(Queen's Bench Division (Administrative Court); Keith J; 5 March 2009)
The two children, aged 15 and 17, were children in need. The mother had mental problems, and had been abused by a series of violent partners. The children both had educational problems (the elder had specific learning difficulties; the younger had not attended school for over a year), and both had been known to self-harm. Core assessments were produced, and later the children were placed on the child protection register as being at risk of emotional harm. A wide range of services were offered to the family, and a social worker met the family no less than every four weeks, and often more frequently. However, the children sought judicial review, claiming that the core assessments failed properly to assess their needs or to identify how those needs should be met. In particular, the children criticised the assessments for failing to comply with the guidance given in 'Framework for the Assessment of Children in Need and their Families'. The authority did not acknowledge that the core assessments had been flawed, but conducted fresh assessments in any event. However, the children continued with their claim. An order was made giving directions for a hearing of the claim, including an order that the hearing be before a judge of the Family Division if possible. The parties did not inform the listing officer of that part of the order.
There was no doubt that the original core assessments left much to be desired; they gave the appearance of having been prepared either quickly or without much care, being little more than a narrative of information, and containing little, if any, analysis of the children's precise needs, or of how those needs were to be met. However, it was possible for any shortcomings in a core assessment to be neutralised by other action that properly identified the child's needs and how they were to be met. What was important was whether the outcome of the process included a proper analysis of the children's needs, and a clear identification of how those needs were to be met, including by whom and when. In this case the shortcomings of the original core assessments had been met by what had been done thereafter to identify and meet the children's needs. The experience of a judge from the Family Division would have been helpful, particularly in judging the quality of the new core assessments. However, judging them as best he could, the judge concluded that the local authority's second assessments satisfied the requirements of the Framework. The application for judicial review was refused.