Good-quality assessment for children in need of help is an essential part of keeping them safe. In recent years a number of Ofsted reports have identified poor quality assessments across many local authorities, especially in those judged less than good. This Ofsted report gives an up-to-date picture of how well local authorities were carrying out their assessments in early help, children in need and child protection work. It explores the factors that drive or limit the effectiveness of assessment, drawing on evidence from 123 tracked cases from 10 local authorities, including the views of parents, carers, professionals and children.
Overall, inspectors found improvement in the quality of assessments in the local authorities inspected. A greater proportion of assessments resulted in children and families receiving the right help and support at the right time. Professionals were engaging more meaningfully with children and families and recording their views more fully than previously reported. In 63% of cases reviewed, inspectors found that children’s views on their families’ difficulties had been taken into account in the assessment.
Most local authorities provided a range of services to families when a need was identified. In most instances, families received help during the assessment period and did not have to wait.
In 63% of cases reviewed, professionals were carrying out assessments promptly and in line with the right timeline for individual children.
In the large majority of cases, workers were using the child’s voice and views to inform their analysis in assessment.
Assessments better reflected the views of parents, including significant males in families. Parents told inspectors that workers spent more time listening to them than they had previously.
The views of other professionals were more frequently and consistently included in assessments.
Inspectors found that, in most instances, using theoretical models of practice had improved the quality of assessments. Staff spoke confidently of the merits of using the models in their assessment work. Inspectors found that using a model was more important than which model was used.
Inspectors found that leaders in high-performing local authorities: built strong partnerships and shared information effectively with partner agencies – they saw partnership working as central to good-quality assessment ensured robust, reflective managerial supervision and oversight of workers carrying out assessments prioritised training and development for workers, including in using assessment support tools and theoretical models of practice to improve children’s outcomes ensured that workers had manageable caseloads were committed to continuity and consistency in workers for children and families developed electronic recording systems that supported good practice had established effective quality assurance processes.
In eight out of the 10 local authorities inspected, assessment was undertaken as a standalone process that needed to be ‘done’ to a family, rather than one part of an ongoing process to provide continued support and improve outcomes for children.
Analysis in assessments did not clearly identify risks and strengths of individual families or indicate the potential for a family to achieve change.
The language used in written assessment and planning documents was often unclear, overcomplicated, detracted from the concerns raised and was unhelpful to families.
The quality of chronologies in the assessments reviewed varied considerably. Key information to inform assessments and plans was included in only a small number of cases.
Often assessments did not fully include the views of extended family members, including grandparents, aunts and uncles.
Professionals undertaking early help assessments and social workers undertaking statutory assessments did not always update assessments to reflect changing circumstances and to inform planning for the child and family.
Social workers did not always share the findings from assessments with children and their families to help them understand what was happening and the rationale for decisions made. Professionals in early help work shared assessments more readily.
In a third of the 123 cases tracked, the written plans resulting from assessments were not good enough to drive improvement in children’s circumstances.