Child Impact Assessment Framework (CIAF)
The Cafcass Child Impact Assessment Framework (CIAF) is based on learning from practice, feedback from children and families, practice quality audits and learning reviews following significant incidents. It brings together the practice guidance, practice aids, references, and resources to support FCAs when undertaking their assessments of children and families in public and private family law proceedings.
The guidance in CIAF also supports the application of policies in practice.
The CIAF is aligned to Together, our unified framework for social work practice. Specifically, it supports FCAs to think about and understand what is happening for each child, in the following ways:
- holding children and families at the heart of our practice
- understanding what makes this child unique
- working through respectful relationships in a professionally curious way
- understanding what is important for each child
- understanding strengths, harm, and risk of further/future harm
- making decisions that are clear and reasoned
The material in the CIAF supports FCAs to apply the Practice Quality Standards in their work.
The CIAF is organised into four folders, each with sub sections:
Children’s Guardians are required to scrutinise the assessments undertaken by the local authority and the care plan they propose for the child and then, based on their scrutiny and analysis, to carry out their own independent enquiries with any such persons as they consider appropriate or the court directs.
The Public Law Folder of the Child Impact Assessment Framework (the CIAF) is a set of practice aids, research and guidance to support Children’s Guardians when undertaking their evidence-informed social work analysis of what life is like for the child, their welfare, safety and best interests. Additional practice resources are to be found in other folders, such as the resource folder for direct work with children.
The CIAF complements our practice framework, Together with Children and Families, in that it is informed and refreshed by learning from feedback, practice quality audits, significant incidents, case record and learning reviews. It is rooted in the need to understand the child’s uniqueness, what life is like for them, the impact on them of their experiences and the best plan to help them to recover from those experiences.
While the CIAF supports Children’s Guardians to comply with relevant Cafcass policies and to achieve the Public Law Practice Quality Standards consistently, they do not in any way compromise the application of the guardian’s independent professional judgement and advice to the court in individual proceedings.
We know that “it is what is done with information, rather than its simple accumulation, that leads to more analytic assessments and safer practice” (Brandon et al 2008). When using practice aids, be clear about what the results mean for the individual child you are working with and think about how you use the lists of questions, building them into interviews and observations with sensitivity.
The public law folder of the CIAF is organised into three sections:
- Understanding harm and analysis of risk of future harm
- Care planning and reducing delay for children
- Secure Accommodation, Deprivation of Liberty and Recovery Orders
While the use of practice resources and aids is required, the CIAF does not direct which practice aid to use in what circumstances. The child’s guardian uses their professional discretion to select the most appropriate resource or practice aid.
However, Children’s Guardians are required to use the Assessment and Child’s Plan to draw up a timetable to achieve a decision for the child with 26 weeks and to set out their plan of work, including the use of practice resources and aids. The Child’s Plan provides a thinking aid to formulate their analysis as they get to know the child and their circumstances, to set out their analysis of harm and risk of future harm, to show they have a first hand understanding of what life is like for the child throughout their proceedings, and to record the child’s view in their own words about their guardian’s recommendation to the court.
In addition to forming the basis of our mandatory training in public law practice, the methodology for the audit of practice quality in formulating an analysis and advice to court includes the effective use of resources and practice aids.
This guidance and the accompanying practice aids are designed to support Family Court Adviser’s (FCA) and Children’s Guardian’s assessments for children who may have been harmed or at risk of harm.
It forms part of the Child Impact Assessment Framework and applies throughout our work with children for their duration of their proceedings. Other parts of the Child Impact Assessment Framework and all relevant concerns for the child will need to be considered as the assessment progresses.
This guidance supports the Child Safeguarding policy which all practice staff must follow. It sets out the requirements placed by Cafcass, on its staff and contractors, relating to its statutory function of safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children. It details the procedures to be followed when completing a section 16A risk assessment; making a referral to children’s services; taking urgent action to protect a child; and responding to an allegation made against a person who works with children. It alerts staff to the requirements placed upon them in respect of complex safeguarding and child protection matters, for example child exploitation, radicalisation and female genital mutilation, and the resources available to support staff in this area of work.
