Ministers confirm removal of child assessment timescales

Government implements recommendation from Eileen Munro to scrap initial and core assessment requirements in revisions to Working Together guidance.

Assessment timescales will be decided by social workers and managers

Requirements to carry out initial and core assessments of children in need to national timescales will be scrapped, ministers confirmed today. Instead, councils will be able to carry out ongoing assessments of need, carried out to timescales agreed by social workers and their managers, based on the nature of the case and in line with a local framework.

The changes, which implement a key recommendation of Eileen Munro’s review of child protection, were outlined today in consultative guidance, Managing individual cases: the framework for the assessment of children in need and their families – now published as a single document, rather than as part of Working Together to Safeguard Children.

Currently, initial assessments must take place within 10 working days of a referral and core assessments within 35 working days. However, Munro said that the timescales “distorted practice” and called for them to be scrapped. The government committed to implementing the change last year but concerns had been raised by councils about the government’s delay in making the necessary revisions to Working Together.

“How quickly an assessment is carried out after a child’s case has been referred into children’s social care will be determined by the needs of the child and the level of any harm being suffered,” says the proposed guidance. “This will require judgements to be made by the social worker in discussion with their manager on every case.”

Councils must develop and publish local frameworks to ensure assessments are “timely”, “transparent” and “proportionate to need”. This should include provisions for a review point to be set up for each case, providing a target for completing assessments, which managers should monitor.

The guidance adds that social workers must see the child as soon as possible following a referral, taking into account the child’s needs, wishes and feelings, and agree with fellow professionals how quickly any meetings are convened so that children are kept safe.

The local framework should “regard assessment as an ongoing process”, which should inform, if necessary, care applications and care plans for looked-after children.

Councils will be able to retain initial and core assessments if they choose.

The guidance also includes a series of flow charts setting out how professionals should handle the range of cases, encompassing children in need and child protection, and details the responsibilities of social workers, managers and other agencies.

Mithran Samuel is Community Care’s adults editor.

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