3.6 Initial Child Protection Conferences
Timescale: Where a Section 47 Enquiry determines that an Initial Child Protection Conference should be held, the Conference must be held within a maximum of 15 days of the Strategy Discussion or where more than one has taken place, of the Strategy Discussion at which the Section 47 Enquiry was initiated.
The urgency of the situation, however, may dictate that the timescale is shorter.
In the time between the conclusion of the Section 47 Enquiry and the Initial Child Protection Conference, an interim plan must be agreed with clear roles and responsibilities, based on the outcome of the Section 47 Enquiry, in order to ensure that the child is protected until the Conference is held.
In exceptional circumstances where there is a delay, the reasons for the delay must be agreed by the Children’s Social Care Services Manager and the Conference Chair and clearly recorded by all.
1. Purpose of Initial Child Protection Conference
The Initial Child Protection Conference brings together family members, the child (where appropriate – see Section 8, Enabling Children’s Participation), supporters/advocates and those professionals most involved with the child and family to share information, assess risks and to formulate an agreed plan of management and services, with the child’s safety and welfare as its paramount aim.
Within this, there are the following tasks:
- To share and evaluate information in a multi-disciplinary setting about the family history, the child’s health, development and functioning and the parent/carer’s capacity to ensure the child’s safety and promote his or her well being;
- To consider the evidence and form a view about the likelihood of the child suffering Significant Harm in the future and decide whether the child is suffering or likely to suffer Significant Harm;
- To decide if the child is suffering or likely to suffer Significant Harm and if so, the category of harm and that a multi-agency Child Protection Plan is required;
- To devise an outline, agreed, inter-agency Child Protection Plan setting out how and what actions will be taken forward and with what intended outcomes and time-scales;
- To nominate a Lead Social Worker, to develop, co-ordinate and implement the Child Protection Plan;
- To identify the membership of the multi agency Core Group to develop and monitor the Child Protection Plan;
- To set the date for the first Core Group meeting to take place within 10 working days of the Initial Conference;
- To set the date for the Child Protection Review Conference;
- Where the child does not require a Child Protection Plan but is considered to be In Need, to recommend if appropriate that services are provided to promote the child’s health and development under the a Child In Need Plan or Family Support Plan.
2. When an Initial Child Protection Conference Should be Convened
An Initial Child Protection Conference must be convened when it is believed that a child may continue suffering or be likely to suffer Significant Harm.
All children in the household must be considered at conference, even if concerns are only being expressed on one child.
The Children’s Social Care Manager is responsible for authorising the decision to convene an Initial Child Protection Conference and the reasons for calling the conference must be recorded.
Where a senior manager from another agency requests that an Initial Child Protection Conference is convened, this request will be given serious consideration by the relevant Children’s Social Care Manager and a response will be given in writing. Where any issue of professional difference is not resolved, see Resolving Professional Disagreements Policy.
3. Timing of Initial Child Protection Conference
The Initial Child Protection Conference should take place within 15 working days of the:
- Strategy Discussion or where more than one has taken place, of the Strategy Discussion at which the Section 47 Enquiry was initiated; or
- Notification by another local authority that a child subject to a Child Protection Plan has moved into the area.
In the exceptional circumstance of complex enquiries or pre-birth assessments, the Initial Child Protection Conference may be delayed.
Any such delay must have written authorisation from the Manager of the Children’s Social Care Services team (including reasons for the delay) who must arrange to notify all relevant agencies of the delay and ensure that risks to the child are monitored and an interim plan is in place to safeguard the child.
4. Who Should Attend?
The conference should consist of the smallest number of people consistent with effective case management, but the following should normally be invited:
- Parents and those with Parental Responsibility and /or family members;
- The child and/or his/her representative or Advocate where deemed to be age appropriate;
- The child’s social worker and first line manager;
- The Police Child Abuse Investigation Unit;
- Schools, attendance officers, early years settings i.e. nursery, pre school, childminder etc;
- Health service staff involved with the child/ren – e.g. health visitor, school nurse, midwifery services GP and the Consultant Paediatrician or other senior doctor responsible for any Medical Assessment of the child.
In addition, invitees may include those whose contribution relates to their professional expertise and/or knowledge of the family and/or responsibility for relevant services, and should be limited to those with a need to know or who have a contribution to make to the assessment of the child and family.
These may include:
- Supporter (including advocate), friend or solicitor (as supporters for the child and parent/carers;
- Health services involved with parent(s)/carers e.g. specialist doctors, psychiatrists, psychologists;
- Probation Provider and/or staff in youth justice system where relevant;
- Housing services;
- Mental health (adult or child) services;
- Alcohol and substance misuse services;
- Domestic Violence Services;
- Any professional or service provider involved with the children or adults in the family, including foster carers, residential staff and/or Early Years staff;
- A representative of the armed services, where relevant;
- Any other relevant professional or service provider;
- Legal services – if it is anticipated that legal advice will be required;
- The Children’s Guardian and the child’s solicitor where there are current court proceedings.
