1.2.2 Single Assessment


Chapter 1: Assessing Need and Providing Help, Working Together to Safeguard Children

Flowchart 3: Action Taken for an Assessment of a Child under the Children Act 1989, Working Together to Safeguard Children


Assessments must be based on good analysis, timeliness and transparency and proportionate to the needs of the child and their family.

This chapter should be read alongside the relevant local guidance, which provides more detailed information on the arrangements for conducting Single Assessments in each local authority area:


In June 2022, local information for Wakefield was added.

1. What is a Single Assessment? 

If, as a result of a Referral, there are indications that the threshold for Children's Social Care Services have been met, which may include concerns of Significant Harm, Children's Social Care Services will conduct a Single Assessment.

The Single Assessment is a detailed assessment to determine whether the child is In Need, requires a protection plan or requires immediate protection and the nature of any services required. As part of the assessment process a decision can be made whether a Strategy Discussion and a Section 47 Enquiry should be undertaken.

Consideration will be given about whether further assessment is appropriate in the case of a child currently active to Children's Social Care Services. The nature of the involvement will determine what is required. The Single Assessment should be undertaken in accordance with the guidance in Working Together to Safeguard Children.

An assessment should establish:

  • The nature of the concern and the impact this has had on the child;
  • An analysis of their needs and/or the nature and level of any risk and harm being suffered by the child;
  • How and why the concerns have arisen;
  • What the child's and the family's needs appear to be and whether the child is a Child in Need;
  • Whether the concern involves abuse or neglect; and to what extent;
  • The impact and influence of wider family and any other adults living in the household has on this, as well as community and environmental circumstances;
  • Whether there is any need for any urgent action to protect the child, or any other children in the household or wider community;
  • Whether there are any factors that may indicate that the child is being or has been criminally or sexually exploited or trafficked;
  • Any factors that may indicate that the child is or has been trafficked, or is a victim of compulsory labour, servitude and slavery;
  • Any factors that may indicate that the child has been exposed to some form of radicalisation or extremism.

Note: if there is a concern with regards to exploitation or trafficking, a referral into the National Referral Mechanism Digital Referral System: Report Modern Slavery should be made.

2. Focus on the Child

Children should to be seen and listened to and included throughout the assessment process. Their ways of communicating should be understood in the context of their family and community as well as their behaviour and developmental stage. It is important that the impact of what is happening to a child is clearly identified and that information is gathered, recorded and checked systematically, and discussed with the child and their parents/carers where appropriate.

Assessments, service provision and decision making should regularly review the impact on the child of the assessment process and the services provided, so that the best outcomes for the child can be achieved. Any services provided should be based on a clear analysis of the child's needs, and the changes that are required to improve the outcomes for the child.

Children should be actively involved in all parts of the process based upon their age, developmental stage and identity. Direct work with the child and family should include observations of the interactions between the child and the parents/care-givers.

All agencies involved with the child, the parents and the wider family have a duty to collaborate and share information to safeguard and promote the welfare of the child.

3. Planning

All assessments should be planned and coordinated by a social worker and the purpose of the assessment should be transparent, understood and agreed by all participants. There should be an agreed statement setting out the aims of the assessment process.

Referrals may include siblings or a single child within a sibling group. Where the initial focus for a referral is on one child, other children in the household or family should be equally considered, and the individual circumstances of each assessed and evaluated separately.

Planning should identify the different elements of the assessment including who should be involved. It is good practice to hold a planning meeting to clarify roles and timescales as well as services to be provided during the assessment where there are a number of family members and agencies likely to play a part in the process.

Questions to be considered in planning assessments include:

  • Who will undertake the assessment and what resources will be needed?
  • Who in the family will be included and how will they be involved (including absent or wider family and others significant to the child)?
  • In what grouping will the child and family members be seen and in what order and where?
  • What services are to be provided during the assessment?
  • Are there communication needs? If so, what are the specific needs and how they will be met?
  • How will the assessment take into account the particular issues faced by black and minority ethnic children and their families, and disabled children and their families?
  • What method of collecting information will be used? Are there any tools / questionnaires available?
  • What information is already available?
  • What other sources of knowledge about the child and family are available and how will other agencies and professionals who know the family be informed and involved?
  • How will the consent of family members be obtained?
  • What will be the timescales?
  • How will the information be recorded?
  • How will it be analysed and who will be involved?
  • When will the outcomes be discussed and service planning take place.

