The effectiveness of the CAF could only be evaluated if its objectives were know, therefore the question ‘What are the objectives of the CAF’ arose, which then provoked the question ‘What evidence is there to support or disprove that the CAF’s objectives are being met? ‘ out of a necessity to validate the research, and then the question ‘What are the views of the Family Support Team and service users, on the effectiveness of the CAF? ‘ as this supports the previous question, and ‘What evidence is to support these views? ‘ again for validity.
In this logical process of disentanglement, each question informs the next, highlighting the methods required to answer them. The case study can be described as a form of qualitative descriptive research focusing on collection and presentation of detailed information about a particular individual, group, institution or community, on a particular instance, in its real-life context. Case studies frequently include the accounts of subjects themselves, drawing conclusions only about that participant or group and only in that specific context, using a variety of sources of evidence gather by various research methods (Yin, 1989).
Put more simply, the case study is primarily concerned with qualitative research, or the investigation and presentation of information extricated from people, places and processes, using a variety of research methods or tools such as observations, interviews, diary methods, documentary analysis, literature reviews, etc. Although the case study primarily produces qualitative evidence, it is not an exclusively qualitative domain, and can also include quantitative data, that which is counted or measured, in the form of statistical reports or documents (Gillham, 2000).
As in all research, the methods selected for gathering information depend on the nature of the information required; its relevance depends upon the questions asked (Denscombe, 2002). The data presented by this research report is predominantly qualitative with diminutive expression of quantitative, thus a mixed methodology is present. This is due to the methods employed to extricate that data, namely interviews, observations and documentary analysis generating qualitative data, and the format chosen to present some of the findings most clearly, being quantitative.
This specific study is an evaluative case study, one which looks at the value or effectiveness of a system, intervention or practice (Bassey, 1999) The case study, as a research methodology has its strengths and weaknesses, for example, although the case study offers an in depth focus, helping to narrow the research topic, thus making it more manageable for the single researcher, it can restrict what can be examined and the situation may not unfold as the researcher may of hoped.
The highly specific nature of case study research can also have implications for generalizability, or the extent to which findings can be applied to the population as a whole, as the circumstances can be difficult to replicate, due to their individual nature (Bailin, 2000). Also, while the case study relates to practice in a ‘real-life’ context, assisting with capturing the nature of current practices, and may demonstrate how and why practice is changing, it is difficult to cross check and analyse descriptive data.
Although case studies have the unique ability to give insight into the motivations and attitudes of participants and researchers, views can be biased and responses may be affected by perceived expectations. In this type of report, bias could be shown by the researcher or research sample. Researcher bias may occur when there is a high level of personal interest in the research subject and validity fails to be recognised, which affects the findings presented and can be termed as procedural bias.
Sampling bias could also occur due to participants giving socially desirable answers to questions posed, or bias in the researchers sampling strategy (Marshall and Rossman, 2006). Sampling is the process of selecting particular elements from a population of interest. Sampling is used to make inferences or generalize, about a population from a relatively small number of observations, which are assumed to be representative of that population.
According to De Marrais and Lapan (2004) it is not necessary to collect data from all people in order to generate statistics about that population. After a certain sample size, they assert, there is no need to collect more data, the extra data does not improve the accuracy of the estimate to any great extent. When considering a sample, careful thought must be given to sample size and composition. This research report employs a purposive sampling strategy, this is one which is selected by the researcher subjectively, with a purpose in mind.
The researcher would have one or more specific predefined groups they are seeking. Purposive sampling can be very useful for situations where the need to reach a targeted sample quickly exists and where sampling for proportionality is not the primary concern. The purposive sampling strategy allowed this case study to be aimed at the specific participants, the family support team and service users, and to be carried out within the time constraints imposed, in order to answer the research question.
The sample was identified in order to gain the views of those who had previous experience of the CAF, making their input not only reliable and valid, but also, by seeking the views of both the family support team and the service users, provides triangulation. Triangulation is the practice of comparing and contrasting various sources of evidence in order to gain better knowledge and understanding of the research topic.
Triangulation can be seen within and between research methods and is necessary to give validity to research findings in order to make the evidence more convincing (Hughes, 2001). The research methods selected for this study include observations of the practice of the family support team whilst supporting service users and carrying out inter agency duties related to the CAF process, interviews with both sets of participants on their views of their CAF process and documentary analysis of the policies, objectives and legislation surrounding the CAF.
These methods have been selected to incorporate the most relevant and reliable sources of data for this report and also to provide triangulation, as no one source of evidence is likely to be sufficient alone and the use of multiple methods, each with their own strengths and weaknesses, is a key characteristic of the case study (Gillham, 2000). As described by Gillham (2000), triangulation is required to reach a more valid and reliable conclusion and understanding of a research topic, consolidating the findings of the questions it sets out to answer.