A professional observer can only attend with the prior consent of the Conference Chair and the family, and must not take part in discussions or decision-making. There will only be one observer at any conference.
Professionals who are invited but unable to attend for unavoidable reasons should:
- Arrange wherever possible for another agency representative to attend;
- Inform the Conference Administrator and Conference Chair;
- Submit a written report in the agreed NSCB format with 12 copies.
The time of day at which a conference is convened should be determined to facilitate attendance of the family and key contributors.
The primary principle for determining a quorum is that there should be sufficient agencies present to enable safe decisions to be made in the individual circumstances.
Normally, minimum representation is the social worker and at least two other professional disciplines which have had direct contact with the child and family.
Where a conference is inquorate it should not ordinarily proceed and in such circumstances the Conference Chair must ensure that either:
- An interim plan is produced; or
- The existing plan is reviewed with the professionals and family members that do attend, in order to safeguard the welfare of the child/ren;
- Another conference date must be set immediately.
In exceptional circumstances, and having regard to the impact upon the child and family of a postponement, the Conference Chair may decide to proceed with the conference despite lack of agency representation. This would be relevant where:
- The child has not had relevant contact with 3 professional disciplines – e.g. pre-birth conferences;
- Where sufficient information is available, including where written reports from non-attendees have been submitted;
- Where previous conferences have been inquorate and/or there is unlikely to be greater attendance at a future conference; and
- A delay will be detrimental to the child.
6. Enabling Parental Participation
All parents and persons with Parental Responsibility must be invited to conferences (unless exclusion is justified as described below). Parents will be encouraged to contribute to conferences; usually by attending, unless it is likely to prejudice the welfare of the child.
See Section 7, Criteria for Excluding Parents or Restricting their Participation.
The social worker must facilitate the constructive involvement of the parents by ensuring in advance of the conference that they are given sufficient information and practical support to make a meaningful contribution, including providing them with a copy of the Conference report (see Section 11.2, Social Workers Report to Conference).
Invitations for the parent(s) to attend the conference should be conveyed verbally by the social worker and will be confirmed in writing by the Independent Chairing Unit.
The social worker must explain to parents/carers the purpose of the meeting, who will attend, the way in which it will operate, the purpose and meaning if their child is deemed to require a Child Protection Plan and the complaints process.
Provision should be made to ensure that visually or hearing impaired or otherwise disabled parents/carers are enabled to participate, including whether they need assistance with transport to enable their attendance.
Preparation should also include consideration of childcare arrangements to enable the attendance of parents.
Those for whom English is not a first language must be offered and provided with an interpreter, if required. A family member should not be expected to act as an interpreter of spoken or signed language.
The parents should be provided with a copy of the relevant leaflet which includes information regarding the right to bring a friend, supporter (including an advocate) or solicitor (in the role of supporter), details of any local advice and advocacy services and the Complaints and Appeals Policy.
If parents do not wish to attend the conference they must be provided with full opportunities to contribute their views. The social worker must facilitate this by:
- The use of an advocate or supporter to attend on behalf of the parent (subject to the Conference Chairs agreement);
- Enabling the parent to write, or tape, or use drawings to represent their views;
- Meeting the Conference Chair prior to conference;
- Agreeing that the social worker, or any other professional, expresses their views.
7. Criteria for Excluding Parents or Restricting their Participation
In circumstances where it may be necessary to exclude one or more family members from part or all of a conference the request to exclude or restrict a parents participation should be discussed with the Conference Chair and confirmed in writing if possible at least 3 days in advance.
The agency concerned must indicate which of the grounds it believes is met and the information or evidence the request is based on. The Conference Chair must consider the representation carefully and may need legal advice before coming to a decision.
The decision should be made according to the following criteria:
- Indications that the presence of the parent may seriously prejudice the welfare of the child, for example where information shared could further victimise the child or increase the child’s vulnerability to further abuse;
- Sufficient evidence that a parent/carer may behave in such a way as to disrupt the conference such as violence, threats of violence, racist, or other forms of discriminatory or oppressive behaviour or being in an unfit state e.g. through drug, alcohol consumption or acute mental health difficulty (but in their absence a friend or advocate may represent them at the conference);
- A child requests that the parent/person with parental responsibility or carer is not present while s/he is present;
- The need (agreed in advance with the Conference Chair) for members to receive confidential information that would otherwise be unavailable, such as legal advice or information about a third party or criminal investigation;
- Conflicts between different family members who may not be able to attend at the same time e.g. in situations of domestic violence;
- It is necessary to present information to the conference which, if shared with certain family members, might increase the risk to the child;
- Attendance by a known, alleged or suspected perpetrator may threaten or otherwise place the child at risk;
- Their presence may prejudice any legal proceedings or Police investigation, for example because they have yet to be interviewed or because bail conditions restrict their attendance;
- There is a serious threat of violence toward any person at the conference.
Exclusion at one conference is not reason enough in itself for exclusion at further conferences.
The possibility that the parent may be prosecuted for an offence against a child is not in itself a reason for exclusion although in these circumstances the Conference Chair may take advice from the Police and, if criminal proceedings have been initiated, the Crown Prosecution Service, about the implications arising from an alleged perpetrators attendance.
If the Conference Chair makes a decision to exclude or restrict the participation of a parent, the decision should be communicated to the following people:
- The person making the request;
- All other professionals invited to the meeting;
- The parent concerned (in writing) – unless a decision is made that they should not be informed at all of the conference (see below).
The letter to the parent must be signed by the Conference Chair and set out
- The reason for exclusion or restriction;
- An explanation of any other methods the parents have open to them to ensure their views and wishes are considered;
- How the parents will be told the outcome of the conference;
- The complaints procedure.
Any exclusion period should be for the minimum duration necessary and the decision to exclude must be clearly recorded in the conference minutes.
Those excluded should usually be provided with a copy of the social workers report to the conference and be provided with the opportunity to have their views recorded and presented to the conference.
If, in planning a conference, it becomes clear to the Conference Chair that there may be conflict of interests between the children and parents, the conference should be planned so that the welfare of the child can remain paramount.
This may mean arranging for the child and parents to participate in separate parts of the conference and make separate waiting arrangements.
It may also become clear in the course of a conference, that its effectiveness will be seriously impaired by the presence of the parent/s. In these circumstances, the Conference Chair may ask them to leave.
Where a parent is on bail, or subject to an active police investigation, it is the responsibility of the Conference Chair to ensure that the Police can fully present their information and views and also that the parents participate as fully as circumstances allow.
The decision of the Conference Chair over matters of exclusion is final.
Where a parent/carer attends only part of a conference as a result of exclusion, s/he will receive the record of the conference. The Conference Chair should decide if the entire record is provided or only that part attended by the excluded parent/carer.
8. Enabling Children’s Participation
8.1 Involving the Child
The child must be kept informed and involved throughout the Section 47 Enquiry and, if their age and level of understanding is sufficient, should be invited to contribute to the conference; which can include attendance. In practice, the appropriateness of enabling an individual child to attend must be assessed in advance and relevant arrangements made to facilitate attendance at all or part of the conference.
8.2 Criteria for Attendance of Child at Conference
A decision about whether to invite the child should be made in advance of the conference by the Conference Chair, in consultation with the social worker, their manager and any other relevant professional, including the child’s independent advocate where relevant.
The key considerations are:
- Does the child have sufficient understanding of the process?
- Has s/he expressed an explicit or implicit wish to be involved?
- What are the parents’ views about the child’s proposed presence?
- Is inclusion assessed to be of benefit to the child?
- Will the conference be able to fulfil its aims of protecting the child if the child is present?
The test of ‘sufficient understanding’, is partly a function of age and partly the child’s capacity to understand. A guiding principle is that usually a child under 10 should not be invited.
In order to establish her/his wish with respect to attendance, the child must be first provided with a full and clear explanation of the purpose, conduct, membership of the conference and potential provision of an independent advocate – see Section 8.5, The Child’s Independent Advocate.
Written information translated into the appropriate language should be provided to children able to read and an alternative medium e.g. tape, offered to those who cannot read.
A declared wish not to attend a conference (having been given such an explanation) must be respected.
Where there is a conflict between the wishes of the child and the views of the parents, the child’s interests should be the priority.
Consideration must be given to the impact of the conference on the child. Where it will be impossible to ensure they are kept apart from a parent who may be hostile and/or attribute responsibility onto them, separate attendance should be considered.
The decision of the Conference Chair should be recorded, with reasons.
8.3 Indirect Participation
If it is decided that the child should not attend or to restrict participation, every effort should be made by the social worker to obtain and present the views and wishes of the child, which can include:
- A submission by letter, email, text message, a picture, an audio or video tape – prepared alone or with support;
- The child’s independent advocate (see 8.6 below) or other professional speaking on the child’s behalf (for example, a person with specialist skills or knowledge);
- The child meeting the Conference Chair before the conference to share their views;
- The child attending to observe rather than to contribute him or herself.
8.4 Direct Participation
If the decision is that the child is to attend the conference, then the social worker should:
- Identify and agree a supporter/independent advocate with the child (see Section 8.6, Support to the Child After the Conference below);
- Ensure that the child has an opportunity to discuss any concerns that he/she may have about attendance;
- Explain to the child who will be at the conference, their roles and responsibilities in the meeting, the information likely to be discussed and the possible outcomes;
- Decide with the child the extent to which he/she wishes to participate and how his/her wishes and views will be presented;
- Share and discuss the content of the social work report for the Conference.
