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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.

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Kinship Assessment Guide – Section 1 – Introduction

Section 1. Introduction:
Why initial family and friends care assessments (commonly known as viability assessments) matter

1.1 What is a viability assessment?

Introduction by Caroline Lynch, including what an initial assessment is and why the guide was needed

Where at all possible, children should be supported to live safely within their family. Where a child cannot remain in the care of their parents, research1 has consistently found that children placed in kinship care generally do as well, if not better, than children in unrelated foster care, particularly with regard to the stability of the placement.

So it is essential that if a child may not be able to live safely with their parents, practitioners identify potential carers from within the child’s network of family and friends and determine whether they will be able to provide safe care to meet the child’s needs until they reach adulthood.

In most local authorities, some form of initial family and friends care assessment is used to determine which members of a child’s family and friends network are a potentially realistic option to care for that child and should therefore be subject to a full assessment as a potential carer. This initial assessment is not to determine whether an individual is ‘viable’ but whether it is a potentially ‘viable’ placement for a specific child. These are commonly called ‘viability assessments’ and for ease we use this terms throughout the rest of the document.

In practice, this means social workers may be required to undertake viability assessments with several family members and often to tight deadlines.

However, there are no national regulations, minimum standards or guidance covering viability assessments. This has led to local authorities and individual practitioners taking different approaches to how a viability assessment is conducted and presented.

To fill this gap, Family Rights Group convened an expert working group to develop this practice guide, with support from the Department for Education, Cafcass, the Association of Directors of Children’s Services and the Family Justice Council.

The guide aims to provide social workers with a clear framework for undertaking preliminary assessments of family and friends. Ultimately, it will be for the judge to decide which option for permanence is the right one for the child but this guide will enable practitioners to demonstrate with confidence to a child, family members, professionals, and the judiciary that potentially viable options for a child to be raised within their family network have been fully and fairly explored. The guidance is underpinned by research and examples from practice. These are detailed in Appendix A.

1.2 Why undertake a viability assessment?

The Public Law Outline2 and case law3 have clarified that all realistic options for a child should be fully explored, including members of a child’s wider family and friends network. As stated above, a ‘viability‘ assessment is a means by which practitioners, for or on behalf of the local authority, can determine whether family and friends are potentially a realistic option to care for the child until they reach adulthood. Case law clarifies that not ‘every stone has to be uncovered and the ground exhaustively examined before coming to a conclusion that a particular option is not realistic’.4

A viability assessment does not determine who a child will live with, nor does it recommend which legal order should be used. (The immediate placement of a child with a family or friend would require that person to be assessed and temporarily approved as a foster carer under Regulation 24.5) Its purpose is to recommend to the court which members of the child’s family and kinship network should be further assessed as potential carers for the child. However, information gathered during the viability assessment may contribute to permanency planning for the child.

The remainder of this guide covers:

Appendices include:

Marilyn, a kinship carer describes her negative experience of an initial assessment

Definitions

Children’s services:

The department of the council (ie, local authority) that is responsible for children, previously called social services. In some areas children’s services functions may be carried out by an independent non-profit organisation or trust.

Family and friends carer (also known as a kinship carer):

A family and friends carer is a relative or other linked person (such as a friend or neighbour) who is looking after a child who cannot live with his or her parents.

Connected person:

This is a legal term which refers to a family or friends carer for a child who is in the care of the local authority (known as a looked after child).

Viability assessment:

A preliminary assessment of a relative, friend or other linked person to a child who may be unable
to live with his or her parents, to determine whether that person is a realistic option to care for the child and should undergo a full assessment.

footnotes

    1. See Appendix A
    2. The Public Law Outline sets out the protocol for managing the legal processes involved where the local authority is considering care proceedings
    3. Re R (A Child) [2014] EWCA Civ 1625
    4. Re R (A Child) [2014] EWCA Civ 1625
    5. Regulation 24 of the Care Planning, Placement and Case Review (England) Regulations 2010 (as amended)
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