Background: Serious case reviews and research studies have indicated weaknesses in risk assessments conducted by child protection social workers. Social workers are adept at gathering information but struggle with analysis and assessment of risk. The Department for Education wants to know if the use of a structured decision-making tool can improve child protection assessments of risk.
Methods/design: This multi-site, cluster-randomised trial will assess the effectiveness of the Safeguarding Children Assessment and Analysis Framework (SAAF). This structured decision-making tool aims to improve social workers' assessments of harm, of future risk and parents' capacity to change. The comparison is management as usual.
Inclusion criteria: Children's Services Departments (CSDs) in England willing to make relevant teams available to be randomised, and willing to meet the trial's training and data collection requirements.
Exclusion criteria: CSDs where there were concerns about performance; where a major organisational restructuring was planned or under way; or where other risk assessment tools were in use.
Six CSDs are participating in this study. Social workers in the experimental arm will receive 2 days training in SAAF together with a range of support materials, and access to limited telephone consultation post-training. The primary outcome is child maltreatment. This will be assessed using data collected nationally on two key performance indicators: the first is the number of children in a year who have been subject to a second Child Protection Plan (CPP); the second is the number of re-referrals of children because of related concerns about maltreatment. Secondary outcomes are: i) the quality of assessments judged against a schedule of quality criteria and ii) the relationship between the three assessments required by the structured decision-making tool (level of harm, risk of (re) abuse and prospects for successful intervention).
Discussion: This is the first study to examine the effectiveness of SAAF. It will contribute to a very limited literature on the contribution that structured decision-making tools can make to improving risk assessment and case planning in child protection and on what is involved in their effective implementation.
- Child protection
- Social work
- Child maltreatment