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Gatekeeping and assessing the needs, circumstances and wishes of a child (Part 1)

In order to make sure the most appropriate support is provided to children and families, one “gatekeeping” mechanism is the use of a comprehensive assessment. This will provide evidence as to the needs, characteristics, circumstances and wishes of each child as well as ascertaining the situation of their family.

The UN Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children advise assessments should be ‘carried out expeditiously, thoroughly and carefully. It should take into account the child’s immediate safety and well-being, as well as his/her longer-term care and development, and should cover the child’s personal and developmental characteristics, ethnic, cultural, linguistic and religious background, family and social environment, medical history and any special needs.’

In addition, the Guidelines indicate the importance placed on full participation of children in any decision-making about their care and the importance of professionals from different sectors working together around the child and their family to ensure the range of necessary support is made available.

The following are just some of the factors that should be considered during the assessment process:

  • The reasons why an assessment is being considered;
  • The parental/family circumstances (strengths and challenges);
  • Current and future risks to the child;
  • The child’s needs and characteristics;
  • The child’s wishes;
  • Information provided by others in contact with the child, i.e. health staff, teachers, members of the community;
  • Any current or possible access to necessary services and support mechanisms.

A multi-sectoral approach

Assessments should not just be carried out by professionals working in child protection agencies. All sectors that regularly come into contact with children have a role to play in assessments so that an holistic understanding of a child’s situation can be reached. This may include health, education, housing and, employment services and other social sectors, all of which are important for identifying the circumstances of a child and selecting, delivering, and coordinating the most suitable support to enable them to be properly cared for.

It is important to ensure professionals and volunteers from different sectors are guided by shared protocols and standards. This helps with consistency, is easier to regulate, and reduces duplication and confusion. It requires designated gatekeeping mechanisms including clear assessment and other tools, guidance, and protocols, as well as legal mandates for any sector that regularly comes into contact with children. It requires personnel who are well trained to undertake assessments.

In the next course step, we will consider a case study set in Rwanda where a non-governmental organisation has been working with local communities and government authorities to develop the use of assessments.

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This article is from the free online course:

Getting Care Right for All Children: Implementing the UN Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children

University of Strathclyde

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