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Children: Common Assessment Framework

Volume 694: debated on Wednesday 25 July 2007

My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families (Kevin Brennan) has today made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I am announcing today the support that the Government will provide to front-line professionals in children’s services by implementing a single national IT system to support the common assessment framework (eCAF).

The common assessment framework (CAF) is a key element of the Every Child Matters programme to transform children’s services by supporting more effective prevention and early intervention. Its goal is to provide a standardised approach for practitioners in the holistic assessment of a child’s needs and the design of an integrated service to meet those needs.

By facilitating a greater number of early interventions, eCAF will shift the focus from dealing with the consequences of difficulties in children’s lives to preventing them from happening in the first place. By facilitating better collaboration between practitioners and encouraging needs-led intervention, eCAF will directly improve the experience of service provision for children and families.

Any given case with a child can involve multiple agencies working across borders, both geographic and organisational. It is, therefore, essential that any supporting mechanism for CAF provides practitioners from different sectors with easy access to key information concerning the assessment to allow them to plan, monitor and review a co-ordinated approach to the delivery of the most appropriate services. eCAF is the response to this need.

eCAF will allow a practitioner to create electronically, store and share a CAF securely. Completion of CAFs by different agencies and the subsequent exchanges of data between relevant agencies promote multi-agency working and early interventions. The complexities of cross-border work are removed, as eCAF provides a consistent approach for all practitioners working in different agencies and locations, thus facilitating the effective and efficient delivery of a co-ordinated service.

eCAF will hold information about only some (not all) children, with consent and for a limited period of time. It will offer a systematic means of capturing:

details of the child/young person being assessed (ie name, gender, date of birth, contact details, ethnicity and immigration details);

details that might be useful for the practitioners working with the child (ie child’s first language, parent’s first language, disability and whether an interpreter or any other special requirements are needed);

people present at the assessment;

details of parent/carer (ie name, relationship, contact details);

family structure, described by the practitioner using free text;

details of person undertaking assessment (ie name, organisation and contact details);

name and contact number for the lead professional if applicable;

details of other services working with the child/young person (ie school, GP);

assessment summary, appropriately captured by the practitioner using free text; and

consent-based, planned actions, reviewing progress and a summary of the outcomes, all summarised appropriately by the practitioner using free text.

Children, young people or, where appropriate, their parents or carers will be able to ask to see their records and to challenge any inaccuracies, in accordance with data protection legislation.

Using eCAF, the assessment process will be enhanced through the removal of unnecessary administration and inherent business issues, allowing practitioners to focus on activities that have the greatest impact. Business issues that eCAF will reduce include unnecessary repeat assessments, inappropriate referrals and inappropriate interventions. Efficiency gains from the reduction of these business issues are expected to yield savings estimated at £150 million over the first eight years from the inception of the national system. We do not intend to reduce funding for children’s services, but instead we intend to enable savings realised to be reinvested in more and better services for children and more effective use of staff time. We anticipate that this will enhance staff satisfaction with their jobs.

Using proven technology, the system will be built and implemented on a single nationally hosted infrastructure that all practitioners will use. Data will be held in a single physical location enabling practitioners easily to work together, accessing the most up-to-date information. The system will have the ability to share data with other case management systems in order to avoid duplication of input when specialist assessments are created. Locally owned systems can be modified to take advantage of this functionality.

The Government will ensure that the eCAF system is secure and will therefore ensure that it complies with rigorous security standards. Access to it will be granted only to authorised users who have undergone appropriate checks, including those provided by the Criminal Records Bureau. Practitioner use of the eCAF system will be audited to ensure that information is accessed only where it is necessary for practitioners to do so, and so guard against inappropriate access by authorised users.

Our decision to provide a single national eCAF system has been arrived at using input from stakeholders, the lessons learnt from five local eCAF pilot systems and a comprehensive analysis of eight options, covering a range of variants, from devolved responsibility to a more central approach.

The Government are planning to commit one-off implementation costs estimated to be £44.5 million in total across the next six financial years (including VAT)—this includes funding to roll out the system nationally and to ensure that practitioners are trained to use the system properly. Operating costs, thereafter, will be £6.4 million per year (including VAT). Both set-up and running costs will be funded by central government so that the costs to local authorities do not form a pressure on the council tax.

Implementation will be led by a dedicated project team within DCSF. The project team will work closely with stakeholders across local authorities to ensure that developments continue to be relevant and lead to more effective practice.