Viability assessment guidance

A viability assessment is a relatively brief but vital assessment that should be undertaken when a person within a child's extended support network comes forward with an offer to care for the child. This page sets out key areas that should be considered.

A viability assessment is a relatively brief assessment undertaken with a 'connected person' such as relative or friend who wishes to be considered to care for a child that is known to them. A viability assessment considers the likelihood of carers being able to meet the physical and emotional needs of the child now and through their childhood and enables the assessing social worker to make recommendations as to whether a further assessment should be embarked upon. This assessment will usually be completed within a maximum of 12 weeks.

It is suggested that a connected person, although usually a relative or friend, might also include someone who knows the child in a professional capacity, such as a Childminder, teacher or youth worker. It is necessary to focus on the key areas that might indicate whether someone is potentially suitable to look after a child, usually as a foster carer or special guardian.

Having completed a viability assessment in some cases the next step will be to complete a full fostering assessment. It is intended that the earlier assessment is used as a starting point for subsequent assessments such a Form C Connected Persons (Family and Friends) Report.

There are a number of key points to consider when assessing this group of prospective carers.

Similarly, there are also often factors which may preclude connected persons from being considered suitable for a viability assessment. Some such indicators are tabled below in relation to risk factors and protective factors. This resource can be a useful screening tool when considering whether to embark upon the assessment of a proposed connected person or when considering who may be the strongest candidate to assess should more then one connected person be presented. Similarly, the use of a viability meeting with extended family and friends to consider who would be best placed to put themselves forward may be useful. Such decisions may also have been made as a result of a Family Group Conference taking place.

A positive viability assessment is dependent upon agency checks having been undertaken and the finds of these checks must be considered positive for the purposes of the assessment.

Guidance in relation to findings of agency checks can be obtain from the family placement service.

Issues to consider before and during a viability assessment

Areas to be examined

Risk factors - Some examples

Protective factors -Some examples

Family composition

Existing major relationship difficulties with children. Presence of household members who have a negative, potentially or actually abusive relationship with the child/children.

Warm supportive relationships within the family, sharing responsibilities. Prospective carers and any children have positive, well established relationships with the child/ren.

Family network

Persistent discord and divided loyalties in the network.  Evidence of collusive, tangled relationship with the child/ren's parents.

Acknowledgement of the parents' difficulties which led to social services intervention. Awareness of the child's need to maintain links with significant people and ability to manage contact arrangements.

Background factors - family history and current functioning

Lack of insight into own difficulties in the past, especially where this affected parenting of their own children.  Children are most vulnerable when carers' mental illness or problem alcohol and drug use coexist with domestic violence.

Ability to appreciate how personal experiences have affected themselves and their families. Resolution of past problems - alcohol, drugs, mental illness, domestic violence.  Evidence of this

Health and police checks

Major current or chronic physical and/or mental health problems.  These might rule out the applicant(s), if severe. Record of offences against children would generally rule the applicant out.

Ability to maintain effective functioning through periods of stress. Evidence of having moved on from any early offending behaviour.


Poor likelihood of obtaining adequate accommodation within a realistic time frame.  Environmental health and safety concerns.

Adequate space for the family's needs, including the child/ren to be placed.  Good physical standards in the home.


Evidence of persistent financial problems - heavy debts.  Unrealistic notions of the level of financial support available to support the proposed placement.

Adequate financial resources. Good money management

Family's social integration - access to community resources

Ability to provide the required personal references will give some indication of their peer group and social networks.  Racial conflict and stereotyping in the family network - particularly significant for children of dual heritage.

Ability to develop a support system within the community and personal networks.  Ability to work with professionals and agencies and act as an advocate for the child.

Parenting capacity - capacity to meet the children's physical needs

Carelessness about the whereabouts and safety of children.  Poor standards of physical care. Difficulty feeding child, managing routines.

Ability to provide a good standard of physical care and promote healthy development throughout childhood.

Ensuring safety - capacity to protect

Denial of the child protection concerns and risks identified by social services would cast doubt on the applicant(s)' viability.  Especially in the case of grandparents, this may be due to the initial shock.

Ability to protect children from damaging contact with people who have abused them. Ability to recognise the particular vulnerability of individual children to abuse and discrimination

Emotional warmth - capacity to meet the children's emotional needs

Lack of empathy for the child and persistent complaints about his/her behaviour. Lack of understanding of how abuse, separation and loss affect children.

Enjoyment of the child's company, liking the child.  Ability to promote the child's self-esteem. Ability to accept the individual child as he/she is and to provide appropriate care.


Lack of understanding of the needs of children to play and learn. Inappropriate expectations (too high or too low) of child's capacity

Creating appropriate opportunities for children to learn and play. Good relationships with the children's schools and supportive of positive out-of-school activities and interests.

Guidance and boundaries

Rigid, coercive discipline without time, patience and coaxing to obtain the child's compliance. Regular use of physical punishments, threats or bribes.

Ability to set appropriate boundaries and manage children's behaviour


High number of moves in the last 10 years within and between countries. High number of people who would be involved with the child.

Well settled in their present home. High commitment and dependability.


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