Assessment is the core function for counsellors in child and family services. It begins with efforts to engage a child and family in order to build a working relationship where you as the counsellor can encourage participation rather than resistance.

The assessment requires the counsellor to make sense of all the information sh/e is given about a situation or situations and the people who are involved. The assessment has two purposes:

  1. to define exactly what the problem is
  2. to identify the available resources to respond or assist in reducing the problem to the best possible outcome.

Tilbury, et. al. (2007) explain that an assessment is the process of gathering all the relevant information associated with a particular question, and analysing that information using the specific knowledge acquired by the counsellor in order to make a decision of what is needed to bring about the best positive result.

Put another way, assessment requires the ability to analyse information, then synthesise or combine all that information into a big picture.

While the assessment is generally considered the start of the interactions with a child and their family, it is (in itself) a part of the intervention, forming the basis for further planning. Initial interactions with any client can be skewed and therefore as time goes on and qualitative information is gained re-evaluation of the assessment could be necessary and changes to intervention and planning processes may need to be made.

Tilbury et. al. (2007) explains how research with hospitals and community protection agencies suggests that the workers begin with a hypothesis and then only gather the information that supports that hypothesis disregarding any disconfirming information. Observation bias and the significance of first impressions are sources of error in assessments (McDonald cited in Tilbury, et. al., 2007).

In determining the process that will be used for assessment, consideration needs to be given to the methods that may be required to gain access to the individuals who may be identified as being central to the process. If legal assistance is required, such as notification to a statutory service or an application to a court for an assessment order, the direct and indirect consequences of such a decision needs to be considered carefully.

Notification could rapidly increase the risk to the child, family, counsellor or others peripherally involved. Informed decisions need to be made regarding these situations by gaining information from experienced counsellors sometimes across a number of different agencies. Consideration of the relevant risk factors must be anticipated accurately to minimise causal consequences.

Child abuse cannot be determined in isolation. Consideration of the child, the immediate and extended family, and the wider community is necessary to understand the personal, familial and structural factors that impede or facilitate the family’s functioning, hence the child’s wellbeing.

Tilbury et al. (2007) outlines the types of assessments that may be required to give a brief understanding:

Risk assessment

A risk assessment provides relevant information regarding the likelihood and possible severity of harm that the child or family could be suffer, as an indication of the extent to which statutory or other agencies involvement may be necessary. Risk assessment can occur at any stage of the counsellor’s involvement with a family. Generally it is an important part of any child and family assessment.

Child needs assessment

An assessment of the child’s needs is carried out to be used as a guide to the intervention planning. The statement of needs must be specific.

It is important to note, that the assessment of child needs, is about, what the child needs to be safe, NOT what the parent needs to do, to make the child safe. The difference between these two statements is subtle but fundamentally important.

Family needs assessment

The family needs assessment is an essential part of case planning because while in developing the case plan to meet a parent’s or child’s needs it is necessary to work with the family to put together a comprehensive assessment of their history, functioning and situation.? It is a unique opportunity for the counsellor to build a working relationship which is an essential factor to positive acceptance and consideration of any proposed change to the family.

Carer assessment

Meeting with potential carers is important to gauge their motivation, commitment, and parenting skills. The assessment of carers can be undertaken by government or non-government agencies that have the authority provided by legislation to approve careers for children placed out-of-home. Carers, who are in a couple relationship, need to be interviewed both together and separately.

It must always be remembered that the underpinning principles for assessment, in child protection and family support include:

  1. Focusing on both child and family
  2. Drawing from knowledge of child development
  3. Considering both individual and social factors
  4. Considering cultural needs and issues
  5. Working with children and families
  6. Identifying strengths as well as difficulties
  7. Collaborating with other agencies in assessment and identification of available services
  8. Utilising theory and research