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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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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). Or you can ask us a question via email using our advice enquiry form.

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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 good practice when doing a pre-birth assessment?

Government statutory guidance and decisions made by judges (case law) together make clear:

  • What a high quality assessment should involve
  • How children’s services should progress and share pre-birth assessments with parents to be.

The information on this page explains more about this. And explains what parent to be should be able to expect during and after a pre-birth assessment process.

Local protocols for assessment

It is important children’s services follow government statutory guidance called Working Together 2018 when working with children and families. This guidance explains that children’s services departments and agencies and organisations they work with should have local protocols for assessment (see Working Together 2018 at page 23, paragraph 39 onwards).

A local protocol set out the processes social workers should follow when carrying out assessments. It should include:

  • Information about how agencies will communicate with families
  • How they will involve the child and family in the assessment process.

Parents to be can ask the social worker to provide them with a copy of the local protocols for assessment.

This will help to understand how the assessment should be done. And how children’s services will make sure the assessment is of a high quality.

Features of high quality assessment

A high-quality assessment will:

  • Be child-centred (focus on the child)
  • Look at the needs of the child within their family
  • Involve children and their families
  • Build on strengths as well as identifying difficulties
  • Lead to action including providing services and help.

See Working Together 2018 at page 28, paragraph 58.

Involving wider family and friends

Involving wider family and friends early on can be a good idea. Including before a baby is born. This is because family and friends may be able to offer support during the pregnancy. And once the baby is born.

A good way to do this is with a family group conference (FGC). This is a family-led decision-making meeting. It brings together the whole family, and others who will be important to the child. Together, at the family group conference, they make a plan for the child.

See our Family group conferences: advice for families page for more information.  This includes short films and helpful infographics to explain the family group conference process.

Fairness, pre-birth assessments and care proceedings

Decisions made by judges in other cases can help make the law clearer. This is known as case law.

A judge in the Family Division of the High Court has described some good practice principles for doing pre-birth assessments. These apply where children’s services think a child likely to suffer significant harm and they plan to start care proceedings by applying for an interim care order.

The case is called Nottingham City Council v LW & Ors [2016] EWHC 11(Fam).

The list below draws on both the case and the government statutory guidance in Working Together 2018:

  1. The Judge’s guidance says that an assessment should start promptly once children’s services are aware of the pregnancy, but
    • It is important that first children’s services will need to decide if an assessment should be done. And what type. Decisions about whether an assessment is and what type should be made within one working day (see Working Together to Safeguard Children at page 33, paragraph 78)
    • So, a decision about whether a pre-birth assessment is needed should be made within a day. And then if an assessment is needed, it is clear it should start promptly
  1. The assessment report should be completed at least four weeks before birth
    • It should be provided to parents as soon as it is complete.  If they have solicitors, the report should be sent to them too
    • This will all help to make sure there is proper time for parents to look at the assessment and ask questions. And time for them to get legal advice
  1. An assessment should be updated
    • It should take into account relevant events that happen before the baby is born. As well as afterwards. Doing this helps to make sure the plans for the baby continue to be best for them
  1. If children’s services decide that they need to start (issue) care proceedings when the baby is born, then:
    • The social work team should provide their legal department with all assessment reports. Any other relevant documents. This should be at least seven days before the mother’s due date
    • All the court papers should be provided to the parents and their solicitors immediately. If they can be provided before the court has finished processing (issuing) the application that can be done
    • Then when the baby is born, children’s services should send the papers to court promptly. This is so the court can issue the case promptly.
  1. If there is a plan to start court proceedings after the birth, social workers, managers and their legal department must keep to this plan.

See our Children’s services page for more information about fair process and human rights.

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