Once upon a time, in a country ruled over by a good and wise queen, someone realised that lots of children and young people were involved with lots of different youth projects, schools, and social service departments, but those youth projects, schools, and social service departments weren’t doing a very good job of talking to each other about the young person, and when they did talk to each other they used a different language, with funny words in it that no-one else understood. Words like “threshold”, “empowerment”, and “integrated support across the continuum of needs and services”. Sometimes the youth projects, schools, and social service departments didn’t even know the child they were working with was involved with other youth projects, schools, and social service departments! It was all a bit silly. So this someone decided that a new way of working should be created, where, if people needed help working with a certain child, they could find out who else was working with the child, and they could all speak the same language. And the new way of working that this someone created was called the Common Assessment Framework or CAF for short. And this someone who created it? They had a name too, and their name was the Department for Education and Skills, but they soon passed the role over to the Children’s Workforce Development Council because they had other things to do.
At least, that’s my way of explaining what this magical beast known as the Common Assessment Framework is. This is how the CWDC says it:
“The CAF is a shared assessment tool for use across all children’s services and all local areas in England. It aims to help early identification of need and promote co-ordinated service provision.”
Which clearly isn’t as fun or helpful as my way of defining it. Essentially it’s a tool to try and make everyone speak the same language and work together to help a child who has needs that aren’t being met and what it boils down to in practice, is a form, a flowchart1, and an agreement to share information, all of which can be explained in this handy example below. But before we get to that handy example, why on earth do you need to know this? Well, if you’re involved in any youth or children’s work that also involves government services (like say a school) or the larger of the voluntary services (like say London Youth) this is the way they’re going to have to go when trying to get other agencies to work with children they know. The CWDC says “every practitioner working with children, young people and families should understand the Government outcomes for all children, and know about the CAF or how to complete on themselves” which again, clearly isn’t as easy to understand as my way of explaining it. Didn’t I say that I was getting to a handy example?
Your name is Dwayne. You have a child who is called Dwayne Jnr and he’s 13 years old. Dwayne Jnr isn’t possessed with any criminal tendencies, but he does have a particular lack of respect for his teachers and an inability to do long division. This can mostly be blamed on your laissez-faire parenting skills which somehow you self-justify as ‘empowering’. But enough about you. Dwayne Jnr’s form tutor Derek decides that Dwayne has un-met needs that Derek can’t meet on his own. Derek needs more help, so, with the consent of Dwayne Jnr and Dwayne (that’s you remember) he checks whether someone has already done a CAF form, and if not fills one in. This CAF form details everything of note in Dwayne Jnr’s life at the minute. At the end of this form Derek decides, with both of you, what needs to change and how you’re going to do it. One of these things is for Dwayne Jnr to stop being so rude in class, another is for you to stop being such a poor parent. He also writes down a list of other agencies you all would like to see involved. One of those is YouthBuzZ, a youth project that teaches kids to silently hum whenever they get angry with their teachers. This form is then sent off to those other agencies with a request to meet and form a team around Dwayne Jnr and also sent off to the local borough CAF officer. All those people then meet about Dwayne Jnr and say how they can help Dwayne Jnr. If you or Dwayne Jnr have problems during this then you just contact the lead professional, who is assigned by the team. That could be Derek or someone from another agency, like the senior youth worker at YouthBuzZ. He sorts everything out for you and your son. They work together, your son becomes a fittier, happier, and more productive child and you become a better parent. Success is achieved and if all continues to go to plan the team disbands knowing that their work is done.
From the perspective of YouthBuzZ, it’ll look something like this. You get a CAF form and a request to meet around the child to offer him some provision. If you can, you say “yes, we’d love to”. You having a meeting with Derek and whoever else is invited, state when you can offer to help Dwayne Jnr and let the lead professional inform Dwayne Jnr of this. At some point Dwayne Jnr starts accessing your service. You keep in touch with the lead professional and meet with everyone to review Dwayne Jnr’s case every now and again. At some point you realise Dwayne’s needs are being met, so the team disbands and the meetings stop, but you continue to support Dwayne as long as he needs it.
So you see, one form, one model of practice, and one agreement to share information. You can see the form for yourself at the every child matters website but ideally you’ll never seen one in paper, they’ll all be done online and it’d get sent off to all the relevant people via e-mail, thereby reducing faff. The form should only be filled in once, by anyone ever, after that it’s stored with the CAF administrator and by contacting them you can find out whether or not a CAF form already exists and if it does exist you can find out who is working with the child already. You won’t be able to see the CAF form though until the lead professional invites you to see it. Soon2 they’ll be an electronic system called Contactpoint3 which’ll store basic data for every child in the country, including whether or not they have a CAF form, which if you’re authorised you can look up the concerned child on directly and find out who is the lead professional. At the moment though, it’s all being done by local boroughs, so if your child lives in Cornwall, you’d check them via the local Cornwall CAF administrator (who’d obviously have to know who you are first).
And that, is essentially it. If you want to do the filling in a CAF form part of the process yourself you’ll need to be trained up by your local borough, but now if you receive one, you’ll know what to do with it hopefully. Or when you’re talking with your youth work friends you won’t be so clueless about it all.
1 Form and Flowchart are two of the four main elements of Hip-Hop. FACT.
2 Soon as in “we’re a government backed major IT project” not soon as in “soon”.
3 Which is driving privacy lovers crazy, and which might be illegal under the new Human rights bill (but everything else seems illegal too under that bill so we can probably ignore it)