Observation is a particularly relevant method of research in working with children and families as it enables the observer to experience and understand specific activities or processes in practice, in a natural setting. These observations can be recorded in a systematic and organised way, allowing the researcher to reflect on what is happening within the setting, which in turn informs future practice. Although the strengths of observation are obvious in this case, this method is not without its weaknesses, for example, there may be bias on the part of the observer, perhaps a willingness to see what they want or expect to see.
The observer’s presence or the method of observation may also have an effect on the behaviour of those observed, according to Gillham (2000), human behaviour and feelings are determined by context and findings may only arise due to methods used. Observation of the practice of the family support team whilst supporting service users and carrying out inter agency duties related to the CAF process were particularly relevant as they were live processes in practice and therefore had no reflective influences, providing views on issues as they were brought to the table.
Interviews are another research method adopted by the case study, and have the potential to yield valuable insight into the views, attitudes and opinions of the interviewee, and indeed in the case of the family support team, their practice. Interviews are valuable for collecting data that requires information from a particular viewpoint, requiring more in depth probing of how people think and construct meaning, and that would be inaccessible in other ways such as, observations or questionnaires (Brown and Dowling, 1998). Interviews can take different forms, structured, semi-structured, unstructured and group interviews.
The structured interview is led by the interviewer, with a series of pre-determined questions. The semi-structured interview also utilises a question schedule, but allows for elaboration and clarification of answers. The unstructured interview is open ended and allows the interviewee to express their own thoughts and attitudes, without the restriction of a set agenda imposed by the researcher, and finally the group interview, which consists typically of two or more individuals, is usually carried out when the researcher wishes to explore group norms and dynamics, or the views of working groups (Grosvenor and Rose, 2001).
The interviews conducted in this report were semi-structured in order allow the findings to be guided towards being relevant to the research question, but allowing for the fact that each participants experience of the CAF would be unique to them. Interviews play an important role in highlighting issues within settings and revealing findings that are not otherwise obvious. This type of data collection is extremely important in helping to understand practice, helping those who work with children and families to make sense of what happens on a day to day basis and allowing practitioners to reflect and evaluate (Lee and Recchia, 2008).
However, as with all research methods, there are advantages and disadvantages to interviews. Although interviews allow the researcher to extricate the information they require, by setting the interview format, for example, structured or unstructured, and also deciding on the questions they want to answer, this is very costly in time, thus limiting the number of interviews that can be carried out.
Interviews also allow interviewers to explore complex issues and views in the most appropriate contexts and to be selective about the issues covered, however, there is an issue of interviewer bias and omission of details not deemed important to them. In order to give validity and reliability to interviews it is necessary to conduct the interview in a formal way, carefully considering the physical environment placing emphasis on obtaining the most detailed account of the participant’s views possible.
By considering such things as the comfort of the interview room, eliminating disturbances and also confirming the interviewee’s answers and debriefing them as to what has been recorded, all help to make the data gathered reliable (Stringer, 1999). Documentary analysis is the process of analyzing texts and documents such as government publications and legislation, policies, diaries, meeting minutes, assessment records, etc, in order to make valid inferences to inform the research process (Krippendorff, 2004).
According to Blaxter et. al. (2006) documentary analysis is used in all research projects, to a greater or lesser extent and relies on the use of available documentation and data. Documentary analysis has a propensity to be utilised within the case study methodology to gain background knowledge to support other methods of data generation. This research report uses documents and reports to look at the objectives set out by the CAF and to examine evidence to support or disprove that these objectives are being met.
The findings and data generated by the analysis of these documents informs and supports the subsequent questions, ‘What are the views of the Family Support Team and service users, on the effectiveness of the CAF? ‘ and ‘What evidence is to support these views? ‘, which were answered via interviews and observations. There are various issues to consider when employing documentary analysis as a research method, over and above examining the content of a document, such as the authenticity, credibility, integrity and intention of the document.
Using documentary evidence from reliable sources and analysing the motivations of that source allow for the identification of bias, providing that the researcher is aware of this process Although documentary analysis is useful for gaining information that would otherwise be complicated or lengthy to explain, some documents can be difficult to gain access to, such as family or assessment records, which was the case in this particular report.
Although all of the required documents were available for examination eventually in this case, the unavoidable process of obtaining permission to access certain data was sometimes prolonged by difficulties in contacting participants and the relaying of messages.
Documentary analysis can be seen as an unobtrusive method of data collection, as the document is not affected by the researcher examining it, in the way that interviews or observations may be, however, as was mentioned previously, if the content of the document is deliberately biased to give the reader or researcher a particular view point, it is the researcher that will be affected by the document (Bennett. et. al. 1994). Careful consideration has been given to ethical principles throughout this research report and the approval of Newman University College Ethics Committee has been formally gained for the research design and methods used.
