What is the Common Assessment Framework?: Explained for 2021

What is the Common Assessment Framework? 

The common assessment framework (CAF) is a process used to identify children’s unmet needs and support them. Using the CAF, an assessor works with the child and their parents or carers to understand the issues at hand and then formulates an action plan to provide the best support possible. 

The CAF aims to streamline the process of helping at-risk children by allowing multiple agencies to communicate and work together as a team. This helps support the child and their family in all aspects of life. For example, an action plan created through the common assessment framework might outline how school staff can coordinate with social workers to improve the child’s attendance at school and their wellbeing at home. Parental arrangements may be changed in line with the child’s wishes, or special arrangements might be made to engage hard-to-reach parents or non-English speaking parents in their child’s education.

The ultimate outcome of the CAF is to improve the child’s life and education and ensure all their needs are met. Read on to learn more about when the common assessment framework is needed, what the assessment consists of, and how to complete it effectively.

Who Can Carry Out a Common Assessment?

To carry out a common assessment, you must be a skilled practitioner who has been trained to complete the assessment. However, any practitioner can complete a pre-assessment checklist if they think a child may be at risk, even if they haven’t been trained to do a common assessment themselves. 

This applies to teachers and any school support staff who are in contact with children. You can complete a pre-assessment checklist if you suspect a child would benefit from the common assessment framework. Then, if needed, a common assessment will be offered to the child and their parent or carer. If all parties wish to continue, the assessment can take place.

The pre-assessment checklist helps make the common assessment framework accessible to all children and makes sure unmet needs can be identified as early as possible. There are an estimated 2.3 million children living at risk because of vulnerable family background in the UK, with more than a third not receiving any support. Identifying risks early is very important when it comes to helping children overcome their disadvantages. Ideally, support should be given before the difficulties in a child’s life become serious. 

When is the Common Assessment Framework Needed? 

The common assessment framework is used to safeguard children and young people who are facing difficulties that stop them from developing healthily and happily. The government’s Working Together to Safeguard Children guidance outlines that safeguarding should include:

  • Protecting children from maltreatment;
  • Preventing impairment of children’s health or development; 
  • Ensuring children have safe and effective care;
  • And, taking action to enable children to have the best outcomes.

If difficulties are preventing a child from having the best outcomes, for example, causing them to fall behind in school, the common assessment framework can be used to outline the issues and find solutions. Some common circumstances and behaviours which may signify that a child or young person’s needs are not being met include:

  • Permanent or repeated exclusion from school;
  • Persistent unauthorised absences from school;
  • Missing milestones, i.e. not progressing in their school work;
  • Exhibiting disruptive or aggressive behaviours, i.e. threatening others or committing offences;
  • Experiencing bullying from other children, or is bullying other children;
  • Disengaging from their education and extracurricular activities, such as sports;
  • Poor physical or mental health, i.e. poor nutrition or anxiety and depression;
  • Housing issues, i.e. being homeless or in temporary accommodation;
  • Lack of parental support or experiencing a family breakdown or bereavement;
  • Exposure to substance abuse or crime through their family.

The list is not exhaustive, nor does the presence of one or more of these factors definitively mean a common assessment is required. Each case should be considered individually in line with any underlying risk factors or high-risk factors that are present. Most importantly, if you assume a child to be at risk of harm, then you should refer this concern directly to the police or social services.

What Does the Common Assessment Framework Consist of?

The common assessment framework looks at several factors to assess a child’s needs and form an action plan. This is done through three core stages:

The child’s developmental needs are assessed.

Firstly, the CAF examines the child’s developmental needs. This is central to the assessment, so this section should gather a range of details around the following topics: 

  • Health – Is the child in good general health? How is their physical development? How developed is their speech and language? Are they engaged with health services, such as a GP and dentist? 
  • Education – Is the child attending school or nursery? What is their attendance level? Do they participate in learning? What are their achievements?
  • Emotional and Behavioural Development – Does the child exhibit positive behaviours and emotions? Do they have certain routines or boundaries to assist their development? 
  • Identity – What is the child’s sense of self-identity? How robust are their self-esteem and self-image?
  • Family and Social Relationships – Does the child have a stable relationship with their parents? Do they have other meaningful relationships with peers, family members, or people in their wider community? 
  • Social Presentation – What are the child’s appearance and presentation like in social situations? What are their personal habits?
  • Self-Care Skills – Can the child take care of themselves independently? What is their standard of personal hygiene? 

