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Our advice service

We provide advice to parents, grandparents, relatives, friends and kinship carers who are involved with children’s services in England or need their help. We can help you understand processes and options when social workers or courts are making decisions about your child’s welfare.

Our advice service is free, independent and confidential.

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By phone or email

To speak to an adviser, please call our free and confidential advice line 0808 801 0366 (Monday to Friday 9.30am to 3pm, excluding Bank Holidays). For Textphone dial 18001 followed by the advice line number. Or you can ask us a question via email using our advice enquiry form.

Discuss on our forums

Our online advice forums are an anonymous space where parents and kinship carers (also known as family and friends carers) can get legal and practical advice, build a support network and learn from other people’s experiences.

Advice on our website

Our get help and advice section describes the processes that you and your family are likely to go through, so that you know what to expect. Our webchat service can help you find the information and advice on our website which will help you understand the law and your rights.

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What is an initial assessment? When is one carried out? What does it involve? And what if care proceedings have started?

If a child may not be able to be cared for by their parents then, relatives or friends:

  • Can tell children’s service they wish to be assessed as a potential kinship carer for the child
  • Should tell children’s services this as soon as possible. This is very important.

Many children’s services departments start the process with a short assessment. This is sometimes called an initial assessment. It may also be called a viability assessment. This type of assessment:

  • Helps children’s services to decide whether a family or friend may be a realistic option to permanently care for the child
  • Focuses on gathering key information to help children’s services decide if a full assessment has a chance of a positive outcome.

What should families be able to expect during an initial assessment?

The social worker doing the assessment should make sure that the relative or friend being assessed:

  • Understands what the initial assessment will involve
  • Understands what is being asked and why
  • Has the information they need about the child to enable them to answer questions properly
  • Has a chance to explain their situation during the assessment
  • Has the chance to explain how they will address any concerns the person doing the assessment may about them becoming a potential carer for the child.

The assessment should:

  • Be based on evidence. This is information that can be checked and provide. It should not be based on feelings or suspicions
  • Keep in mind the benefits for a child or growing up within their family and friends’ network.
  • Be fair.

The way that the initial assessment is carried out should follow good practice.  See What is good practice when doing initial assessments? for more information.

How long does an initial assessment take?

There is usually one or two visits by a social worker. But if there is a lot to talk about, there might be more.

It would normally take between two and four weeks from the start of the initial assessment to hear whether a full assessment has been recommended.

What if children’s services ignore the request, refuse to do the assessment, or say too many other people are being assessed?

In this situation it is important to get in writing your request to be assessed and to ask children’s services to put their response in writing.  Helpful options include:

  • Putting the request to be assessed into writing if this hasn’t been done before. Using this template letter to make that request may be helpful
  • Asking children’s services to put in writing that they have received your request to be assessed and
  • Asking children’s services to put in writing whether they are agreeing to assess you. And to send you written reasons if they are not
  • If there is a child protection conference taking place or a child protection plan in place, you may want to write to the conference chair to say you have asked to be assessed but have not had a response
  • If the child is already looked after in the care system, you could write to the Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO). Their role is to make sure children’s services are meeting the child’s needs. Every looked after child must have an independent reviewing officer
  • And if care proceedings have been started, see the next dropdown for options.

What if care proceedings have been started - can an initial assessment still be done?

Yes.  At the start of care proceedings, the Family Court should look at whether any family members will be assessed as potential carers for the child. This is in case the child cannot remain in the care of their parent(s). Parents should discuss with their solicitor and the social worker who in the family might be able to support them as soon as possible.

Family members who may be able to offer care for the child should share this information as soon as possible. How this can best and most quickly be done will depend on precise situation. Options include:

  • Contacting the child’s social worker directly if their name is known. The child’s parent may be able to provide this information and contact information for the social worker
  • Asking the parent(s) to let their solicitor or the child’s social worker know
  • Contacting children’s services via phone, email, or letter. The contact information should be available on the local council website or from directory enquiries
  • Contacting the children’s guardian or the child’s solicitor if their details are known
  • Writing to the Family Court dealing with the case – if the family member is aware of the details. Or if the situation is urgent and there is a court hearing about to take place, the family member can attend court themselves.

See our Care (and related) proceedings page for more information and advice about care proceedings. This includes information about who is involved in care proceedings, when legal aid is available and how the Family Court makes decisions.

For answers to other questions families may have about initial assessments see the Information sheet for families and potential carers which is part of the initial assessment guide. The information sheet is in Appendix D at page 49 of the guide.

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