Assessment of parenting capacity is vital for protection of children from maltreatment. Assessing the parent’s capacity to provide for the needs of the child, enhance their developmental experiences and to protect them from risk is a core task of child care agencies. However, agencies have not always acted in the best interests of the child as seen in the Serious Case Review in Bromley which revealed a significant neglect of two boys despite involvement of various agencies.
This prompted the need to conduct Serious Case Review. Based on the assessment, the review panel recommended that processes of assessment and reviews be always informed by attempts to understand the situation from the viewpoint of the child. Whilst recognizing that the welfare of the child should be given paramount consideration, I argue for interventions that seek to address the needs of both the children and their families. Making reference to relevant legislation, policy and practice guidance I consider how, as a social worker in the Bromley case, I would have had due regard for the needs of all family members and how I would have conducted the relevant and required assessments.
Assessment relating to children in the family
Understanding what happens to children remains a core professional activity for social work agencies (DH 2000). Concerns about a child’s health and development and when such development is being impaired remains a core activity of the agencies. Child care agencies have the ultimate statutory responsibility of safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children (DH 2008). However, they have not always acted in the best interest of the child. This can be seen in the Serious Case Review in Bromley which revealed a significant neglect of two boys despite the involvement of multiple agencies.
The two boys had been maltreated including being physically harmed. Despite strong evidence of the level of neglect, the agencies involved allowed themselves to be misled by the parents and continued to underestimate the level of neglect. In February 2010, one of the boys was found with a severe cut on his face which had been inflicted by his father. At this point, it was found necessary to conduct a Serious Case Review and the boys were placed into the care of the London Borough of Bromley (BSAB 2011)
The Serious Case Review found that, in light of other parenting concerns, some of the physical injuries sustained by the child had not been fully investigated (BSAB 2011). The review found that agencies had overlooked the possibility that the boys might suffer physical harm. Whilst a stereotypical view that the family was neglectful had already been established, the agencies overlooked the evidence that such neglect could be accompanied by physical abuse (BSAB 2011). Based on the review, the panel recommended that processes of assessment and reviews be always informed by attempts to understand the situation from the viewpoint of the child (BSAB 2011).
As a social worker in the Bromley case, I would have conducted the assessment with due regards for the needs of all family members. In other words, I would have conducted assessments relating to the children in the family and assessments relating to the adults in the family as well. In conducting these assessments, I would have taken an evidence based approach which involves systematically collecting the relevant information, distinguishing between the various sources and using the evidence gathered to evaluate the given approaches to intervention.
Evidence based approach
Often, we tend to think of evidence only as part of judicial process. Evidence can as well be used to inform the assessment process. Evidence must be at the heart of every decision from collection of information to implementation of intervention methods. For social workers to create a support system that addresses the challenges of the 21st century, they must not rely solely on practice wisdom but rather must make use of evidence based knowledge in informing decision making (DH 2008)
In this regard, as a social worker in the Bromley case, I would have conducted an evidence-based assessment by identifying, gathering and using the evidence to support and evaluate the given approaches to assessment. This would include systematically recording the information and distinguish between the various sources such as interviews with family members, observations and records from other agencies (Milner & Bryne 2010). Some of the questions that I would consider include:
What is the nature of information gathered
How has this information been produced
How can practitioners access the evidence
How can this evidence be used to inform practice(Milner & Bryne 2010)
How I would conduct assessments relating to children in the family
In conducting this assessment, the child’s point of view becomes a priority and interview with participants (child and abusive parent) is tailored to the child’s developmental ability (Holland 2004). Before making contact with the family, I would first contact the law enforcement agency to seek their consent. It should be noted that contacting the family without the consent of law enforcement might compromise the criminal investigation (NDHHS 2005). Where criminal activity is alleged, it would be necessary to request to be assigned a law enforcement officer and for the child to be placed in protective custody.
Gathering of information
I would then contact the reporting party and any other person that might have relevant information about the allegations for further clarification of the information at hand. This will include reviewing previous information. Previous allegations which were not effectively addressed may warrant attention as part of the current intervention (NDHHS 2005). Factors that would determine whether previous allegations may warrant attention as part of the current intervention include:
Severity of both the past and present allegations.
Length of time that has lapsed and
The Degree of similarity between the past and present allegations (NDHHS 2005).
The information gathered from interview with the child and the parent, and information from the reporting party will be useful in coming to a determination. There are two possible outcomes:
‘Founded’ – this means that a preponderance of evidence indicate that the allegations of child abuse did actually occur (Ifapa 2010).
‘Unfounded’ – this means that the preponderance of evidence indicate that the allegations might not be true (Ifapa 2010).
