Not everyone may be aware of it, but all professionals working in children’s services should by now be using the common assessment framework (CAF) to assess the additional needs of children and how they are going to be met.
The timetable set by the Department for Children, Schools and Families was that all local authorities in England were expected to implement the CAF between April 2006 and March 2008.
The standardised approach to assessing a child’s additional needs and deciding how they are going to be met was intended to simplify the process, identify needs earlier and provide services to meet them, such as extra learning support. These aims are being met by those who have been using the CAF, although progress towards the whole workforce being able to carry them out is patchy.
Kim Smith, a social worker at the NSPCC’s Ivybridge family support project in Isleworth, Middlesex, has completed two CAF assessments and says having one assessment involving all the relevant agencies has been beneficial.
She says of the first assessment, of a four-year-old boy: “There were lots of agencies that had been involved, and the mother had moved house twice in quite a short period. Because of that, information had got lost and not been forwarded on.
“Doing the CAF gave us a much better insight into that child’s needs. Then we identified a lead professional and could identify an action plan in a much more timely way.”
Formal piloting of the CAF and the lead professional role took place in 12 areas in 2005-6, although two-thirds of local authorities chose to use the CAF in that trial year.
Islington was one of the pilot sites, with the Family Welfare Association, which runs the council’s children’s support service, running the CAF pilot for the council.
Family support co-ordinator Pamela Shepherd says: “The CAF has been much more helpful where the work is complex. It has been key in identifying what the needs of the child are, which professional is doing what, and helping families to understand what the professionals are doing. It is a lot better when it comes to thinking holistically.
“If there are four different agencies involved with the family, instead of a review meeting with each professional, they will have a link worker who can communicate that around.”
She adds: “Before we started the CAF pilot, we had various referral and assessment forms and would set goals with our family support workers, but they would tend to be vague. Now, we have much clearer goals, so when it gets to the review stage we can see if this is, or is not, happening. It has helped to think through what are the needs of the child, then put together some clear, specific outcomes.”
However, outside of family support services, training of professionals still has a long way to go. Shepherd says: “We have various levels of training and 300 staff or so have been through initial training. The target workforce is 1,000 plus. Some sectors, such as schools, were more aware of the April deadline. Now that date has come, and more people are being trained, the system will start to work much better.”
In Norfolk the process is further advanced, and thousands of professionals from many agencies have already been trained. Julie McLoughlin, information sharing and assessment programme manager for Norfolk Council, agrees on the benefits of the CAF (see box below).
She says: “The biggest positive for us is that you are meeting the needs of children at the earliest opportunity and improving outcomes. There are several important things: the fact the family doesn’t have to tell their story more than once, the fact it is voluntary, that they can see the outcomes, and they have been involved from the beginning.”
Although there had been concerns that different professionals would provide information on assessments in completely different ways, this has not been seen as a sticking point for the CAF.
McLoughlin says: “The assessment is the first part of the process and there should be enough information on there to pull in the people that we want to invite in to work with the child. So if there is not a huge amount of information, it is not a problem.”
There had also been concerns raised that professionals could find it difficult to be completely honest in an assessment, particularly if some information was critical of the parents, as the CAF is voluntary and the parents have to agree to the process.
However, those using the CAF say the transparency of the process has meant it generally works well. Furthermore, they say that in cases where child protection concerns might arise, the case would be handed over to statutory agencies, with the family being told why.
McLoughlin adds: “One of the things that we planned as part of our training is the need to be upfront with the family. It will be confidential unless we believe there is harm being caused to the family or the child. So, the family is aware from the beginning and it becomes a safeguarding issue.”
Smith agrees: “If we needed to refer to statutory agencies, we would do that, but there is a need to be open and honest about any concerns that may come up.”
• For more about the CAF see the Every Child Matters website: