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1.6 Initial Child Protection Conferences

AMENDMENT

This chapter was updated in July 2016 to reflect current practice regarding Record of Conferences.


Contents

  1. Purpose of Initial Child Protection Conference
  2. When an Initial Child Protection Conference should be Convened
  3. Timing of Initial Child Protection Conference
  4. Who should Attend?
  5. Required Quorum for Conferences
  6. Enabling Parental Participation
  7. Exclusion of Family Members from Conference
  8. Enabling Children’s Participation
  9. Pre-birth Conferences
  10. Convening the Conference
  11. Responsibilities of the Social Worker before the Conference
  12. Responsibilities of other Professionals/Agencies
  13. Responsibilities of the Independent Conference Chair
  14. Dissent from the Conference Decision
  15. Record of Conference


1. Purpose of Initial Child Protection Conference

The Initial Child Protection Conference brings together family members, the child (where appropriate), supporters 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. This will include a decision as to whether a child should be made the subject of a Child Protection Plan.

Within this, there are the following tasks:

  1. To share and evaluate information in a multi-disciplinary setting about the family history, the child’s health, development and functioning, the parent/carer’s capacity and the family’s circumstances to ensure the child’s safety and promote his or her well being;
  2. 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 at continuing risk of Significant Harm;
  3. To decide whether the child should be made subject to a Child Protection Plan;
  4. If so, to agree an inter-agency Child Protection Plan setting out how that action will be taken forward and with what intended objectives, outcomes and time-scales;
  5. To nominate a Lead Social Worker, to develop, co-ordinate and implement the Child Protection Plan;
  6. To identify the membership of the multi-agency Core Group to develop and monitor the Child Protection Plan;
  7. To set the date for the first Core Group meeting to take place within 10 working days of the Conference;
  8. To set the date for the Child Protection Review Conference;
  9. Where the child does not require a Child Protection Plan but is considered to be a Child in Need, a plan to meet the child’s identified health or development needs, will be agreed at Conference.


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 to suffer or to be suffering Significant Harm.

The conference must consider all the children in the household, even if concerns are only being expressed about one child.

The Children, Education and Families Assessment Team Manager is responsible for making the decision to convene an Initial Child Protection Conference in conjunction with the Independent Conference Chair 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 Children, Education and Families manager and a response will be given in writing.

An Initial Child Protection Conference will normally be convened under the following circumstances:

  1. Following a Child Protection Assessment, where it is believed that a child is at risk of suffering or may continue to suffer Significant Harm and that following assessment and analysis an Initial Child Protection Conference is deemed to be the most appropriate means of affording the child protection;
  2. Where a child is living in a household with a person assessed as presenting a risk to children or such a person is regularly visiting or about to become a member of a household with children;
  3. Following a Child Protection Assessment, where a Child Assessment Order or Emergency Protection Order has been made;
  4. Following a Child Protection Assessment, where a child lives in, or is born to, a household in which resides another child who is the subject of a Child Protection Plan;
  5. Following a Child Protection Assessment, where a child who is already the subject of a Child Protection Plan moves into the area, unless the home authority is to retain responsibility for the case (see Children Moving across Boundaries Procedure);

    These children will be the subject of Child Protection Assessments initiated at the point of notification to Children, Education and Families that the child is residing the area and where there is a request for transfer of case responsibility;

    The outcome of the Child Protection Assessment will inform the Initial Child Protection Conference at the point of transfer. N.B. The 15 days time frame applies to this situation in the same way as for all Child Protection Assessments (see Section 3, Timing of Initial Child Protection Conference);
  6. Where a child returns to the care of or resumes direct contact with an adult who may have previously caused Significant Harm to this or another child;
  7. Following a Child Protection Assessment, where the risks to an unborn child may be such as to indicate the need to develop a Child Protection Plan before birth;
  8. Where a child has sexually assaulted another child or there is a risk of such an assault occurring to another child in the same household or in regular contact with the household (in which circumstances a separate Child Protection Conference should be held in respect of each child).


3. Timing of Initial Child Protection Conference

All Initial Child Protection Conferences should take place within 15 working days of the:

  • Strategy Discussion/Meeting (or Strategy Discussion/Meeting at which the Child Protection Assessment was initiated if more than one has been held); or
  • Notification by another local authority that a child subject to a Child Protection Plan has moved into the area and a request to transfer case responsibility has been received.

The urgency of the situation, however, may dictate that the timescale is shorter. The precise timing will depend upon the urgency of the case and on the time required to obtain relevant information about the child and the family. It is important that the timescale balances avoidance of drift against the need for adequate protection and assessment, to enable the conference to reach well-informed decisions based on evidence.

The Initial Child Protection Conference should, where possible, be held before the expiry of an Emergency Protection Order, if further legal action is planned. Where a Child Assessment Order has been made, the conference should be held immediately on conclusion of examinations and assessments.


4. Who should Attend?

See also Section 6, Enabling Parental Participation and Section 8, Enabling Children's Participation

The conference should consist of the smallest number of people consistent with effective case management, but the following should normally be invited:

  • The child and/or his/her representative or advocate where deemed to be age appropriate;
  • Parents and those with Parental Responsibility and /or family members;
  • The child’s social worker;
  • The child’s carer;
  • The Police Child Abuse Investigation Unit;
  • The relevant Health Trust staff involved with the child/ren - e.g. health visitor, school nurse;
  • The child’s GP and the parent’s GP (if different);
  • Schools for all children of school age in the household;
  • Probation Provider (Oxford Probation Providers) and/or staff in the youth justice system where relevant;
  • The Paediatrician responsible for any Medical Assessment of the child;
  • Locality Early Intervention Hub (for children aged 5-18) and Children’s Centre representative (for children aged under 5).

In addition, attendees 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:

  • Legal services - if it is anticipated that legal advice will be required (although this should usually be sought beforehand);
  • The Children’s Guardian and the child’s solicitor where there are current Court proceedings;
  • Health services involved with parent(s)/carers e.g. specialist doctors, psychiatrists, psychologists;
  • Midwifery services where the conference concerns an unborn or new-born child (see Section 9, Pre-birth Conferences);
  • Attendance and Engagement Officer;
  • Education Welfare Service;
  • Family Placement Service (with or on behalf of a foster carer);
  • Housing services;
  • Mental Health (Adult or Child) Services;
  • Alcohol and substance abuse services;
  • Domestic Violence Officers;
  • 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;
  • Supporter, friend or solicitor for the child and parent/carers (and/or the child’s advocate).

A professional observer can only attend with the prior Consent of the Independent Conference Chair and the family, and must not take part in discussions or decision-making. This may be for the observer’s professional development or to assist in the process of whether professional standards are being met. Requests must be made to the Independent Conference Chair at least 3 days in advance of the conference. Only one observer will be permitted to attend, subject to consent being given. 

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 Independent Conference Chair;
  • Submit a written report to the Independent Conference Chair at least 3 days in advance.

The time of day at which a conference is convened should, where possible, be determined to facilitate attendance of the child, the family and key contributors.


5. Required Quorum for Conferences

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.

Normally, minimum representation is the social worker and at least two other agencies which have had direct contact with the child and family.

Where a conference is inquorate, the Independent Conference Chair should consider whether it is in the child’s interests to proceed or not. If the conference does not go ahead, the Independent Conference Chair must ensure that either:

  • A short term Child Protection 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; and
  • The conference is adjourned for the shortest possible time – any extension to this time must be recorded in the conference minutes.

Having regard to the impact upon the child and family of a postponement, the Independent 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 agencies – 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.

Where an inquorate conference is held, any decisions made will be regarded as provisional and the Independent Conference Chair will contact the agencies, invited but not represented, seeking their views  within 48 hours of the conference. The final decisions will then be confirmed in writing to all relevant agencies, the child (if of sufficient age and understanding) and the parents within 10 working days of the conference. In the event of a disagreement with the provisional decision, the Independent Conference Chair will consider the need for an early Review Conference to be arranged.


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.

6.1 Role of the Social worker

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.

Explicit consideration should be given to the potential of conflict between family members and the possible need for children or adults to speak without other family members present.

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 Conference Complaints Procedure, see Section 14, Dissent from the Conference Decision.

The parents should be provided with a copy of the leaflet “Child Protection Conferences – information for parents, carers and family members”, which includes information regarding the right to bring a friend or supporter (including an advocate for the child or children) or solicitor (in the role of supporter for the parent), details of the local Advice and Advocacy Services and the Professional Disagreement and Escalation Policy.

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 Case Conference Administrator.

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. Advice on this should be sought from the Children with Disabilities Team where necessary.

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.

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:

  • Enabling the parent to write, or tape, or use drawings to represent their views;
  • Arranging for the parents to meet the Independent Conference Chair prior to conference;
  • Agreeing that the social worker, or any other professional, expresses their views.

The level and manner of the supporter’s involvement in the conference will be negotiated beforehand with the Independent Conference Chair. Supporters may seek clarification of information given by a conference member through the Independent Conference Chair, but they will not be allowed to question conference members directly. 

6.2 Role of the Independent Conference Chair

Immediately prior to the conference, the Independent Conference Chair should meet with any family members to ensure they understand the process. This may, where the potential for conflict exists, involve separate meetings with the different parties. 

The Independent Conference Chair will ensure that all those participating in the conference, including supporters, understand the issues of confidentiality involved.


7. Exclusion of Family Members from Conference

This section was revised following a Serious Case Review in Oxfordshire. It is now based on the London Child Protection Procedures

Exclusion From Conferences:

Exclusion of family members from conferences

  1. Exceptionally, it may be necessary to exclude one or more family members from part or all of a conference;
  2. These situations will be rare and the Independent Conference Chair, or other participants, must be notified as soon as possible by the social worker if it is considered necessary to exclude one or both parents for all or part of a conference. The Independent Conference Chair should make a decision taking into account all the relevant circumstances which may include the following:
    • Indications that the presence of the parent may seriously prejudice the welfare of the child;
    • Sufficient evidence that a parent may behave in such a way as to interfere seriously with the work of 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). A friend or advocate may represent them at the conference if agreed beforehand by the Independent Conference Chair;
    • A child requests that the parent / person with Parental Responsibility is not present while they are present;
    • The presence of one or both parents would prevent a professional from making their proper contribution through concerns about violence or intimidation (which should be communicated in advance to the Independent Conference Chair);
    • The need (agreed in advance with the Independent Conference Chair) for members to receive confidential information that would otherwise be unavailable, such as confidential legal advice or information about a 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 and abuse).
    • If a decision to exclude a parent is made, the reasons for this must be fully recorded in the record and the (professionals only) period should be for the minimum duration necessary. Exclusion at one conference is not reason enough in itself for exclusion at further conferences.
  3. 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 Independent Conference Chair may ask them to leave;
  4. Where a worker from any agency believes a parent should be excluded, on the basis of the above criteria, representation must be made in advance to the Independent Conference Chair. If possible representation should be made at least three working days in advance;
  5. The agency concerned must indicate which of the grounds it believes is met and the information or evidence on which the request is based. The Independent Conference Chair must consider the representation carefully and may need legal advice;
  6. If, prior to the conference, the Independent Conference Chair has decided to exclude a parent, this must be communicated in writing with information on how they may make their views known, how they will be told the outcome of the conference and about the complaints procedure. See Professional Disagreement and Escalation Policy;
  7. If, in planning a conference, it becomes clear to the Independent Conference Chair that there may be a conflict of interest between the children and the parents, the conference should be planned so that the welfare of the child can remain paramount;
  8. This may mean arranging for the child and parents to participate in separate parts of the conference and make separate waiting arrangements;
  9. Those excluded should be provided with a copy of the social worker's report to the conference and be provided with the opportunity to have their views recorded and presented to the conference. The Independent Conference Chair will determine whether or not the excluded parent should receive a full record of the conference, a record without the excluded information or no record;
  10. Where a parent is excluded from part of the conference-on their return, so far as is possible, they should be informed of the content of the discussion that has taken place in their absence;
  11. Where a parent is on bail, or subject to an active police investigation, it is the responsibility of the Independent Conference Chair to ensure that the police representative can fully present their information and views and also that the parents participate as fully as circumstances allow. This might mean that if the police representative is a police officer they may be asked to leave a conference after providing information. It is not appropriate for a police officer to administer a caution to parents prior to the conference; the purpose of the conference is to enable analysis and not to progress a criminal investigation;
  12. The decision of the Independent Conference Chair over matters of exclusion is final regarding parents, child/ren, advocates and professionals;
  13. If parents and / or children 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 or child;
    • Enabling the child or parent to write or tape or use drawings to represent their views;
    • Agreeing that the social worker, or any other professional, expresses their views.


8. Enabling Children’s Participation

8.1 Involving the Child

The child must be kept informed and involved throughout the Child Protection Assessment 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

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?

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.

The child should be provided with a copy of the leaflet “Child Protection Conferences – information for children and young people aged 10 and over”, which includes information regarding the right to bring a supporter (including an advocate), details of any local Advice and Advocacy Services and the Professional Disagreement and Escalation Policy.

Written information should be translated into the appropriate language for those able to read and an alternative medium e.g. tape, offered for those who cannot read.

A declared wish not to attend a conference (having been given such an explanation) must be respected.

Consideration should be given to the views of and impact on parent/s of their child’s proposed attendance; however, 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 e.g. if they have a significant learning difficulty. Where it will be impossible to ensure they are kept apart from a parent who may be hostile and/or attribute responsibility to them, separate attendance should be considered.

8.3 Decision that a child should or should not attend

A decision about whether to invite the child should be made in advance of the conference by the Independent Conference Chair, in consultation with the social worker, their manager and any other relevant professional, including the child’s independent advocate where relevant.

In making this decision, the views of the parents and of professionals who know the child should be taken into consideration.

Any decision that a child should not attend the conference should be made using the following criteria:

  • The child’s age and understanding indicate that attendance would be inappropriate;
  • The conference would be unable to fulfil its own aims of protection due to the disruptive behaviour of the child;
  • Criminal charges or Court appearances of the parent are pending and the child is to be a witness.

The decision of the Independent Conference Chair should be recorded on the child's file, with reasons.

8.4 Indirect participation

If it is decided that the child should not attend or to restrict the child’s 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 or other professional speaking on the child’s behalf (for example, a person with specialist skills or knowledge);
  • The child meeting the Independent Conference Chair before the conference to share their views;
  • The child attending to observe rather than to contribute him or herself.


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.

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 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 has 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.

Risk factors to be considered are the impact of a parent’s mental ill-health, learning disabilities or substance misuse or of domestic violence and abuse.

All agencies involved with the expectant mother should consider the need for an early referral to Children, Education and Families so that assessments are undertaken and family support services provided as early as possible in the pregnancy.

9.1 Timing of Pre-birth Conferences

The pre-birth conference should take place as soon as practical and at least 3 months 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.

9.2 Attendance

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 child requires a Child Protection Plan the plan must be outlined and 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 baby’s return home after a hospital birth.

The child’s name (or ‘baby’, if not known) and expected date of delivery should be recorded as a child subject to a Child Protection Plan pending the birth. The Lead Social Worker must then ensure that the name and correct birth date is notified to the Child Protection Case Conference Administrator 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 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 Child Protection Conference and will often need to take place sooner. This may be extended by up to 2 months with the written authorisation of the relevant Manager from Children, Education and Families and the Independent Conference Chair, if information from a post-natal assessment is crucial for a well informed Review Conference.


