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1.2.5 Protocol for Single Assessments (agreed with Southwark Safeguarding Children Partnership)


This chapter details Southwark’s response to ‘Working Together to Safeguard Children’ assessment requirements and reflects expectations and timescales for undertaking Assessments of children and families. The chapter also highlights when the Single Assessment is required.


London Child Protection Procedures, Referral and Assessment Procedure.

Home Office Circular: Modern Slavery Act 2015

GOV.UK, Modern Slavery: duty to Notify - Promotional material (2016)

International Child Abduction and Contact Unit (ICACU)

Social Work Post-Qualifying Standards: Knowledge and Skills Statements


Thresholds for Children’s Social Care Safeguarding Services (agreed by Southwark Safeguarding Children Partnership)


This chapter was updated in October 2020 in line with the new digital referral system for reporting potential victims of Modern Slavery.


  1. Background
  2. The Initiation of a Single Assessment
  3. The Single Assessment Process
  4. Meeting the Needs of Disabled CYP, Young Carers and CYP in the Youth Justice System
  5. Involvement of Other Agencies and Professionals
  6. Internal Review
  7. Children Returning from Care
  8. Transparent and Family Friendly Assessments
  9. Complaints

1. Background

Under the guidance specified in Working Together, local authorities are required to develop a protocol for assessment. The protocol explains how cases will be managed once a child is referred into social care.

Southwark has adopted a Single Assessment approach. The Single Assessment replaces the former Initial Assessment and Core Assessment.

The purpose of assessment remains the same, namely:

  • To gather important information about a child and family;
  • To analyse their needs and/or the nature and level of any risk and harm being suffered by the child, including any factors that may indicate that the child is or has been trafficked or a victim of modern slavery. Note: if there is a concern with regards to exploitation or trafficking, a referral into the National Referral Mechanism should be made; see - GOV.UK Digital Referral System: Report Modern Slavery;
  • To decide whether the child is a Child In Need (section 17) and/or is suffering or likely to suffer Significant Harm and require Child Protection services (Section 47); and
  • To provide support to address those needs to improve the child's outcomes and to make them safe.

The Single Assessment process is followed both for Children in Need and Child Protection cases. In Child Protection cases, the Single Assessment is executed in parallel to the Section 47 enquiry, such as the Strategy Discussion, ABR and consideration for Emergency Protection Order (EPO).

A Child in Need is a child who is unlikely to achieve or maintain a satisfactory level of health or development, or their health and development will be significantly impaired without the provision of services; or a child who is disabled.

In these cases, services are provided under Section 17 of the Children Act 1989. Children whose parents are in prison and Asylum Seeking children (see Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children Procedure) are also considered to be children in need.

Southwark’s Thresholds for Children’s Social Care Safeguarding Services (agreed by Southwark Safeguarding Children Partnership) are published (see a Summary of the Thresholds).

The Single Assessment Protocol is accompanied by the Single Assessment Tool. The tool is the structure and recording form for the assessment itself. The Tool has been developed to be consistent with the Signs of Safety approach. It is appended to this Protocol.

2. The Initiation of a Single Assessment

The Single Assessment is led by a Social Worker following the allocation of a case received from the Multi Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH). The MASH is the ‘front door’ for all contacts and referrals into social care. The following flowchart indicates where the Single Assessment takes place in the ‘journey’ of a case through the wider referral system.

Click here to view Single Assessment Flowchart.

The social worker can elect to signpost or provide services at ANY point during this process. The full assessment need not be complete before necessary interventions provided.

3. The Single Assessment Process

Assessment Planning

  1. MASH Manager opens Single Assessment Form and enters reason for assessment. Tasks for Social Worker are recorded on the form;
  2. MASH Manager decides date by which the family must be seen by the social worker. This is a maximum of 10 days from the receipt of the referral into MASH. A time limit of 24 hours is set if the case meets S.47 thresholds. A Professionals’ Meeting of practitioners working with the family may be called to inform the assessment plan.
  3. Assessments for some children will require particular care. This is especially so for young carers; children and/or parents with special educational needs [1] (including to inform and be informed by Education, Health and Care Plans); unborn children where there are concerns regarding the parent(s); children in hospital; children with specific communication needs; unaccompanied migrant children (where English is not their first language); children considered at risk of gang activity and association with organised crime groups; children at risk of female genital mutilation; children who are in the youth justice system and children returning home following a period of Accommodation;
  4. Every assessment must be informed by the views of the child as well as the family, and a child’s wishes and feelings must be sought regarding the provision of services to be delivered;
  5. Before a Referral is discussed with other agencies, the parent's consent should usually be sought, unless to do so may place the child at risk of Significant Harm, in which case the manager should authorise the discussion of the Referral with other agencies without parental knowledge or consent. The authorisation should be recorded with reasons;
  6. 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.

