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Initial Family and Friends Care Assessment: A good practice guide

These assessments are commonly known as viability assessments

Where at all possible, children should be supported to live safely within their family. Where a child cannot remain in the care of their parents, research has consistently found that children placed in kinship care generally do as well, if not better, than children in unrelated foster care, particularly with regard to the stability of the placement.

So it is essential that if a child may not be able to live safely with their parents, practitioners identify potential carers from within the child’s network of family and friends and determine whether they will be able to provide safe care to meet the child’s needs until they reach adulthood.

In most local authorities, some form of initial family and friends care assessment is used to determine which members of a child’s family and friends network are a potentially realistic option to care for that child and should therefore be subject to a full assessment as a potential carer. This initial assessment is not to determine whether an individual is ‘viable’ but whether it is a potentially ‘viable’ placement for a specific child. These are commonly called ‘viability assessments’ and for ease we use this terms throughout the rest of the document.

In practice, this means social workers may be required to undertake viability assessments with several family members and often to tight deadlines.

However, there are no national regulations, minimum standards or guidance covering viability assessments. This has led to local authorities and individual practitioners taking different approaches to how a viability assessment is conducted and presented.

To fill this gap, Family Rights Group convened an expert working group to develop this practice guide, with support from the Department for Education, Cafcass, the Association of Directors of Children’s Services and the Family Justice Council.

The guide aims to provide social workers with a clear framework for undertaking preliminary assessments of family and friends. Ultimately, it will be for the judge to decide which option for permanence is the right one for the child but this guide will enable practitioners to demonstrate with confidence to a child, family members, professionals and the judiciary that potentially viable options for a child to be raised within their family network have been fully and fairly explored. The guidance is underpinned by research and examples from practice. These are detailed in Appendix A.