As with all assessments, the analysis should begin with thinking about what is happening for each child, considering risk posed to them, the impact of parental behaviour, and their wider experiences and the use of the Assessment and Child’s Plan to consider what the child needs form their work with Cafcass.
Assessment and change for the child
The assessment starts when Cafcass receives an order from the family court to appoint a Family Court Adviser (FCA) in private family law or Children’s Guardian (Guardian) in public law to undertake an assessment of the child’s welfare and best interests and to provide a report, which includes recommendations as to the child’s best interests.
The assessment begins with the FCA or Guardian asking themselves the open question: ‘What is happening for this child?’ As they gather information, they make use of guidance and practice aids to help them to understand what life is like for the child.
They explain at the outset that they will listen carefully to understand experiences and perspectives of the parties to the application, and that they may seek the views and perspectives of others who know the child and their parents. They form their own independent professional assessment and share the reasons for their recommendations.
The child’s FCA or Guardian will be open to new information as this emerges, including the information gained directly for the child and from those who know them well, such as members of the child’s wider family and other professionals involved with the child and family. They analyse and reflect on the impact of the child’s experiences to help them form a picture which about what the child needs to support their wellbeing and development.
FCAs and Guardians consider what all the information gathered means for the individual child. This informs the child impact analysis and leads to recommendations to the court and parents about what arrangements and interventions they see are in the child’s best interests.
How the assessment is undertaken
- Assessment is underpinned by ‘Together with children and families’; our relationship-based practice framework. The framework sets out the importance of working with children and their families, based on developing trusting relationships, underpinned by listening, understanding, clear reasoning, respect and integrity. The framework is intended to help FCAs and Guardians to do their best work with children and families who are involved in private or public law proceedings.
- The Together workbook is designed to be used by FCAs and Guardians to guide their work with children, young people and their families. The workbook demonstrates how materials such as introductory letters, family storyboards and planning help them to strengthen their focus on children’s experiences, wishes and feelings.
- The Assessment and Child’s Plan is the section of the child’s record where FCAs and Guardians record their thinking, developing analysis and reasoning for the child. It is where the manager’s oversight is also recorded.
- How information is collected, how people are left feeling during and after the assessment is critically important. We want people to feel listened to, understood and respected. We seek their feedback about what worked for them and what could have been even better.
- How FCAs and Guardians analyse and reflect on the information they gather during an assessment is also critically important. They need to be aware of any biases and use the guidance, practice aids and resources (within the CIAF) to help them in supervision and to provide the evidence base and rationale for their decisions.
- FCAs and Guardians make their assessments, judgements and recommendations while being mindful of the uncertainty arising from the complexity of family histories, relationships, conflicting perspectives on what has and is happening, allegations and counter-allegations.
- The CIAF provides a framework for practice. It is not intended as an instruction manual or to undermine the professional independence of the FCA and Guardian in individual proceedings. While the use of some resources and aids is required by policy, the framework does not direct which practice aid to use in what circumstances. Professional discretion is required to select the most appropriate resource/aid.
- The CIAF requires that each child’s needs are individually assessed, as well as the parent’s capacity to care for each child, and the impact of family and environmental factors on each child’s development and on the parents’ capacity to meet this particular child’s needs.
- Four key areas are repeatedly identified as being key areas to focus on improving the quality of assessment, these are: engaging the child in person, information gathering, critical analysis, and inter-professional working. These four elements are supported by careful use of the practice aids and resources in CIAF.
- The practice aids included in the CIAF are lists of questions to support conversations and to weigh what is heard when making decisions.
- The practice aids (semi-structured conversations) and practice and research-based knowledge have been organised into folders to help FCAs and Guardians navigate to the ones relevant to their assessment.