10 Ways to Improve Assessments

To be used by practitioners to aid reflective thinking.

Whilst the intention of the Practitioner Tool Kit is to support you when working with children and families and to promote positive practice, this quick guide based on an NSPCC documents is a helpful way of highlighting unhelpful practice to avoid.

Areas to avoid Strategies for success

An initial hypothesis is formulated on the basis of incomplete information, and is assessed and accepted too quickly. Practitioners become committed to this hypothesis and do not seek out information that may disconfirm or refute it.   

  • Active, conscious hypothesising, testing to confirm/disconfirm
  • Record uncertainties
  • Critical reflection
  • Evaluate the quality & source of information.

Information taken at the first enquiry is not adequately recorded, facts are not checked and there is a failure to feedback the outcome to the referrer.   

  • Go back to the referrer and check the details
  • Distinguish between observation & opinion
  • Ensure that the information has been accurately understood
  • Ensure referrers receive feedback.

Attention is focused on the most visible or pressing problems; case history and less “obvious” details are insufficiently explored.   

  • Consider the context and the chronology
  • Theme the chronology
  • Summarise the chronology e.g., 0-5, 6-11,12-16, 16 +
  • Put the child’s voice into the chronology
  • Use the chronology for analysis.

Insufficient weight is given to information from family, friends and neighbours.   

  • Give equal weight to referrals from family, friends & neighbours
  • Ensure that “anonymous” is not interpreted as “malicious”

Insufficient attention is paid to what children say, how they look and how they behave.   

  • Clearly understand the legal framework for seeing the child
  • Be alert to the need to recognise patterns of parental resistance
  • Make time for detailed direct observations of the child
  • Find out from the child what a day in their life is like
  • Consider how the child may be silenced by their circumstances.

There is insufficient full engagement with parents (mothers/fathers/other family carers) to assess risk.   

  • Identify all family members
  • Ensure you actively try to engage all family members including considering when and how to best engage.

Initial decisions that are overly focused on age categories of children can result in older children being left in situations of unacceptable risk.   

  • Respond robustly to “hard to help” neglected adolescents
  • Monitor self & others for “over optimism” with older children
  • Find out from the child what a day in their life is like
  • Ask, if this child were younger, how would we respond?

Practitioners understanding of how to work effectively with service users who are uncooperative, ambivalent, confrontational, avoidant or aggressive.

  • Pay attention to how you feel, notice fear, anxiety, avoidance in yourself
  • Use supervision. 
  • Have a clear strategy to keep you & others safe in vulnerable situations e.g. joint visits with other agencies
  • Speak up when you feel fearful, threatened, intimidated: it is a sign of an effective practitioner.

Throughout the initial assessment process, professionals do not clearly check that others have understood their communication. There is an assumption that information shared is information understood.    

  • Check out how information has been received and understood
  • When talking to  other professionals, be curious about what they think and feel and how they understand the situation
  • Be mindful of the desire of some people to deceive – maintain a “respectful uncertainty” & “healthy scepticism.”

Agencies working in isolation without proper communication and joined up working impacts on appropriate response. 

  • Role Clarity / Understanding
  • Effective communication with other agencies, maximise verbal & face to face communication
  • Confirm key decisions & reasons in writing. 

Broadhurst et al 2010, www.nspcc.org.uk/inform

A copy of this Tool is available on request