Table of Contents
This chapter should be read in conjunction with the Effective Support for Children and Families in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough (Threshold) Document and Guidance for Core Group Members
The Initial Child Protection Conference
Purpose of the Conference
The Initial Child Protection Conference brings together family members, the child, where appropriate, and those professionals most involved with the child and family following a Section 47 Enquiry. Its purpose is:
- To bring together and analyse in an inter-agency setting, the information which has been obtained about the child’s developmental needs, and the parents’ or carers’ capacity to respond to these needs, to ensure the child’s safety and promote the child’s health and development within the context of their wider family and environment;
- To consider the evidence presented to the conference, make judgements about whether the child is suffering or likely to suffer Significant Harm in the future and decide whether the child is at continuing risk of harm; and
- To decide what future action is required to safeguard and promote the welfare of the child, how that action will be taken forward, and with what intended outcomes.
Those professionals and agencies who are most involved with the child and family, and those who have taken part in a Section 47 Enquiry, have the right to request that Children’s Social Care convene a conference, if they have serious concerns that a child’s welfare may not be adequately safeguarded. Any such request that is supported by a senior manager, or a Named Professional or a Designated Professional, should normally be agreed. Where there remain differences of opinion as to the necessity of a conference, every effort should be made to resolve them through discussion or explanation using the Resolving Professional Differences Policy.
Timing of the Conference
All Initial Child Protection Conferences should take place within 15 working days of the Strategy Discussion, or, where more than one Strategy Discussion took place, of the Strategy Discussion at which the Section 47 Enquiry was initiated.
In the case of concerns about the safety of unborn children, a conference may be held as a result of:
- The outcomes of a Single Assessment on a case already known to Children’s Social Care indicating that the unborn child may be suffering or is likely to suffer Significant Harm; and/or
- Previous children having been removed from the family as a result of legal proceedings and the family are known to Children’s Social Care; and/or
- Previous historical knowledge indicates that there is a strong likelihood of the baby suffering Significant Harm.
For further information see Resolving Professional Differences Policy
The timing of the conference should be such that there is time for proper plans to be made prior to the birth of the baby, but not so far before the baby is born that circumstances might significantly change. Pre-birth child protection conferences should therefore normally be held after the 24th week of pregnancy and not less than 6 weeks prior to the expected delivery date.
The relevant midwife should always attend pre-birth conferences.
The Review Child Protection Conference
The purpose of the Review Child Protection Conference is to:
- Review the safety, health and development of the child against the intended outcomes set out in the Child Protection Plan / Family Plan;
- Ensure the plan continues to adequately protect the child from likelihood of harm;
- Bring together and analyse information about the child’s health and development and the parent/carers’ capacity to ensure the child’s safety and welfare;
- Make judgements about the likelihood of the child suffering Significant Harm in the future;
- Decide what action is required to safeguard the child and promote their welfare.
The first Review Conference should take place within 90 days of the Initial Child Protection Conference.
Further Review Conferences must be held at intervals of not more than 6 months, for as long as the child is judged to be at risk of suffering or likely to suffer Significant Harm and there is the need for a Child Protection Plan / Family Plan.
Consideration must always be given to bringing the date of the conference forward when:
- There is a new incident of abuse;
- There are difficulties in carrying out the Child Protection Plan / Family Plan;
- A child is to be born into the household of a child who is subject to a Child Protection Plan / Family Plan;
- An offender convicted of offences against a child joins or commences regular contact with the household;
- There are significant changes in the family circumstances, not anticipated at the previous conference that have implications for the safety of the child;
- The Core Group, at any early stage, believes that the child no longer needs to be subject to a Child Protection Plan / Family Plan.
The Conference Process – Initial and Review Conferences
Professionals attending conferences should be there because they have:
- Professional expertise relevant to the case; and/or
- Knowledge of the child and family.
The local authority social work manager should consider whether to seek advice from, or have present, a medical professional who can present the medical information in a manner which can be understood by the conference attendees and enable such information to be evaluated from a sound knowledge base.
There should be sufficient information and expertise available -through personal representation and written reports – to enable the conference to make an informed decisions and plans. However a conference that is larger than it needs to be can inhibit discussion and intimidate the child and family members.
