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  1. Assessment Patrick Ayre Department of Applied Social Studies University of Bedfordshire Park Square, Luton email: web:

  2. Our image of assessment

  3. The reality of assessment?

  4. Assessments • Assessment work is complex and emotionally demanding • Collation and analysis of large bodies of information from multiple sources • Continuous series of mini-decisions about what to collect, how to collect • Each mini-decision has an impact on the assessment

  5. The chain of reasoning Facts  Analysis/summary  Conclusions and recommendations

  6. The facts • ‘It is the task of practitioners to share, sift, search for and weigh the significance of their information’ (Morrison 2009)

  7. The facts • Family composition (attach a genogram) • Background history (family and individual) • Recent events

  8. The facts • Tell the story chronologically without too much editorialising • Facts sufficient support your argument and also to refute counter arguments • First hand evidence is best but give source of any information • Make sure that you have put information as fully and accurately as possible (Checklist: Who, what, when, where, how)

  9. Seeking strong evidence Information may be: • Ambiguous • Missing • Assumption-led But can become ‘firm-ground’ if further enquiries are made or it is explored further

  10. Bias and Balance • Include information favourable to ‘the other side’ as well as that favourable to yours • It is your job to make judgements but: • avoid empty evaluative words like inappropriate, worrying, inadequate • Give evidence for descriptive words like cold, dirty and untidy • Beware the danger of facts

  11. Bias and Balance Born in 1942, he was sentenced to 5 years imprisonment at the age of 25. After 5 unsuccessful fights, he gave up his attempt to make a career in boxing in 1981 and has since had no other regular employment

  12. Lies, damned lies and killer bread Research on bread indicates that • More than 98 percent of convicted felons are bread users. • Half of all children who grow up in bread-consuming households score below average on standardized tests. • More than 90 percent of violent crimes are committed within 24 hours of eating bread. • Primitive tribal societies that have no bread exhibit a low incidence of cancer, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's disease, and osteoporosis. • In the 18th century, when much more bread was eaten, the average life expectancy was less than 50 years; infant mortality rates were unacceptably high; many women died in childbirth; and diseases such as typhoid, yellow fever, and influenza were common.

  13. Incomplete or out of date

  14. Can you trust a snapshot?

  15. Information handling • Picking out the important from a mass of data • Interpretation • Decoyed by another problem • False certainty; undue faith in a ‘known fact’ • Discarding information which does not fit • First impressions/assumptions • Too trusting/insufficiently critical • Distinguishing fact/opinion Department of Health (1991) Child abuse: A study of inquiry reports, 1980-1989, HMSO

  16. Fact or opinion? • There are inadequate play and stimulation opportunities available. • The bruise and swelling are consistent with hitting his head on the door. • This is the first incident of abuse to the child. • The flat is unsuitable for bringing up a young child. • Mrs Green is good at keeping her flat tidy. • Experienced professionals are better at dealing with child protection issues. • Children who were abused usually become abusers. • The child said his dad hit him. • I saw Peter playing with his toys when I last visited. • Mrs Green does not display appropriate parenting skills when relating to her son

  17. Assessment Pitfalls • When faced with an aggressive or frightening family, professionals are reluctant to discuss fears for their own safety and ask for help • Attention is focused on the most visible or pressing problems and other warning signs are not appreciated • Parents’ behaviour, whether co-operative or uncooperative, is often misinterpreted • Not enough weight to information from family friends and neighbours • Not enough attention is paid to what children say, how they look and how they behave In Cleaver, H, Wattam, C and Cawson, P Assessing Risk in Child Protection, NSPCC, 1998

  18. Child centred assessment The purpose of assessment is to understand what it is like to be that child or young person (and what it will be like in the future if nothing changes)

  19. Assessment pitfalls • Rule of optimism • Start again syndrome • Natural love • Cultural relativism • Too much not enough

  20. Analysis • Studies (and SCRs) highlight problems in the quality and level of analysis • Assessments too static and descriptive, resulting in an accumulation of facts that are not analysed in a way that offers an explanation of the situation (Brandon 2008)

  21. But what is analysis? You have gathered lots of information but now what? All you need to do is ask yourself my favourite question: “So what?” You have collected all this data, but what does this mean, for the young person, for the family and for the authority?

  22. Analytic thinking • ‘a conscious and controlled process using formal reasoning and explicit data and rules to deliberate and compute a conclusion’ (Munro, 2007) • ‘Analysis should be seen as acting like a good secretary keeping a check on the products of intuition, checking them for known biases, developing explanatory theories and testing them rigorously’ (Thiele, 2006)

  23. Intuition and Analysis • Intuitive thinking – unconscious process that allows the integrations of a large amount of information to produce a judgement in an effortless way • Gut feelings: ‘take advantage of the evolved capacity of the brain and are based on rules of thumb that enable us to act fast and with astonishing accuracy’ (Gigerenza, 2007)

  24. Intuition versus Analysis It is the combination of intuitive and analytic modes that produces the kind of evidence-based practice by which social work knowledge establishes its relevance, expertise and authority Morrison 2009

  25. Assessment and analysis • Suspected injuries and unconfirmed bruises over limbs - not explained. • Previous history of abuse by older sibling - off Child Protection Register • Single mother and new boyfriend • Concern by school staff about negligence in hygiene, clothing and school attendance • Growth at the third centile - no medical reason • Uncle visiting - ex-convict • Mother was abused as a child • Financial problems - on social security

  26. Assessment and analysis “He is a young boy who is confused about his current situation. Until the child care planning meeting confirms the long-term future plans for him he will effectively remain in limbo. This is affecting his ability to feel secure. He is noticeably anxious at school on Mondays prior to contact at home and he therefore learns very little on that day. By Wednesday of each week he calms down again”

