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1.2.9 Initial and Core Assessment Practice Guidance

This chapter is currently under review.


These guidelines should be read in conjunction with the Referrals Procedure, Initial Assessments Procedure and Core Assessments (including Section 47 Enquiries) Procedure.

It is also recommended that practitioners be familiar with 'The Framework for Assessment of Children in Need and their Families'.


This guidance has been updated to take account of the changes in Working Together to Safeguard Children 2013. The changes, which are in Sections 4, 5 and 6, are shown in italics.


Levels of Need and Thresholds for Access to Children's Social Care Services in Hillingdon


  1. Principles of Assessment
  2. Dimensions of the Assessment Framework
  3. Summary of the Assessment Process
  4. Referrals
  5. Initial Assessments
  6. Core Assessments

1. Principles of Assessment

The needs and circumstances of children and families are not static. 

Assessments and plans cannot meet need if they are not constantly updated and reviewed

The overall approach to the assessment and provision of services for Children in Need is that it should be

  1. Child centred;
  2. Rooted in child development;
  3. Ecological in its approach;
  4. Achieved in a way which ensure equality of opportunity;
  5. Undertaken with children and families;
  6. Built on strengths as well as identifying weaknesses;
  7. Undertaken in collaboration with other agencies;
  8. Part of a continuing process, not a single event;
  9. Carried out in parallel with other action and providing services;
  10. Grounded in evidence-based practice.

Each of these principles, together with those set out in Policy Framework, Values and Principles of Recording, Confidentiality and Consultation are vital to delivering effective assessment services, which are designed to identify not only a child's needs, but also what changes are desired, and the possible outcomes of service.

2. Dimensions of the Assessment Framework

The Assessment Framework for gathering and analysing information about all children and their families has three dimensions:

  • The developmental needs of the child;
  • The capacities of parents or carers to respond to those needs;
  • The impact of wider family and environmental factors on parenting capacity and children.

This Framework, summarised on the next page, requires practitioners to explore the interaction between, or the influence of these three dimensions on each other in a child's life and allows professionals to discriminate effectively between different types, and different levels of need.

The Assessment Triangle

the assessment triangle

3. Summary of the Assessment Process

The Assessment Process is summarised as follows:

  • Gathering relevant information across all dimensions of the Assessment Triangle;
  • Analysing the information and reaching professional judgements;
  • Making decisions and planning interventions;
  • Intervening, service delivery and/or further assessment;
  • Evaluating and reviewing progress.

This process is ongoing, or cyclical, as demonstrated in the illustration below:

Summary of the Assessment Process

  • This cycle of activity continues throughout involvement with a child and family;
  • Judgements are continually being made and revised in the light of further analysis of the child's needs;
  • What action is planned on day one may be very different to that on subsequent days;
  • The professional constantly reviews what progress is being made and analyses this to inform ongoing intervention;
  • The cycle also forms the basis of the formal reviewing systems for Looked After Children and children with a Child Protection Plan.

4. Referrals

See also Referrals Procedure

Referrals may be made by or on behalf of children or their families or through other people/agencies on the child's behalf. 

This may include enquiries where there is no obligation to provide a service. They are summarised in Level 1 and 2 of the Levels of Need and Thresholds for Access to Children's Social Care Services in Hillingdon and would result in the following:

  • Redirection or signposting to another agency and no further action;
  • Provision of general advice or information and no further action.

On the receipt of more information, which suggests that a child is a Child in Need with more complex need, at Level 3 or above, an Initial Assessment must be initiated.

Referrals must be processed within a maximum of one working day. All referrers must have the opportunity to speak to a qualified social worker.

If it appears that the child is suffering or likely to suffer Significant Harm, an Initial Assessment must be started but does not have to take more time than is necessary to proceed to a Strategy Discussion. It can take up to ten working days but the urgency of the situation will dictate the timescale, which may be very short.

In summary, the outcome of a Referral may be:

  • Re-direction to another office/agency and no further action;
  • Provision of information, advice and short term intervention;
  • The starting of an Initial Assessment.

5. Initial Assessments

See also Initial Assessment Procedure

An Initial Assessment must be undertaken when information is received which indicates a child is at Level 3 or above of the Levels of Need and Thresholds for Access to Children's Social Care Services in Hillingdon. This includes information that suggests a child is suffering or likely to suffer Significant Harm (at Level 4).

At the start of the Initial Assessment, the social worker should agree an Assessment Plan with his or her manager. The Initial Assessment must take no longer than ten working days from the point of the first significant contact with the family (either by telephone or face-to-face).

Unless there are exceptional reasons to prevent it, the child should be seen alone by the social worker leading the assessment, unless it is inappropriate to do so; the child's family should also be seen by the lead social worker.