[1] See also Good practice guidance on working with parents with a learning disability (2007), updated 2016.

Preliminary Visit

Social Worker arranges and carries out a preliminary visit with the family and sees and speaks to the child alone where possible and appropriate. Social worker records the views of the parent(s) and child. Consent form is signed by family to allow contact with other professionals.

Where appropriate, this visit is conducted with other relevant professionals (such as YOS worker, Health Visitor, etc).

Initial Review

Decision points and review points involving the child and family and relevant practitioners should be used to keep the assessment on track. This is to ensure that help is given in a timely and appropriate way and that the impact of this help is analysed and evaluated in terms of the improved outcomes and welfare of the child.

At maximum of 10 days after referral, social Worker conducts internal review of case within Practice Group reflective supervision or with supervision from Advanced Practitioner or Practice Group Lead. Decision is made either to:

  • Refer back to Early Help;
  • Continue Single Assessment under Section 17;
  • Continue Single Assessment under Section 47(and initiate S47 Enquiry activities if not already underway);
  • Consider ‘No Recourse’ package: present case to No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF) Panel;
  • Escalate to Looked After Children.                                 

Continued Assessment

Social worker proceeds with continued assessment consistent with Signs of Safety model, gathering information from specialist reports (where relevant and current) and other assessments and involving other agencies that are working with the child. Assessment includes analysis of child’s world and direct work with child is evidenced. Social worker discusses case in Practice Group supervision sessions. Social worker must see and engage with child alone wherever possible and appropriate.

Contextual safeguarding: assessments of children 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.

Where this is the case, the social worker should:

  • Refer the child’s circumstances to relevant Multi-Agency work which addresses the concerns and risks in the neighbourhood or local authority;
  • Identify the issues with their line-manager with a view to the local authority establishing a multi-agency intervention programme to meet community needs; or
  • In specific circumstances, through their line-manager, seek to convene a Child in Need strategy/planning meeting with relevant partner agencies (e.g. school, police, relevant voluntary bodies, etc.) to explore specific interventions to address the safeguarding issues.

Within this context, children who may be alleged perpetrators should also be assessed to understand the impact of contextual issues on their safety and welfare.

Assessments of children in such cases should consider the individual needs and vulnerabilities of each child. They should look at the parental capacity to support the child, including helping the parents and carers to understand any risks and support them to keep children safe and assess potential risk to the child.

These interventions should focus on addressing both child and family and these 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.


At the latest at 45 working days following referral, social worker concludes the assessment:

  • For S47 Assessments, a decision whether to hold an ICPC must be made within 10 days of the initiation of the S47 Inquiry, such that the Conference can take place within 15 days of the of the initiation of the S47 Inquiry. The Single Assessment will be the report to the ICPC;
  • For S17, the Assessment terminates with decision to develop a Child in Need Plan, which will be agreed by the family and relevant professionals at a CiN Network Meeting. The case is then either allocated to the Safeguarding & Family Support Service or, for step-downs, the Early Help Service;
  • In NRPF families, where there are no needs beyond Accommodation and Subsistence, the case will be monitored by the Integrated Homelessness Team.

4. Meeting the Needs of Disabled CYP, Young Carers and CYP in the Youth Justice System

Disabled Children and Young People

The Children with Disabilities (CWD) Team (see Children with Disabilities Procedure) is represented on the MASH. All referrals for CWD are routed via the MASH. Where appropriate, the specialist CWD Team will then undertake a Single Assessment as described above. This team uses a range of specialist techniques to understand and meet the needs of children and young people with disabilities, including learning disabilities. The CWD team will also conduct a points-based Care Package Assessment (on the initial or a subsequent visit), the outcome of which is confirmed to parents in a formal letter.

The Single Assessment will also be used by the SEN team conducting assessment for the Education, Health and Care Plan (EHC Plan), if it is less than 6 months old. Social Workers will provide information to SEN assessors within 6 weeks following request.

Single Assessment reviews are synchronised with EHC Plan reviews, such that an updated Social Care assessment is available to the SEN team in time for the review.

