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OxfordshireSafeguarding Children Board Procedures Manual

Child Protection Conferences

This chapter is currently under review.

Contents

  1. Child Protection Conferences
  2. Looked After Children and Child Protection Conferences
  3. Membership of Child Protection Conference
  4. Involving Children and Family Members
  5. Exclusion of Family Members from a Conference
  6. The Absence of Parents and / or Children
  7. Information for the Conference
  8. Chairing the Conference
  9. The Child Protection Plan
  10. Child Does Not Require a Protection Plan
  11. Professional Dissent from the Conference Decision
  12. Complaints by Children and / or Parents
  13. Administrative Arrangements for Child Protection Conferences

1. Child Protection Conferences

All conferences

A child protection conference brings together family members (and the child/ren where appropriate), supporters / advocates and those professionals most involved with the child and family to make decisions about the child's future safety, health and development. If concerns relate to an unborn child, consideration should be given as to whether to hold a child protection conference prior to the child's birth.

The tasks for all conferences are to:

  • Bring together and analyse, in an inter-agency setting, the information which has been obtained about the child's developmental needs, and the parents' capacity to respond to these needs to ensure the child's safety and promote the child's health and development within the context of their wider family and environment;
  • Consider the evidence presented to the conference and taking into account the child's present situation and information about his or her family history and present and past family functioning, to decide whether the child is at risk of significant harm;
  • Recommend what future action is required in order to safeguard and promote the welfare of the child, including the child becoming the subject of a child protection plan, what the planned developmental outcomes are for the child and how best to intervene to achieve these;
  • Appoint a lead social worker from children's social care for each child who requires a child protection plan. The social worker is responsible for ensuring that the child protection plan is developed, co-ordinated and fully implemented to timescale;
  • Identify a core group of professionals and family members to develop, implement and review the progress of the child protection plan;
  • Put in place a contingency plan if the agreed actions are not completed and/or circumstances change impacting on the child's safety and welfare.

The children's social care manager is responsible for making the decision to convene a child protection conference in conjunction with an Independent Chair and the reasons for calling the conference (or not calling a conference following completion of a Section 47 Enquiry) must be recorded.

Where a Senior Manager with safeguarding responsibilities from another agency requests that an Initial Child Protection Case Conference is convened, this will be given serious consideration by the Team Manager and Independent Chair. If a decision is made not to convene a Conference, the Independent Chair will liaise with that agency to discuss the reasoning, double check that all information has been considered and confirm decision making in writing to that agency.

The Professional disagreement / conflict resolution procedures should be applied, if agreement cannot be reached.

Types of conferences

Depending on the circumstances there are several different types of child protection conferences:

  • Initial conferences;
  • Pre-birth conferences;
  • Transfer in conferences;
  • Review conferences.

Note: All types of child protection conferences should include not only the child who is the subject of the specific concerns but must also include consideration of the needs of all other children in the household.

An initial child protection conference must be convened following a s47 enquiry to safeguard and promote the welfare of a child who is suspected of, or likely to be, suffering significant harm.

The initial child protection conference should take place within 15 working days of:

  • The strategy meeting / discussion when the section 47 enquiries were initiated; or
  • Notification by another local authority that a child subject of a Child Protection Plan has moved into the area.

If there is an emergency protection order (EPO) and it is decided to hold a Child Protection Conference, the conference should, whenever possible, be held before the EPO expires.

Where a child assessment order has been made, the conference should be held immediately on conclusion of examinations and assessments.

Where there is delay, this must be reported to the children's social care manager (including reasons for the delay) and children's social care must ensure that risks of harm to the child are monitored and action taken to safeguard the child.

A pre-birth conference is an initial child protection conference concerning an unborn child. Such a conference has the same status as, and must be conducted in a comparable manner to, an initial child protection conference. The timing of the conference should be carefully considered bearing in mind the need for early action to allow time to plan for the birth.

Pre-birth conferences should always be convened where there is a need to consider if a multi-agency child protection plan is required. This decision will usually follow from a pre-birth assessment.

A pre-birth conference should be held where:

  • A pre-birth assessment gives rise to concerns that an unborn child may be at risk of significant harm;
  • A previous child has died or been removed from parent/s as a result of significant harm;
  • A child is to be born into a family or household that already has children who are subject of a child protection plan;
  • An adult or child who is 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 18 years of age about whom there are concerns regarding her ability to self-care and / or to care for the child.

All agencies involved with pregnant women, where there are concerns about the unborn child, should consider whether there is the need for an early referral to children's social care so that assessments are undertaken as early as possible in the pregnancy.

The pre-birth conference should take place as soon as practical and at least to be confirmed weeks before the due date of delivery, so as 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.

Transfer in conferences should take place when a child who is the subject of a child protection plan, moves from the original LA area to Oxfordshire area to live there permanently e.g. for a period of more than 3 months. Children's social care, designated health professionals and the police should be notified promptly. The transfer in conference should receive reports from the original LA, and the original authority should be invited to attend the conference which should take place within 15 working days of the notification. Such a conference has the same status and purpose, and must be conducted in a comparable manner to, an initial child protection conference. (see Management of Transfer in Children Protection Conferences).

The transfer in conference should receive reports from the original LA, and the original authority should be invited to attend the conference which should take place within 15 working days of the notification. Such a conference has the same status and purpose, and must be conducted in a comparable manner to, an initial child protection conference.

A review conference is intended:

  • To review whether the child is continuing to suffer, or is likely to suffer, significant harm, and review developmental progress against the child protection plan outcomes;
  • To consider whether the child protection plan should continue or should be changed.

Every review should consider explicitly whether the child is suffering, or is likely to suffer, significant harm and hence continues to require safeguarding from harm through adherence to a formal child protection plan. If the child is considered to be suffering significant harm, the local authority should consider whether to initiate family court proceedings. For further guidance see the Public Law Outline.

If not, then the child should no longer be the subject of a child protection plan and the conference should consider what continuing support services may benefit the child and family and make recommendations accordingly.

Thorough regular review is critical to achieving the best possible outcomes for the child and includes:

  • Sharing and analysing up-to-date information about the child's health, development and functioning and the parent's capacity to ensure and promote the child's welfare;
  • Maintaining contact with Health professionals such as GPs and Health Visitors about the child;
  • Considering the impact on the child of the capacity and functioning of the parent/carer;
  • Ensuring that the measures already in place to safeguard the child from harm are effective and in line with local arrangements;
  • Regularly reviewing the progress of all aspects of the Child Protection Plan;
  • Making changes to the child protection plan (e.g. where a family is not co-operating or a service is no longer available);
  • Deciding what action is required to safeguard the child if there are changes to the child's circumstances;
  • Setting or re-setting desired outcomes and timescales;
  • Seeking and taking into account the child's (possibly changed) wishes and feelings;
  • Making judgements about the likelihood of the child suffering significant harm in the future;
  • Deciding whether there is a need for a new assessment.

The first child protection review conference should be held within three months of the date of the initial child protection conference.

Further reviews should be held at intervals of not more than six months for as long as the child remains the subject of a child protection plan. If the initial conference was a pre-birth conference the review conference should take place within one month of the child's birth or within three months of the date of the pre-birth conference, whichever is sooner. Subsequent review conferences should take place within six months thereafter.

All review conferences should consider the timescales to meet the needs and safety of the child. An infant or child under the age of 5 where there are serious concerns about the levels of risk might require the timescales to be shorter than those set above. The decisions should reflect the circumstances of the child and the impact on the child of the concerns rather than any agency constraints.

Reviews should be brought forward where / when:

  • Child protection concerns relating to a new incident or allegation of abuse have been sustained;
  • There are significant difficulties in carrying out the child protection plan;
  • A child is to be born into the household of a child or children already subject of child protection plans;
  • An adult or child who poses a risk to children is to join, or commences regular contact with, the household;
  • There is a significant change in the circumstances of the child or family not anticipated at the previous conference and with implications for the safety of the child;
  • A child subject of a child protection plan is also looked after by the local authority and consideration is being given to returning them to the circumstances where care of the child previously aroused concerns (unless this step is anticipated in the existing child protection plan);
  • The core group believe that an early cancellation of the need for a child protection plan should be considered.

2. Looked After Children and Child Protection Conferences

Children with a child protection plan who become looked after: process for ending child protection plan

This should be read in conjunction with the IRO Handbook 2010 and is reflected in the Looked After Children procedures. When a Looked After Child is no longer living in the situation which gave rise to the child protection concerns that resulted in him/her having a Child Protection Plan and there is no current plan for the child to be returned, or if this was anticipated at the previous Child Protection Conference, his/her Child Protection Plan may be discontinued. The decision to discontinue a Child Protection Plan must be a multi-agency one, agreed by the Child Protection Review Conference participants/Core Group members.

There are only three points at which this decision can be made; Initial Child Protection Case Conference (when the change of status is anticipated); Review Child Protection Case Conference (when the status is actual or anticipated); or at a LAC Review.

If a Child Protection Review Conference is planned to take place within 20 working days of the child becoming Looked After, the Conference must carefully consider and record the decision including justification for the child being the subject of dual CP and LAC plans. The Looked After Child who has a Child Protection Plan will also be subject to statutory child care review procedures.

Consideration should be given to the Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO) chairing the Child Protection Review Conference as well as the Looked After Review but, where that is not possible, it will be expected that the IRO will attend both meetings (unless the CP Conference chair is to become the child's IRO which negates the need for this).

If a Review Child Protection Case Conference will not be held within 20 working days, the Independent Reviewing Officer and Independent Conference Chair (unless these are one in the same) will discuss the safeguarding issues within the context of the proposed LAC Care Plan. The need for an on-going Child Protection Plan will then be discussed at the 20 working day LAC review meeting within the context of the proposed LAC Care Plan.

At the point of the child becoming Looked After, the Independent Conference Chair will write to the involved agencies/Core Group to advise this is the case, requesting their views and advising that the child protection status of the child will be considered at the 20 working day LAC review, when their views will be taken into account.

Guidance Notes

Where a child is Looked After, decisions regarding the continued need for a Child Protection Plan should be made alongside consideration of the Care Plan. Looked After Reviews and Child Protection Review Conferences are separate meetings with different purposes. Consideration must be given to ensuring that the multi-agency contribution to the review of the Child Protection Plan is addressed within the review of the Care Plan, as the Looked After Review, in reviewing the child protection aspects of the child's Care Plan, should consider whether the criteria continue to be met for the child to remain the subject of a Child Protection Plan. The Independent Reviewing Officer who chairs the LAC review will record the decision and CP conference members will be added to the distribution list. Correspondence must be sufficiently detailed to demonstrate a transparent collaborative approach to decision making is being taken.

The LAC Care Plan will be the primary means of safeguarding the safety and welfare of the child. A Child Protection Plan should only be necessary as a supplement if:

  • The child will be spending time in the household where the Significant Harm took place; or
  • With the adult responsible for the Significant Harm; or
  • While consultation about ending CP planning with relevant agencies is carried out; and/or
  • There is doubt about the sustainability of the child's LAC status.

N.B. The plans made at Looked After Reviews must be consistent with the Child Protection Plan.

For cases where the potential of proceedings being initiated is clear at an earlier Initial or Review Child Protection Case Conference, in that meeting the Independent Conference Chair will seek Core Group/agency agreement to end the Child Protection Plan (without another conference) should an Order confirming the child will no longer be living in the household be made subsequently.

Minimum fortnightly visits and six weekly core groups should be maintained until Child Protection planning is formally ended. However the protocol of reducing frequency of CP monitoring visits to monthly could be implemented to address this if appropriate.

Where a Looked After Review or other local authority child care planning meeting, proposes the return of a child with a Child Protection Plan to his or her parents or carers or any other change which might significantly affect the level of risk, the decision (unless this formed part of the original Child Protection Plan) must not be implemented until it has been considered by a Child Protection Review Conference.

Where there is disagreement within the subsequent Child Protection Review Conference, the situation must be brought to the attention of the social worker's manager, who will decide whether or not to proceed with the plan made at the Looked After Review.

Where a child with a Child Protection Plan is removed from being Accommodated by his/her parents or where a Looked After Child is returned to his or her parents or carers in Court proceedings against the recommendation of the local authority, a Child Protection Review Conference must be convened to consider the risks to the child and the implications for the Child Protection Plan.

If necessary and appropriate, the local authority must take action to protect the child prior to the Child Protection Review Conference. This must not be delayed until after the Review Conference is convened if an enquiry or assessment indicates that it is required sooner.

Combining Looked After Planning and Children Protection Planning

Where a looked after child remains the subject of a child protection plan there must be a single plan and a single planning and reviewing process, led by the Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO). This means that the timing of the review of the child protection aspects of the care plan should be the same as the review under The Children Act 1989 Guidance and Regulations Volume 2: Care Planning, Placement and Case Review (2015) (also see the IRO Handbook) and the accompanying statutory guidance Putting Care into Practice. This will ensure that up to date information in relation to the child's welfare and safety is considered within the review meeting and informs the overall care planning process.

Consideration should be given to whether the criteria continue to be met for the child to remain the subject of a child protection plan and consideration to bring forward a Review conference should be addressed. Significant changes to the care plan should only be made following the looked after child's review.

Consideration should be given to the IRO chairing the child protection conference where a looked after child remains the subject of a child protection plan despite there being:

  • Different requirements for independence of the IRO function compared to the chair of the child protection conference; and
  • A requirement for the child protection conference to be a multi-agency forum while children for the most part want as few external people as possible at a review meeting where they are present.

This should be decided on an individual case basis and managed to ensure that the independence of the independent reviewing officer is not compromised. Similarly the child might benefit from another independent chair and where it is possible should be consulted about the use of the IRO as chair. Where it is not possible for the IRO to chair the child protection conference the IRO will attend the child protection review conference.

