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DevonChildren and Families Procedures Manual

Chronology Guidance

This chapter was added to the manual in October 2018


  1. What is a Chronology?
  2. When is a Chronology Required?
  3. Why do we need a Chronology?
  4. Revised PLO and Pre-Proceedings
  5. Significant Events – what do we mean
  6. What to Include
  7. Who do we Share the Chronology with?
  8. How to Write a Chronology
  9. Quality Assurance

1. What is a Chronology?

A chronology is a record of all significant events and changes in the life of a child, including child care concerns or allegations and incidents of abuse or neglect. A chronology should not contain all contacts and events.

The purpose is to help to structure information and analyse the impact of both immediate and cumulative events and changes on the child or young person.

A chronology is used to inform the social work assessment regarding risks, concerns, patterns, themes, strengths, weaknesses and the caregivers' ability and motivation to change. It helps social workers understand what is happening in the life of a child or young person, highlights gaps and missing detail that requires further assessment and identification.

A good chronology should give a clear picture of the child's journey and experiences and assist professionals in decision making.

A chronology is not a list of everything recorded on a child's file.

2. When is a Chronology Required?

All allocated cases must have a chronology which is regularly reviewed and updated by the allocated practitioner (usually the social worker):

  • As part of any kind of assessment including a single assessment;
  • When a child becomes looked after;
  • Prior to any child protection conference, child in need meeting or looked after child review;
  • To inform legal planning meetings, PLO meetings and decisions to initiate care proceedings.

For Looked After Children who are unaccompanied minors, producing a historical chronology may be difficult but an overview of key events of the child's life whilst being looked after must be maintained.

3. Why do we need a Chronology?

Chronologies enable us to understand a child's journey, they inform our assessments and enable us to make decisions about risk and needs in children's best interests.

Lord Laming noted the importance of a chronology in child protection in both the inquiries into the deaths of Victoria Climbié (2004):

'I regard the inclusion in any case file of a clear, comprehensive and up-to-date chronology as absolutely essential…As the agency best placed to co-ordinate the collection of the relevant information, I regard it as the responsibility of social services to maintain the chronology, seeking the input of other agencies as appropriate.' Recommendation 58 Laming Report: a properly maintained chronology "must be kept on every file"

The importance of a chronology also featured in the case of Peter Connolly (2008):

'What is lost is any holistic sense of the wider picture - the real experience of the child, the real risks which he faces. Thus, for example, in the case of Baby P any meaningful overview by way even of a simple chronology would surely have alerted social work professionals to his predicament' Family Justice Council.

We need a chronology:

  • To keep the 'child in mind', at the 'front & centre' of our thinking;
  • To help identify risk, emerging / established themes and repeating patterns in a child's life;
  • To identify connections amidst intergenerational patterns of behaviour;
  • To explore trends that help predict risk and aid analysis;
  • To better understand what is significant to a child or young person and why?
  • To successfully identify chronic abuse and/or neglect;
  • To enable sharing of concise summaries of concerns with the child, family, partner agencies and the court (including the Devon Children and Families Partnership in the event of a child safeguarding practice review or child death review);
  • To enable/enhance prompt familiarity with the child's journey;
  • For each child to view if they wish to do so when they reach maturity to enable them to try to understand their history;
  • To aid life story work where appropriate during a child's minority;
  • To help those caring for a child understand their background and provide appropriate responses.


A chronology:

  • Is based on a study of recorded information, and in social work practice its overall purpose is to support the analysis of the history of a case;
  • Provides a prompt, concise, factual, outline of significant events/information;
  • Is completed in date order;
  • Highlights significant events/circumstances and changes in a child's life;
  • Summarises outcomes relating to significant events;
  • Helps to understand the impact of events on the child;
  • Contributes to risk assessment and informs decision making through all stages of the child's journey;
  • Must not include legal advice.

4. Revised PLO and Pre-Proceedings

  • Chronologies are required as part of Legal Proceedings. As part of the Pre Proceedings and then the Court Proceedings, a chronology of significant events is required. In Care Proceedings, a chronology must primarily focus on the past two years, unless there is a significant historic event which has current relevance. Documents filed within Legal Proceedings are restricted to a core bundle (unless Court requests further documents), therefore:
    • All documents need to be succinct & focused on relevant details;
    • The chronology should be contained within the Social Work Evidence Template (SWET);
    • There should be specific emphasis on Impact and Analysis rather than narrative;
    • Whilst cases often have extensive complex histories, a Chronology must primarily refer to the past two years;
    • Chronologies should be a summary of events: with significance to the child highlighted; 
    • There should be no unnecessary detail;
    • If an historical significant event continues to have current relevance, then this should also be included.