Ethical considerations have been embedded throughout this study, from reading and agreeing to uphold the confidentiality policy in order to obtain access to the Children’s Centre setting, to the submission of the ethics approval forms required to carry out this report, to the consideration of factors such as confidentiality and anonymity in the observation and interviewing of the Family Support Team, service users and other agencies involved in the CAF process.
Particular respect was paid to ensuring that the participants gave their consent to participate, and were properly informed about the objectives, nature, and purpose of the research and the right of the participants to withdraw from the research at any stage was made clear at the outset. PRESENTATION OF FINDINGS Documentary analysis of the Common Assessment Framework for Children and Young People: Practitioners’ Guide (Children’s Development Workforce Council, 2008), examines the objectives set out nationally by the CAF.
The main objectives of the CAF are, to introduce a standard national approach to assessment, to support earlier intervention, to improve joint working and communication, to support information sharing, to rationalize assessments, to support better referrals where appropriate and to be have been implemented country-wide by March 2008. This document also stipulates the objectives of the role and core functions of the lead professional in the CAF process.
These objectives are, to facilitate as a single point of contact for the child or family, to coordinate the delivery of actions agreed by the practitioners involved and to reduce overlap and inconsistency in service delivery. Birmingham City Council, in their report ‘Common Assessment Framework – Promoting Children’s Wellbeing in Birmingham’ (Birmingham City Council, 2007), state their commitment to the common assessment framework objectives and acknowledge that the implementation of the CAF in Birmingham is an important step towards improving outcomes and developing an integrated approach to working with children, young people and families.
These documents are authentic and reliable sources of policy documentation from a national and local level, providing a good basis for this research report, and answering the question ‘What are the objectives of the CAF’. To examine the question ‘What evidence is there to support or disprove that the CAF’s objectives are being met’, the document, ‘Evaluating the Common Assessment Framework and Lead Professional Guidance and Implementation in 2005-6’ (Black. et. al.2006), an independent research study, offers a representational evaluation of a selection of CAF activity in twelve areas chosen by the DfES to trial the process ahead of the national roll out after April 2006.
Over half of the practitioners involved believed that the CAF was promoting better multi-agency working, helping agencies to come together more quickly and enabling more rigorous follow-through in delivering services. Practitioners identified a positive impact on the lives of the children, young people and families they worked with, and three quarters of those interviewed envisaged the CAF leading to better outcomes for children.
However, this study highlighted that the CAF process and Lead Professional working posed challenges and over two thirds of the participants said that the CAF was adding to their workload. It also found that some sectors experienced difficulty in grasping the changes required for holistic assessments and partnership working with families and anxiety was generated by lack of clarity about how the work was to be done, lack of support, threshold differences and lack of join up between agencies and sectors. In these pilot areas, it appears that the bulk of CAF work is being undertaken by practitioners from the education and health sectors.
An interview conducted with the CAF Area Coordinator for Birmingham produced the data shown in the chart below. It reflects the views of parents and lead professional involved in the CAF process between April 2007 and February 2009. The figures are expressed in percentages of the 479 CAF’s generated in Birmingham since its full implementation in April 2007. Parents were asked to reflect on the how involved they felt in the CAF process, the extent to which they felt it had had a positive impact on their lives and how easy it was for them to contact the lead professional involved.
The lead professional was asked to reflect on how supported they felt in the CAF process. This interview also highlighted that there have been 174 CAF’s initiated in the South West Birmingham area since its implementation, 27 of which have been from Children’s Centres. Interviews with the family support team and service users provided an insight into the question ‘What are the views of the Family Support Team and service users, on the effectiveness of the CAF? ‘ and ‘What evidence is to support these views?
A total of eight interviews were carried out with the Family Support Team and service users, four with the former and four with the later. In each of the service user interview the participants reported that the implementation of the CAF had a positive impact on their children and they viewed the process to be effective in addressing and supporting their needs. All of the needs and support identified by the CAF’s in these cases had been resolved with the exception of one, which required a speech therapy assessment, for which there is a waiting list.
Service users reported a range of beneficial outcomes, from feeling empowered by the process to the feeling of ‘a weight being lifted’. The assertion that the CAF process, although a very positive experience, requires total commitment on behalf of all involved was a reoccurring theme with both the service users and the family support team. Interviews with the family support team revealed the CAF to be considered an extremely positive process overall, having not only positive consequences for the families involved, but for professional development and future practice.
Initial concerns regarding increased workload were universal, but reports of time savings due to not having repetitive assessments and meetings were made by two participants. Assertions of the CAF having far reaching effects for other children and families in addition to those implementing the process were made by one participant. In this case a speech and language nurture group was initiated, involving six additional children in the nursery setting of a child involved in the CAF.