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1.10 Child protection conferences

A child protection conference must be called when a section 47 enquiry concludes that a child has suffered or is likely to suffer significant harm and a child protection plan is required to safeguard the child’s welfare.

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. For more information, read the section on pre-birth conferences.

Contents

The purpose of a child protection conference

A child protection conference brings together and analyses all relevant information in an inter-agency setting and plans how best to safeguard and promote the welfare of the child. It is a way of analysing and managing risk and NOT providing services.

The conference should:

  1. Consider the evidence presented and making a judgement about whether the child is at continuing risk of significant harm and the likelihood of a child suffering significant harm in the future.
  2. Agree what future action is needed to safeguard and promote the welfare of the child, including whether a child protection plan is required.

The Child Protection Plan

The primary purposes of a child protection plan is 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.

If a child protection plan is required, the conference should:

  • appoint a lead statutory body (either local authority children's social care or NSPCC) and a lead social worker (who should be a qualified, experienced social worker and an employee of the lead statutory body)
  • identify a core group of professionals and family members who will develop and implement the child protection plan
  • establish timescales for meetings of the core group, production of a child protection plan and for child protection review meetings
  • agree an outline child protection plan, with clear actions and timescales, including a clear sense of how much improvement is needed, by when, so that success can be judged clearly.

Convening a conference

A child protection conference will normally be convened by local authority children’s social care.

The timing of a conference will depend on:

  • the needs of the child
  • the nature and severity of the harm the child faces
  • the type of conference (see below).

A conference should be convened if requested by a professional supported by a senior manager/named or designated professional. If there is disagreement between agencies about the decision to hold a conference, the local LSCB escalation policy should be applied.

Types of conference

Depending on the circumstances there are several different types of child protection conference.

All types of child protection conferences should consider the needs of all other children in the household.

Initial conferences

Initial child protection conferences should be held when the section 47 enquiry confirms that the child is suffering, or is likely to suffer, significant harm.

The initial child protection conference should take place within 15 working days of a strategy meeting/discussion, or the strategy meeting/discussion at which section 47 enquiries were initiated if more than one has been held.

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.

Pre-birth conferences

A pre-birth conference is an initial child protection conference concerning an unborn child. Such a conference has the same status and must be conducted in a comparable manner to an initial child protection conference.

The conference should be held as soon as the assessment has been completed and at least ten weeks before the due date of delivery. Where there is a known likelihood of a premature birth, the conference should be held earlier. For more information, read the section on pre-birth conferences.

Transfer-in conferences 

Transfer-in conferences should take place when a child who is the subject of a child protection plan moves, or plans to move, permanently from one local authority area to another. (A permanent move is usually defined as a period of more than 3 months.)

The local authority children’s social care for the area the child has moved to should convene the Transfer-in conference within 15 working days from the date the child moved permanently into the area (or 15 working days from when they were notified).  

The Transfer-in conference should receive reports from professionals in the area the child has left and, wherever practical, these professionals should attend the conference.

A Transfer-in conference has the same status and purpose and must be conducted in a comparable manner to an initial child protection conference.

For more information, please read the section on Transfer-in Conferences.

Review conferences

Review conferences consider whether the child protection plan should continue or should be changed. They 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.

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, Health Visitors, Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) and adult mental health service professionals
  • 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 (for example, where a family is not co-operating)
  • 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.

Holding a review conference

The Review conference procedures for preparation, decision-making, membership and recording should be the same as for all child protection conferences.

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.

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.

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.

Outcome of a review conference

Every Review conference will update the child protection plan:

  • If the key issues have been resolved, the conference should conclude that a child protection plan is no longer needed and it should therefore be converted to a child in need plan. For further information see the section on discontinuing a child protection plan.
  • It there has been satisfactory progress toward achieving the outcomes in the child protection plan but key issues have not yet been adequately addressed, the conference may consider that the child protection plan should continue in force and arrange a further conference.
  • If the family have not made satisfactory progress toward achieving the outcomes and/or addressing the key issues by the second review, the conference should recommend that children’s social care take legal advice about initiating family proceedings.
  • If the risk to the child appears to be increasing the conference may recommend that children’s social care take urgent action to remove the child.