To note, within Oxfordshire the roles of Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO) and Independent Chair (IC) are interchangeable to provide continuity for children, where possible.

3. Membership of Child Protection Conference

A conference should consist of only those people who have a significant contribution to make due to their knowledge of the child and family or their expertise relevant to the case. This is likely to include:

  • The child or their representative;
  • Parents/those with parental responsibility;
  • Family members (including the wider family);
  • Foster carers (current or former);
  • Residential care staff;
  • Suitably qualified, Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) registered children's social work professionals who have led and been involved in an assessment of the child and family (and their first line manager);
  • Professionals involved with the child (e.g. health visitor, school nurse, paediatrician, GP, school staff, CAMHS, early years staff, education welfare officers);
  • Professionals with expertise in the particular type of harm suffered by the child or in the child's particular condition (e.g. a disability or long term illness);
  • Those involved in investigations (e.g. the police);
  • Involved third sector organisations;
  • A professional who is independent of operational or line management responsibilities for the case as Chair. The status of the Chair should be sufficient to ensure multi-agency commitment to the conference and the child protection plan.

Invitations to conference should be provided to all professionals with a need to know or who have a contribution to the task involved. These may include:

  • Local authority legal services (child protection), if it is anticipated that legal advice will be required;
  • The child/ren's guardian where there are current court proceedings;
  • Professionals involved with the parents or other family members (e.g. family support services, adult mental health services, probation, the GP, Health visiting;
  • Midwifery services where the conference concerns an unborn or new-born child;
  • Probation or the Youth Offending Team;
  • Local authority housing services;
  • Domestic violence adviser;
  • Alcohol and substance abuse services;
  • A representative of the armed services, in cases where there is a service connection;
  • Any other relevant professional or service provider;
  • A supporter / advocate for the child and/or parents (e.g. a friend or solicitor); solicitors must comply with the Law Society guidance 'Attendance of solicitors at local authority Children Act Meetings' and related 'Code of Conduct (2011)'.

A professional observer can only attend with the prior consent of the Chair and the family, and must not take part in discussions or decision-making.

Professionals who are invited but unable to attend for unavoidable reasons should:

  • Inform the conference administrator;
  • Submit a written report; and
  • Arrange for a well-briefed agency representative to attend and speak to the report;
  • Agencies are expected to share a report about the child and family in written form with the family and other agencies as appropriate, prior to the conference, whether or not they are able to attend the conference. See Section 7, Information for the Conference.

Babies and young children should not normally be present during the conference as they will cause distraction from the focus of the meeting. Parents should be assisted to make arrangements for their care where necessary.

Parent's audio recording meetings

Guidance for OCC Independent Reviewing Officers and Independent Chairs
Preamble

It is recognised that the act of recording a professional meeting by a parent is not prohibited by law and there is no legal requirement that a parent must obtain consent to make a recording. There are legal restrictions, however, on distributing or publishing confidential information and the Local Authority has a duty to maintain the confidentiality of sensitive information that it collates in fulfilling its statutory functions. This guidance is designed to achieve a balance between accepting that it may be reasonable for a recording to be made in some circumstances and being confident that confidentiality can be maintained. It is intended to make clear that making a recording needs careful consideration and to ensure parents are aware that the Local Authority follows this protocol requiring advance permission.

Guidance
  1. The Safeguarding and LAC Quality Assurance Service may, on request, permit a parent to audio record a specific meeting for his/her own personal use if:
    • The parent has a clear reason for doing so (e.g. to have an immediate record of the meeting for use in seeking legal advice; to be reassured that an accurate record can be retained; the parent has poor literacy skills and minutes of meetings are therefore not very helpful);
    • All participants at the meeting understand in advance that the meeting will be recorded;
    • It will not entail a breach of confidentiality or the discussion of sensitive information relating to children who are not the subject of the meeting or other 3rd parties;
    • The parent signs a consent form confirming that the recording will be for personal use only and will not be 'published' in any format and, most particularly, will not be put on the internet or social media.
  2. Before the meeting takes place the IRO/IC will establish with the parent why a request is being made to make a recording and to consider if the request is reasonable;
  3. The IRO/IC may suggest an alternative arrangement that satisfies the parent that a recording is not necessary e.g. inviting the parent to bring a friend/lawyer to the meeting to keep their own written note;
  4. If the request is refused e.g. because the parent refuses to sign the consent form or there is a lack of confidence in the parent maintaining strict confidentiality, the IRO/IC should explain the reasons clearly and set them out in writing for the parent;
  5. In the event that permission is granted the parent will provide a copy of the recording to the IRO/IC, which will be used for the purpose of checking the minutes and will thereafter be destroyed;
  6. In the event that a recording is made and the meeting is thereby disrupted e.g. by express or implied threats to give the recording to the media, or to use it to cause fear or distress to another, or by thrusting the recording device into the faces of participants, the meeting will be brought to an end immediately;
  7. If permission is granted to record a particular meeting, the parent must understand that it does not mean or imply that it is considered acceptable to record all meetings. Each meeting must be considered separately giving careful consideration to who will be participating e.g. if children are attending or it is a meeting between a child and the Social Worker it is unlikely that permission will be given (it is likely to inhibit the child, make him/her guarded, be anxious about who may listen to the recording).

