Department of Human Services

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9.2 Assessment

Key outcomes

  • psychosocial assessment
  • risk assessment - child at the centre
  • evidence informed assessment
  • record information and observations
  • assess family strengths, support and patterns
  • child protection history and previous interventions
  • provide immediate support/ action to promote safety

The assessment process is a dynamic process which involves more than gathering information from multiple sources to inform decision making and case planning. It is an opportunity to work collaboratively, to identify strengths and barriers (formal and informal), to critically review and reflect on competing needs and to prioritise the child’s safety and development (within the family). The paramount driver of risk assessment is the child’s safety, not the safeguarding of the family.

Assessment of needs and strengths across Child Protection Assessment Framework

Explain the assessment process and purpose, beginning with the practitioner role and purpose for involvement. Gaining consent from all family members is considered best practice (including children).

Through respectful engagement and questioning, assess presenting needs within the life domain areas. Ensure a clear understanding from child and family as to the child safety concerns, including their perceived and actual capacity to respond.

Identify the client’s goals, strengths and current support systems, both professional and personal. Gain a good understanding of needs, concerns, values and choices.

Make assessments based on the client’s responses, both verbal and non-verbal. Ensure adequate opportunity to provide input and make their own assessments on different issues; explore what has worked in the past.

Additional services currently involved or with a history of involvement should also be accessed to inform the assessment process. Include any specialist services, for example, medical, with client consent.

When working through the assessment process, be mindful that child protection and family violence are complex issues that often require coordination of multiple service responses, in a decisive and timely way. Feeling overwhelmed as workers (due to complexity and risk) is not uncommon. For children and families, those feeling as amplified by fear of statutory responses, previous poor service outcomes, and feeling inadequate and unsafe.

Complicating factors

What are the complicating factors that impact on the safety of children within the family and/or the family’s capacity to proactively address care and risk concerns? Complicating factors may include (but are not limited to): social or cultural isolation, mental illness, domestic and family violence, underemployment, disability, trauma, homelessness, substance abuse or other forms of addiction.

Concluding an assessment process

Collate all information and observations into a clear evidence informed statement of the client’s situation within each life domain area. Where conclusions are drawn as worker opinions, it is important to be clear about this within case records. Continue to test and explore these opinions through the case management process.

Clearly identify risks within the client’s situation (or behaviours) as well as capacities, opportunities and limitations. In risk assessment, weighing up the child’s immediate safety and development needs, the family’s capacity and desire to change dangerous or neglectful behaviours, and the family and child’s protective capacity all assist in the formulation of the assessment. Consultation with your line manager and supervision throughout this process is fundamental to good clinical governance.

Immediate action and support

As much as possible, work with the client to determine an immediate action plan. Ensure it is clear to the client that immediate action and support is only to address immediate concerns and that, through the development of case plan, longer term action planning can take place.

Cultural responses for Aboriginal clients

When assessing cultural need, understanding what’s most important for the client is critical. Explore the types of supports, networks and family the client may want to connect with and recognise the strength and value of these connections, particularly in supporting culture.

Cultural consultation adds value to assessment and case planning. Accessing Community Elders or Aboriginal workers familiar with client’s nation and community is critical. All attempts to accommodate the Aboriginal client’s preference for an Aboriginal worker or non-Aboriginal worker should be made.

Tools used should reflect the needs of the child, family or kinship group. Recognising the diversity of community and kinship connection, exploring what works for the child, family and kinship group will be important.

Given that the impact of trans-generational trauma, inter-generational trauma and toxic stress is as prevalent today as ever, it is crucial that we adopt respect for and humility towards understanding Aboriginal culture, being mindful of Australia’s colonisation history, dispossession, genocide, the Stolen Generation and historical practices such as segregation and assimilation.

Culturally and linguistically diverse clients, refugees, and new arrivals

Cultural consultation is critical when considering the political, religious, social and economic context and migration experience of children and the family.

It is important to have an awareness of intersectional and gender biases, and an understanding of how these can impact on working within the context of child protection and family violence.

Be cognisant of cultural diversity and how this impacts on family functioning, including (but not limited to) multiple attachment parenting, cultural norms, spirituality and religious practices, and grief and loss.

Also critical is an awareness of the trauma of genocide experienced by refugees fleeing their communities, to the grief and loss, guilt for surviving, and stress of establishing oneself in a new country.

Documenting your work

Tools provide a structured format to collate, guide and synthesise information during assessment processes. Documenting assessments within program timeframes reduces the likelihood of case drift, ensures practitioner accountability, provides evidence to inform line management endorsement (as per clinical governance arrangements) and highlights areas of complexity or requirement for specialised practice.

For Aboriginal children and families, more time may be required to build trust and relationships during the assessment phase. Discuss this with your line manager as timeframes may be extended. Consult with Aboriginal workers or community Elders (if appropriate) to assist with engagement and assessment processes to ensure cultural safety for children and families. Cultural supervision for Aboriginal staff should also be provided.

Practice point: assessment

Synthesise information gathered to consider current context, previous history and patterns, risks identified and protective factors over time. Consider what the urgency is for the child developmentally, culturally and from a secure attachment perspective. What is the balance of risk and protective capacity of family members? Who have you consulted in building your assessment? For example, family violence, mental health or cultural consultants? Who have you reflected with to critically review your practice?

Page last updated : 25 Nov 2021

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