Looked after children and child protection conferences

When a child with 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. Similarly, children who are already looked after will not usually be the subject of child protection conferences.

There are, however, a number of circumstances where a child who is looked after may be subject to a child protection plan or be considered for a child protection conference. For more information please read the section on looked after children and child protection conferences.

Membership

A conference should consist of those people who have a contribution to make due to their knowledge of the child and family, their expertise relevant to the case, or their potential to support a plan.

Local authority children’s social care will identify those who should be invited. This will involve discussions with each partner agency and the exercise of professional judgment to establish whether attendance is necessary, proportionate and reasonable based on what is known and what has already been discussed. Alternative courses of action should be considered and mutually agreed, if necessary, depending on the case.

Agreement should be reached as soon as possible as to who will be actively invited to attend, and who will just submit a report. These discussions must be recorded and dissent escalated using the relevant LSCB escalation policy.

Membership at a conference is likely to include:

  • An independent Conference Chair

The conference chair should be a professional, independent of operational and/or line management responsibilities for the case and should be accountable to the Director of Children's Services.  (Independent Reviewing Officers who have had the necessary training and experience can chair child protection conferences.)

Where possible the same person should chair subsequent child protection reviews. The chair should meet the child and parents in advance to ensure they understand the purpose of the conference and the process.

The chair should also quality assure progress to secure improved outcomes for the child in between case conferences. This will include a follow up on the plan’s progress within the first month of any child protection plan.

  • The child, their parents and family

It is essential that the principles of partnership with the child, their parents and family are maintained throughout the child protection process. It is, therefore, important to consider including:

  • the child (depending on considerations of age and understanding)
  • the child’s parents (including a parent who does not live with the child or any other individual who has parental responsibility)
  • family members (including the wider family) who have been identified during the assessment as able to provide support to the child or parents, or as potential suitable alternative carers if the child cannot continue to live with the parents
  • a supporter/advocate for the child and/or parents
  • an interpreter (if required).

More guidance on involving the child, their parents and family in child protection conferences is available.

The solicitor for a parent or child may attend a child protection conference in the role of representative of the child or supporter of the parent to assist her/his clients to participate. With the independent chair’s permission, the solicitor may also speak on their behalf. Solicitors must comply with the Law Society guidance Attendance of solicitors at local authority Children Act meetings (2013).

Babies and young children should not normally be present during the conference as they may cause a distraction from the focus of the meeting. Local authority children’s social care should assist parents to make arrangements for their care where necessary.

  • The local authority children social worker and, as appropriate, the local authority social care manager.
  • Relevant professionals.

All relevant professionals should be invited. This may include:

  • Professionals involved with the child (for example, health visitor, school nurse, paediatrician, GP, school staff, CAMHS, early years staff, education welfare officers, residential care staff) including those from third sector organisations.
  • Professionals who have been involved in an assessment of the child and family (and, as appropriate, their first line manager). This should include the doctor/paediatrician who examined the child during the section 47 enquiries.
  • Professionals with expertise in the particular type of harm suffered by the child or in the child's particular condition (for example, a disability or long term illness). This could include medical professionals who can present the medical information in a manner that enables conference attendees to understand it and evaluate it from a sound evidence base.
  • Other professionals with a need to know or who have a contribution to the task involved. This could include professionals involved with the parents or other family members, local authority legal advisers if it is anticipate legal action will be required etc.
  • Those involved in investigations (for example, the police).
  • If the conference concerns an unborn child, an invitation must be sent to the midwifery service and the paediatric service.