In some circumstances, where all necessary information is immediately available, the Initial Assessment can be concluded very quickly, on the same day as the Referral, for example, where it is immediately clear that a child is suffering or is likely to suffer Significant Harm; necessitating a Strategy Discussion. In these circumstances, the London Child Protection Procedure (Section 7, Child Protection Enquiries) must be followed.

During the Initial Assessment, agencies that have been involved with the child should be contacted and asked to provide relevant information about their involvement. 

Also, the family must receive all relevant information and publicity about relevant, available services.

If at any time during the Initial Assessment process it becomes clear that a Core Assessment is required, the Initial Assessment stage may be shorter.

The Initial Assessment will follow the Assessment Framework (see Section 2, Dimensions of the Assessment Framework) and may include all or some of the following:

  • Interviews with the child and family members. If the child has very complex needs, interviewing may involve a third party who knows the child's communication methods well;
  • Observations of the child - the child should usually be seen alone by the social worker leading the assessment unless it is inappropriate to do so, in which case the reasons must be recorded;
  • Information gathering from other agencies;
  • Information on the child's needs in terms of ethnicity, language, culture and religion.

All Initial Assessments will involve:

  1. Consultation with the manager;
  2. Recording initial analysis on an Initial Assessment Record and the date when the child was seen alone by the lead social worker or, if not seen alone, the reasons why;
  3. Recording decisions and, where further action is required, setting these out in an Initial Plan;
  4. Informing other agencies of decisions where relevant;
  5. Writing to the child/family about decisions made and what arrangements need to be made to progress to the planning and/or Core Assessment stage;
  6. Or, writing to the child/family explaining the outcome of the assessment and the reasons for not providing a service/taking 'no further action'.

The Initial Assessment will lead to the following outcomes:

  1. A decision about whether the child is at Level 3 or above of the Levels of Need and Thresholds for Access to Children's Social Care Services in Hillingdon and in need of services;
  2. The identification of the key issues/focus of concern - and recording of any 'need';
  3. The identification of the strengths and needs of the family;
  4. An initial indication of the parent's capacity to meet the child's needs, within the wider family context; and
  5. A decision about whether a more detailed Core Assessment is required, and if so what the parameters of this need to be.

If there is any delay in obtaining information from another agency, a decision will have to be made about whether there is sufficient information to make judgements and decisions about the child's needs. 

If, exceptionally, a decision cannot be made, the assessment may exceed the ten day timescale. Reasons for delays should always be clearly recorded and authorised by a manager.

If the Initial Assessment concludes that a child's needs can be met through a time limited, task focused Child's Plan; the worker should agree this with the child, family and other professionals/agencies see Child's Plans and Reviews Procedure.

The Child's Plan should address what needs to change and agree a planned end date for the work to be completed. The social worker and his or her manager will review the Plan regularly, and if the necessary change is not being achieved through the provision of services under the Plan, further decisions about whether a Core Assessment is needed should be taken.

If at any time during the delivery of services the child's needs change, the worker must consult his or her manager and a decision will be made about whether to close the case or to begin a Core Assessment.

6. Core Assessments

A Core Assessment must be undertaken by a qualified social worker and will be required when:

  1. A child is at risk of Significant Harm (Level 4 of the Levels of Need and Thresholds for Access to Children's Social Care Services in Hillingdon). In this situation the Core Assessment will inform, and be informed by, the London Child Protection Procedures which are accessible via the button on the left hand side of the screen;
  2. A child has complex needs, (at Level 3 of the Levels of Need and Thresholds for Access to Children's Social Care Services in Hillingdon) and information is required as to how these needs should be met, for example:
  • The absence of a Core Assessment is likely to lead to a re-referral;
  • Three or more Initial Assessments have been carried out within the last 3 months;
  • Parents appear unable to meet the child's needs, despite input (where extensive packages of care provided to the family have not worked);
  • A child has multiple needs, which cannot be met by the parent; this may incorporate a carer's assessment;
  • Where a Core Assessment would lead to transitional planning;
  • A child is facing a family breakdown and is at risk of being Accommodated;
  • Where there are pre-birth child protection concerns;
  • Where the child is the subject of Care Proceedings or Care Proceedings are being considered;
  • A child has high level needs which require fuller assessment before the most appropriate intervention can be identified;
  • Where the child has complex needs and family support services are likely to be required for longer than 3 months;
  • The family circumstances are complex, or the child's parents are facing significant problems, which affect their parenting, and fuller assessment is required to identify the extent of the impact on the child's welfare and development;
  • There has been a significant change in the family, which requires a new assessment of the child's welfare;
  • 'Drift' is of concern in an allocated case, and a time limited reassessment is required to decide if the child's needs are being met sufficiently, and if not, how the intervention plan should be altered;
  • A child has been Looked After for the first time and no Core Assessment has been done.

Core Assessments must be concluded within a maximum of 35 working days. However, it may be possible to conclude a Core Assessment sooner depending on the complexity and the urgency of the case. 