10. Convening the Conference

In consultation with the person requesting the conference, the Child Protection Case Conference Administrator will be responsible for:

  1. Confirming the date and time of the conference;
  2. Sending out invitations and relevant information leaflets to professional representatives, the child and family members as appropriate;
  3. Ensuring that agencies are informed whether or not the parents have been invited and that they are clear about their responsibilities;
  4. Consulting with the Independent Conference Chair where there has been a request to exclude or limit the participation of parents or children;
  5. Collating and presenting to the Independent Conference Chair relevant written contributions;
  6. Providing the information leaflet for children and parents translated into appropriate languages.


11. Responsibilities of the Social Worker before the Conference

11.1 General Responsibilities

The Lead Social Worker is responsible for the following:

  1. Considering as described in Section 6, Enabling Parental Participation and Section 8, Enabling Children's Participation the participation of parents and children in the conference;
  2. Arranging for the child to attend if appropriate;
  3. Arranging the parent(s)’ attendance unless a decision is reached to exclude them;
  4. 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.
  5. Making any necessary arrangements for trained interpreters to attend and briefing the interpreter as necessary, or whether parent(s) or children need assistance, for example, with transport or child care arrangements;
  6. Completing the Child Protection Assessment and preparing and presenting a written report to the conference using the pro forma.

11.2 Reports to Conference

The Lead Social Worker should provide to the conference a typed, signed and dated written report, which must be endorsed and counter signed by the Manager. The report should include the date when the child was seen by the Lead Social Worker during the Child Protection Assessment, if the child was seen alone and if not, who was present and for what reason.

Information on all children in the household must be provided and the report should be clear about which children are the subjects of the conference.

The report should follow the agreed format and should include the following analysis of the implications 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 recommendations to the conference.

The report should be provided to parents and older children (to the extent that it is believed to be in their interests) at least three 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 Independent 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 Independent Conference Chair at least one working day prior to the Initial Child Protection Conference.


12. Responsibilities of other Professionals/Agencies

12.1 General Responsibilities

All participants are responsible for the following:

  • Making attendance at conferences high priority;
  • Making available relevant information in a written report to the conference and contribute to the discussion, assessment of risk and decision;
  • Confirming in advance with the Conference Administrator their attendance at the conference or informing him/her if they are unable to attend;
  • Ensuring that information to be presented by them at the conference is known to, and if possible shared with, the child and parents beforehand;
  • Ensuring that their contribution is non-discriminatory;
  • In exceptional circumstances where confidential information cannot be shared with the child or parent(s) beforehand, they should seek guidance from their manager, who may wish to consult the Independent Conference Chair;
  • Ensuring 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;
  • Ensuring 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 Reports to Conference

All agencies which have participated in a Child Protection Assessment or have relevant information about the child and/or family members should make this information available to the conference, preferably in a written report.

The report should include details of the agency’s involvement with the child and family, and information concerning the agency’s 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 sufficient copies of the report (legible, signed and dated) to the conference.

The reports must make it clear which child/ren are the subject of the conference, but address any known circumstances of all children in the household.

Where necessary, 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 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.

Such reports should also be made available to the Independent Conference Chair, at least one working day prior to the conference.

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 Child Protection Case Conference Administrator, and that a colleague attends in their place.

The reports will be attached to, or summarised within the Record of Conference, for circulation.


13. Responsibilities of the Independent Conference Chair

Independent Conference Chairs, are provided for all conferences and are accountable to the Director of Children's Services, i.e. a person who has no operational or line management responsibility for the case. The Independent Conference Chair will ensure that the conference is conducted in line with these procedures.

The Independent Conference Chair must ensure that at least three agencies are represented at the conference unless agreed otherwise - see quorum for conference in Section 5, Required Quorum for Conferences.

The Independent Conference Chair is responsible for ensuring that conferences are conducted in an anti-discriminatory manner, ensuring that everyone uses unambiguous, respectful language.

13.1 Before the Conference

The responsibilities of the Independent Conference Chair in relation to decision-making about restricting parents’ participation and not inviting children are set out in Sections 6, Enabling Parental Participation and Section 8, Enabling Children's Participation.

Before the conference begins, the Independent Conference Chair should meet the parents, child and child’s advocate, if they have attended, to ensure that they understand the purpose of the conference and how it will be conducted. Where necessary, interpreters or translators should be made available to facilitate family participation.

13.2 At the Start of the Conference

At the start of the conference the Independent Conference Chair will:

  • Set out the purpose of the conference;
  • Confirm the agenda;
  • Emphasise the need for confidentiality and ensure that all participants have understood their roles;
  • 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) bring a supporter or the child brings an advocate/supporter, the Independent Conference Chair will need to clarify the advocate/supporter’s role, ensuring that any solicitor who attends as supporter to the parent or on behalf of the child is clear that he/she may clarify information but may not cross-examine any contributor.

13.3 During the Conference

The Independent Conference Chair will ensure:

  1. Parents have been given a reasonable opportunity to:
    1. Understand the purpose of the meeting and the role of all agencies involved in the protection of their children;
    2. Respond to and challenge any suspicions, allegations or the opinions expressed by other participants;
    3. Contribute as fully as possible to the assessment and planning process;
    4. Play a part in helping to safeguard and promote their children’s welfare.
  2. The conference maintains a focus on the welfare of the child/ren;
  3. Consideration is given to the welfare and safety of all children in the household and within the family network;
  4. 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;
  5. Reports of those not present are made known to parties;
  6. The wishes and feelings of the child/ren are clearly outlined;
  7. 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;
  8. Appropriate arrangements are made to receive third party confidential information;
  9. A debate takes place which examines the findings of reports, risk assessments and analysis is encouraged, all options are considered and the conference reaches decisions in an informed and non-discriminatory way;
  10. All concerned are advised/reminded of the Complaints Procedure;
  11. 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 – Criteria for Child Protection Plans

The conference should determine 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 at continuing risk of 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 Independent Conference Chair must ensure that the decision about the need for a Child Protection Plan is based on 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 need for a Child Protection Plan should be considered separately in respect of each child in the family or household.

The Independent Conference Chair must ensure that all members of the conference are clear about the conclusions reached, and the decision and recommendations made, and that the Record of Conference accurately reflects the discussions.

Any dissent must be recorded in the Record of Conference (see Section 14, Dissent from the Conference Decision).

If parents/carers disagree with the decision, the Independent Conference Chair must discuss the issue with them and explain their right to and the process for challenge through the Conference Complaint Procedure.

13.5 Categories of Significant Harm

If the decision is that the child is at continuing risk of Significant Harm and in need of a Child Protection Plan, the Independent Conference Chair should determine the Category of Significant Harm. 

The following definitions are taken from Working Together to Safeguard Children 2015.

The categories are:

Abuse

A form of maltreatment of a child. Somebody may abuse or neglect a child by inflicting harm, or by failing to act to prevent harm. Children may be abused in a family or in an institutional or community setting by those known to them or, more rarely, by others (e.g. via the internet). They may be abused by an adult or adults, or another child or children.

Physical Abuse

A form of abuse which may involve hitting, shaking, throwing, poisoning, burning or scalding, drowning, suffocating or otherwise causing physical harm to a child. Physical harm may also be caused when a parent or carer fabricates the symptoms of, or deliberately induces, illness in a child.