If the child is attending the Conference it is the responsibility of the Conference Chair (see also Section 13, Responsibilities of the Conference Chair) to:
- Clarify with the social worker what information will be available to the child both before and during the conference;
- Meet with the child and independent advocate/supporter prior to the conference and meet separately from the parents if required;
- Ensure that the child has sufficient support to present their wishes and views during the conference;
- Monitor the child’s welfare throughout the conference, and arrange for them to have a break if necessary;
- Ensure that the child is informed of the decisions and recommendations of the conference;
- Write personally to the child to confirm the decision and recommendations;
- Ensure that the conference record adequately reflects the child’s contribution.
If the child is attending the conference, it is the responsibility of all professionals to:
- Make it clear which parts of the report can be shared with the child;
- Use language that is understandable to both the child and their family;
- Discuss with the social worker any potential difficulties arising from the child’s participation.
It is essential that planning takes place prior to the conference to ensure that the practical arrangements are suitable. The social worker should in discussion with the Conference Chair:
- Identify a venue where the child will feel comfortable;
- Identify and meet any special needs;
- Arrange the timing of the conference to minimise disruption to the child’s normal routine;
- Ensure that adequate time is available before the start for the child and his/her independent advocate to meet with the Conference Chair.
8.5 The Child’s Independent Advocate
The social worker should inform the child about any advocacy service and help them to make contact if they wish to contact the service themselves.
When a conference is being convened, a referral for an independent advocacy service may be made by the social worker in relation to any eligible child, subject to the child’s consent. The advocate should only be given information, which is available to the child.
Where access to the advocacy service is denied, this should be discussed with the Conference Chair in advance of the conference. Where this is because of the lack of parental consent, this should be included in the social workers assessment report to the conference.
The advocate will attend the conference with the child, subject to the child’s consent. The advocate will not be present for any part of the conference where information is presented which will not be made available to the child.
8.6 Support to the Child After the Conference
The advocate should ensure that immediately after the conference the child has an opportunity to discuss what happened during the conference, the decisions made and, where appropriate the outline child protection plan. If the advocate has concerns about the child these should be discussed immediately with the social worker.
The social worker should meet with the child as soon as possible after the conference to:
- Feedback and discuss the outcomes of the conference and to allow the child to ask any questions about the decisions made;
- Identify what support they want informally through family, friends and the professional network.
Identify what actions and outcomes the child believes should be included in any plan of intervention. This would include the Child Protection Plan or the Child’s Plan.
9. Pre-Birth Conferences
A pre-birth conference is an Initial Child Protection Conference concerning an unborn child. Such a conference has the same status and purpose and must be conducted in a comparable manner to an Initial Child Protection Conference.
Pre-birth conferences should be convened following Section 47 Enquiries, where there is evidence that the child is suffering or is likely to suffer Significant Harm and where there is a need to consider if a Child Protection Plan is required.
This decision will usually follow from a pre-birth Assessment and a conference should be held:
- Where a pre-birth assessment gives rise to concerns that an unborn child may be suffering or likely to suffer Significant Harm;
- Where a previous child has died or been removed from parent/s as a result of Significant Harm;
- Where a child is to be born into a family or household which already have children who are the subject of a Child Protection Plan;
- Where a person known to pose a risk to children resides in the household or is known to be a regular visitor;
- Other risk factors to be considered are:
- The impact of parental risk factors such as mental ill-health, learning disabilities, substance misuse and domestic violence;
- A mother under sixteen about whom there are concerns regarding her ability to care for herself and/or to care for the child.
All agencies involved with the expectant mother should consider the need for an early referral to the local Children’s Social Care Services team so that assessments are undertaken and family support services provided as early as possible in the pregnancy, (20 weeks). Please see Pre-Birth Protocol.
9.1 Timing of Pre-Birth Conferences
The pre-birth conference should take place as soon as practicable and ideally at least 2 months, (32 weeks gestation) before the due date of delivery, to allow as much time as possible for planning support for the baby and family.
Where there is a known likelihood of a premature birth, the conference should be held earlier.
The key agencies involved in the delivery of the child must attend the conference. It is important that this conference makes an informed decision about whether or not the child should remain in the parents’ care and draws up protection plans that link to either decision.
In addition to those who normally attend an initial child protection conference, midwifery, relevant neo-natal and support services must be invited.
Parents or carers should be invited as they would be to other Child Protection Conferences and should be fully involved in plans for the child’s future.
9.3 An Unborn Child with a Child Protection Plan
If a decision is made that the unborn child should be made subject to a Child Protection Plan, the main cause for concern must determine the Category of Significant Harm and the Child Protection Plan must be outlined to commence prior to the birth of the baby.
