8.8 Strategy meeting/discussion
Whenever there is reasonable cause to suspect that a child is suffering, or is likely to suffer, significant harm, a strategy meeting/discussion should be held.
Strategy discussions should ideally be face-to-face but telephone discussions (for example, by a conference call or virtual meeting) may be adequate in some circumstances.
Strategy meetings should be multi-agency as far as possible and should involve all key professionals known to, or involved with, the child and family. Local authority children’s social care, health and the police should always attend. Where the child is in hospital, the appropriate clinician should also be included.
- Initiating a strategy meeting/discussion
- The purpose of a strategy meeting/discussion
- Professional representation
- Outcomes of the strategy meeting/discussion
Initiating a strategy meeting/discussion
In deciding whether to call a strategy meeting/discussion, the local authority children's social care should consider the:
- seriousness of the concern(s)
- repetition or duration of concern(s)
- vulnerability of child (through age, developmental stage, disability or other pre-disposing factor)
- source of concern(s)
- accumulation of sufficient information and patterns of concerns
- context in which the child is living (for example, a child in the household already subject of a current child protection plan)
- predisposing factors in the family that may suggest a higher level of risk of harm (for example, mental health difficulties, parental substance misuse, domestic violence or immigrant family issues such as social isolation).
When a strategy meeting/discussion is initiated, even when there has been a recent assessment, local authority children's social care will normally inform the family of the cause for concern unless to so would place the child at risk of significant harm.
The purpose of a strategy meeting/discussion
A strategy meeting/discussion is an opportunity to share as much of the available information as possible between participants to inform the next steps. In addition to sharing information, the meeting/discussion should be used to:
- agree the conduct and timing of any criminal investigation
- decide whether an assessment under section 47 of the Children Act 1989 (section 47 enquiry) should be initiated, or continued if it has already begun
- consider the assessment and the action points, if already in place
- plan how the section 47 enquiry should be undertaken (if one is to be initiated), including the need for medical treatment, and who will carry out what actions, by when and for what purpose
- agree what action is required immediately to safeguard and promote the welfare of the child, and/or provide interim services and support. If the child is in hospital, decisions should also be made about how to secure the safe discharge of the child
- agree whether and when the social worker will see the child alone and the methods by which the child's wishes and feelings will be ascertained so that they can be taken into account when making decisions
- consider how the race and ethnicity of the child and family should be taken into account and establish whether an interpreter will be required
- consider the needs of other children who may be affected (for example, siblings and other children living in the same household, and/or in contact with alleged abusers)
- determine what information from the strategy meeting/discussion will be shared with the family, unless such information sharing may place a child at increased risk of significant harm or jeopardise police investigations into any alleged offence(s)
- determine if legal action is required.
The strategy meeting/discussion should be convened by local authority children's social care. In addition to children's social care, the police and relevant health professionals, the meeting/discussion should involve all other agencies (for example, schools and nurseries) who hold information relevant to the concerns about the child. Representatives from all relevant universal services should be included.
Professionals participating in strategy meetings/discussions must have all their agency's information relating to the child and must be able to make decisions on behalf of their agencies.
Where issues have significant medical implications, or a paediatric examination has taken place or may be necessary, a paediatrician should always be included. If the child is receiving services from a hospital or child development team, the meeting/discussion should involve the responsible medical consultant and, in the case of in-patient treatment, a senior ward nurse.
A professional may need to be included in the strategy meeting/discussion who is not involved with the child, but who can contribute expertise relevant to the particular form of abuse or neglect in the case.
The strategy meeting/discussion should include the relevant team manager from adult social care if the concern relates to a young person who is less than 6 months from their 18th birthday and is likely to meet the definition of an Adult with Care and Support Needs.
Strategy meetings/discussions should be convened as soon as practicable bearing in mind the needs of the child and must take place within three working days of child protection concerns being identified, except in the following circumstances:
- For allegations/concerns indicating a serious risk of harm to the child (for example, serious physical injury or serious neglect) the strategy meeting/discussion should be held on the same day as the receipt of the referral.
- For allegations of penetrative sexual abuse, the strategy meeting/discussion should be held on the same day as the receipt of the referral if this is required to ensure forensic evidence.
- Where immediate action is required by either agency, the strategy meeting/discussion must be held within one working day.
- In cases of organised abuse or allegations against staff or volunteers the strategy meeting/discussion should be held within one working day.
Irrespective of whether the strategy meeting/discussion takes the form of a telephone discussion or face-to-face meeting, it is the responsibility of the chair to ensure that the decisions and agreed actions are fully recorded. All agencies attending should take notes of the actions agreed at the time of the meeting/discussion.
The chair should ensure that a copy of the record is made available to all those invited as soon as practicable.
Local authority children’s social care should inform the referrer about what is happening as soon as possible.
Outcomes of the strategy meeting/discussion
The strategy meeting/discussion should:
- decide whether, or how, section 47 enquiries should be pursued and produce a plan for carrying out the enquiries
- agree an interim multi-agency plan to adequately safeguard the child or children during the period between the strategy meeting/discussion and the first conference.
The plan made at the strategy meeting/discussion should reflect the requirement to convene an initial child protection conference within 15 working days of the strategy discussion that decided to initiate section 47 enquiries.
In exceptional circumstances, where the child’s circumstances are very complex, it may be necessary to arrange more than one strategy discussion. If the strategy meeting/discussion concludes that a further strategy meeting/discussion is required, then a clear timescale should be set and be subject to regular review.
If the conclusion of the strategy meeting/discussion is that there is no cause to pursue the section 47 enquiries then consideration should be given to continuing a multi- agency assessment to address the needs of the child for any Early Help support services or to provide family support services to them as a ‘child in need’.
Should there be unresolved differences of opinion about the outcomes of a strategy meeting/discussion, these should be resolved by senior managers in the respective agencies in liaison with each other within a timescale commensurate with the need to safeguard the child. Where this is not possible the relevant local escalation policy should be used.