Emotional Abuse

The persistent emotional maltreatment of a child such as to cause severe and persistent adverse effects on the child’s emotional development. It may involve conveying to a child that they are worthless or unloved, inadequate, or valued only insofar as they meet the needs of another person. It may include not giving the child opportunities to express their views, deliberately silencing them or ‘making fun’ of what they say or how they communicate. It may feature age or developmentally inappropriate expectations being imposed on children. These may include interactions that are beyond a child’s developmental capability, as well as

Sexual Abuse

Involves forcing or enticing a child or young person to take part in sexual activities, not necessarily involving a high level of violence, whether or not the child is aware of what is happening. The activities may involve physical contact, including assault by penetration (for example, rape or oral sex) or non-penetrative acts such as masturbation, kissing, rubbing and touching outside of clothing. They may also include non-contact activities, such as involving children in looking at, or in the production of, sexual images, watching sexual activities, encouraging children to behave in sexually inappropriate ways, or grooming a child in preparation for abuse (including via the internet). Sexual abuse is not solely perpetrated by adult males. Women can also commit acts of sexual abuse, as can other children.

Neglect

The persistent failure to meet a child’s basic physical and/or psychological needs, likely to result in the serious impairment of the child’s health or development. Neglect may occur during pregnancy as a result of maternal substance abuse. Once a child is born, neglect may involve a parent or carer failing to:

  • Provide adequate food, clothing and shelter (including exclusion from home or abandonment);
  • Protect a child from physical and emotional harm or danger;
  • Ensure adequate supervision (including the use of inadequate care-givers); or
  • Ensure access to appropriate medical care or treatment.

It may also include neglect of, or unresponsiveness to, a child’s basic emotional needs.

The category used must indicate to those consulting the Record of Children with a Child Protection Plan what the primary presenting concerns at the time the child was made the subject of a Child Protection Plan were. Combined categories should not be used.

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 Independent Conference Chair must ensure that:

  1. The criteria (see Section 13.4, The Decision Making Process - Criteria for Child Protection Plans) are met and the category (see Section 13.5, Categories of Significant Harm) is determined;
  2. 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 the objectives of the plan (i.e. what needs to change in order to safeguard the child);
  3. A Lead Social Worker is appointed to develop, co-ordinate and implement the Child Protection Plan (if this is not possible, the relevant Children, Education and Families manager should be the point of contact);
  4. 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;
  5. 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;
  6. Any further assessments of the child and family are identified, which are required to help make sound judgements on how best to safeguard and promote the welfare of the child;
  7. A 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 being Accommodated;
  8. The parents and child know the name of the Lead Social Worker and Core Group members;
  9. The parent(s) and child(ren) are advised of their right to invoke the Complaints Procedure by requesting a review of the process and decision making of the conference;
  10. The decisions and recommendations of the conference have been summarised;
  11. The decisions and recommendations of the conference have been summarised;
  12. A date is set for the first Core Group meeting within 10 working days of the Initial Child Protection Conference and timescales set for subsequent meetings;
  13. A date is set for the Child Protection Review Conference within three months (183 calender days), and under what circumstances it might be necessary to convene the conference before that date (i.e. if any significant part of the plan cannot be delivered);
  14. The Independent Conference Chair must also ensure that the Conference Administrator is informed of the decision and updates the relevant database.

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.

13.7 If a child is not made subject to a Child Protection Plan

If it is considered that the criteria for a Child Protection Plan (see Section 13.4, The Decision Making Process - Criteria for Child Protection Plan) has not been reached, but the child is In Need of help to promote her/his health or development, the Independent Conference Chair must ensure that the conference considers the need to convene a Family Group Conference, or other relevant Planning Meeting. The conference should draw up a Child in Need Plan and make recommendations as appropriate to the relevant agencies:

  • To carry out any further assessment necessary to help determine the support required;
  • To provide support and help;
  • To establish commitment to inter-agency working, in all cases but particularly where the child’s needs are complex;
  • To review the plan at regular intervals of no more than every 3 months.


14. Dissent from the Conference Decision

If necessary, the decision will be based on a majority view, including the view of the Independent Conference Chair. Any dissenting view will be recorded in the Conference minutes.

Research and fatal case enquiries have shown that differences of opinion between agencies can lead to conflict resulting in a less favourable outcome for the child.

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.

If parents/carers disagree with the conference decision, the Chair must further discuss their concerns and explain the Professional Disagreement and Escalation Policy.

