Munro debate: The Tower Hamlets model for assessment

The interim report from the Munro review highlighted the Tower Hamlets model of assessment as a way forward. Here, Helen Lincoln, the council's head of children's social care, outlines its methodology

The interim report from the Munro review highlighted the Tower Hamlets model of assessment  as a way forward. Here, Helen Lincoln, the council’s head of children’s social care, outlines its methodology

See a full size version of the Tower Hamlets assessment flowchart

The early foundations of Tower Hamlets Council’s new assessment approach were underpinned last year by a major forms review in 2010 of the integrated children’s system designed to make it more streamlined and less onerous for frontline staff.

Several key themes emerged, including the prescriptive nature of the forms leading to descriptions of child and family circumstances as opposed to an understanding of how the family was functioning. The assessment often contained snippets of history but they were not set out chronologically; time pressures meant social workers were not thinking about the family issues which later affected outcomes. Completing the framework had become an end in itself and not an aid to practising child-focused social work.

The following key question became of paramount importance, and was considered by frontline social work practitioners, operational and senior managers in a series of workshops and development sessions: “What would an alternative, best practice framework for assessment of children and their families look like?”

We devised several practice principles as the building blocks for the new approach to assessment. These included the need for the framework to articulate and understand a child’s story; enhance the social worker’s understanding of the family; and support social work analytical thinking, judgement and decision making. It should also explore the interplay between historical factors and the present situation and help families understand the concerns that have been raised.

Tower Hamlets is now running a “live pilot” involving about 25 social workers to inform development of the framework. The most striking feature emerging is how the new framework is enabling social workers to think purposefully about working with and understanding families.

Historical components of good social work practice methods have been synthesised, aligned and developed with modern processes to construct a working tool that provides the dynamic foundations necessary to conduct purposeful social work.

Departing from the established Department of Health assessment framework to one that promotes social worker professional judgement and greater autonomy, however, does pose challenges requiring skilled supervision and support for staff.

Tower Hamlets is only at the beginning of this journey but the early indicators are that this approach could fundamentally reshape our intervention work with families.

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