Those who have a relevant contribution to make to a conference may include:
- The child, or his or her representative;
- Family members;
- Staff from Children’s Social Care who may have led or been involved in an assessment of the child and family;
- Foster carers (current or former);
- Residential care staff;
- Professionals involved with the child (for example, health visitor, midwife, school nurse, Children’s Guardian, paediatrician, school staff, early years staff, GP, NHS Direct, staff in the youth justice system where relevant);
- Professionals involved with the parents or other family members (for example, family support services, adult mental health services, probation, GP, NHS Direct;
- Professionals with expertise in the particular type of harm suffered by the child or in the child’s particular condition, for example a disability or long term illness;
- Those involved in investigations (for example the police);
- Local authority legal services (child care);
- NSPCC or other involved voluntary organisations;
- A representative of the armed services, in cases where there is a Service connection;
- A supporter / advocate for the child and/or parents (e.g. a friend or solicitor); solicitors must comply with the Law Society guidance ‘Attendance of solicitors at local authority Children Act Meetings’ and related ‘Code of Conduct (2011)‘.
Involving the Child and Family Members
Before a conference is held, the purpose of the conference, who will attend and the way it will operate should be explained to the child of sufficient age and understanding, the parents and other involved family members. They should be given a leaflet explaining the child protection conference and informed that they may choose to bring a friend, advocate or supporter to help them fully participate in the conference and express their view. This may be a solicitor acting in the role of a supporter, not as an advocate.
This means that they may therefore ask points of clarification through the Conference Chair; however they must not cross-examine any of the participants.
Subject to consideration of their age and understanding, the child/ren should be given the opportunity to attend the conference should they so wish. They should be told that they may bring an advocate, friend or supporter.
In deciding whether to give a child the opportunity to attend the conference the primary questions to be addressed are:
- Does the child have sufficient understanding of the process?
- Have they expressed an explicit or implicit wish to be involved?
- What are the parents’ views about the child’s attendance?
- Is inclusion assessed to be of benefit to the child?
Normally it should be assumed that a child of twelve or over should be eligible to attend unless there is a reason not to do so.
If the child states that they do not wish to attend the conference this must be respected; similarly, if they wish to attend, this should be agreed to and arranged unless it can clearly be shown that this is contrary to their best interests.
When the child does not attend the social worker must ensure that every effort is made to ensure the child’s views are conveyed to conference members. This may be via:
- A pre-meeting with the conference chair;
- Written statements/e-mails/text messages and recorded comments.
Where the child or the parents/carers are bringing a friend, supporter or advocate it should be explained to them that:
- The role of a friend or supporter is not to represent the parent/child or to speak on their behalf, but to provide emotional support and assist them in understanding the information presented to the conference and in expressing their view. In exceptional circumstances a conference chair may prevent a friend or supporter from attending a conference, e.g. where their presence is disruptive or where the person is deemed to a risk to children;
- The role of an advocate is to speak on behalf of a parent/carer or child, having ascertained their view in advance of the meeting.
Parents should normally be invited to attend the conference and be helped to participate fully in the conference. Such help is the responsibility of the child’s social worker and should include:
- Assistance with preparing for the conference, including thinking in advance what they want to convey and how best to do this. Some may wish to prepare a written report, and assistance with this should be given should the parent/carer so wish;
- Help with travel arrangements to and from the conference;
- Provision of an interpreter for parents/children whose first language is not English or, who are deaf and use sign language;
- Assistance with reading written material if this is required;
- Ensuring that the exact requirements needed to support fully the participation of parents with disabilities are identified, and that these requirements are met;
- Informing the conference chair if the child or family are bringing a friend, relative or supporter;
- Young children should not attend conferences, and alternative child care arrangements should be made for them with the help of the social work team where necessary.
The child’s social worker should brief the conference chair if there are any reasons why it may not be possible to involve all family members at all times in the conference, for example if there is a high level of conflict between family members or adults, and any children who do not wish to speak in front of one another.
There is an expectation that all information should be shared, with the exception of information relating to a third party. Any concerns which the professional concerned have must be discussed with the conference chair before the conference. This decision should be recorded in the minutes of the meeting.
Parents/carers should only be excluded partially or completely from the conference if one of the criteria below applies. The decision to exclude rests with the chair of the conference. Reasons for exclusion should be conveyed to the parents, both orally and in writing. Reasons for exclusion should also be recorded in the minutes of the meeting.