Young Carers

Social workers are mindful of the specific needs of and challenges faced by Young Carers, and are expected to conduct the Single Assessment in a manner appropriate for the young carer.

Where a young carer is identified or the subject of a Single Assessment, the social worker will make a referral to the Young Carers’ Project and/or Hidden Harm worker (if parental alcohol misuse).

If the young person is a carer for a parent with a physical disability, the Single Assessment will be undertaken jointly with Adult Social Care Services (see Southwark Council website).

Privately Fostered Children

Where the local authority receives notification of Private Fostering arrangements, a visit to the fosterers’ premises is made within 7 working days to speak to the fosterer(s) and wherever possible and appropriate, the child. Efforts will also be made to speak to the parent(s) of the child. A Single Assessment will be undertaken.

Children and Young People in the Youth Justice System

The Youth Offending Service is represented on the MASH. (See Section 6, Internal Review.) This means that children involved in the Youth Justice System will be identified before the initiation of the Single Assessment.

The MASH is expected to liaise with the relevant YOS worker to ensure existing needs assessments are taken into account, and to ensure a coherent approach to understanding the child’s needs. Together, MASH and YOS will decide whether to initiate a Single Assessment.

5. Involvement of Other Agencies and Professionals

How Agencies and Professionals can make Contributions to the Single Assessment

The Single Assessment allows for - and actively seeks - the contribution of professionals from agencies beyond social care at several points:

  • In the MASH, where intelligence can be gathered from one or many of a number of agencies under the direction of the MASH manager;
  • Via Professionals’ Meetings, which can be called by the Social Worker at any point following the initiation of the Single Assessment;
  • Via joint visits (either at ‘preliminary’ or ‘continued assessment’ phase) with other professionals;
  • The pre-birth team attends weekly multi-agency meetings with perinatal services at Kings College Hospital and St Thomas’s Hospital;
  • Through participation in multi-agency case meetings such as CiN Network Meetings, Strategy Discussions, Core Groups, Case Conferences, Review Meetings and so on;
  • Through participation in Signs of Safety meetings;
  • Professionals may be invited to Practice Group Reflective Supervision.

How the Single Assessment Draws on Other Specialist Assessments

The MASH process will identify, in most instances, existing specialist assessments concerning a child. The social worker will review the date of these assessments and incorporate evidence and information wherever appropriate, under guidance from other agencies if needed.

Such assessments might include Statements of SEN (as-were), EHC Plans, ASSETs, Probation Pre-Sentence Reports, Psychiatric Reports.

Such assessments will normally be reviewed in the continued assessment phase.

Coordination of Assessments

MASH Managers will only initiate a Single Assessment if it is clear that a social work assessment will add value, to avoid the duplication of assessment. EHC Assessments will use existing Single Assessments provided that these are less than 6 months old.

It is firmly in the interests of families for multiple assessments to be coordinated wherever possible. The social worker will endeavour to schedule joint visits with other professional. Through Professionals’ Meetings, relevant practitioners will discuss assessments being undertaken and identify common outcomes.

The Child in Need Plan or Child Protection plan will reflect the actions and outcomes articulated in other assessments so that the family can work with clear priorities and consistent success criteria.

6. Internal Review

The Internal Review takes place within 10 days after the receipt of referral at the latest. It is convened by the social worker and conducted within the Practice Group Reflective Supervision in the presence of an Advanced Practitioner and Clinical Practitioner. If this is not possible, the review must involve an Advanced Practitioner and/or Practice Group Lead outside of the Practice Group supervision sessions.

In advance of the internal review, the social worker must have reviewed information gathered at MASH and conducted a preliminary visit to the family, including seeing the child wherever possible and appropriate.

Internal Review is an opportunity to exercise systemic and critical analysis. The evidence from the preliminary visit is discussed and findings scrutinised and challenged.

The family must be informed of the outcome of the Internal Review:

  • On the same day, if it is decided that the case must be escalated to Section 47;
  • At the latest by day 15 since referral in other cases.

A Manager’s (Advanced Practitioner or Practice Group Lead) must authorise the completion of all Single Assessments and ensure all aspects of the assessment are complete to the required standard. This includes:

  • Direct work with the child where possible;
  • Case Chronology and Genogram;
  • Factors identified at the end of Assessment.