The Core Group must be established and meet if at all possible prior to the birth, and certainly prior to the babies return home after a hospital birth.
If a decision is made for an unborn child to have a Child Protection Plan, the child’s name (or ‘baby’, if not known) and expected date of delivery should be sent to the Designated Manager (Children Subject to a Child Protection Plan) pending the birth. The Lead Social Worker must then ensure thatthe name and correct birth date is notified to the Designated Manager following the birth.
If the child is resident outside of the area at birth, the local authority in whose area the child is resident must be advised that the child is in their area and is the subject of a Child Protection Plan.
9.4 Timing of Review Conference
The first Child Protection Review Conference will be scheduled to take place within 3 months of the initial conference or within one month of the child’s birth, whichever is the sooner.
10. Convening the Conference
Initial conferences must be convened within a maximum of 15 working days of the last Strategy Discussion. In consultation with the person requesting the conference, the Independent Chairing Service will be responsible for:
- Agreeing the date and time of the conference;
- Sending out invitations to professional representatives, the child and family members as appropriate;
- Ensuring that agencies are informed whether or not the parents have been invited and that they are clear about their responsibilities;
- Consulting with the Conference Chair where there has been a request to exclude or limit the participation of parents or children;
- Collating and presenting to the Conference Chair relevant written contributions where available;
- Making any necessary arrangements as advised by the social worker e.g. for trained interpreters to attend;
- Providing with the invitation the Information Leaflet about conferences for children and parents.
11. Responsibilities of the Social Worker before the Conference
11.1 General Responsibilities
The social worker is responsible for the following:
- Considering as described in Sections 6, Enabling Parental Participation and Section 8, Enabling Children’s Participation above the participation of parents and children in the conference;
- Arranging for the child to attend if appropriate;
- Arranging the parent(s)’ attendance unless a decision is reached to exclude them;
- Preparing the child and parent(s) and informing them about the role, purpose and process of the conference (unless a decision is reached not to inform them). This information should include an explanation of who will be there and why. Parents should be helped to understand their own responsibilities and rights, including the fact that they may wish to invite a supporter who may be their solicitor. They should be provided with support and advice to help them prepare for and contribute to the conference. If the child or parents are not invited or do not wish to attend, they should be encouraged to present their contributions in writing or in another form and assisted to do so;
- Establishing whether an interpreter is required and briefing the interpreter as necessary;
- Establishing whether parent(s) or children need assistance, for example, with transport or child care arrangements;
- Completing the Section 47 Enquiry and preparing and presenting a written report to the conference using the relevant pro forma;
- Consider if legal advice is required.
11.2 Social Worker’s Report to Conference
The social worker should provide the following documents to the Independent Chairperson, 2 working days before an initial conference – Social Work report including within the assessment:
- Outputs from mapping or use of any other SoS tool;
- Child’s wishes and feelings, (may be shared separately via Advocate);
- Draft danger statement(s);
- Draft safety goal(s);
- Existing safety plan;
- Children’s Services Chronologies.
The social work report must be endorsed and authorised by their manager. The report 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.
Information about all children in the household must be provided; the report should be clear about which children are the subjects of the conference, and reasons given if any children are not to be subjects.
The report should be provided to parents and older children (to the extent that it is believed to be in their interests) at least 2 working days in advance of the Initial Child Protection Conference to enable any factual inaccuracies to be identified, amended and areas of disagreement noted. Comments or suggestions made by the child/parents as a result of seeing the report must be included or conveyed verbally to the conference.
In exceptional circumstances where confidential information cannot be shared with the child or parent(s) beforehand, the social worker should seek guidance from their manager, who may wish to consult the Conference Chair.
Where necessary, the reports should be translated into the relevant language or medium, taking account of the language and any sensory or learning difficulties of the child/parents.
The report should be provided to the Conference Chair at least 2 working days prior to the Initial Child Protection Conference with copies for all those invited.
The report will be attached to the minutes for circulation.
12. Responsibilities of Other Professionals/Agencies
12.1 General Responsibilities
All participants are responsible for the following:
- To make attendance at conferences high priority;
- To make available relevant information in a written report to the conference (see Section 12.2, Other Agency Reports to Conference) and contribute to the discussion, assessment of risk and decision;
- To confirm in advance with the Independent Chairing Service their attendance at the conference or informing the Service if they are unable to attend;
- To ensure that information to be presented by them at conference is known to, and if possible shared with, the child and parents beforehand;
- To ensure that their contribution is non-discriminatory;
- In exceptional circumstances where confidential information cannot be shared with the child or parent(s) beforehand, to seek guidance from their manager, who may wish to consult the Conference Chair;
- To ensure that information is communicated/translated in the most appropriate way taking account of the language and any sensory or learning difficulties of the child or parents;
- To ensure that they are clear about their role within the conference and the extent to which they have authority to make decisions on behalf of their agency.