For further information please refer to the December 2015 Transparency Project 16 page guidance note.

Conference quorum

As a minimum quorum, at every conference there should be attendance by local authority children's social care and at least two other professional groups or agencies, which have had direct contact with each child who is the subject of the conference. In addition, attendees may also include those whose contribution relates to their professional expertise or responsibility for relevant services. In exceptional cases, where a child has not had relevant contact with three agencies (that is, local authority children's social care and two others), this minimum quorum may be breached.

In exceptional circumstances, the Chair may decide to proceed with the conference despite lack of agency representation. This would be relevant where:

  • A child has not had relevant contact with three agencies (e.g. pre-birth conferences);
  • Sufficient information is available from the relevant agencies; and
  • A delay will be detrimental to the child.

Where an inquorate conference is held, an early review conference should be arranged. The Chair must ensure that the reasons for proceeding with the conference and any arrangements to safeguard the child in the meantime are noted in the conference records.

4. Involving Children and Family Members

It is important that the principles of partnership with children and parents are maintained in the child protection process. The following are minimum requirements for all attendees of the conference and the responsibility of the Chair of the conference to uphold:

  • Parents must be invited and encouraged to participate in all child protection meetings unless it is likely to prejudice the welfare of the child;
  • Parents should be supported to enable them to participate by timely preparation and information, such as leaflets, being provided about the process and their role;
  • Advocates should be facilitated to support parents;
  • A meeting with the Independent Chair prior to the meeting should take place;
  • Those parents 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. See Working with Interpreters and others with Special Communication Skills.

Exceptionally, it may be necessary to exclude one or more family members from a conference, in whole or in part. Where a parent attends only part of a conference as a result of exclusion, they must receive the record of the conference. The Chair should decide if the entire record is provided or only that part attended by the excluded parent (see Section 5, Exclusion of Family Members from a Conference).

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

The child, subject to their level of understanding, needs to be given the opportunity to contribute meaningfully to the conference.

In practice, the appropriateness of including an individual child must be assessed in advance and relevant arrangements made to facilitate attendance at all or part of the conference.

Where it is assessed, in accordance with the criteria below, that it would be inappropriate for the child to attend, alternative arrangements should be made to ensure their wishes and feelings are made clear to all relevant parties (e.g. use of an advocate, written or taped comments).

Criteria for presence of child at conference, including direct involvement

The primary questions to be addressed are:

  • Does the child have sufficient understanding of the process?
  • Have they expressed an explicit or implicit wish to be involved?
  • What are the parents' views about the child's 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. The following approach is recommended:

  • A (rebuttable) presumption that a child of less than twelve years of age is unlikely to be able to be a direct and/or full participant in a forum such as a child protection conference;
  • A presumption (also rebuttable by evidence to the contrary) that from the age of twelve and over, a child should be offered such an opportunity.

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.

Consideration must be given to the impact of the conference on the child (e.g. if they have a significant learning difficulty or where it will be impossible to ensure they are kept apart from a parent who may be hostile and / or attribute responsibility onto them). Consideration must be given in particular to the extent to which it is appropriate for a child to hear details of a parent's personal difficulties and a parent's view about this must be respected.

In such cases, energy and resources should be directed toward ensuring that, by means of an advocate and / or preparatory work by a social worker, the child's wishes and feelings are effectively represented.

Direct involvement of a child in a conference

In advance of the conference, the Chair and social worker should agree whether:

  • The child attends for all or part of the conference, taking into account confidentiality or parents and / or siblings;
  • The child should be present with one or more of their parents;
  • The Chair meets the child alone or with a parent prior to the meeting.

If a child attends all or part of the conference, it is essential that they are prepared by the social worker or independent advocate who can help them prepare a report or rehearse any particular points that the child wishes to make.

Provision should be made to ensure that a child who has any form of disability is enabled to participate.

Consideration should be given to enabling the child to be accompanied by a supporter or an advocate.

Indirect contributions when a child is not attending

Indirect contributions from a child should, whenever possible, include a pre-meeting with the conference Chair.

Other indirect methods include written statements, e-mails, text messages and taped comments prepared alone or with independent support, and representation via an advocate.

Childcare professionals should all be able to represent a child's views and a particular responsibility falls upon the social worker to do so. It is more important that the child feels involved in the whole process of child protection assessment rather than merely receiving an invitation to the conference.

5. Exclusion of Family Members from a Conference

The 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 Chair should make a decision according to the following criteria:

  • 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). In their absence, a friend or advocate may represent them at the conference;
  • 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 conference Chair);
  • 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 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).

Where a worker from any agency believes a parent should, on the basis of the above criteria, be excluded, representation must be made, if possible at least three working days in advance, to the Chair of the conference.

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 Chair must consider the representation carefully and may need legal advice.

If, in planning a conference, it becomes clear to the Chair that there may be a conflict of interest between the children and the parents, the conference should be planned so that the welfare and safety of the child remains paramount.

Any exclusion period should be for the minimum duration necessary and must be clearly recorded in the conference record.

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 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 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.

The decision of the Chair over matters of exclusion is final regarding both parents and the child/ren.

If, prior to the conference, the 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 Section 11, Professional Dissent from the Conference Decision.

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 Chair will determine whether or not the excluded parent should receive the record of the conference.

If a decision to exclude a parent is made, this must be fully recorded in the record. Exclusion at one conference is not reason enough in itself for exclusion at further conferences.

6. The Absence of Parents and / or Children

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.

7. Information for the Conference

In order for the conference to reach well-informed decisions based on evidence, it needs adequate preparation and sharing of information on the child/ren's needs and circumstances by all agencies that have had significant involvement with the child and family, including those who were involved in the assessment and the s47 enquiry. All reports must be clear and distinguish between facts, allegations and opinions.

Responsibilities of the Social Worker before the Conference

General Responsibilities

The Lead Social Worker is responsible for the following:

  1. Considering as described Section 4, Involving Children and Family Members 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.
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.

Responsibilities of other Professionals/Agencies

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.

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.

Information from children and families

Children and family members should be helped in advance to consider what they wish to convey to the conference, how they wish to do so and what help and support they will require (e.g. they may choose to communicate in writing, by tape or with the help of an advocate).

Families may need to be reminded that submissions need to be sufficiently succinct to allow proper consideration within the time constraints of the child protection conference.

See Section 4, Involving Children and Family Members.

8. Chairing the Conference

Conference Chair

The Chair of a child protection conference will be a children's social care manager or an independent Chair, accountable to the Director of Children's Services. They must not have or have had operational or line management responsibility for the case. Wherever possible, the same person should also chair subsequent child protection reviews in respect of a specific child. Independent Reviewing Officers who have had the necessary training and experience can also chair child protection conferences.

If a decision is made that a child requires a protection plan to safeguard their welfare, the Chair should ensure that:

  • The risks to the child are stated and what is needed to change is specified;
  • A qualified social worker is identified as a Lead social worker to develop, co-ordinate and implement the child protection plan;
  • A core group is identified of family members and professionals;
  • A date is set for the first core group meeting within ten working days of the initial conference and timescales set for subsequent meetings;
  • A date for the child protection review conference is set;
  • The outline child protection plan is formulated and clearly understood by all concerned including the parents and, where appropriate, the child.

If the conference determines that a child does not need the specific assistance of a protection plan but does need help to promote their welfare, the Chair must ensure that:

  • The conference draws up a child in need plan or makes appropriate recommendations for a plan;
  • The conference considers any local protocols in place referred to as 'step down procedures' or Family Group Conference processes.

9. The Child Protection Plan

Threshold for a child protection plan

The conference should consider the following question when determining whether a child requires a multi-agency child protection plan:

  • Has the child suffered significant harm? and
  • Is the child likely to suffer significant harm in the future?

The test for likelihood of suffering harm in the future should be that either:

  • The child can be shown to have suffered maltreatment or impairment of health or development as a result of neglect or physical, emotional or sexual abuse, and professional judgement is that further ill-treatment or impairment is likely; or
  • A professional judgement, substantiated by the findings of enquiries in this individual case or by research evidence, predicts that the child is likely to suffer maltreatment or the impairment of health and development as a result of neglect or physical, emotional or sexual abuse.

If a child is likely to suffer significant harm, then they will require multi-agency help and intervention delivered through a formal child protection plan.

The primary purposes of this plan are to:

  • Ensure the child is safe from harm and prevent him or her from suffering further harm;
  • Promote the child's health and development; and
  • Support the family and wider family members to safeguard and promote the welfare of their child, provided it is in the best interests of the child.

Decision that a child needs a child protection plan

If a decision is taken that the child has suffered, or is likely to suffer Significant Harm and hence in need of a Child Protection Plan, the Chair should determine which category of abuse or neglect the child has suffered or is likely to suffer. The category used (that is physical, emotional, sexual abuse or neglect, see Responding to Abuse and Neglect Procedure for definitions) will indicate to those consulting the child's social care record the primary presenting concerns at the time the child became the subject of a Child Protection Plan.

The need for a protection plan should be considered separately in respect of each child in the family or household.

Where a child is to be the subject of a child protection plan, the conference is responsible for recommendations on how agencies, professionals and the family should work together to ensure that the child will be safeguarded from harm in the future. This should enable both professionals and the family to understand exactly what is expected of them and what they can expect of others.

The outline plan should:

  • Describe specific, achievable, child-focused outcomes intended to safeguard each child;
  • Describe the types of services required by each child (including family support) to promote their welfare;
  • Set a timescale for the completion of the assessment, if appropriate;
  • Identify any specialist assessments of each child and the family that may be required to ensure that sound judgements are being / can be made on how best to safeguard each child and promote their welfare;
  • Clearly identify roles and responsibilities of professionals and family members, including the nature and frequency of contact by professionals with children and family members;
  • Identify the resource implications for each agency as far as possible and determine the agency representation, who can commit agency resources, to the first core group meeting;
  • Lay down points at which progress will be reviewed, the means by which progress will be judged and who will monitor this;
  • Develop a robust contingency plan to respond if the family is unable to make the required changes and the child continues to be at risk of significant harm (e.g. recommend the consideration of legal action and the circumstances which would trigger this).

10. Child Does Not Require a Protection Plan

If the conference decides that a child has not suffered, or is not likely to suffer Significant Harm then the conference may not make the child the subject of a child protection plan. The child may nevertheless require services to promote his or her health or development. In these circumstances, the conference should consider the child's needs and make recommendations for further help and support to assist the family in responding to them. The conference should consider drawing up a child in need plan or recommending follow up by any local protocols in place referred to as 'step down procedures' or Family Group Conferences.

The decision must be put in writing to the parent/s, and agencies as well as communicated to them verbally.

Discontinuing a current child protection plan

The conference should use the same decision-making process to reach a judgement for when a protection plan is no longer needed. This includes situations where other multi-agency planning might need to replace a protection plan.

A child may no longer need a protection plan if:

  • A review conference judges that the child is no longer likely to suffer significant harm and no longer requires safeguarding by means of a child protection plan;
  • The child has moved permanently to another local authority when a protection plan can only cease after the receiving authority has convened a transfer child protection conference and confirmed in writing responsibility for case management;
  • The child has reached eighteen years of age, has died or has been judged to have permanently left the UK, when their name can be removed.

It is permissible for the Child Protection manager to agree the discontinuing of a child protection plan without the need to convene a Child Protection Review Conference only when:

  • One or other of the latter two criteria in the paragraph above are satisfied; and
  • The manager has consulted with relevant agencies present at the conference that first concluded that a Child Protection Plan was required.

When the process carried out at in the paragraph above is followed, the consultation with other agencies and the decision to discontinue the Child Protection Plan must be clearly recorded in the children's social care child's record.

When a child is no longer subject of a Child Protection Plan, notification should be sent, as a minimum, to the agencies' representatives who were invited to attend the initial conference that led to the plan.

When a child protection plan is discontinued, the social worker must discuss with the parents and child/ren what services might be needed and required, based on the re-assessment of the needs of the child and family. A Child in Need Plan or a CAF should be developed for any continuing support. The plan should be reviewed at regular intervals of no more than every six months.

11. Professional Dissent from the Conference Decision

If an agency does not agree with a decision or recommendation made at a child protection conference, their professional dissent will be recorded in the record of the conference. The procedures to apply the Conflict Resolution Policy for professional disagreements should be implemented as soon as practicable after the conference has concluded.

12. Complaints by Children and / or Parents

1. 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 Case Conferences:

  • The management and process of the conference;
  • A decision for the child to become, to continue or not to become, the subject of a child protection plan and the category of significant harm attached to it;
  • Complaints about professionals' contributions, performance and provision of services.

1a. Management and Process complaints

Complaints about aspects of the functioning of conferences should be addressed to the Conference Chair in the first instance. Should the complainant remain dissatisfied with the outcome of this complaint, the matter may then be passed to the Service Manager for Quality Assurance to resolve. Please see paragraph 1c for possible outcomes.