  27. Conclusions and recommendations • Summarise the main issues and the conclusions to be drawn from them. (The facts do not necessarily speak for themselves; it is your job to speak for them.) • Define objectives as well as actions • Draw conclusions from the facts and recommendations from the conclusions • Explain how you arrived at your conclusions (Have you demonstrated the factual/theoretical basis for each?) • Consider and discuss alternative possibilities

  28. Conclusions and recommendations • In drawing conclusions be aware of the extent and limitations of your own expertise. • Conclusions may be supported by research (Don’t go outside expertise; be careful with new or controversial theories; be aware of counter arguments) • Your recommendation should usually be specific (not either/or) • Remember: conclusions may be attacked in only two ways • founded on incorrect information • based on incorrect principles of social work

  29. Conclusions and recommendations Problems: • Unsupported assertions or judgements • Inability or unwillingness to analyse and draw conclusions • Failure to answer the key question: ‘So what?’

  30. Reaching a decision • ‘Often a decision is made first and the thinking done later’ (Thiele, 2006) • As humans, we resort to simplifications, short cuts and quick fixes! • We reframe, interpret selectively and reinterpret. • We deny, discount and minimise • We exaggerate information especially if vivid, unusual, recent or emotionally laden and • We avoid, forget and lose information

  31. Good Assessments • Are clear about the purpose, legal status and potential outcomes • Are based on a clear theoretical framework • Are clear about context and value base • Are collaborative and promote accessibility for service users • Are based on multiple sources of information • Value the expertise and understanding service users bring to their situation • Are clear about missing information

  32. Good Assessments • Identify themes and patterns about needs, risks, protective factors and strengths • Generate and test different ways of understanding the situation • Give meaning to themes, using knowledge based on experience/research • Lead to an evidence-based conclusion • Use supervision to assist reflection, hypotheses and objectivity • Are able to record and explain outcomes • Are reviewed, updated & amended in light of new information

  33. Spotting the bad ones:Organisational Clues • Mythology exists about the family – ‘this family is/always/behaves like • Negative stereotypes about other agencies exist so their information is discounted • Sudden changes about view of risk not explained • Sudden changes of plan not rationally explained

  34. Worker clues • Gut feelings says something is wrong • Worker does not ask difficult questions • Analysis does not account for facts/history • Proposed plan does not address issues raised in assessment • Practitioner is working much harder than the parents to explain significant concerns • The child’s story is missing

  35. Inter-Agency Clues • Agencies have conflicting views of the family/risk • Agencies have strong views but offer ambiguous/limited evidence • Some agencies unwilling to share information • Pressure to agree suppresses permission to question / inter-agency acclimatisation

  36. Family Clues • Parental intentions not supported by actions • Parental optimism involves denial of difficulties • Children's accounts conflict with parents’ • Parents’ ‘talk’ about their child is contradictory/lacks coherence • Co-operation is only on the parents’ terms

  37. Learning from Past Experience Major themes from Serious Case Reviews: • Focus on parental ability to carry out tasks rather than understanding how history, development and current environment shapes parenting (3Ns) • Failure to give sufficient weight to relevant case history • Facts recorded faithfully but not always critically appraised

  38. Learning from Past Experience Major themes from Serious Case Reviews: • Importance of comprehensive family assessments, especially male figures • Formal assessment of risk • Failure to make use of diversity information • Understanding ‘chronic abuse’ and the need to accumulate evidence

  39. Learning from Past Experience Major themes from Serious Case Reviews: • Importance of comprehensive family assessments, especially male figures • Formal assessment of risk • Assessment in context of diversity • Understanding ‘chronic abuse’ and the need to accumulate evidence

  40. Risk assessment • The dangers involved (that is the feared outcomes); • The hazards and strengths of the situation (that is the factors making it more or less likely that the dangers will realised); • The probability of a dangerous outcome in this case (bearing in mind the strengths and hazards); • The further information required to enable this to be judged accurately; and • The methods by which the likelihood of the feared outcomes could be diminished or removed.

  41. Learning from Past Experience Major themes from Serious Case Reviews: • Importance of comprehensive family assessments, especially male figures • Formal assessment of risk • Assessment in context of diversity • Understanding ‘chronic abuse’ and the need to accumulate evidence

  42. Diversity and assessment • Favourite question again: So what? You have collected all this diversity information but what does it mean for: • The way I understand this child and family • The way they understand me • The way we will work together

  43. Understanding what we see • We need to know not just what people do, but why they do it. What is its significance? what does it mean? • Understand it in its historical and cultural context, how people see the world, the family, childhood, authority • Understanding why someone does something doesn’t make it right

  44. Assessment and diversity The difference dilemma: Because you do something differently, that doesn’t make you wrong, but it doesn’t make you right either. Equally, doing something like everyone else doesn’t always make you right.

  45. To see ourselves as others see us

  46. To see ourselves as others see us

  47. Ongoing work We need to manage: • Barriers to effective access • Physical, linguistic, cultural • Barriers to effective engagement • Perceptions, attitudes, expectations, starting point, objectives

  48. Learning from Past Experience Major themes from Serious Case Reviews: • Importance of comprehensive family assessments, especially male figures • Formal assessment of risk • Assessment in context of diversity • Understanding ‘chronic abuse’ and the need to accumulate evidence

  49. Assessment of long term abuse • Judging the quality of care is an essential component of any assessment but how well do we do it? • Judgements subjective and prone to bias • Intangible: Difficult to capture and compare • High threshold for recognition • Neglect is a pattern not an event