12.2 Other Agency Reports to Conference
All agencies which have participated in a Section 47 Enquiry or have relevant information about the child and/or family members should make this information available to the conference in a written report.
The report should include details of the agencies involvement with the child and family, and information concerning the agencies knowledge of the child’s developmental needs, the capacity of the parents to meet the needs of their child within their family and environmental context.
Agency representatives attending conferences should confer with their colleagues before preparing their contribution to a conference, to make sure it contains all relevant and available information and, where a written report is prepared, bring 12 copies of the report (legible and signed) to the conference.
The reports must make it clear which children are the subject of the conference, but address any known circumstances of all children in the household.
The reports should be shared with the parents and the child (if old enough) before the conference, in the same way as described for social workers, at least 2 working days in advance of the conference.
Such reports should also be made available to the Conference Chair, where possible, at least 1 working day in advance of the conference with 12 copies for all those invited.
Where agency representatives are unable to attend the conference, they must ensure that their report is made available to the conference, preferably in writing, through the Independent Chairing Service, and that a colleague attends in their place.
The reports will be attached to, or summarised within the minutes, for circulation.
13. Responsibilities of the Conference Chair
The Conference Chair must not have any operational or line management responsibility for the case.
The Conference Chair must ensure that, in addition to the social worker, at least two professional disciplines are represented at the conference unless agreed otherwise – see quorum for conference in Section 5, Quorum.
The Conference Chair is responsible for ensuring that conferences are conducted in line with these procedures and in an anti-discriminatory manner, ensuring that everyone uses unambiguous respectful language.
13.1 Before the Conference
The responsibilities of the Conference Chair in relation to decision-making about enabling/restricting parents’ and children’s participation are set out in Sections 6, Enabling Parental Participation and Section 8, Enabling Children’s Participation.
Prior to the conference, the Conference Chair should meet with the child, parents and any advocate(s) to ensure that they understand the purpose of the conference and how it will be conducted. This may, where the potential for conflict exists, involve separate meetings with the different parties. Generally, meetings between the Conference Chair and family members and children, where appropriate, should take place 15 minutes or more before the conference formal starting time.
Explicit consideration should be given to the potential of conflict between family members and possible need for children or adults to speak without other family members present.
The level and manner of any supporters involvement in the conference will be negotiated beforehand with the Conference Chair. Supporters may seek clarification of information given by a conference member through the Conference Chair, but they will not be allowed to question conference members directly.
13.2 At the Start of the Conference
At the start of the conference the Conference Chair will:
- Set out the purpose of the conference;
- Confirm the agenda;
- Emphasise the confidential nature of the meeting;
- Address equal opportunities issues e.g. specifying that racist, homophobic and threatening behaviour will not be tolerated;
- Facilitate introductions;
- Clarify the contributions of those present, including supporters of the family.
If the parent(s) or the child brings an advocate/supporter, the Conference Chair will need to clarify the advocate/supporter’s role, ensuring that any solicitor who attends in this role is clear that he/she may support parent(s), clarify information but may not cross-examine any contributor.
13.3 During the Conference
The Conference Chair will ensure that:
- Parents are given a reasonable opportunity to:
- Understand the purpose of the meeting and the role of all agencies involved in the protection of their children;
- Consider and respond to any information or opinions expressed by other participants;
- Contribute as fully as possible to the assessment and planning process;
- Play a part in helping to safeguard and promote their children’s welfare;
- The conference maintains a focus on the welfare of the child/ren;
- Consideration is given to the welfare and safety of all children in the household and within the family network;
- All relevant people, including the subject child/ren and parents, have been given appropriate opportunities to make a full contribution and that full consideration is given to the information they present;
- Reports of those not present are made known to parties;
- The wishes and feelings of the child/ren are clearly outlined;
- Needs arising from the child’s gender and any disabilities, as well as those arising from the child’s racial, cultural, linguistic or religious background are fully considered and accounted for when making decisions or developing plans;
- Appropriate arrangements are made to receive third party confidential information;
- A debate takes place which examines the findings of reports, and risk assessments and analysis is encouraged, all options are considered and that the conference reaches decisions in an informed and non-discriminatory way;
- All concerned are advised/reminded of the complaints and appeals procedure;
- Where a decision has been taken to exclude or restrict the level of parental or child participation, arrangements are made with the social worker for absent parents or carers to be informed of the decisions of conferences.
13.4 The Decision Making Process
The conference should examine the following questions when determining whether the child should be subject to a Child Protection Plan.
Has the child suffered Significant Harm? And is the child likely to suffer Significant Harm?
The test for the likelihood of the child suffering Significant Harm in the future should be either that:
- The child is shown to have suffered ill-treatment or impairment of health or development as a result of physical, emotional or sexual abuse or neglect, and professional judgement is that further ill-treatment or impairment are likely; or
- Professional judgement, substantiated by finding 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, emotional or sexual abuse or neglect.