If parents are excluded or unable to attend, they should be enabled to communicate their views to the conference by another means, for example via a written report. The chair, in consultation with conference members, will agree what information from the minutes of the meeting will be received by the excluded person.
Criteria for excluding parents/carers from a child protection conference include;
- Full Exclusion
- A strong risk of violence or intimidation by a family member at or subsequent to the conference, towards a child or anybody else
- If the parent or carer presents on the day or during the meeting in a way which indicates that they are likely to cause disruption to the meeting
- Partial Exclusion
- The presence of an alleged perpetrator may affect the outcome of criminal proceedings
The primary principle for determining quoracy is that there should be sufficient agencies present to enable safe decisions to be made in the individual circumstances. All core group members are expected to prioritise attendance at each conference throughout the lifetime of the Child Protection Plan.
The normal representation for quoracy is Children’s Social Care and at least two other agencies which have had direct contact with the child and family.
Where there is a small professional group, the Chair may consult with their manager to determine whether to go ahead with a conference
Where a conference is inquorate it should not normally proceed and in such a circumstance the chair must ensure that either:
- An immediate Child Protection Plan / Family Plan is produced;
- Any existing plan is reviewed with the professionals and family members that do attend so as to safeguard the welfare of the child;
- The notes of this discussion must be minuted and circulated to all those who should have attended the conference;
- Another conference date is set immediately.
In exceptional circumstances the chair may decide to proceed with the conference despite lack of agency representation. This may occur where:
- A child has not had relevant contact with three agencies;
- Where sufficient information is available and delay will be detrimental to the welfare of the child.
Information for the Conference
All information provided to the conference, whether written or verbal, should take care to distinguish between fact, observation, allegation and opinion.
At the Initial Conference, Children’s Social Care should provide the conference with a report relating to each child. The parents and each child will be provided with a copy of the reports at least 24 hours in advance of the conference from both Children’s Social Care and other agencies presenting at the conference. The Social Worker’s Report to Conference should include the dates when the child was seen by the Lead Social Worker during the Section 47 Enquiry, if the child was seen alone and if not, who was present and for what reason.
Although a Single Assessment is the means by which a Section 47 Enquiry is carried out, it is unlikely that it will have been completed in time for the Initial Child Protection Conference. The report will therefore summarise and analyse the information obtained so far. The report should include:
- Where available, a Genogram that has been prepared with the family;
- A Chronology of significant events and agency and professional contact with the child and family;
- Information on the child’s current and past state of developmental needs;
- Information on the capacity of the parents and other family members to ensure the child is safe from harm, and to respond to the child’s developmental needs, within their wider family and environmental context;
- Information on the family history and both the current and past family functioning;
- The expressed wishes and feelings of the child, and the views of parents and other family members;
- An analysis of the information gathered and recorded using the Assessment Framework dimensions to reach a judgement on whether the child is suffering, or likely to suffer, significant harm and consider how best to meet his or her developmental needs. This analysis should address:
- How the child’s strengths and difficulties are impacting on each other;
- How the parenting strengths and difficulties are affecting each other;
- How the family and environmental factors are affecting each other;
- How the parenting that is provided for the child is affecting the child’s health and development both in terms of resilience and protective factors, and vulnerability and risk factors; and
- How the family and environmental factors are impacting on parenting and/or the child directly; and
- The local authority’s recommendation to the conference.
Other professionals attending the Initial Conference who have had direct contact with the child and family should provide a report in advance, outlining:
- A Chronology of their involvement with the child and family;
- Knowledge they have concerning the child’s health and development, the capacity of the parents and other family members to safeguard the child and family and environmental factors which might affect parenting capacity;
- Their analysis of the implications of the information for the child’s future safety and meeting of his or her developmental needs.
For the Review Conference, the Core Group has a shared responsibility to produce individual agency reports which together provide an overview of the work undertaken by family members and professionals and evaluate progress against the outcomes specified in the detailed Child Protection Plan / Family Plan.
In addition to the reports above, the outcome of the completed Single Assessment will also be presented to the Review Conference.