5. Significant Events – what do we mean

  • Events and changes in circumstances that had a positive or negative impact on the child;
  • Only include a CP/LAC visit if something significant happened;
  • Don't clutter up the chronology by copying and pasting case notes or including lists of dates of visits or details of telephone calls;
  • Multiple significant events may be grouped together e.g. Between April – June 2012 there were 23 incidents of absconding which increased in frequency and duration each week;
  • If events are significant include the response or outcome;
  • If there was no action, explain why not;
  • Where relevant, bring together information from a variety of sources and always identify the source(s);
  • Always reference other documents clearly (seek advice from Legal Dept. for access to the index in court proceedings);
  • All open cases should have an up to date, succinct chronology.

6. What to Include

Family circumstances

  • Relevant family history, births, marriages, new partner, separations, bereavements, changes in household composition;
  • Employment/unemployment & homelessness if relevant to child's circumstances;
  • Evidence of engagement or non-engagement with agencies;
  • Admissions to hospitals, A&E attendance, missed appointments (may be grouped together) of child or carer/significant other where this has had an impact on the child;
  • Domestic abuse incidents;
  • Substance misuse issues;
  • Criminal Justice activity, parents, carer or young person;
  • History relating to violence including convictions;
  • Sex Offender Registration – known to MAPPA or MARAC;
  • Disability, illness & mental health.

Child(ren) circumstances

  • Education (inc. changes of school), behaviour, exclusions;
  • Periods when child has been looked after;
  • Missing episodes of child or family member;
  • Concerns re suspected specific issues: e.g. CSE or Trafficking.

Professional involvement

  • The name and position/profession of the source or person who made the recording;
  • The date of recordings referred to;
  • Referral history, assessments undertaken & outcomes (include positive outcomes);
  • Statutory meeting i.e. ICPC/RCPC & outcomes;
  • Any concerns re vulnerable adults in the child's network and the impact on the child (e.g. young carer);
  • Child Protection enquiries, Child Protection Plans & outcomes;
  • Court hearings and significant outcomes/orders (e.g. resulting in a change of care plan);
  • Key management decisions and brief reasons;
  • Any other relevant concerns or positive improvements;
  • Significant case management decisions/supervision notes;
  • Significant observation during home visit;
  • Evidence of engagement or lack of engagement. 

7. Who do we Share the Chronology with?

Chronologies are part of recording, and should be available to the person they are about, unless there are justifiable legal reasons for withholding this information. The chronology should be shown to and discussed with the person it is about, or their parent. Sharing chronologies with young people and their parents is not solely to check accuracy, but can be part of working together. The process of gathering information about significant events and changes can in itself assist a parent or carer in recognising patterns and cycles in family life which have caused the family problems or difficulties, and in recognising their own capacity and motivation to change.

Chronologies are shared with parties involved in Court Proceedings. Chronologies are also shared as part of assessment and in various reviews and planning meetings. They should be used in supervision of staff, will be used by management to review and audit cases and will form part of the Ofsted Inspection.

Chronologies will be shared with partners, where there are multi-agency audits or serious case reviews or management reviews.

Chronologies should form the key factual basis underpinning supervision and oversight of all cases.

8. How to Write a Chronology

Top Tips:

  • Objective: (Why you are writing it?): To give a clear picture of significant events and the impact they have had, or could have, on the child or young person;
  • Outcome: (What do you want to happen?): Inform assessments and plans to ensure the child's safety and well-being;
  • Target Audience: (Who are you writing it for?): Children, young people, families, carers, social workers, managers, auditors, other professionals and Inspectors;
  • Write the chronology to inform not impress;
  • Use plain English and keep it simple, factual and brief;
  • Ensure the chronology is in date order;
  • Do not use unspecific language i.e. issues, incident, concerns – without giving detail;
  • Do not use names without making it clear what relationship they have to the child;
  • Do not use jargon or abbreviations;
  • Chronologies should be succinct – the chronology will lose value if every issue, contact or event is recorded;
  • Information contained in the chronology must be relevant so that important events are not lost in insignificant and irrelevant detail;
  • Do not cut and paste all case notes – summarise the information to ensure that chronologies only contain significant events and then ensure that they convey the important and key facts and outcomes of that event.

9. Quality Assurance

  • The incidence and quality of chronologies should be regularly reviewed as part of all team's audit and supervision processes;
  • Ensuring that all allocated cases have an up to date chronology is an indication of good practice and persistent failure to achieve this standard will be addressed as a performance issue.