7. Children Returning from Care

A child may be classed as a Child Looked After (CLA) for several reasons, including:

  • As a result of being placed under Police Protection (Section 46, Children Act 1989);
  • The child being accommodated (under Section 20, Children Act 1989);
  • The child being subject to a Care Order (under Section 31, Children Act 1989) or an Interim Care Order (Section 38).

Children in Care Following Police Protection

The Police may hold a child under Police Protection for a maximum of 72 hours. This is not a sufficient amount of time for a Single Assessment to take place and therefore a Single Assessment is not required for the child to return home.

The decision regarding whether to allow the child to return home, or to make an application to court, will be taken by Advanced Practitioner/Practice Group Lead in consultation with the Police and other agencies involved.

Children Accommodated Under Section 20

Where the child has been accommodated under Section 20 owing to reasons of Abuse or Neglect, a Single Assessment must be carried out before or as soon as the child returns home from care. Indeed, recent High Court judgements have considered that in circumstances where the threshold criteria (for Care/ Supervision Orders) under Section 31 Children Act 1989 are met, (i.e. where a child is at risk of significant harm, or the likelihood of significant harm), then care proceedings should be issued without delay.

A Single Assessment is not necessary where the child was accommodated for reasons other than Abuse or Neglect.

Children Subject to (Interim) Care Order

Where the child returning home has been subject to a Care Order or Interim Care Order, (See Placement with Parents Procedure) a Single Assessment must take place before the child may return home. This Assessment must demonstrate evidence that:

  • The Abuse or Neglect that led to the child coming into care is very unlikely to reoccur;
  • Parents have engaged positively and used the help offered to deal with problems that led to the child coming into care;
  • Full consultation has taken place with all relevant agencies and professionals, including any foster carer(s).

A robust plan must be in place to monitor the child’s welfare, provide help and reduce the level of future risk. Agreement must be secured at the child’s Looked After Children Review.

In accordance with the Care Planning, Placement and Care Review Regulations 2010, the agreement of the Director of Children’s Social Care must also be recorded.

8. Transparent and Family Friendly Assessments

It is important that assessments are clear and that families understand why and how an assessment is being undertaken. It is equally important that the actions contained in the subsequent plan are clear and that family members understand what those actions are intended to achieve.

Signs of Safety

Southwark has adopted the Signs of Safety Model of assessment. Signs of Safety seeks to identify:

  • What supports are needed for children to remain in the care of their families;
  • Whether there is sufficient safety for the child to remain within the family;
  • Whether the situation is so dangerous that the family must be removed;
  • If the child is in the care system, whether there is enough safety for the child to return home.

Signs of Safety is a strengths-based approach to assessment, which rests upon constructive relationships between professionals and family members, and which uses a common and simplified language that everyone understands.

During the assessment visit, the social worker will undertake various activities such as Genograms, the Three Houses exercises (see ‘Three Houses Tool’ Ch 1.5.a in NSPCC, Signs of Safety, 2013), direct work with children and Chronologies. The family is given the opportunity to articulate what is going well, as well as what they are worried about and what they think will help.

For section 17 assessments, at the closure of the assessment, the family is invited to attend a Child in Need Network meeting. At this meeting, the nature of the social worker’s concerns is articulated and the social worker will ask the family whether they agree with the concerns. The family co-creates the plan of action with the professionals present.

For assessments carried out under Section 47, family members are (where appropriate) invited to attend the Initial Child Protection Conference (ICPC) and subsequent Core Group meetings. The ICPC is held within 15 days of the Strategy Discussion; the Core Group meeting takes place within 10 days after the ICPC.

Recording the Assessment and Sharing with the Family

All assessments, decisions and all accompanying reports are recorded on the Council’s case management system for Children’s Social Care. The Single Assessment Form contains dedicated sections for the recording of the child’s developmental needs. Actions to support the child’s wellbeing are clearly listed in the assessment, alongside expected outcomes, who is responsible, indicators of improvement and review dates. This aids the monitoring of progress.

The family will receive a copy of their assessment upon its conclusion and before the ICPC/CiN Network Meeting, allowing them the opportunity to digest and comment on the assessment before the meeting takes place.

9. Complaints

Information about the Social Care Complaints Procedure is included within the Assessment and Intervention Pack that is given to the family upon the initiation of a Single Assessment.

Where complaints cannot be satisfactorily resolved at source, the complainant is invited to contact the social care complaints team. The team can give information about the complaints process and support complainants in making their complaint.

If the issue remains unresolved, the complainant is invited to contact the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman.

See also: