Early Help Assessment (Formally known as CAF)

The Common Assessment Framework (CAF) is a process for gathering and recording information about a child for whom a practitioner has concerns in a standard format, identifying the needs of the child and how the needs can be met.  It is a shared assessment and planning framework for use across all children’s services and all local areas in the UK.  It helps to identify in the early stages the child’s additional needs and promote coordinated service provision to meet them. 

Its purpose is to play a key part in delivering front line services that are integrated and focused around the needs of children and young people.  Its aim is to support early intervention and improve joint working and communication between practitioners.  It is described as a common language for assessment purposes, which gives a consistent view for delivering the most appropriate response. 

In the Green Paper, Every Child Matters proposed the introduction of the Common Assessment Framework due to  concerns that the existing arrangements for identifying and responding to the needs of children were not achieving the five outcomes identified in the Every Child Matters agenda.

The CAF was then developed so that practitioners in all agencies working with children could communicate and work more effectively together.  It is intended to provide a simple, non- bureaucratic process for a holistic assessment of a child’s needs and deciding how these needs should be met.

The CAF is for children who have additional needs in one or more of three areas:

  1. Their growth and development
  2. Additional educational requirements
  3. Family and environmental issues and any specific needs of the parent/carer

If any of the above needs are identified by the practitioner, they can record the level of concern and interventions required.

The CAF consists of:

  • A pre-assessment checklist (helps decide who would benefit from a common assessment)
  • A process (enables practitioners to undertake a common assessment and then act on the result)
  • A standard form (record the assessment)
  • Delivery plan (and a review form)
  • Standing alone (a consent statement)

Having a CAF does not guarantee the provision of particular services and the guidance suggests that local areas will need to determine where to focus their resources in line with local priorities. The guidance also suggests that there is a four- step common assessment process that must be followed by practitioners which represents best practice and should protect the child from risk of harm. 

The Four Step Common Assessment Process:

  1. Identify the needs early: identifying whether the child/ young person may have additional needs and do this possibly through going through their CAF pre- assessment checklist.  They may also discuss the situation with the child possibly involving the parents/ carers unless this is inappropriate.  The practitioner must check whether the child has already had a common assessment in the past.  Once the practitioner has reviewed all the information, they can decide whether a common assessment is the way forward and will need agreement from the child and/or their family.
  1. Assess those needs: gathering and analysing information on strengths and needs using CAF.  The practitioner must have discussions with the child, and their family if appropriate, and bring in information other practitioners have provided about the case.  This information must all be recorded onto the CAF form, signed by the child or parent on the final version of the assessment form.  The National eCAF makes sure that practitioners complete a certain number of fields when recording information to ensure consistency and a minimum standard across the board.  These fields are flagged with a red asterisk on the CAF form. 
  1. Deliver integrated services: determining a plan and delivering interventions to meet those identified needs.  This is all recorded on the CAF form.  If a multi- agency response is required then the practitioner must form a TAC (The Team Around the Child) to agree a lead professional if relevant, the actions to be taken to meet the needs, how the integrated services will be delivered and the process for monitoring and review.  The practitioner cannot guarantee that another organisation will provide its services without consultation; therefore, it is best if the practitioner has a good knowledge of local services.
  1. Review progress: reviewing the actions and delivery plan.  Identifying further actions where necessary and supporting the child/ young person’s transitions.  If the needs are found not to be met, the professional must go back to stage three.  If the needs have been met, the manager can close involvement. 

The CAF is a voluntary assessment, and therefore, a child/ young person or parent/ carer must give their consent at the start of the process with the full knowledge of what will happen.  Once the assessment has been completed, the child and or parent/carer must give their consent again for the information to be stored and shared with other services.

As per the guidance, practitioners must make sure they provide accessible copies of relevant documents to the child/ young person and parent/carer as appropriate.  When constructing the common assessment the practitioner must obtain informed consent for undertaking the CAF and for recording information as mentioned above.  However, they must additionally ensure that any information that is shared is accurate and up- to- date, necessary for the purpose for which it is being shared and shared securely.  They must furthermore obtain ‘explicit’ consent for sharing the information detailing exactly what the consent is for and in what circumstances it will apply.  The consent must be oral or written though written is preferable through a signature on the CAF. 

The practitioner must follow all the agreed local policies for recording and renewing consent.  It is important to think about whose consent one is after.  If the child has the capacity to understand their decisions then they may give consent; children over 12 are generally expected to have sufficient understanding.  This is presumed in law for children aged 16 and over. 

The practitioner must make sure that when they are assessing the child’s understanding that they explain the issues in a way that is suitable for their age, language and likely understanding.  Even if it is decided that the child lacks sufficient understanding to give consent, and so receive consent from the parent/ carer, the child must still be included in all discussions with the parent/ carer about how their information will be used.  If it is decided that parental consent is required, the consent from one person will be sufficient.  If the family cannot agree, the practitioner must carefully choose whose consent should be sought.  If the parents are separated, consent will be asked from the parent with whom the child resides.  If a care order is in force, the local authority will additionally have to be contacted and asked questions on consent.        

All practitioners undertaking common assessments must have an enhanced level CRB check.  Line managers are responsible for ensuring that CRB checks are carried out.  It is recommended that once a CAF has been closed, it should be archived for a year, and then destroyed after a further 6 years. 

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