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Framework for the Assessment of Children in Need

The Framework for the Assessment of Children in Need and their Families provides a systematic basis for collecting and analysing information to support professional judgements about how to help children and families in the best interests of the child.



Framework for the Assessment of Children in Need

Assessing whether a child is in need and the nature of these needs requires a systematic approach which uses the same framework or conceptual map for gathering and analysing information about all children and their families, but discriminates effectively between different types and levels of need. The framework in this guidance is developed from the legislative foundations and principles in Chapter 1 and an extensive research and practice knowledge which is outlined in the practice guidance (Department of Health, 2000a).

It requires a thorough understanding of:

  • the developmental needs of children;
  • the capacities of parents or caregivers to respond appropriately to those needs;
  • the impact of wider family and environmental factors on parenting capacity and children.
  • the child’s welfare and safety;
  • whether, and if so how, to provide help to children and family members;
  • what form of intervention will bring about the best possible outcomes for the child; and
  • the intended outcomes of intervention.

Principles Underpinning The Assessment Framework


  • are child centred;
  • are rooted in child development;
  • ecological in their approach;
  • ensure equality of opportunity
  • involve working with children and families;
  • build on strengths as well as identify difficulties;
  • are inter-agency in their approach to assessment and the provision of services;
  • are a continuing process, not a single event;
  • are carried out in parallel with other action and providing services;
  • re grounded in evidence based knowledge.

Dimensions of Children’s Developmental Needs


  • Includes growth and development as well as physical and mental wellbeing. The impact of genetic factors and of any impairment need to be considered. 
  • Involves receiving appropriate health care when ill, an adequate and nutritious diet, exercise, immunisations where appropriate and developmental checks, dental and optical care and, for older children, appropriate advice and information on issues that have an impact on health, including sex education and substance misuse.


Covers all areas of a child’s cognitive development which begins from birth.

Includes opportunities:

  • for play and interaction with other children;
  • to access books;
  • to acquire a range of skills and interests; and
  • to experience success and achievement.

Emotional and Behavioural Development

  • Concerns the appropriateness of response demonstrated in feelings and actions by a child, initially to parents and caregivers and, as the child grows older, to others beyond the family. 
  • Includes nature and quality of early attachments, characteristics of temperament, adaptation to change, response to stress and degree of appropriate self control.


  • Concerns the child’s growing sense of self as a separate and valued person.
  • Includes the child’s view of self and abilities, self image and self esteem, and having a positive sense of individuality. Race religion, age, gender, sexuality and disability may all contribute to this. Feelings of belonging and acceptance by family, peer group and wider society, including other cultural groups.

Family and Social Relationships

  • Development of empathy and the capacity to place self in someone else’s shoes.
  • Includes a stable and affectionate relationship with parents or caregivers, good relationships with siblings, increasing importance of age appropriate friendships with peers and other significant persons in the child’s life and response of family to these relationships.

Social Presentation

  • Concerns the child’s growing understanding of the way in which appearance, behaviour, and any impairment are perceived by the outside world and the impression being created. 
  • Includes appropriateness of dress for age, gender, culture and religion; cleanliness and personal hygiene; and availability of advice from parents or caregivers about presentation in different settings.

Self-care Skills

  • Concerns the acquisition by a child of practical, emotional and communication competencies required for increasing independence. 
  • Includes early practical skills of dressing and feeding, opportunities to gain confidence and practical skills to undertake activities away from the family and independent living skills as older children. 
  • Includes encouragement to acquire social problem solving approaches.
  • Special attention should be given to the impact of a child’s impairment and other vulnerabilities, and on social circumstances affecting these in the development of self care skills.

Dimensions of Parenting Capacity

Basic Care

Involves an adult interested in educational activities, progress and achievements, who takes account of the child’s starting point and any special educational needs. Family history and functioning family history includes both genetic and psycho-social factors.

Family functioning is influenced by:

  • What is their role and importance to the child and parents and in precisely what way?
  • Is the housing accessible and suitable to the needs of disabled family members?
  • Includes the interior and exterior of the accommodation and immediate surroundings.
  • Basic amenities include water, heating, sanitation, cooking facilities, sleeping arrangements and cleanliness, hygiene and safety and their impact on the child’s upbringing.
  • Providing for the child's physical needs, and appropriate medical and dental care.
  • Includes provision of food, drink, warmth, shelter, clean and appropriate clothing and adequate personal hygiene.