All professionals have a responsibility to share a copy of the Single Assessment and all additional reports with the parents and where appropriate the Lead Social Worker should share the report with the child at least three working days in advance of the conference. The contents of reports should be explained and discussed with the child and relevant family members in advance of the conference itself in the preferred language(s) of the child and family members.
Actions and Decisions for the Conference
It is the role of the conference to:
- Decide whether the child is still likely to suffer Significant Harm and therefore requires inter-agency help and intervention delivered through a formal Child Protection Plan / Family Plan;
- Formulate an outline plan;
- Ensure that, where a child is not judged as being at continuing likelihood of suffering Significant Harm, consideration is given as to whether the child may need services to promote his or her development.
It is the role of the conference chair to:
Determine which of the Categories of Abuse or Neglect the child has suffered. The category used (that is Physical Abuse, Emotional Abuse, Sexual Abuse or Neglect) will indicate to those consulting Children’s Social Care record the primary presenting concerns at the time the child became the subject of a Child Protection Plan / Family Plan.
Decision Making at the Initial Conference
The questions to ask as part of the decision-making process are:
The test for the likelihood of the child suffering Significant Harm in the future should be that either:
- The child can be shown to have suffered ill-treatment or impairment of health or development as a result of Physical Abuse, Emotional Abuse, or Sexual Abuse or Neglect, and the professional judgement is that further ill-treatment or impairment are likely; or
- Professional judgement, substantiated by the findings of enquiries in this individual case or by research evidence, is that the child is likely to suffer ill-treatment or the impairment of health or development as a result of Physical Abuse, Emotional Abuse, or Sexual Abuse or Neglect.
The conference decision should result from the chair ensuring that:
- All the information available to conference has been scrutinised by the conference members and information that is missing has been noted;
- All conference members have had an opportunity to present their views and challenge the views of others;
- When consensus cannot be reached, the Chair will decide whether or not the child will become subject of a Child Protection plan / Family Plan, giving reasons for this decision. This will be clearly recorded on the conference minutes.
There may be times when the chair disagrees with the consensus of conference members and overrides the decision made. It is expected the conference minutes will clearly record this decision
Child Subject of a Child Protection Plan / Family Plan
Where a child is to be made subject of a Child Protection Plan / Family Plan, it is the responsibility of the conference to consider and make recommendations on how agencies, professionals and the family should work together to ensure that the child will be safeguarded from harm in the future.
The conference should:
- Outline the Child Protection Plan / Family Plan, especially identifying what needs to change in order to safeguard and promote the welfare of the child;
- Appoint the Lead Social Worker. Where it is not possible to appoint a Lead Social Worker at the conference it becomes the responsibility of the team manager whose team is bringing the case to ensure the Lead Social Worker role and functions are met and that a Lead Social Worker is appointed by the first Core Group meeting;
- Identify the membership of a Core Group of professionals and family members who will develop and implement the Child Protection Plan / Family Plan as a detailed working tool;
- Consider whether a Family Group Conference / Systemic Family Meeting would be an effective way of engaging the wider family in developing and implementing the Child Protection Plan / Family Plan;
- Establish how children, parents (including those with Parental Responsibility) and wider family members should be involved in the ongoing assessment, planning and implementation process and the support, advice and advocacy available to them;
- Establish timescales for meetings of the Core Group;
- Identify in outline what further action is required to complete or update the Single Assessment and what other specialist assessments of the child and family are required to make sound judgements on how best to safeguard and promote the welfare of the child;
- Ensure a Contingency Plan is in place if agreed actions are not completed and/or circumstances change;
- Agree a date for the Review Child Protection Conference, and clarify under what circumstances it might be necessary to convene the conference before that date.
Where a child has suffered, or is likely to suffer, Significant Harm in the future it is the local authority’s duty to consider the evidence and decide what, if any, legal action to take. The information presented to the Child Protection Conference should inform that decision-making process but it is for the local authority to consider whether it should initiate, for example, Care Proceedings. Where a child who is the subject of a Child Protection Plan / Family Plan becomes Looked After, the Child Protection Plan / Family Plan should form part of the child’s Care Plan.
Child not Subject of a Child Protection Plan / Family Plan
If it is decided at the Initial Conference that the child does not need a Child Protection Plan / Family Plan, the conference should develop an outline Child in Need Plan. It may be helpful to use a Family Group Conference/Meeting to complete the Child in Need Plan, and to engage the wider family group in this process.