Analyzing the information collected for decision making
I would cross-reference all the agencies’ reports and evidence obtained from interviews with the child and parent as well as any other useful sources of information. If the allegations turn out to be true based upon credible information such interview with the child, information from physician, and law enforcement report; a number of questions would arise such as:
How significant was the maltreatment
What effect did the maltreatment had on the child’s developmental and behavioural outcomes
Why did the agencies involved ignore the level of neglect
Why, in light of other parenting concerns, was the physical abuse not fully investigated
At what stage should the agencies have invoked child protection procedures
With the preponderance of evidence indicating that the allegations of child maltreatment did occur, I would then conduct a risk assessment to assess the current safety of the child and determine whether the child can be left in the parent’s care or placed in protection.
Assessing the risk of maltreatment
. In order to determine the risk rating, I would evaluate the following:
How extensive are the risks (severity of maltreatment) and how long they have existed
Whether the parents recognize and acknowledge the risk that they pose to the child
And whether they are willing to seek help and support from care agencies.
If the child is found to be in imminent danger, I would contact the county attorney or law enforcement officer to help initiate emergency removal of the child from the parent’s care. I would also assess whether other children in the household are at risk of maltreatment as well.
In determining the imminent threat that the child faces, I would first assess the behaviours or conditions causing the threat and then identify the most effective intervention. Risk Evaluation and Safety Plan will help with the assessment process. Unsafe conditions do not necessarily imply that the child should be placed under placement. I would consider other services for controlling dangerous conditions. In Bromley’s case, had the father been found guilty of abuse and arrested for a specific period of time, the safety concerns of the child would have been controlled as the perpetrator will be out of home.
A major provision of the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997 is to make “reasonable efforts” to ensure that the child remains safely at home before being placed in foster care (Millner & Bryne 2010). As such, various services would be considered including day care, family crisis counseling, and respite care among many others. But should the parents refuse to cooperate in using such services, I would consider contacting law enforcement officer for emergency removal of the child from the parent’s care.
In conducting the assessment, I would also ensure that the principles and provisions embodied in the Children Act 1989 are adhered to. In particular, I would apply the ‘paramountcy principle’ which requires that the child’s welfare be made paramount when making decisions about child upbringing (NSPCC 2012). This principle is also set out in the Family Law Reform Act 1995.
The Family Law Act 1975 was amended to include the legal principle that the child’s best interest be regarded as paramount in any litigation concerning child upbringing (Family Law Council 2004). This principle would be at the heart of the assessment process. That is, the welfare of the child would be given paramount consideration and a checklist of factors would be considered before reaching a decision on whether or not to place the child under protection programs.
Fig.1 Genogram illustrating the strength of family relationships (DH 2008)
A genogram can be used to illustrate the strength of the family relationships. That is, how close or far apart the family members are, how flexible they are and how well they respond to each other’s needs.
Fig.3 Ecomap showing the relationship between the child with immediate family, wider kin and the community
An ecomap can also be drawn to illustrate the relationship of the child with immediate family, the wider kin and the community at large. The centre of focus will be the child as shown in fig.2 To indicate the strength of the relationship, I would used different types of lines as shown below:
Assessments relating to Adults in the family
But conducting assessments from the viewpoint of the child is important for safeguarding and ensuring developmental needs of the child, it would only be fair and ethical for assessments to be conducted with due regard for the needs of all family members. Assessments relating to the adults in the family should have been done as well in Bromley Special Case Review. It should be noted that neglectful families do not just exist in a vacuum. A number of factors can contribute to parent’s maltreatment of their children including factors such as lack of community support, society characteristics, deprived neighbourhoods, family stress, domestic violence, parent’s childhood and developmental history and many other factors (DePanfilis 2006).
Parent’s views with regard to issues of child protection concerns have been well documented. In their study of short-term accommodation, Aldgate & Bradley (1999) found that parents were reluctant to seek for support from social services due to fears of:
Losing their children to child protection enquiries
Being perceived failed parents (DOH 2000)
Whilst parents may be in need of help and support from social services, the fear of losing their children to child protection agencies and being seen as failed parents deter them from seeking the much needed support. They want help but not at the cost of forfeiting their parental responsibilities (DOH 2000)
It is also important to understand the role played by the wider family in providing support. Sometimes, extended families may not provide the much needed support or may be caught up in their own problems (Trevithick 2000). Additionally, parents may not wish to acknowledge to their wider kin about the problems facing them. It is difficult for people seeking help to state their needs especially when these needs are tangled amid feelings of confusion, humiliation, fear and despair (Trevithick 2000).
Similarly, it would be necessary to assess the role played by the community in providing practical and emotional support to the family. Social workers must chart both the relationship of parents with the wider kin and their current wider connections to their communities. The absence of physical and emotional support limits the adult’s sense of wellbeing and control (DH 2008).
