1.5 Child Protection Conferences: Procedure
- Purposes and tasks for all conferences
- Types of Conference
- Looked after children and child protection conferences
- Membership of Child Protection Conferences
- Location, timing and safety for conferences
- Involving children and family members
- Criteria for presence of a child at conference including direct involvement
- Exclusion of family members from a conference
- The absence of parents and children
- Information for the conference
- Chairing the conference
- The Child's Plan
- Professional Dissent from the Conference Decision
- Complaints by Children and / or parents
- Administrative arrangements for child protection conferences
Purposes and tasks for 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. A child protection conference can be held on an individual child or a number of children in a family.
Tasks for all conferences are to:
The Children's social care manager is responsible for making the decision to convene a Child Protection Conference and the reasons for calling the conference (or not calling a conference following completion of a Section 47 Enquiry) must be recorded.
Any professional, who disagrees with a decision not to proceed to an initial child protection conference, or not to arrange an early review conference, should escalate their disagreement through the normal escalation process. Professionals should refer to the BSCP Escalation, Challenge and Conflict Resolution Procedure for further information.
Types of Conference
Depending on the circumstances there are several different types of child protection conferences:
All types of child protection conferences should include not only the child subject of the specific concerns but must also include consideration of the needs of all other children in the household, including children who live there part-time.
Initial Child Protection Conference
The initial child protection conference should take place:
Where a Child Assessment Order has been made, a conference should be held immediately on conclusion of examinations and assessments.
Where there is delay, this must be reported to the social work manager (including reasons for the delay) and Children's services must ensure risks of harm to the child are monitored and action taken to safeguard the child.
Pre-Birth Child Protection Conference
A pre-birth conference is an initial child protection conference concerning an unborn child. Such a conference has the same status 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. Reference should also be made to the BSCP Pre-Birth Procedures.
Pre-birth conferences should always be convened where there is a need to consider if a multi-agency child protection plan is required:
Other risk factors to be considered are:
When there are concerns about an unborn child, all agencies involved with the pregnant woman must ensure that a referral is made to First Response. The referral should be made made at the earliest opportunity after 13 weeks of gestation so that there is sufficient time for a full and informed pre-birth assessment and for plans for the baby's protection to be put in place.
As set out in the Pre-Birth Procedures, the intial pre-birth conference should take place at the earliest opportunity after 17 weeks gestation within 15 working days of a late notification, so as to allow as much time as possible for planning support for the baby and family.
If a child is on a child protection plan at the time of their birth, a review conference must take place within 20 working days of the child’s birth. If the initial conference was a pre-birth conference, the review conference should take place within 20 working days of the child's birth or within three months of the date of the pre-birth conference, whichever is sooner.
Transfer in conferences should take place when a child, who is the subject of a child protection plan, moves from another Local Authority area to Buckinghamshire area on a permanent basis e.g. with permanent housing and for a period of more than three months. Children’s services, 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 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 a review child protection conference.
Review Child Protection Conference
A review conference is intended:
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 Care and Supervision Proceedings and the Public Law Outline Procedure.
Thorough regular review is critical to achieving the best possible outcomes for the child and includes:
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 at intervals of no more than six months. The core group process is the avenue for progressing the plan between conferences with relevant professional and parent engagement.
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:
Looked after children and child protection conferences
When a child who is the subject of a child protection plan becomes Looked After by the local authority, in most cases it will no longer be necessary to maintain the child protection plan. In the limited number of cases in which it is still required, it will form part of the child’s wider care plan. To achieve this each child protection review conference should be held at the same place, and immediately before, a care plan review. The recommendations from the child protection conference will feed into the Care Plan.
The child protection conference will consider whether there are specific and exceptional circumstances that place the child at continuing risk of significant harm. In the absence of such circumstances, the conference will agree that the child should no longer be the subject of a child protection plan.
Children who are already looked after will not usually be the subject of child protection conferences, though they may be the subject of a s47 enquiry. The circumstances in which a child who is looked after may be subject to a child protection plan or be considered for a child protection conference would be:
A child looked after under Section 20 of the Children Act 1989 who has been or is about to be returned to a parent's care and about whom there are concerns in terms of safeguarding the child's welfare; see The Care Planning, Placement and Case Review (England) Regulations 2010 and The Children Act 1989 Guidance and Regulations Volume 2: Care Planning, Placement and Review 2011.
If it is proposed that a child subject to a care order should be returned to their birth family / returned home, the members of the statutory looked after child case review (para 4.3 of Regulations and Guidance Volume 2 (2011)) considering the proposal for rehabilitation must decide and record whether an initial child protection conference should be convened. If the decision of the Review is that an initial child protection conference should be convened, the child's social worker must request it.
If a parent removes or proposes to remove a child looked after under s20 from the care of the local authority and there are serious concerns about that parent's capacity to provide for the child's needs and protect them from Significant Harm, the social worker must discuss the case with the social work manager and make a decision about whether a Child Protection Enquiry should be initiated. If a child protection enquiry is initiated, the reasons for this must be clearly recorded on the child's record and may lead to an initial child protection conference. In such circumstances, the social worker and manager should consider whether legal action is required to protect the child.
If a child subject of a child protection plan becomes looked after under s20, their legal situation is not permanently secure and the next child protection review conference should consider the child's safety in the light of the possibility that the parent can simply request their removal from the local authority's care. The child protection review conference must be sure that the looked after child care plan provides adequate security for the child and sufficiently reduces or eliminates the risk of significant harm identified by the initial child protection conference.
If a child ceases to be subject of a child protection plan as a result of a decision at a child protection review conference, and the parent then unexpectedly requests the return of the child from the local authority's care, the social worker and manager should discuss the need for an initial child protection conference. The social worker must record the reasons for the decision whether or not to hold a conference.