If the child is suffering or likely to suffer Significant Harm, it will therefore be the case that safeguarding the child requires inter-agency help and intervention delivered through a Child Protection Plan.
The Conference Chair must ensure that the decision about the need for a Child Protection Plan takes account of the views of all agencies represented at the conference and also takes into account any written contributions that have been made. This discussion will normally take place with the parents/carers present.
The decision will be taken by professionals attending the conference, i.e. those eligible to be counted for the purposes of establishing a quorum (see Section 5, Quorum); for example, this will not include the child, parents, carers, supporters although they may be asked to comment on the strengths, concerns, risks, future plans and protection.
Where there is no consensus, the decision will normally be made by a simple majority. Where a majority decision cannot be reached, the Conference Chair will make the decision.
Where the Conference Chair considers the majority decision to be either:
- An unsatisfactory decision that the child should have a Child Protection Plan where, in the Chairs opinion, the criteria have not been met and/or such a plan is not necessary; or
- An unsatisfactory decision that the child does not require a Child Protection Plan where, in the Chairs opinion, the child would be suffering or likely to suffer Significant Harm if a Child Protection Plan was not in place each Norfolk Safeguarding Children Board may authorise the Conference Chair to have final decision-making powers.
The Conference Chair must ensure that all members of the conference are clear about the conclusions reached, the decision taken and recommendations made, and that the conference minutes accurately reflect the discussions, the decision and, where relevant, the reasons for the Conference Chair exercising his or her decision-making powers.
Any dissent by professionals at the conference must be recorded in the conference minutes (see also Section 14, Dissent from the Conference Decision).
If parents/carers disagree with the decision, this also must be recorded in the minutes and the Conference Chair must discuss the issue with them and explain their right to and the process for challenge – see Complaints and Appeals Policy.
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 becomes Looked After, the Child Protection Plan should form part of the child’s Care Plan.
13.5 Categories of Significant Harm
If the decision is that the child is suffering or likely to suffer Significant Harm and is therefore in need of a Child Protection Plan, the professionals at conference should determine the category of Significant Harm which the child has suffered, is suffering or likely to suffer.
The category used must indicate to those consulting the Children’s Social Care Services’ list of Children Subject to a Child Protection Plan what the primary presenting concerns were at the time the child was made the subject of a Child Protection Plan.
The need for a Child Protection Plan should be considered separately in respect of each child in the family or household.
13.6 If a Child is Made the Subject of a Child Protection Plan
Where a decision is reached that a child needs to be the subject of a Child Protection Plan, the Conference Chair must ensure that:
- A Child Protection Plan is outlined and clearly understood by all concerned including the parents and where appropriate, the child; and the outline plan sets out what needs to change in order to safeguard the child;
- A Lead Social Worker (i.e. a qualified social worker) is appointed to develop, coordinate and implement the Child Protection Plan (if this is not possible, the relevant manager should be the point of contact) and makes arrangements for the times and dates of Core Group meetings, including the first Core Group meeting within 10 working days of the Initial Child Protection Conference;
- The membership of a Core Group of professionals and family members is identified, who will develop, implement and progress the Child Protection Plan as a detailed working tool including the frequency of direct contact with the child;
- It is established how children, parents and wider family members should be involved in the ongoing assessment, planning and implementation process, and the support, advice and advocacy available to them;
- Any further action required to complete the Local Assessment is outlined and any other specialist assessments of the child and family identified, which are required to make sound judgements on how best to safeguard and promote the welfare of the child;
- A bottom line contingency plan is in place if agreed actions are not completed and/or circumstances change, for example if a carer fails to achieve what has been agreed, a court application is not successful or a parent removes the child from Accommodation;
- The parents and child know the name of the Lead Social Worker and Core Group members;
- The parents/carers and child/ren are advised of their right to invoke the appeals and complaints procedure and their right to challenge the decisions made by those present at the conference;
- The decisions and recommendations of the conference have been recorded in a clear manner;
- A date is set for the Child Protection Review Conference, and under what circumstances it might be necessary to convene the conference before that date.
The Child Protection Administrator will inform the person who maintains the list of children subject of child protection plans.
13.7 If a Child is not Assessed as being in Need of a Child Protection Plan
A child may not be the subject of a Child Protection Plan, but he or she may nonetheless require services to promote his or her health or development. In these circumstances, the conference, together with the family, should consider the child’s needs and what further help would assist the family in responding to them. Subject to the families views and consent, it may be appropriate to continue with and complete an Assessment of the child’s needs to help determine what support might best help promote the child’s welfare. Where the child’s needs are complex, multi-agency working will continue to be important. Where appropriate, a Child in Need Plan should be drawn up and reviewed at regular intervals – no less frequent than every 6 months.
