Eight local authorities have been trialing new approaches to assessing children in need. These trials were established to provide evidence for A child-centred system, Professor Munro’s report to Government, which argues that professional guidance, recording forms and targets have driven practice to the extent that they limit professionals’ ability to take responsibility for how they practise.
In March 2011, the Secretary of State granted exemptions to Cumbria, Knowsley, Hackney and Westminster to trial more flexible approaches to the assessment process. A further four authorities – Hammersmith and Fulham, Islington, Kensington and Chelsea and Wandsworth – were granted similar exemptions from September 2011.
The exemptions have focused mainly on the flexibility to remove the distinction between initial and core assessments and their related timescales. The trial authorities have been developing local frameworks which have considered timeliness, the quality of assessment and the effectiveness of help offered to children and families. These exemptions are granted under section 7A of the Local Authority Social Services Act.
In its response to the Munro review in July 2011, the Government accepted that there needs to be a better balance between professional judgement and central prescription. Government stated that the purpose of assessment is to understand the needs of children and families to provide timely and effective help to safeguard and promote their welfare.
In December 2011, evidence emerging from the trials suggested that replacing nationally prescribed timescales for assessment with timely, professional judgments could have the positive impact on practice envisaged by Professor Munro. However, some trials had only been running for a short time and so Government agreed to extend the trials to explore the impact of change on children and families, and consult on any revisions to the statutory guidance, as part of the broader consultation on Working together to safeguard children and related documents, in 2012.
Along with the consultation, we have used evidence emerging from the trials to inform the revised statutory guidance Working together to safeguard children, which came into force on 15 April 2013. Valuable lessons have been learned about the practical impact of change, and the process of taking a fresh look at how services can operate, with a strong and renewed focus on the needs of the child, has been universally welcomed by the professionals involved.
An independent evaluation of the trials was published at the end of July 2012. A summary of emerging findings, along with examples from six of the trial authorities, is available to download. Presentations from the trial authorities are also available.
Ministers have agreed to the trials continuing beyond 15 April 2013 when the statutory guidance came into force. Only Islington and Cumbria of the eight local authorities have chosen not to continue trialling. The trials will enable further evidence to be gathered to inform future assessment policy and practice.
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Information about an extension of the trial authorities to inform the Munro review.
Guidance on how organisations and individuals should work together to safeguard and promote the welfare of children and how practitioners should conduct the assessment of children.