The child’s parents and their wider family environment are assessed.

Next, the CAF considers the child’s parents or carers and their wider family environment. The effects of parents on academic achievement is often underestimated, though a child’s parental set-up can hugely affect their performance in school. Questions considered at this stage in the common assessment include:

  • Which issues affect the parents’ ability to fulfil the child or young person needs?
  • What is the size and composition of the child’s household?Common Assessment Framework
  • How does the child describe their relationships with their parents and siblings?
  • Is there an absent parent or a breakdown in the relationship between parents?
  • Is there a history of issues in the family, such as violence or substance misuse?
  • Are there any issues with illnesses, disabilities or bereavements in the family? 
  • Is there a support network in the wider family? 

Analysis and action plan.

The final stage of a common assessment includes analysing all the information compiled to form an action plan. The plan should offer a coordinated approach to meet the child’s needs. 

The plan should include actions for both the child and their carers to complete, as well as actions for multiple agencies in contact with the child, such as school staff, police, children’s services, voluntary groups, or social workers. Each action should serve to solve an issue the child’s faces. For example, the plan may be split into the following sections:

  • Issues. Example: A lack of parental structure and routine is impacting the child’s school attendance.
  • Actions. Example: To support the child to get back into a school routine.
  • Who needs to take the action? Example: The child, their parents, and a learning mentor.
  • When will the action be completed?  Example: A specific date in the near future.
  • What is the desired outcome?  Example: The child’s attendance is consistently above 80%.
  • How will it be known the outcome has been achieved? Example: School reports will indicate attendance and performance has improved and the child will report better wellbeing.

Top Tips for Completing a Common Assessment.

Here are some features that make for a well-informed common assessment:

  • A range of well-balanced information has been gathered. A good common assessment form will contain clear comments and information on every section of the form, covering the child, their parents, and their wider environment. There will be plenty of concise details included and not too many gaps left where information is not known.
  • Appropriate wording and style have been used throughout. The form should be set out in a clear order that is easy to understand and issues should be weighted according to their importance. If one issue is of particular concern, for example, parental conflict affecting the child, this should be given an appropriate focus and level of detail in the form. All information should be clearly worded and non-judgemental, without any jargon or inaccessible language such as acronyms. All record of speech or opinions should be clearly attributed, for example, ‘Dad says….’
  • The child’s voice and viewpoint are centralised throughout. The CAF prioritises the voice of the child and their parent throughout the process. A good common assessment should highlight the child’s voice and viewpoint, in particular – taking into account their preferences, likes and dislikes, thoughts, and wishes. It should also engage the whole family to build trust between parents/carers and the supporting agencies. Ultimately, the focus on the child should allow for strong and clear conclusions to be made.
  • A clear and practical action plan is formed. A clear action plan should include dates for each outcome, as well as a person or agency who is responsible for achieving that outcome. These should prioritise in order of importance and timings.

How Can Learning Ladders Help? 

Learning Ladders is here to support your needs as teaching staff and improve outcomes and communication, across the board. We are an all-in-one suite for schools that helps you to:

  • Track pupil progress (e.g. assessments, grades).
  • Communicate with parents for better parental engagement and improve home learning.
  • Manage remote learning via a Virtual Learning Environment. 

Our 9 core features improve outcomes for Senior Leadership Teams (SLT) by reducing the workload for your staff and using data analysis to help you understand where your resources should be allocated. 

Learning Ladders also allows teachers to involve parents in their child’s learning through clear communication. Parents can see how their child is performing, what they’re learning about and how to help them at home. Students can also see their progress, what they need to improve on and how to get there, all in one place. 

Learn more about Learning Ladders’ and what we do to support your school here

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