Monday, November 20, 2006

Shy sister of the IS Index

While just about everyone knows about the children's Information Sharing Index, few words have been spared on its parallel assessment system: the Common Assessment Framework (CAF for short).

CAF is an in-depth assessment that has to be completed when a child needs extra services, or when any practitioner thinks a child isn't progressing towards the government's 'five outcomes'. It's supposed to be voluntary, but we have anecdotal evidence that some local authorities are insisting a CAF be completed in full before a child can receive services. Bear in mind that the government envisages that around one third of children will need extra services.

The assessment is grouped into areas that look at a child's physical and mental health, education, development, relationships with others, environmental factors and parental competence. Under each heading is a list of factors to consider - too exhaustive to copy, but here are just a few highlights:
  • nature and quality of early attachments
  • lifestyle and self-control (including participation in reckless activity and need for excitement)
  • substance misuse
  • stable and affectionate relationships with parents or caregivers
  • sibling relationships
  • age-appropriate friendships
  • The ambitions of the child or young person, whether their aspirations are realistic
Then there are the: "parent or carer’s feelings about looking after this infant, child or young person" and whether they are: "modelling appropriate behaviour and control of emotions" or providing: "appropriate guidance, boundaries and discipline" - or whether they are: "chaotic", abuse drugs or alcohol and engage in criminal activity.

All this just to get a bit of speech therapy! The full list occupies a 7-page Annex in
this document (pdf).

The CAF is being electronically enabled to create the 'eCAF' system. This will hold all of the assessments. An item today in Public Technology Net says:

The benefit of e-enablement of CAF is being witnessed on a daily basis by Wandsworth. A main rationale for CAF is to ensure that any child assessed and identified as requiring additional needs is dealt with in the most efficient and confidential manner possible. The eCAF system holds the assessment form securely in a central place, avoiding the need to make multiple copies for each children’s’ service provider.

...The development of the eCAF system has always run hand-in-hand with the underlying requirements set down by the DfES. Recognising this, Wandsworth Council received capital grants from the DfES in August 2006, to further develop the eCAF system with CPFRS and achieve full DfES compliance by March 2007.

And there's the rub: each local authority has to set up the eCAF from its own budget with the help of grants from DfES. One advantage of doing it this way is that the true cost of meeting those "requirements set down by the DfES" remains unknown. It seems that the government learned one thing from the ID Cards debacle: to make it as difficult as possible to work out just how many millions are being thrown at technology providers.

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