The assessment process can be summarised as follows:

  • Gathering relevant information;
  • Analysing the information and reaching professional judgments;
  • Making decisions and planning interventions;
  • Intervening, service delivery and/or further assessment;
  • Evaluating and reviewing progress.

Assessment should be a dynamic process, which analyses and responds to the changing nature and level of need and/or risk faced by the child from within and outside their family. A good assessment will monitor and record the impact of any services delivered to the child and family and review the support being delivered. Whilst services may be delivered to a parent or carer, the assessment should focus on the needs of the child and on the impact any services are having on the child.

4. Timescales

Working Together to Safeguard Children sets out an expectation that the Single Assessment will be completed within a maximum of 45 working days of receipt of the referral. If an assessment exceeds this timescale, case notes should clearly record the reasons and the appropriate management permissions / oversight.

Any extension to this timescale must be authorised by a Children's Social Care Services manager and the reasons recorded, for example there may be a need to delay in order to arrange for an interpreter or avoid a religious festival. Any such decision must be consistent with the safety and welfare of the child.

The assessment process will include a number of local checkpoints and decision points to keep the assessment on track. These points should be used to review that the help being provided is timely and that the services are making an impact on child(ren) to improve outcomes and welfare.

5. The Process of the Single Assessment

The assessment will involve drawing together and analysing available information from a range of sources, including existing records, professionals in relevant agencies and others in contact with the child and family. Where an Early Help Assessment has already been completed this information should be used to inform the assessment. The child and family's history should be understood.

It may be appropriate to arrange a Medical Assessment to assist in the assessment process.

Where a child is involved in other assessment processes, it is important that these are coordinated so that the child does not become lost between the different agencies involved and their different procedures. All plans for the child developed by the various agencies and individual professionals should be joined up so that the child and family experience a single assessment and planning process, which shares a focus on the outcomes for the child.

The social worker should analyse all the information gathered from the enquiry stage of the assessment to decide the nature and level of the child's needs and the level of risk, if any, they may be facing. Social workers should have access to high quality supervision from a Practice Supervisor who will help challenge their assumptions as part of this process. Critical reflection through supervision should strengthen the analysis in each assessment. An informed decision should be taken on the nature of any action required and which services should be provided. Social workers, their managers and other professionals should be mindful of the requirement to understand the level of need and risk in a family from the child's perspective and ensure action or commission services which will have maximum positive impact on the child's life. Where there is a conflict of interest, decisions should be made in the child's best interests, be rooted in child development, be age-appropriate, and be informed by evidence.

When new information comes to light or circumstances change the child's needs, any previous conclusions should be updated and critically reviewed to ensure that the child is not overlooked as noted in many lessons from Serious Case and Practice Reviews.

The social worker carrying out the assessment will consult with:

  • All agencies involved with the child and family;
  • The person/agency who made the referral.

The child should be seen by the Lead Social Worker without their caregivers when appropriate within a timescale that is appropriate to the nature of concerns expressed at the time of the referral, according to the agreed plan (which may include seeing the child without his or her care givers present). This includes observing and communicating with the child in a manner appropriate to his or her age and understanding. Children's Social Care Services are required by the Children Act 1989 (as amended by Section 53 of the Children Act 2004) to ascertain the child's wishes and feelings about the provision of services and give them due consideration before determining what (if any) services to provide. Interviews with the child should be undertaken in the preferred language of the child. For some children with disabilities, interviews may require the use of non-verbal communication methods.

All relevant information (including historical information) should be taken into account. All agencies consulted should make immediate checks of their records for previous history and information that is relevant and helpful in deciding the level of enquiry that is required.

Information should be gathered and analysed within the three domains of the Assessment Framework Diagram:

  • The child's developmental needs;
  • The parents' or caregivers' capacity to respond appropriately to those needs; and
  • The wider family and environmental factors.

