As we all know cases have been getting more and more complex recently. Many centres are working with increasing numbers of families and increasing risks within these referrals. This means that inevitably we are doing more and more in an environment whereby funding is becoming harder to come by and costs are rising. Staff at NACCC have recently noted that within these more complex cases are children and families that have a Local Authority Social Worker allocated to them. In the past the Local Authority might have worked with these families in managing the contact arrangements, but more recently it seems they are referring their cases to Supported Contact Centres so that they can close their cases.
In its most basic sense, this is not a problem if the centre is happy to take the referral, a risk assessment details how risks will be managed, and the level of risk is in line with the NACCC Standards relating to Supported Centres. However, what happens all too often is that cases that appear to be appropriate are accepted based upon information provided and then it later comes to light that the case is much more complex. We know that sometimes we are not provided with all the information we might like in order to make safe and effective decisions and that this is unlikely to change regardless of how diligent referral processes are.
Checkout your Local Authority Threshold
One thing we can be sure of is that Local Authority Thresholds are higher than they have ever been, so if they are involved with a family in the very recent past (if not current) the risk levels were high in terms of potential or actual ‘Significant Harm’ to a child’s wellbeing. Local Authority thresholds vary from region to region but can be found on the website of the Local Safeguarding Childrens Board. Check it out, it is always a good idea to understand what the thresholds are and what this might mean for any future referrals that you make. Please see some examples for the following Local Authorities: Birmingham, Bristol, Cumbria, Ealing, Newcastle Upon Tyne
Risk assess all your referrals
All referrals at Supported and Supervised Child Contact Centres should be risk assessed before accepting them. This process needn’t be something that fills the potential author with dread. The best risk assessments are usually common sense written down. Afterall, the idea of the risk assessment is to support volunteers and staff to understand information (on a need to know basis) about the risks that might be posed and how these can be safely managed.
When writing risk assessments, it can be easy to be over careful and over professionalise them. This can lead to documents that are several pages in length and containing complex language. NACCC feel strongly that documents like this are devalued by their complexity because the likelihood of them being read and remembered thoroughly by your staff or volunteers is diminished. This is especially true when they might be trying to remember the contents of a risk assessment during a situation which has their adrenaline running or heightening their emotions.
Risk assessments are best when they are simple and to the point, generally a one-page document will be less daunting to read and easier to remember. A good risk assessment might take place on a template like the one shown below:
Whilst it might be the case that your centre referral form contains a template risk assessment whereby the referrer ticks boxes, it is not usually appropriate to rely solely on this information and not complete an assessment of your own. After all, the referrer might not be the best person to do this and their responses could be impacted upon by emotions, lack of information or other factors. It is perfectly fine to request this information and equally to include this information into your own assessments but if you rely solely upon this then the resources of your centre to manage risk are likely to have been overlooked.
Risk assessments are an important element to the work that we do at contact centres. This is why a part of the Enhanced and Supported Co-ordinator training sessions have been devoted to this. You are always welcome to contact NACCC if you need ongoing advice and support, alternatively you might want us to provide a training session solely focused on risk assessments and providing a safe service.
When considering the appropriateness of any referral to a supported child contact centre it is always helpful to remind ourselves of the support provided by the NACCC National Standards on Pages 20 and 21 (see below):
Whilst only guidance this provides a helpful insight into the differences between services and can be used as supporting evidence when showing due diligence around decision making. Although it is always worth bearing in mind that centres who use the SRS service have risk assessments and referral eligibility managed for them.
There are planned revisions to the NACCC Supported Standards relating to supporting centres when they receive referrals for children known to Social Workers. This will hopefully support centres when working with Social Workers and provide extra reassurance that cases will not be closed by the Social Worker without supporting the family to move on from the service. More information about developments in this area will be made available as or when this becomes available.
Phil Coleman (NACCC Service Development Manager)