Where appropriate, Family Support Process meetings may also be held to meet the child’s needs with the consent of the parents.
14. Dissent from the Conference Decision
In cases where there is disagreement regarding the threshold for Significant Harm being met or not being met (see Section 13.4, The Decision Making Process), the Conference Chair will attempt to facilitate the conference to reach a consensus by drawing the conference members’ attention to the threshold and considering this in the light of the information which has been shared and the child’s assessed needs.
Section 13.4 sets out the decision-making powers of the Conference Chair where there is no consensus.
If an agency does not agree with a decision or recommendation made at a conference, the dissent will be recorded in the minutes of the conference.
If a professional concludes that a conference decision places a child at risk, s/he must seek advice from her/his Designated Professional or Named Professional or manager.
Where the issue is not resolved, the agency may consider taking action under the Resolving Professional Disagreements Policy.
If parents/carers disagree with the conference decision, the Conference Chair must further discuss their concerns and explain their rights to challenge under the Complaints and Appeals Policy.
15. Minutes of Child Protection Conferences
The record of the conference is a crucial working document for all relevant professionals and the family.
All conferences will be minuted by administrative staff whose sole task within the conference is to provide a written record of proceedings in a consistent format. The Conference Chair is responsible for ensuring that the minutes accurately reflect the discussion held and decisions and recommendations made.
Conference minutes should include:
- Name, date of birth, ethnicity and address of the subject/s of the conference, parents/carers and other children and adults in the household;
- Who was invited, who attended the conference and who submitted their apologies;
- Any breaks in the Conference and anyone leaving or joining the meeting;
- The reason for the conference;
- A list of written reports available to conference and whether open to parents or not;
- A summary of the information shared and discussion;
- Views and wishes of each child;
- Views of parents/carers;
- Opinions of agencies on risk and whether the threshold for Significant Harm has been met, requiring the child to be the subject of a Child Protection Plan;
- Decision on the threshold for Significant Harm and whether a Child Protection Plan is required, with information outlining the reasons, including the category of Significant Harm;
- The outline Child Protection Plan or any Child in Need Plan;
- Name of Lead Social Worker if the child has a Child Protection Plan;
- Members of the Core Group if the child has a Child Protection Plan;
- Date of first Child Protection Review Conference.
All written reports submitted to the conference will be summarised or appended to the minutes unless the authors request otherwise.
The decision of the conference and, if the child is subject to a Child Protection Plan, details of the category of Significant Harm, the name of the Lead Social Worker and Core Group membership should be recorded and circulated to all those invited to attend the conference within 2 working days. The Conference Chair will ensure that this notification is sent. (Each member of the Consortium will make their own local arrangements for doing so).
If the child is subject to a Child in Need Plan, then the decision of the Conference and name of the Lead Professional should be recorded and circulated as above.
The minutes of the conference, authorised by the Conference Chair, will be sent to all professionals who attended or were invited and to relevant family members as soon as possible after the Conference.
Copies of the minutes should be given to the parents, child (if old enough) and the child’s advocate by the Lead Social Worker where appropriate.
Where parents and/or the child/ren have a sensory disability or where English is not their first language, steps must be taken to ensure that they can understand and make full use of the minutes.
Where a parent or child has been fully excluded from the conference, the decision on what information they should receive will be taken by the Conference Chair in consultation with other conference members.
Where a supporter, solicitor, other family member or observer has attended a conference, the minutes will not be distributed to them unless they have a role in the Child Protection Plan and the conference agrees it appropriate.
Where a child has attended a Child Protection Conference, the social worker must arrange to see her/him and arrange to discuss relevant sections of the minutes.
Conference minutes are confidential and should not be passed to third parties without the consent of the Conference Chair and/or Lead Social Worker, or by a Court Order.
Where there are ongoing criminal proceedings, there should be consultation between the Police and the Crown Prosecution Service in relation to the sharing of the minutes.
The recipient agencies and professionals should retain the minutes of the Child Protection Conference in a manner which ensures their confidentiality and in accordance with their agencies record retention policy. Agencies should determine who it is appropriate to be given access to the minutes – usually this will be restricted to relevant staff, their manager and any person who has a role in the Child Protection Plan.
Subsequent requests for access to the minutes by professionals who do not have a legal or direct role in the case should be referred to the Designated Manager (Children with a Child Protection Plan) or the Conference Chair.
Children (if of sufficient age and understanding) and/or parents on their behalf may have the right of access to their records held by the Children’s Social Care Services. Access can be refused if it is likely to result in serious harm to some-one or on other limited grounds, but where the criteria for refusal do not apply, the Independent Chairing Service will release the open access sections of the conference minutes without any further checks with professional colleagues. The closed access section of the minutes will not be released without full consultation with all parties and any disclosure will be in line with the Data Protection Act 1998.