There is also need to consider the impact that environment may have on parental capacity. This is a factor which has been given little consideration in social work. The concerns over the omission of environmental considerations in sociological research have been noted by Jack (1997) and Stevenson (1998). However, research studies have shown that children living in economically deprived neighbourhoods are the most affected, often with deterioration in their health and poor educational development (DH 2008).
Environmental considerations have an impact on both the children and the young adults’ ability to succeed as effective parents. Social isolation from the community combined with lack of support from extended families and deprived neighbourhoods can adversely impact on parents’ mental and physical health.
As a social worker in Bromley case, I would have also conducted an assessment relating to the adults in the family. The assessment would focus on the needs of the family and how these needs impact on their parenting behaviour. A key distinguishing factor between this assessment with that of the child is that it looks at the relationships between the adults in the family, the extended family and wider community, and examines how this impacts on their parenting capacity (Parker & Bradley 2000).
Also, the focus of assessment is mainly on the adult. The assessment examines the needs of the adult and whether these needs have been met. The legal basis that guides this assessment comprise of a range of legislations such as The Community Care (Direct Payments) Act 1996, NHS, Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970 and subsequent statutory guidance (Parker & Bradley 2000). On the other hand, the legal basis guiding the assessment relating to children is The Children Act 1989 and Subsequent Statutory guidance.
How I would conduct assessments with due regards to needs of all family members
To ensure that all the family members are involved, it would be necessary to use a structured interview protocol. This would ensure thorough gathering of information, accuracy of information gathered, and an increase in staff control over the assessment process. Most importantly, the involvement of all family members would ensure that the assessment is done with due regards for the needs of all the family members. As such, face to face interviews would be conducted in the following order:
First, with the child
Second, with siblings
interviews with adult caretakers
Interviews with the parent who is alleged to have maltreated the child
And finally, with the family as a whole
Interviewing the identified child
The interview with the child will seek to gather information about the child maltreatment and assess the child’s immediate safety needs. Information collected at this point include: the child’s explanation, the child’s current conditions, severity of the maltreatment, effects such as fear and extreme withdrawal, the child’s characteristics, and the child’s perception of their relationship with parents and others in the household (NDHHS 2005).
Interview with siblings
After interviewing the child, I would then conduct an interview with the siblings and other children in the household. The purpose is to determine whether these children have also experienced maltreatment and to assess their level of vulnerability.
Interviewing the caretakers
This will be followed by an interview with the custodians or rather the caretakers. At this stage, I would seek the caretaker’s personal opinion about the child’s vulnerability to maltreatment and determine the parent’s capacity to protect the child. Information gathered from the interview include: the approach to and view of parenting, relationship with the children, methods used to discipline the children, relationships with extended family, view of supports from the wider community and the climate of the neighbourhood (Holland 2004).
Interview with the alleged maltreating parent
This is yet another crucial point of the assessment process. The abusive parent will be interviewed to check and get a confirmation from them whether allegations of maltreatment did actually occur. Information gathered from the interview with the parent would include: the parent’s view of the child, his/her explanations about the alleged maltreatment, the parent’s response to the incident, the approach to parenting, relationship with the children, and relationship with the wider kin and the community (NDHHS 2005).
Close interviews with family
Having completed the interviews, I would convene the family and share with them a summary of my findings, seek their individual responses, show appreciation of their participation, and discuss key concerns raised about the child maltreatment. With the interviews with the participants completed, I would then analyze the information collected for purposes of making informed decisions.
Analysis of information gathered relating to the adults
I would examine whether the family has been benefiting from ‘direct payments’ as provided for under The Community Care (Direct Payments) Act 1996. This act bestows power to the local authority to make direct cash payments to individuals who are in need of care as opposed to providing those persons community care services (Glasby & Littlechild 2009). It is expected that these individuals use the money to secure themselves the services that they need. The service is provided by the government as a means of ‘self-directed support’ to increase autonomy and independence of people (Duffy 2007).
Specific issues that I would considered in the review
Has the family been receiving direct payments from the government as provided for under The Community Care (Direct Payments) Act 1996
Is there a clear evidence of significant harm to the child
Given that the father suffered from epilepsy, did the medical condition hinder his parenting ability and did he receive support from the extended family
Did the agencies involved identify the needs of the family and did they seek to address these needs by providing them with the much needed support
What is the relationship between the parents and the community
And how has isolation and lack of community support adversely affected their parenting capacity
How has the neighbourhood impacted on the parent’s mental and physical health
Were the wishes and feelings of the adults in the family considered and adequately addressed
Were appropriate care plans to support parenting capacity put in place by the agencies involved
What could have been the outcome if these parents had received support from the extended families and community at large
Do assessments appear to have been reached in an informed and professional way having had due regards for the needs of all family members
A focus of the assessment on the adults in the family does not imply that the problem of child maltreatment has been forgotten. This family focused approach is to ensure the best outcome for both the child and adults in the family. The principles of family focused practice affirm the primary importance of ensuring the child’s well-being and recognizing the mutual significance of the child and the family (Kendall et al. 2010).