  1. Core Assessments without a Section 47 Enquiry: Where a Core Assessment does not incorporate a Section 47 Enquiry, it should be undertaken within a maximum of 35 working days but, depending on the complexity and the urgency of the case, may be concluded sooner;
  2. Core Assessments with a Section 47 Enquiry: Where a Core Assessment incorporates a Section 47 Enquiry, it may be possible to obtain sufficient information to conclude the Core Assessment at or shortly after the Initial Child Protection Conference, which is normally convened within 15 working days of the Strategy Discussion or, if more than one Strategy Discussion is held, within 15 working days of the Strategy Discussion where the decision was made to initiate the Section 47 Enquiry. 

At the start of the Core Assessment, the social worker must plan the assessment work, and if immediate services are necessary, draw up an Initial Plan pending the further assessment. 


This guidance summarises what should be achieved as part of all Core Assessments, but specific guidance on the conducting of Section 47 Enquiries is not provided. If the Core Assessment being undertaken incorporates a Section 47 Enquiry, it will be necessary to refer to Chapter 7, Child Protection Enquiries, London Child Protection Procedures; which provide procedures on joint working with the Police, the arrangements for Video Recorded or other interviews, medical assessments and other matters.

Core Assessments address the central or most important aspects of the needs of a child in depth, and looks at the capacity of the family to respond appropriately to these needs, within the wider family/community context.

At the beginning of a Core Assessment the specific parameters of the assessment work will be clarified, incorporated in a written plan and, wherever possible, agreed with the family through a written agreement. The plan will include the roles, responsibilities and time-scales for all those contributing. 

The Initial Assessment will inform workers about what combination of the following methods of communication will be most effective:

  1. Individual interviews and/or play sessions with children;
  2. Individual interviews with parents /carers;
  3. Observations of children - at school and/or at home/placement setting;
  4. The use of Assessment tools - questionnaires;
  5. Family interviews;
  6. Family Group Conferences;
  7. Interviews/discussions with other professionals;
  8. Obtaining written reports from other agencies;
  9. Seeking 'Expert' opinions;
  10. Discussions involving other professionals;
  11. Involvement of child/family in therapeutic groups

The child should be at the centre of this work and should be seen alone by the social worker leading the assessment unless inappropriate to do so, in which case the reasons must be recorded. Opportunities to work directly with the child should be built into assessment work at every stage.

The social worker may need to work closely with a number of different professionals and agencies that know the child. What information held by other agencies is needed for the assessment should be agreed at the start of the Core Assessment. 

Any existing assessments on children, for example an existing assessment about a child as part of the Common Assessment Framework, should be incorporated into the Core Assessment to ensure a complete picture is built up and to prevent duplication for the family. 

At any point during a Core Assessment it may be necessary to commission additional specialist assessments. 

It may also be necessary to refer the child for assessment and/or services from providers within or outside the authority. This may include the placement of a child in the Looked After Service.

It may not be possible to make final decisions about how best to meet a child's needs by the end of the required timescales. What is important is that the information known at this point is pulled together, and analysed, to inform the direction of the relevant plan/service delivery. However, any decision to extend the timescales must be authorised by a manager.

At the conclusion of the Core Assessment, the information gathered should be brought together and a decision reached about what actions will be necessary for the future.

Where the Core Assessment incorporates a Section 47 Enquiry, and a decision is made to that the child requires a Child Protection Plan, the Core Group will then monitor the implementation of the Plan - see Practice Guidance for Core Groups.

Where the child is Looked After, the outcomes will be incorporated in the child's Care Plan and Placement Plan/Placement Information Record as appropriate.

Otherwise, a Planning Meeting should be convened at the conclusion of the Core Assessment to discuss the outcomes of the assessment and to put in place the required interventions to meet the child's needs. The social worker undertaking the Core Assessment will arrange this meeting, and ensure that the objectives, outcomes and plans of the Core Assessment Record have been completed. The parents and carers would then receive a full copy of this record, and professionals from other agencies involved in providing services to the family and child should also receive a copy.

A Child's Plan will be drawn up, as appropriate. 

The professionals responsible for drawing up the Child's Plan should bear in mind that:

  • Objectives should be reasonable, and timescales not too short or unachievable;
  • Plans should not be dependent on resources, which are known to be scarce or unavailable.

The allocated social worker is responsible for ensuring that services are provided, and specific pieces of work undertaken with the child and family, which are likely to produce the outcomes, specified in the plan.

Once the plan is in place, it will be monitored regularly by the social worker during regular visits to the child and family, and with their manager. 

It may be necessary to make minor adjustments to the plan and services provided. Any changes to the plan must be made in consultation with the parents and the child (where appropriate) and key professionals from other agencies. If there are significant changes in the family circumstances, a formal review should take place.

See Child's Plans and Reviews Procedure.