Complaints by children and /or parents in relation to Child Protection Conferences

Parents and, on occasion, children, may have concerns about which they wish to make representations or complain, in respect of one or more of the following aspects of the functioning of child protection conferences:

  • The process of the conference;
  • The outcome, in terms of the fact of and/or the category of primary concern at the time the child became the subject of a child protection plan;
  • A decision for the child to become, to continue or not to become, the subject of a child protection plan.

Complaints about aspects of the functioning of conferences described above should be addressed to the Conference Chair in the first instance.

All parties must be made aware this complaints process cannot itself change the decisions made and that during the course of a complaint’s consideration, the decision made by the conference stands.

The end result for a complainant will be either that a conference is re-convened, that a review conference is brought forward or that it confirms the status quo.

Complaints about individual agencies, their performance, and provision (or non-provision) of services should be responded to in accordance with the relevant agency’s own complaints management process.


15. Record of Conference

The record of the conference is a crucial working document for all relevant professionals and the family.

All conferences will be recorded by a person whose sole task within the conference is to provide a written record of proceedings in a consistent format. The Independent Conference Chair is responsible for ensuring that the record accurately reflects the discussion held and decisions and recommendations made.

15.1 Contents

Conference Records should include:

  1. Name, date of birth, ethnicity and address of the subject/s of the conference, parents/carers and other adults in the household;
  2. Who was invited, who attended the conference and who submitted their apologies;
  3. The reason for the conference;
  4. A list of written reports available to conference and whether they were open to the parents or not;
  5. A summary of the information shared and discussion;
  6. Views and wishes of each child;
  7. Views of parents/carers;
  8. Opinions of agencies on risk and whether the criteria for a Child Protection Plan were met (see Section 13.4, The Decision Making Process - Criteria for Child Protection Plan);
  9. Decision on whether a Child Protection Plan is required, with information outlining the reasons, including the Category of Significant Harm;
  10. The outline Child Protection Plan or any Child in Need Plan;
  11. Name of the Lead Social Worker if the child has a Child Protection Plan;
  12. Members of the Core Group if the child has a Child Protection Plan and date of first meeting;
  13. Date of next conference.

Written reports submitted to the conference may be appended to the minutes.

15.2 Circulation of Record of Minutes

The decision of the conference and, where appropriate, 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 ONE working day.

The Record of the conference, verified by the Independent Conference Chair, will be sent electronically to all professionals who attended, or were invited, and delivered by the social worker to relevant family members with parental responsibility (except for any part of the conference from which they were excluded) and the child where appropriate  preferably within 10 working days but no longer than  working days after the conference. This will enable the social worker to reinforce the outcome of the conference and the purpose of the Child Protection Plan.

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 Record.

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 Independent Conference Chair in consultation with other conference members.

Where a supporter, solicitor, other family member or observer has attended a conference, the Record will not be distributed to them unless they have a role in the Child Protection Plan and the conference agrees it appropriate.

15.3 Retention of Minutes

The central copy of the Record will be retained for 25 years following the discontinuation of the Child Protection Plan.

The recipient agencies and professionals should retain the Record of the Child Protection Conference in a manner which ensures their confidentiality and in accordance with their own agency’s record retention policy.

15.4 Access to Record of Conference

Agencies should determine who within the agency 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.

Records of Conference are confidential and should not be passed to third parties without the Consent of the Independent Conference Chair.

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 Record.

Subsequent requests for access to the Record by professionals who do not have a legal or direct role in the case should be referred to the Case Conference Administrator.

Children (if of sufficient age and understanding) and/or parents on their behalf may have the right of access to their records held by Children, Education and Families. 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 Chair will release the open access sections of the Record of Conference without any further checks with professional colleagues. The closed access section of the Record will not be released without full consultation with all parties. However, time and events often overtake the significance of closed access, for example where court proceedings have taken place and evidence has been exchanged, and withholding access may not be justified. There will be a presumption in favour of disclosure although while Court proceedings are ongoing, there may be legal grounds for refusing access.

End