1b. Decision or "category of harm" complaints:

Should the complainant be dissatisfied with the decision or category of harm determined by the conference, written representations should be made to the Independent Chair in the first instance. Should the complainant remain dissatisfied following this response, the matter may then be passed to the Service Manager for Quality Assurance for adjudication and to determine whether the following criteria apply and should therefore lead to OSCB final review:

  • Lack of agency consensus in conference leading to a final decision directed by the Independent Chair;
  • Those with Parental Responsibility were not in attendance or there is evidence that their views were not fully taken into account;
  • There is evidence of factual inaccuracies which were material to the decision and could have been resolved at an earlier stage.

Should any of these criteria be met, the Service Manager for Quality Assurance may request that the matter is considered by an Inter-Agency Panel made up of senior representatives of Oxfordshire Safeguarding Children Board and the Oxfordshire County Council CEF Safeguarding Manager.

1c. Agencies' contributions

Complaints about individual professionals' (including Children's Social Care) performance and provision (or non-provision) of services should be responded to in accordance with the relevant agency's own complaints management process.

1c. Outcome of complaints

All parties must be made aware that the complaints processes cannot retrospectively change the decisions made and that during the course of a complaint's consideration, the decision made by the conference stands, until it is reviewed at the next conference.

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.

If a complainant remains dissatisfied at the end of this process they have a right to raise their concerns with the Local Government Ombudsman who can look at aspects of a complaint that concerns Oxfordshire County Council employees but are not able to investigate agencies contributions, or matters that have been dealt with in court.

Contact for Local Government Ombudsman
Tel: 0300 061 0614
Local Government & Social Care Ombudsman website.

Contact for Oxfordshire County Council Comments and Complaints Service:
Commentsandcomplaints@oxfordshire.gov.uk
Tel: 01865 323589

13. Administrative Arrangements for Child Protection Conferences

Children's social care is responsible for administering the child protection conference service.

The Oxfordshire Safeguarding Children Board has clear arrangements for the organisation of child protection conferences including:

  • Arrangements for sending out invitations to children, parents and professionals;
  • Information leaflets for children and for parents translated into appropriate languages.

All conferences are recorded by a dedicated person whose sole task within the conference is to provide a written record of proceedings in a consistent format. Alternatively, an audiotape or digital recording may be used in some circumstances.

The conference record, signed by the conference Chair, should be sent to all those who attended or were invited to the conference within 20 working days of the conference. Any amendments should be received within one week of receipt of record.

A copy of the conference record should be given to and discussed with the parents by the social worker within 20 working days. The conference Chair may decide that confidential material should be excluded from the parent's copy. The Decision letter should be sent to parents within 24 hours of the Conference taking place and after consideration of safety concerns e.g. in cases of domestic violence and abuse.

Where a friend, supporter or solicitor has been involved, the Chair should clarify with the parent whether a record should be provided for those individuals.

Relevant sections of the record should be explained to and discussed with the child by the social worker.

The conference Chair should decide whether a child should be given a copy of the record. The record may be supplied to a child's legal representative on request.

Where parents and / or the child/ren have a sensory disability or where English is not their first language, the social worker should ensure that they receive appropriate assistance to understand and make full use of the record. A family member should not be expected to act as an interpreter of spoken or signed language. See Working with Interpreters and others with Special Communication Skills.

Conference records are confidential and should not be shared with third parties without the consent of either the conference Chair or an order of the court.

In criminal proceedings the police may reveal the existence of child protection records to the Crown Prosecution Service, and in care proceedings the records of the conference may be revealed in the court.

The record of the decisions of the child protection conference should be retained by the recipient agencies in accordance with their record retention policies.

Decision letter

Within one working day of the conference, a decision letter should be sent by the Conference Chair to all those who attended, or were invited, to the conference. The letter should give details of conference decisions and recommendations, the name of the social worker and details about the right to complain. Safety concerns should be considered when sending any documents to parents particularly in cases involving domestic violence and abuse. Where possible this communication should also include the Outline Plan which should be available for the first Core Group meeting at the very latest.

Managing and providing information about a child

Children's social care should designate an experienced social care manager who has responsibility for:

  • Ensuring that records on children who are subject of a child protection plan are kept up to date;
  • Ensuring enquiries about children about whom there are concerns or who are subject of child protection plans are recorded and reviewed in the context of the child's known history;
  • Managing notifications of movements of children who are subject of a child protection plan, looked after children and other relevant children moving into or out of the local authority area;
  • Managing notifications of people who may pose a risk of significant harm to children who are either identified within the local authority area or have moved into the local authority area;
  • Managing requests for local authority checks to be made to ensure unsuitable people are prevented from working with children. E.g. prospective child minders, foster carers etc.

Information on each child known to children's social care should be kept up-to-date on the electronic record system. This information should be confidential but accessible at all times to legitimate enquirers. The details of enquirers should always be checked and recorded on the system before information is provided.