I would then think of interventions that will serve the interests of both the children and adults in the family. A range factors can be used to select the appropriate intervention. Among these factors is the appropriate application of social work methods developed from psychosocial theories (DH 2008). These methods include family therapy, cognitive behavioural work, crisis intervention, psychosocial casework, task-centred casework and counseling among many others (DH 2008). The choice of the method would be influenced by the knowledge of what works under particular circumstances.
Fig.1 developmental and ecological perspective of child maltreatment (DH 2008)
Another important dimension that I would consider in the assessment is the decision whether to place the child in protection program or to have the child looked after at home. Should the decision be made for the child to be placed in protective custody, I would consider factors surrounding placement including plans for adoption or reunification (DOH 2000).
Whilst concerns about a child’s health and development remains a core professional activity of social care agencies, these agencies have not always acted in the best interest of the child. A prime example of this can be seen with the Serious Case Review in Bromley which revealed a significant neglect of two boys despite the involvement of various agencies. The review found that agencies had overlooked the possibility that the boys might suffer physical harm.
Based on the assessment, it was recommended that processes of assessment and reviews be always informed by attempts to understand the situation from the viewpoint of the child. But as we have seen, assessments should be conducted with due regard to the needs of all family members. Assessments should be conducted in relation to the children in the family and adults as well. An evidence based approach that involves identifying, gathering and using the evidence to support and evaluate the given approaches to assessment should be taken.
Interventions that serve the interests of both the parents and the children should be implemented. Interventions can take the form of therapy, cognitive behavioural work, crisis intervention, psychosocial casework, task-centred casework and counseling among many others. The choice of intervention is influenced by the knowledge of what works under particular circumstances.
Aldgate, J. and Bradley, M., 1999. Supporting Families through Short Term Fostering. The Stationery Office, London.
Bromley Safeguarding Adults Board (BSAB), 2011. Bromley Serious Case Review Protocol. Bromley Safeguarding Adults Board.
BSAB, 2011. Child D and Child B: A Serious Case Review. Bromley Safeguarding Adults Board
Department of Health (DH), 2000. Assessing Children in Need and their Families: Practice Guidance. TSO
Department of Health (DH), 2007, Putting People First. TSO
Department of Health (DH), 2008. Carers at the heart of 21st century families and communities: a caring system on your side, a life of your own. Department of Health.
DePanfilis, D., 2006. Child neglect: a guide for prevention, assessment and intervention. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Duffy, S., 2007. ‘Care Management and Self Directed Support’. Journal of Integrated Care Volume 15 (5)
Family Law Council, 2004. The ‘Child Paramountcy Principle’ in the Family Law Act. Discussion paper
Glasby, J. and Littlechild, R., 2009. Direct Payments and Personal Budgets: Putting Personalisation Into Practice. Bristol: Policy Press
Holland, S., 2004. Children and Family Assessment in Social Work Practice. Sage publications
Iowa Foster and Adoptive Parents Association (Ifapa), 2010. The child abuse assessment: a guide for foster parents. Iowa Foster and Adoptive Parents Association.
Jack, G., 1997. ‘An Ecological Approach to Social Work with Children and Families’. Child and Family Social Work. 2: 109–120.
Kendall, S., Rodger, J. and Palmer, H., 2010. The use of whole family assessment to identify the needs of families with multiple problems. Department for Education
Laming, H., 2003. The Victoria Climbie Inquiry Report.. London. TSO
Millner,J. and Byrne, 2010. Assessment in Social Work. 3rd edition. Palgrave
Nebraska Department of Health and Human services (NDHHS), 2005. Initial assessment guide book, Nebraska Department of Health and Human services
NSPCC, 2012. An introduction to child protection legislation in the UK. NSPCC
Parker,J. and Bradley, G., 2000. Social Work Practice- Assessment, Planning, Intervention and Review. Learning Matters
Sharkey, P., 2006. The essentials of community care: a guide for practitioners. London: Palgrave
Smale, G. and Tuson, G., 1993. Assessment, Care Management & the Skilled Worker. Macmillan
Stevenson, O., 1998. Neglected Children: Issues and Dilemmas. Blackwell Science, Oxford.
Trevithick, P., 2000. Social Work Skills: A Practice Handbook. OPU
White, A., 2005. Assessment of parenting capacity. Centre for Parenting & Research
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