If a court grants a care order in respect of a child who is subject of a child protection plan, the subsequent child protection review conference must make an assessment about the security of the child, considering issues such as contact and the looked after care plan for the child. If the care plan for the child involves remaining in or returning to the family of origin, the child protection review conference should give careful consideration to whether the child can be adequately protected through the framework of the child care reviews.
Review conferences and children who are looked after
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 Care Planning, Placement and Case Review (England) Regulations 2010 (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.
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.
Membership of Child Protection Conferences
The Child Protection Conference service will send out invitations to the 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.
The Child Protection conference service will send out invitations to the conference after being advised by the allocated social worker who should be invited. Conference members and any professional who later joints the core group are responsible for recording the details of the next review child protection conference and ensuring that they attend. Review child protection conference invitations will be sent to parents only.
The Child Protection Conference service will provide a chair person that is independent of operational or line management responsibilities for the case. If possible the same person should chair subsequent review conferences in respect of the same child.
Babies and young children under the age of 10 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.
Location, timing and safety for conferences
The location and timing of the conference should be planned to ensure maximum attendance from the most critical attendees. In exceptional circumstances it may be considered for key professionals to contribute via conference calls. Conferences should not be scheduled for times when parents will be busy looking after children at home (e.g. after the end of the school day). Wherever possible, Children's social care should provide parents with the opportunity to utilise appropriate day care for their children to enable their attendance at the conference.
Health and safety issues and security arrangements need to be factored in when planning each conference and this may need to consider exclusion of a parent if there are risks inherent in their attendance. For some one excluded from a conference on an occasion does NOT mean they are then excluded for all meetings – a risk assessment has to take place on each occasion.
As a minimum quorum, at every conference there should be attendance by local authority children's services 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:
Where an inquorate conference is held, it must be noted in the conference record why this decision was reached, and an early review conference should be considered.
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:
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.
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 must be given the opportunity to contribute meaningfully to the conference, subject to their level of understanding.
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 a child at conference including direct involvement
The primary questions to be addressed are:
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 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:
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.
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:
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.
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.
The absence of parents and 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:
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/rein’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 and should be shared with family and the conference chair at the latest 48 hours before the conference.
Children's Services report
Children’s services should provide all conferences with a written report that summarises and analyses the information obtained in the course of the assessment undertaken in conjunction with the child protection enquiries under s47 of the Children Act 1989 and information in existing records relating to the child and family. Reports to review conferences should include a clear analysis of the implementation and progress of the Child protection plan including any new information or obstacles to implementation. Enough copies of the report must be printed and shared by the social worker in the professional's reading time prior to the conference.
Where decisions are being made about more than one child in a family the report should consider the safeguarding needs of each child. The record of the assessment by the social worker should form a part of the report.
The conference report should include information on the dates the child was seen by the social worker during the course of the section 47 enquiries, if the child was seen alone and if not, who was present and for what reasons.
All children in the household need to be considered and information must be provided about the needs and circumstances of each of them, even if they are not the subject of 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 two working days in advance of the initial conferences and a minimum of five working days before review conferences to enable any factual errors to be corrected and the family to comment on the content.
The report should be available to the conference Chair at least two working days prior to the initial conference and five working days in advance of the review conference.
Reports from other agencies
Each agency or professional invited to the conference will submit a written report. The report should be provided to parents and older children at least two working days in advance of the initial conference and a minimum of five working days before review conferences to enable any factual errors to be corrected and the family to comment on the content. Best practice indicates that parents and older children benefit from being talked through the report.
The report should be available to the conference chair a minimum of two working days prior to the initial conference and five working days in advance of the review conference. Each professional will provide sufficient printed copies of their report to share with partner agencies in the professional’s reading time prior to conference. It is expected that professionals will retain the copies of other agency reports they have been provided with and take this away with them at the end of the conference. All professionals are reminded to take appropriate measures to ensure confidential information is protected, including when being transported to and from meetings, and should follow their own agency guidance in relation to information security.
Information from children and families
Children and family members should be helped in advance to consider what they wish to say 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.
Chairing the conference
The Chair of a Child Protection Conference will be 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. If a decision is made that a child requires a protection plan to safeguard their welfare, the Chair should ensure that:
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 Child's Plan
The conference will draft a plan to address the identified risks. This will set out the outcomes to be achieved, the actions that need to be taken to achieve the outcome and who is responsible for each action and the deadline for completion.
The conference will discuss whether the plan should be a child protection or a child in need 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:
The test for likelihood of suffering harm in the future should be that either:
The primary purposes of this plan are to:
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 is 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, will indicate to those consulting the child's record the primary presenting concerns at the time the child became the subject of a child protection plan.
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.
If the child has links to a foreign country, the social worker should consider whether to inform the relevant Embassy.
The outline plan should:
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 plan drawn up by the conference will be a child in need plan.
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 plans if:
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:
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
Professional Dissent from the Conference Decision
It is an expectation that all professionals at a conference will contribute to the decision making on the basis of both the information their agency hold s and the information shared in the conference. 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. Their concerns should be escalated using the relevant escalation process as soon as practicable after the conference has concluded. Professionals should refer to the BSCP Escalation, Challenge and Conflict Resolution Procedure for further information.
Complaints by Children and / or parents
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:
Complaints about aspects of the functioning of conferences described above should be addressed to the conferencing manager.
Administrative arrangements for child protection conferences
Where a friend, supporter or solicitor has been involved, the Chair will not send a record of the conference.
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 of the meeting or whether a summary appropriate to the child’s age is provided. 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.
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.
Nofitication of the decision
The chair will ensure that, within one working day:
Managing and providing information about a child subject to child protection processes
Children’s services should designate an experienced manager who has responsibility for: