The Department of Education has finally published its new guidance on assessing and safeguarding children, which was expected in January and came into force on 15 April 2013. It supersedes the Framework for the assessment of children in need and their families (2000); Statutory guidance on making arrangements to safeguard and promote the welfare of children under s.11 CA 2004 (2007); and Working together to safeguard children (2010).
Most of the responsibilities in the new 2013 Working together guidance remain the same as the 2010 guidance, subject to the following. First, Working together follows the recent trend of producing slimmed-down, less prescriptive, guidance. Whilst this is a laudable approach, it can lead to more uncertainty and, ultimately, litigation. Second, it does away with the two-stage initial and core assessment process and replaces it with a requirement to complete a single assessment within 45 days. Additionally, social workers are expected to make their initial referral within one day. It is not yet clear whether the removal of the “gatekeeper” initial assessment will result in fewer or more full assessments. Third, the guidance requires LAs to publish a threshold document that includes, inter alia, the criteria for referring children to social care for assessment and statutory services. Finally, the guidance tweaks the safeguarding process and creates a new national panel of independent experts to oversee serious case reviews. The Chair of the London Safeguarding Children Board has publicly expressed doubt as to the value this will add to the local lesson-learning process of serious case reviews.