This includes seeking information from relevant services if the child and family have spent time abroad. Professionals should request this information from their equivalent agencies in the country or countries in which the child has lived.

The social worker carrying out the Single Assessment should make it clear to the agencies consulted that the information provided for the assessment may be shared with the family and other agencies and will contribute to the assessment unless to do so would increase the likelihood of the child suffering Significant Harm.

6. Contribution of the Child and Family

The Child

The child should participate and contribute directly to the assessment process based upon their age, understanding and identity. They should be seen alone and if this is not possible or in their best interest, the reason should be recorded. The social worker should work directly with the child in order to understand their views and wishes, including the way in which they behave both with their care givers and in other settings. The agreed local assessment framework should make a range of age appropriate tools available to professionals to assist them in this work.

The pace of the assessment needs to acknowledge the pace at which the child can contribute. However, this should not be a reason for delay in taking protective action. It is important to understand the resilience of the individual child in their family and community context when planning appropriate services.

Every assessment should be child centred. Where there is a conflict between the needs of the child and their parents/carers, decisions should be made in the child's best interests. The parents should be involved at the earliest opportunity unless to do so would prejudice the safety of the child.

The Parents

The parents' involvement in the assessment will be central to its success. At the outset they need to understand how they can contribute to the process and what needs to change in order to improve the outcomes for the child. The assessment process must be open and transparent with the parents. However, the process should also challenge parents' statements and behaviour where it is evidenced that there are inconsistencies, questions or obstacles to progress. All parents or care givers should be involved equally in the assessment and should be supported to participate whilst the welfare of the child must not be overshadowed by parental needs. There may be exceptions to the involvement of parents or care givers in cases of sexual abuse or domestic abuse for example, where the plan for the assessment must consider the safety of an adult as well as that of the child.

7. Possible Outcomes of the Single Assessment

Every assessment should be focused on outcomes, deciding which services and support to provide to deliver improved welfare for the child and reflect the child's best interests. In the course of the assessment the social worker and their line manager should determine:

  • Is this a Child in Need? (Section 17 Children Act 1989);
  • Is there reasonable cause to suspect that this child is suffering, or is likely to suffer, Significant Harm? (Section 47 Children Act 1989);
  • Is this a child in need of accommodation? (Section 20 or Section 31A Children Act 1989).

The possible outcomes of the assessment should be decided on by the social worker and their line manager, who should agree a plan of action setting out the services to be delivered how and by whom in discussion with the child and family and the professionals involved.

The outcomes may be as follows:

  • No further action;
  • Additional support which can be provided through universal services and single service provision or the Early Help / Early Intervention process;
  • The development of a multi-agency Child in Need plan for the provision of child in need services to promote the child's health and development;
  • Specialist assessment for a more in-depth understanding of the child's needs and circumstances;
  • Undertaking a Strategy Discussion/Meeting, a Section 47 child protection enquiry;
  • Emergency action to protect a child.

The outcome of the assessment should be:

  • Discussed with the child and family and provided to them in written form. Exceptions to this are where this might place a child at risk of harm or jeopardise an enquiry or Police investigation;
  • Taking account of confidentiality, provided to professional referrers;
  • Given in writing to agencies involved in providing services to the child with the action points, review dates and intended outcomes for the child stated.

The maximum time frame for the assessment to conclude, such that it is possible to reach a decision on next steps, should be no longer than 45 working days from the point of referral. If, in discussion with a child and their family and other professionals, an assessment exceeds 45 working days the social worker and professionals involved should record the reasons for exceeding the time limit.

8. Emergency Protective Action

Also see Flowchart 2: Immediate Protection, Working Together to Safeguard Children.

Where there is a risk to the life of a child or the possibility of serious immediate harm, the Police officer and/or social worker must act with urgency to secure the safety of the child.

The agency taking protective action must also always consider whether action is required to safeguard other children in the same household, the household of an alleged perpetrator or elsewhere (for example the place of work).

