For my placement, I worked in a residential family assessment centre in South London, working with families where there are child protection concerns. Therefore, effective assessment and intervention with the service users is key to the success of the service. In this paper, I will be critically appraising the approaches taken for effective assessment and intervention by the residential family assessment centre. This will include how far these approaches are underpinned by research and evaluation techniques adopted by the service.
In relation to child protection assessment, Corby (2007) states, ‘There are two key assessment points in child protection work: the first is at the point of referral when there is a need for short-term decision making; the second is when there is a need to decide on the action required to ensure the longer-term future protection and well-being of the child. ’ (Corby, 2007, p218). The work carried out by the centre relates to the second of these assessment processes.
The main tool for assessing the families who come to the centre is the Framework for Assessment of Children in Need and Their Families (DOH, 2000). This is a practical tool that splits areas affecting the child into three different categories: the child’s developmental needs; family and environmental factors and parenting capacity. (Brammer, 2007, p205). The centre has families referred to them by Local Authorities across London and the South East of England and most children have already been living in foster care for some time.
The aim of the placements is to provide a 12-week assessment of the parents ability to meet the needs of their child(ren) within the bounds of ‘good enough’ parenting. At the end of the placement, staff at the centre makes final recommendations for the family, based on 24 hour observations, educative sessions and discussions with the family. Staff are required to give evidence in court to recommend whether children should be placed with their parents in the community, and if so, what support is needed to promote the safety and well-being of the child(ren).
The main focus of all the assessments is the child. In the first weeks of the placements, staff observe all aspects of parenting, in order to assess the strengths and area’s for development. The staff team then put together a programme of intervention for the family, on a needs led basis. For example, if staff have observed that a parent is using inappropriate boundaries and guidance for their child, staff will provide the parent with sessions and in the moment advice and prompting in this area, in order to educate the parent. I was able to do this with a parent who had a two year old daughter.
We noted that she used inappropriate language towards the child, shouting and swearing. I met with the mother, and we discussed different alternatives to boundarying children, such as distraction with toys. It is important throughout the assessment of and intervention with families, to tailor the work to individual families, their background, culture and cognitive ability. Connolly et al (2006) state, ‘Understanding the meaning of culture, and our own cultural limitations, is critically important to the development of culturally responsive work in child care and protection’. Connolly et al, 2006, p16). During the placement, I have been careful to ensure that the culture and background of the service users has been considered in the work I do with them. During the placement, and working with the service users so closely (in a residential setting) I found that the best way to understand how somebody’s culture impacts on their parenting, is to not only research the culture as far as possible, but also to ask the parents themselves about their culture.
In addition, when planning effective interventions, the cognitive abilities of the service users need to be taken into account. Most of the parents who come to the centre have already had psychological assessments previously. These help the staff at the centre to understand how the parent learns and is able to retain information, advice and guidance. Depending on the outcome of this assessment, staff use a variety of techniques when working with the parents.
For example, for a parent who learns best by demonstration, staff may use cognitive behavioural techniques in educative sessions. An example of this I undertook on placement was to teach a mother how to make up a bottle for her child appropriately. This session consisted of me making up a bottle in front of her, talking her through what I was doing and why, from sterilisation of the bottles through to warming it up ready to be offered. This technique proves to be successful for many parents who are referred to the centre.
During the 12-week assessments, reviews of the placement and the progress made happen at the 3, 6 and 10 week points. These reviews involve the child’s social worker, guardian, the keyworker and manager from the centre and any other professionals involved in the case. This provides an effective method for reflecting upon the effectiveness of the assessment and intervention. In addition, after each placement, the staff team evaluate the work done, in light of the outcome, and reflect on what could have been done differently and what worked well.
To conclude, the practice of effective assessment and intervention is integral to the work of the assessment centre. They are effective in this in that they work with each family on a needs-led basis and create work plans for interventions according to the individual families, their culture and their learning style and ability. In my opinion, this process enables the staff at the centre to conduct effective, in depth and detailed assessments, and to either provide, or recommend, interventions accordingly.
Brammer, A. ‘Social Work Law (2nd edition)’ (2007), Essex, Pearson Education Ltd. Connolly, M. Crichton-Hill, Y. And Ward, T. ‘Culture and Child Protection: Reflexive Responses’ (2006), Jessica Kingsley Publishers, London. Corby, B. ‘Child Abuse towards a knowledge base (3rd edition)’ (2007), Berkshire, Open University Press.