Evidence Based Decisions in child neglect: evaluation of a new approach to assessment What works in improving decision-making for families where there are concerns about child neglect

Hands on tableThe Evidence Based Decisions (EBD) service aims to support social workers to make the right decision at the right time when working with families where there are concerns about child neglect. NSPCC practitioners worked in partnership with local authority social workers using the North Carolina Family Assessment Scale (NCFAS-G) to focus on improving evidence, understanding and decision-making. 

This report describes the different ways the EBD review was used and looks at how and why it differs from everyday practice. It is part of our Impact and evidence series.

Author: Mike Williams
Published: 2015

Social workers felt the review helped them make the right decisions for families: with 94% of the surveys returned, the professional felt that the review had influenced decisions.

Professionals found the following features of the EBD helpful:

  • requirement to be evidence-based - the EBD review required a score in each area of family-functioning and an explanation for how the data fit the scoring criteria
  • professional challenge –  the social worker and NSPCC practitioner were able to question and challenge each other about data underpinning their scores for family functioning
  • more time given to the family -  time dedicated to the review gave social workers more time to observe parent-child interactions in the home
  • focus on parenting strengths as well as weaknesses.

Some social workers said NCFAS-G provided more concrete evidence than assessments they commonly used, such as the Common Assessment Framework (CAF) triangle, and led to a more accurate assessment.

Joint working helped improve the quality of evidence and understanding. Whilst one practitioner talked to the parents, the other practitioner was able to focus on listening.

Sometimes issues such as workload or a lack of focus on identifying the key concerns relevant to neglect influenced social workers’ ability to get the most out of the review.

Some social workers felt that having the support of the NSPCC on a way forward gave them confidence to argue for a decision.

The usefulness of the EBD review was sometimes limited if social workers already had evidence and a good understanding of what was happening with a family.

Next steps

The learning from this evaluation will be further developed in the new NSPCC service Thriving Families.

"You can see the children come in; the girl is wearing plimsolls, in winter, at school. It's those tiny points that you miss when you're looking at the big points … and it’s the tiny points that actually really matter … I think that's what this assessment does."

"To be completely honest [if we hadn't used the EBD review] I don't think we would have been able to identify the neglect that's within the family. I found it quite powerful."

Please cite as: Williams, M. (2015) Evidence Based Decisions in child neglect: an evaluation of an exploratory approach to assessment using the North Carolina Family Assessment Scale. London: NSPCC.

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