The Common Assessment Framework - help or hinderance?

The Common Assessment Framework (CAF) was intended to be used as a tool to support the assessment of need for a child / family and ensure that a tailored package of multi-agency support is provided. In many places the CAF is used as a referral form at the insistence of the Local Authority. When used in this way is the CAF a help or a hinderance?
Today I had a long discussion about the Common Assessment Framework or CAF and how it is being used by many Local Authorities as a referral form.

Using the CAF as a referral form seems to be detracting from its original purpose - to assess the needs of a child and ensure that families received appropriate multi-agency support and do not have to repeatedly tell their story to professionals.

As a concept the CAF should work and, if used correctly, will enable children and families to access the services they need in a joined up manner, avoiding duplication of services and the need to constantly retell the story. In reality this is not what is happening.

In many cases the Local Authority has stated that all referrals (both single agency and multi-agency, regardless of the level of need) have to be accompanied by a completed CAF. In some Authorities this requirement is irrespective of the level of need and the expectation is that if one agency wishes to refer a child or family to another a CAF must be completed. To reinforce this message many Local Authorities are enforcing the CAF referral route by placing it in contracts for all commissioned / grant funded children’s services. The issue arises when services are universal or work in the area of early intervention and prevention, in this case does the CAF become a help or a hindrance?

For example, a health visitor notices that a new mum is suffering from isolation following the birth of her new baby. They have a good relationship with their local Children’s Centre and feel it would be beneficial for the mum to have receive some support to access services in the area and develop a support network of other new mums. This is something that the Children’s Centre could daily provide and could, in theory, act as an early intervention measure for a mother at risk of post-natal depression. The question is does this require the completion of a CAF?

In this real life case, the level of need was deemed to be low and a single agency intervention was required that had a clear objective. The mother did not want to have a CAF associated with her child and therefore the health visitor was unable to complete the referral. The consequences of this being that the mother could not be referred into the universal provision of her local Children’s Centre. In this case is the CAF a help or a hinderance?

Some agencies have already started to by-pass the system in a desperate bid to get children and families the single agency support they need. In some areas CAF forms are being completed with the bare minimum of detail - often just contact details and a single line stating the need, this is then passed to the incoming agency who then add to the CAF, if required. This, at least, offers the opportunity to access additional support for a child/family if required, but did that initial referral require a CAF?

When used correctly, as a means for assessing and recording a child or families need the CAF is a powerful tool to supporting the most vulnerable to receive a ‘joined up’ service from a team of professionals. Having the story and need all recorded in one place on a document registered with the Local Authority mean that any new agency are able to add to the support package in place for a child / family.

So what are your thoughts? Is the CAF a help or a hinderance? How is it used in your locality? Should the CAF be used as a referral form or as a tool to assess need?
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