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Residential parenting assessments: uses, costs and contributions to effective and timely decision-making in public law cases

The Family Justice Review (FJR) highlighted the need for timely decision-making and high quality assessments in care proceedings and recommended wide-ranging reforms intended to put children’s interests back at the heart of the process (Ministry of Justice, the Department for Education and the Welsh Government, 2011). During the course of the FJR concerns were raised ‘about the value of residential assessments of parenting capacity, particularly set against their cost and lack of clear evidence of their benefits’ (p.18). The Childhood Wellbeing Research Centre (CWRC) was commissioned by the Department for Education (DFE) to undertake a small-scale research study to explore the role, costs and contribution that residential parenting assessments make to timely and effective decision-making in public law.
Residential family centres are defined in section 4(2) of the Care Standards Act 2000 as establishments at which:

  • accommodation is provided for children and their parents;
  • the parents’ capacity to respond to the children’s needs and to safeguard their welfare is monitored or assessed; and
  • the parents are given such advice, guidance and counselling as is considered necessary (Department for Education, 2013, p.3).

Residential parenting assessments conducted in residential family centres are intended to provide robust, fair and evidence based assessments of parenting skills and capability for local authorities and the courts (Department for Education, 2013). Assessments are undertaken in accordance with the Framework for Assessment of Children in Need and their Families (Department of Health, 2000) and should take into account: a child’s developmental needs; the capacity of the parents to support their child’s development and respond appropriately to their needs; and wider family and environmental factors that may impact on the child’s development and parenting capacity. Although there are these commonalities, Ofsted inspection reports demonstrate that there are variations in the theoretical bases underpinning practice in different establishments, the quality of assessments and partnership working with placing local authorities and the courts.