How the CAF has benefited Walsall’s children with additional needs

The recipe for a Victoria sponge proved vital in raising awareness of the benefits of the Common Assessment Framework among ethnic minority families in Walsall....

The recipe for a Victoria sponge proved vital in raising awareness of the benefits of the Common Assessment Framework among ethnic minority families in Walsall. Gordon Carson reports

lthough the Common Assessment Framework (CAF) was already improving the co-ordination of services for children with additional needs in Walsall, an analysis of completed forms found one group was seriously under-represented: families from ethnic minorities.

In the 2001 census they accounted for 16% of Walsall’s population, but only 8% of families supported through the CAF in 2007 were classed as from ethnic minorities.

Louise Instone, implementation manager for the Team Around the Family programme, says she knew they were being offered the support.

“But we felt families also got support from within the community itself when they experienced difficulties.” Nevertheless, Instone and some of her fellow CAF “champions” felt they had to make the process more accessible to these families. They decided to take the CAF to them through a five-week awareness-raising programme.

This was developed by two area CAF co-ordinators, Helen Clover and Tracey Andrews, and was run from the Alumwell Pleck Sure Start children’s centre, sited in an area with a large number of ethnic minority families. Free childcare places were offered to parents to encourage them to attend.

Before the first session, the co-ordinators met parents to outline the programme’s aims. They explained what the outcomes would mean for families, the format of ­multi-agency meetings, and the CAF form. The key to success was keeping the programme simple and jargon-free. This meant no PowerPoint presentations and blowing up of colourful magazine pictures to cover the walls. The attention of parents was captured with the use of a Victoria sponge recipe analogy to explain the CAF process.

“Everybody knows about using a recipe to mix everything together,” says Instone. “The lead professional is the jam to hold everything together. If you are missing something, such as a service area, you need the eggs and the sugar to bind things together. And the final outcome is the cake with a cherry on top.”

The parents also helped shape the ­programme. They completed evaluations after each session, picked a guest speaker for the final week to talk about smoking ­cessation, and even role-played a multi-agency meeting. “The parents all asked to have a go. It was the total opposite to professionals on a training day,” says Instone, joking.

Only one of 10 parents dropped out of the course, which ran in summer 2008. This encouraged Instone and her colleagues to extend the model to other groups, starting with parents with learning disabilities attending a local Mencap support group (see case study, facing page).

So far, one parent from the group with learning disabilities has become a CAF champion. Increasing awareness of the CAF has also helped children and parents to access additional services, and to address any fears they may have about engaging with social services.

Instone hopes other authorities will make use of Walsall’s model. She and Clover have already presented to a Kirklees Council CAF seminar and the Children’s Workforce Development Council has highlighted the programme as a model of good practice.

What is the CAF?

The Common Assessment Framework is an early intervention tool to give extra support to children who need help to achieve the five Every Child Matters outcomes.

Assessments are often carried out by universal services such as children’s centres and schools. A pre-assessment checklist helps practitioners decide who would benefit from a common assessment. This is followed by discussions with the child, their family and other practitioners. A standard form enables practitioners to record and share findings.

Practitioners consider a child’s development needs, their parents and carers, family and environmental factors.


Case study

Beccy and Mark are a married couple with two children, Sophie, six, and Jamie, two. Both parents have learning disabilities and attended the full CAF course through the Mencap support group.

Although Beccy was nervous at the start of the course, she says it has “helped me to be a good parent”.

She adds: “I had a list from the meeting and I did everything on the list in a week and now I keep my flat tidy, clean and warm.”

Mark says: “It has helped me in a big way. It has stopped children’s services banging my door.”

Both are positive about the course facilitators too. “One of the ladies asked if we needed any help but I told her I was OK as I have Sorana [Hammonds, her Sure Start worker],” Beccy says. “The ladies made us tea or squash and we could have a laugh and a joke with them.”

Beccy and Mark are glad they completed the course and have put the certificates they received on a wall at home.

Read more about the common assessment framework with Community Care

Published in 8 April 2010 issue of Community Care under heading ‘Icing on the Cake’

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