Discontinuing the Child Protection Plan / Family Plan
A child should no longer be subject of a Child Protection Plan / Family Plan if:
- It is judged that the child is no longer likely to suffer Significant Harm requiring safeguarding by means of a Child Protection Plan / Family Plan. Under these circumstances only a child protection conference can decide that a Child Protection Plan / Family Plan is no longer necessary;
- The child and family have moved permanently to another local authority area. In such cases the receiving local authority should convene a child protection conference within 15 working days of being notified of the move. Only after this event, and after written confirmation has been received, should the Child Protection Plan / Family Plan be discontinued in the original authority. During this time the local team will undertake / begin an assessment. Should there be concerns that the move is temporary there should be urgent discussion with the originating local authority. Please see the East of England Region Joint Protocol on Children subject to Child Protection Plan Moving Between Local Authority Boundaries
- Where the child’s parents are in the armed services and are moving to an overseas command, Children’s Social Care should ensure that SSAF-FH, the British Forces Social Work Services (overseas), or the NPFS for Royal Naval families are informed and can confirm that appropriate resources exist in the proposed location to meet identified needs;
- The child has reached 18 years of age (to end the Child Protection Plan / Family Plan, the local authority should have a review around the child’s birthday and this should be planned in advance), has died or has permanently left the UK.
- The child is made subject to an Interim Care Order. When a child becomes Looked After, local arrangements will determine the point of which will discontinue CP Plans
When a child is no longer subject of a Child Protection Plan / Family Plan:
- Notification should be sent to all those agencies’ representatives who were invited to attend the Initial Child Protection Conference, subsequent reviews or Core Group meetings;
- The Review Child Protection Conference should discuss with the child (if attending) and family what services continue to be required in order to meet the child’s developmental needs. Recommendations should be made concerning whether the child continues to be a Child in Need, and the content of any Child in Need Plan;
- The Lead Social Worker should meet with the child and family within 10 working days of the discontinuation of the Child Protection Plan / Family Plan in order to confirm the content of any Child in Need Plan and the process for implementation and review.
- Children’s Social Care will be responsible for ensuring that all child protection conferences have a dedicated person to take notes and produce minutes of the meeting;
- The conference minutes will include the following information:
- A list of those present and apologies for absence;
- Family composition and legal status of the children;
- A record of any delay in convening the conference with the reasons;
- Reasons for the decision to convene a conference;
- The essential facts of the case;
- A summary of discussion at the conference;
- All decisions reached, and reason for the decisions;
- The outline or revised Child Protection Plan / Family Plan.
- A copy of the minutes will be distributed to all agencies and parents invited to the conference, whether or not they were present, except where any agency has indicated that there is no current involvement with the family or any planned for the future;
- Minutes will not be distributed to any friends, supporter or advocates who have attended the conference;
- Full minutes will be distributed within 15 working days;
- Minutes are a confidential document and should not be passed by professionals to third parties without the consent of either the conference chair or the Lead Social Worker. However in cases of criminal proceedings, the police may reveal the existence of the notes to the Crown Prosecution Service in line with the Criminal Procedure and Investigation Act 1996. Arrangements must be made to keep the minutes securely and retained by the recipient agencies in accordance with their record retention policies. They should not be filed in professional records that have open access.
A letter outlining the decisions of the conference, the outline plan and date of first the Core Group will be sent within one working day to parents, children (where appropriate) and all those invited to the conference.
Practice Guidance for the Recording or Meetings/Telephone Calls/Home Visits Involving Service Users
These guidelines have been produced to help staff understand the rules and process around service users recording meetings such as child protection meetings and care plan reviews where personal and sensitive information will be discussed. This kind of information is covered by the General Data Protection Regulation 2016 and Data Protection Act 2018.
This guidance covers the use of audio, visual or body worn technology to make such recordings.
It does not cover the recording of Council meetings which are held in public and anyone can attend. These are covered by a separate policy.
Can someone record a meeting without our permission?
Yes. Service users like a parent are able to record a meeting whether overtly or covertly. Whilst it would be good practice for them to ask if they can record the meeting, they do not actually need to seek permission if in conversation with a worker, as you are in professional role, therefore you do not have a private citizen’s right to confidentiality. However, what they can do with the information is limited.