Immediate protection may be achieved by:

An alleged abuser agreeing to leave the home;

  • The removal of the alleged abuser;
  • A voluntary agreement for the child to remain in or move to a safer place;
  • Application for an Emergency Protection Order;
  • Removal of the child under powers of Police Protection;
  • Gaining entry to the household under Police powers.

Planned immediate protection will normally take place following a Strategy Discussion. Where a single agency has to act immediately to protect a child, a Strategy Discussion should take place as soon as possible to plan further action.

Legal advice should be sought in every case where emergency action may be required to safeguard the child. If legal advice is not sought, the reason must be recorded on the child's record. Legal advice must always be confirmed in writing.

Children's Social Care Services should only seek the assistance of the Police to use their powers of Police Protection in exceptional circumstances where there is insufficient time to seek an Emergency Protection Order or other reasons relating to the child's immediate safety. Where in exceptional circumstances it is necessary to use the powers of Police Protection the child must be accommodated as agreed by the local authority.

The local authority where the child is found is responsible for taking emergency action. If the child is Looked After by another local authority or the subject of a Child Protection Plan in another local authority, the local authority responsible for the child should wherever possible be involved. Only if that authority accepts responsibility for taking action is the first authority relieved of the responsibility to take emergency action.

Where an Emergency Protection Order is applied for, Children's Social Care Services should consider whether to initiate Care Proceedings in relation to the child or whether to allow the Order to lapse.

9. Feedback from the Single Assessment

Parents will usually be informed in writing of the outcome of the Single Assessment unless to do so would:

  • Be prejudicial to the child's welfare; and/or safety;
  • Increase the likelihood of the child suffering Significant Harm.

See Information Sharing Procedure.

Any decision not to share the outcome with the parents must be endorsed by a Children's Social Care Services manager and recorded, with reasons for the decisions.

At the earliest possible opportunity, the social worker carrying out the assessment will also advise the following people/agencies of the outcome in writing, consistent with respecting the confidentiality of the child and not jeopardising future action:

  • All agencies involved with the child and family;
  • The person/agency who made the referral.

10. Recording the Single Assessment

A clear account of the Single Assessment must be made using the Single Assessment Record, setting out who has been contacted, the information received, the assessment of the child's needs and their circumstances with a full analysis, the outcomes and decisions.

The Single Assessment Record should include when the child was seen by the Lead Social Worker and whether anyone was present.

A Children's Social Care Services manager must agree in writing with all decisions taken. The decisions and follow up actions must be monitored and reviewed by the manger to ensure that they are followed through.

11. Principles for a Good Assessment

The assessment triangle in Working Together to Safeguard Children provides a model, which should be used to examine how the different aspects of the child's life and context interact and impact on the child. It notes that it is important that assessment should be a dynamic process, which analyses and responds to the changing nature and level of need and/or risk faced by the child from within and outside their family. It is important that the impact of what is happening to a child is clearly identified and that information is gathered, recorded and checked systematically, and discussed with the child and their parents/carers where appropriate.

See: Working Together to Safeguard Children, Assessment Framework triangle.

12. Assessment of Risk Outside the Home / Contextual Safeguarding

As well as threats to the welfare of children from within their families, children may be vulnerable to abuse or exploitation from outside their families. These extra-familial threats might arise at school and other educational establishments, from within peer groups, or more widely from within the wider community and/or online.

These threats can take a variety of different forms and children can be vulnerable to multiple threats, including: exploitation by criminal gangs and organised crime groups such as county lines; trafficking, online abuse; teenage relationship abuse (including controlling or coercive behaviour); sexual exploitation and the influences of extremism leading to radicalisation.

Assessments of children in such cases should consider whether wider environmental factors are undermining effective intervention being undertaken to reduce risk with the child and family. Parents and carers have little influence over the contexts in which the abuse takes place and the young person's experiences of this extra-familial abuse can undermine parent-child relationships.

Interventions should focus on addressing the wider environmental factors, which are likely to be a threat to the safety and welfare of a number of different children who may or may not be known to local authority Children's Social Care Services. Effective information sharing and intelligence gathering is crucial in developing effective coordinated multi-agency responses.