, or supervision. Neglect can be a one-off incident, or may represent a sustained pattern of failure to act. It is not always easy to identify and respond to. Sometimes, a parent may become physically or mentally unable to care for their child. They may sustain an injury that limits their ability to care, or they may suffer depression, or anxiety. Substance abuse may negatively impact on their judgment and ability to keep a child or young person safe. There may be times when a parent's care is limited by disability.
Older children may not necessarily show outward signs of neglect. They may present a competent face to the outside world. They may even compensate for a parent's inability to care and assume the parenting role. What we need to be able to assess is when neglect impacts on a child's safe care and development.
Neglect can take a number of different forms:
Children and young people may show a combination of behavioural and physical signs including:
There may be times when a finding of physical or sexual abuse is determined and in addition the investigation reveals that a non-offending parent has failed in their parental duty to protect the child or young person, whether intentionally or unintentionally. In these situations a finding of neglect is appropriate.
Self harm (also known as deliberate self-injury or self-mutilation) can be used by some children and young people to cope with difficult and sometimes overwhelming feelings of anger, sadness and worry. Methods of self harm can include:
It may be determined that a child or young person is suicidal if they have:
In cases where self-harm or suicide is suspected to be a factor for a child or young person, their social worker needs to complete the SKS screens and consult with Towards Wellbeing.
When we talk about a finding of behaviour/relationship difficulties we are talking about situations where there is a serious difficulty in the relationship between the child or young person and their parent or caregiver that impacts on their safety or wellbeing, or that of their siblings. We are not talking about your average dispute that teenagers and their parents will have. Nor is it about adult-to-adult conflict or violence.
These difficulties can include:
If the relationship is difficult to the point where violence occurs you need to consider whether ‘Behaviour/Relationship Difficulties' is, in fact, an appropriate finding. Physical and/or emotional abuse may more accurately reflect the situation.
If a finding has not been substantiated at the level identified above, then the outcome should be recorded as ‘not found’. A ‘not found’ finding does not necessarily mean that your work with the child or young person and their family has to end at this point; it just means that the focus of your ongoing work will be on the elements (other than abuse) that occur within the family system.