Why would they record a meeting?
A parent may want to record a meeting because:
- They may struggle to understand or keep up with the meeting, or may forget things easily
- They may not trust other people’s records and want their own record of what was discussed.
- They may not trust you or social workers/professionals generally.
- They may have disagreed with events previously and cannot prove a different version of events.
- They may want to ‘catch out’ the professional or gather evidence for court proceedings or a complaint.
- In some circumstances, they may want to share the information more widely as part of a bigger campaign.
What should I do then?
If a parent says they want to record a meeting, the first thing to do and good practice would be to have an open, non-defensive conversation about the reason for that before the meeting takes place.
It may be that they need an advocate, interpreter or a supporter to help them in the meeting or perhaps they need more time to prepare to engage in the meeting. They may not realise that the meeting will be minuted and that they may respond to the minutes, as this may reassure them that a record and a copy of any plan or actions will be shared with them in a format they can work with.
You should always try and address any issues around accessibility of the meetings as fundamental good practice, and work to help that parent be fully part of the meeting. It might be that recording is not the best option for the parent, but having an advocate, being better prepared by the worker, and ensuring minutes are shared and inaccuracies responded to promptly may support the parent better.
If they still want to record?
You should make sure that they understand that some people attending the meeting may object, the nature of the conversation is so sensitive that that accidental or deliberate loss or misuse could cause detriment to a child. They should be told to never place it on social media, the internet or shared with anyone not party to the proceedings.
What if they record in secret?
Recording a conversation in secret is not a criminal offence and is not prohibited as long as the recording is for personal use they don’t need to obtain consent or let the other person know.
Things change if the matter is addressed with a claim for damages or if the recordings have been shared without the consent of the participants. Even worse, if the recording is sold to third parties or released in public without the consent of the participants then this could be considered a criminal offence.
The aim, however, is always to engage in such a way that the service user or their representative is open about recording.
Transparency Project ‘Why might parents want to record meetings?’: http://www.transparencyproject.org.uk/press/wp-content/uploads/Whymightparentswanttorecordmeetingsv3mar18.pdf
Action Following the Child Protection Conference
The Lead Social Worker is responsible for:
- Co-ordinating the work of the Core Group to ensure that the outline Child Protection Plan / Family Plan is developed into a more detailed inter-agency plan;
- Ensuring that all Core Group members understand the role and function of the Core Group and have a copy of the leaflet Attending Core Group Meetings;
- Completing the Single Assessment securing contributions from Core Group members and others as necessary;
- Acting as lead worker for the inter-agency work with the child and family;
- Seeing the child as agreed in the Child Protection Plan / Family Plan in order to monitor their wellbeing and be aware of their wishes and feelings;
- Co-ordination of the actions required to put the Child Protection Plan / Family Plan into effect and reviewing progress against the objectives set out in the plan.
Practice Guidance – The Child Protection Conference
Chairing the Conference
- Should be a qualified and experienced worker in children’s services, independent of operational or line management responsibilities for the case;
- Must be trained in the role and should have:
- A good understanding and professional knowledge of children’s welfare and development and best practice in working with children and families;
- The ability to look objectively at, and assess the implications of, the evidence on which judgements should be based;
- Skills in chairing meetings in a way which encourages constructive participation, while maintaining a clear focus on the welfare of the child and the decisions which have to be taken;
- Knowledge and understanding of anti-discriminatory practice.
The conference chair should:
Prior to the meeting
- Meet the child and family members to ensure that they understand the purpose of the conference, what will happen and explain about the complaints procedure;
- Decide whether a conference is quorate within the terms of the LSCB protocol.
During the meeting
- Set out the purpose of the meeting to all those present, confirming the agenda and emphasising the confidential nature of the occasion;
- Enable all those present and absent contributors to make their full contribution to discussion and decision making;
- Encourage detailed scrutiny of the information presented to conference and constructive challenge between conference members;
- Ensure that neither the content of the meeting, nor the way in which it is conducted, is discriminatory and that any discriminatory behaviour is addressed;
- Ensure that the conference takes the decisions required of it in an informed, explicit and systematic way.
Following the meeting
- Ensure that the conference minutes are circulated to the correct people within the expected timescale.