Ensuring Safety

  • Ensuring the child is adequately protected from harm or danger. 
  • Includes protection from significant harm or danger, from contact with unsafe adults/ other children and from self-harm. 
  • Recognition of hazards and danger both in the home and elsewhere.

Emotional Warmth

  • Ensuring the child’s emotional needs are met giving the child a sense of being specially valued and a positive sense of own racial and cultural identity. 
  • Includes ensuring the child’s requirements for secure, stable and affectionate relationships with significant adults, with appropriate sensitivity and responsiveness to the child’s needs. 
  • Appropriate physical contact, comfort and cuddling sufficient to demonstrate warm regard, praise and encouragement.


  • Promoting the child’s learning and intellectual development through encouragement and cognitive stimulation and promoting social opportunities.
  • Includes facilitating the child’s cognitive development and potential through interaction, communication, talking and responding to the child’s language and questions, encouraging and joining the child’s play, and promoting educational opportunities. 
  • Enabling the child to experience success and ensuring school attendance or equivalent opportunity. 
  • Facilitating child to meet challenges of life.

Guidance and Boundaries

  • Enabling the child to regulate their own emotions and behaviour. The key parental tasks are demonstrating and modeling appropriate behaviour and control of emotions and interactions with others, and guidance which involves setting boundaries, so that the child is able to develop an internal model of moral values and conscience, and social behaviour appropriate for the society within which they will grow up. The aim is to enable the child to grow into an autonomous adult, holding their own values, and able to demonstrate appropriate behaviour with others rather than having to be dependent on rules outside themselves.
  • This includes not over protecting children from exploratory and learning experiences.
  • Includes social problem solving, anger management, consideration for others, and effective discipline and shaping of behaviour.


  • Providing a sufficiently stable family environment to enable a child to develop and maintain a secure attachment to the primary caregiver(s) in order to ensure optimal development. 
  • Includes: ensuring secure attachments are not disrupted, providing consistency of emotional warmth over time and responding in a similar manner to the same behaviour. Parental responses change and develop according to child’s developmental progress. In addition, ensuring children keep in contact with important family members and significant others.

Family and Environmental Factors

Family History and Functioning

  • who is living in the household and how they are related to the child;
  • significant changes in family/household composition;
  • history of childhood experiences of parents;
  •  chronology of significant life events and their meaning to family members;
  • nature of family functioning, including sibling relationships and its impact on the child;
  • parental strengths and difficulties, including those of an absent parent; and the relationship between separated parents.

Wider Family

Who are considered to be members of the wider family by the child and the parents? This includes related and non-related persons and absent wider family.


Does the accommodation have basic amenities and facilities appropriate to the age and development of the child and other resident members?


Who is working in the household, their pattern of work and any changes? What impact does this have on the child? How is work or absence of work viewed by family members? How does it affect their relationship with the child? Includes children’s experience of work and its impact on them.


Income available over a sustained period of time. Is the family in receipt of all its benefit entitlements? Sufficiency of income to meet the family’s needs. The way resources available to the family are used. Are there financial difficulties which affect the child?

Family’s Social Integration

Exploration of the wider context of the local neighbourhood and community and its impact on the child and parents. Includes the degree of the family’s integration or isolation, its peer groups, friendship and social networks and the importance attached to them.

Community Resources

Describes all facilities and services in a neighbourhood, including universal services of primary health care, day care and schools, places of worship, transport, shops and leisure activities. Includes availability and standard of resources and impact on the family, including disabled members.

The framework is to be used for the assessment of all children in need, including those where there are concerns that a child may be suffering significant harm. The process of engaging in an assessment should be viewed as being part of the range of services offered to children and families. Use of the framework should provide evidence to help, guide and inform judgements about children’s welfare and safety from the first point of contact, through the processes of initial and more detailed core assessments, according to the nature and extent of the child’s needs. The provision of appropriate services need not and should not wait until the end of the assessment process, but should be determined according to what is required, and when, to promote the welfare and safety of the child.

Evidence about children’s developmental progress – and their parents’ capacity to respond appropriately to the child’s needs within the wider family and environmental context – should underpin these judgements.

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