The past 11 years (1995-2006) have seen several major government initiatives in child welfare programmes culminating in the Children Act 2004 which places a duty on Children's Services and their relevant partners to 'cooperate to improve the well-being' of children. One of the most important vehicles of delivery is the establishment of a common assessment framework (CAF) (DfES, 2003) as a key recommendation of the Green Paper Every Child Matters (2003). It is believed that the implementation of the Framework will lead to a significant re-shaping of intervention practices and to a measurable improvement in the lives of children and families facing adversity of different kinds.
The research presented in this article aims to address a fundamental problem which stands in the way of this initiative designed to standardize approaches to the assessment of need. The problem concerns the identification and categorization of matters which are currently being referred by different agents and agencies to children's services social care 'front-doors' as child protection matters. In the context of the findings of the first evaluation of the CAF and Lead Professional Guidance (DfEs, 2006) and the issues it raised over how 'thresholds' for services are being defined between partner agencies, the findings of research from the study being reported on this paper have implications for the reform of children's services in the UK and in other places where polices to improve the well being of children and young people are paramount.