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

Conference quorum

It is expected that everyone invited will attend the conference. It is better to postpone by a day or two to get everyone there, as long as everyone is satisfied that the actions and interim plan are keeping the children safe and that share decision is recorded. The conference chair should make the final decision about postponement and missing the set timescale.

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 LSCB partner agencies, who have had direct contact with each child who is the subject of the conference.

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 (for example, pre-birth conferences)
  • sufficient information is available, and
  • a delay will be detrimental to the child.

Where an inquorate conference is held, an early review conference should be arranged.

Location and timing

Every effort should be made to give participants maximum notice and to include every potential attendee using the quickest and most effective form of electronic communication.

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 necessary 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 (for example, after the end of the school day).

Local authority children's social care is responsible for taking into account health and safety issues and security arrangements when planning each conference.

Professional responsibilities

Everyone who comes to a conference should know:

  • why they have been invited
  • what they need to bring with them
  • what they will go away to do
  • what support they can expect to do what is required of them.

Reports       

All professionals invited to attend the conference should prepare and share a written report on the child’s needs and circumstances. This should be shared with the family and, where appropriate, the child at least one day prior to the conference. The report should allow the conference to reach well-informed decisions based on evidence.

All reports must be clear and distinguish between facts, allegations and opinions. Reports should include a two year chronology (at least) of significant events.

Local authority children’s social care

Local authority children’s social care should prepare a report which sets out and analyses what is known about the child and family and the local authority's recommendation. The report should include:

  • the safeguarding needs of each child in the family even if they are not the subject of the conference
  • the assessment completed by the social worker
  • 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.

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 an initial child protection 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.

The report should be available to the conference chair at least three working days prior to an initial child protection conference and five working days in advance of the review conference.

Local authority children’s social care are also responsible for convening the conference, for recording conference decisions and recommendations, and ensuring action follows.

Other professionals

All professionals should prioritise attendance at child protection conferences. Agencies should ensure that those attending the conference have sufficient authority to commit their agency to full participation in any child protection plan.

Information by all agencies about their involvement with the family should be submitted in a written, legible and signed report. All agencies should have a conference report pro-forma, approved by the relevant LSCB. The author of the report is responsible for sharing the report with the family and discussing it with the child, if appropriate, at least one day prior to the conference.

The report should be available to the conference chair and other attendees three working days in advance of an initial child protection conference and five working days for a review conference.

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

  • talk to their manager to find a solution
  • discuss the best way to ensure information is provided along with a view about the plan
  • discuss the case with the lead social worker and conference chair before the conference
  • send, by agreement, a written report
  • where appropriate, arrange for a well-briefed agency representative to attend and speak to the report.

Conduct of the meeting

Every effort should be made to enable everyone to contribute fully, including family members. Everyone present must offer their view about what the decision should be with regard to a plan (including the child and family) and everyone’s view should be recorded.

If agreement cannot be reached the decision should rest with the independent conference chair.

Electronic and digital recording

Recording of child protection conferences using digital means, e.g. smart phones, can take place overtly or covertly. This may be because service users want to have a record of the conversation to refer back to, or because they have difficulties in following or recalling conversations. They may, however, seek to use the recording for other purposes such as admission into evidence in family court proceedings, or even for wider broadcast.

There are no specific legal restrictions on the recording of face-to-face conversations, whether overt or covert. However, this is not a clear-cut area, and legal advice must be sought as appropriate.

A clear process should be in place for dealing with requests to record meetings/conversations or for situations where it seems likely that covert recording is taking place or is likely. The process should set out how the request should be made, who will consider the request and how far in advance of the meeting the request should be made.

If such a request is made by a service user, it is important to remember that there may be good reasons for them wanting to record a meeting, and so it shouldn’t be automatically discounted. It may be helpful to have a discussion with them about why they want to record the meeting and what they will do with the recording. It may be that someone can take a written note instead, or agree that a single recording be made for everyone to use.

It should be made clear to the service user the limitations on the use of the recorded material, e.g. that it can only be used in relation to the ongoing family proceedings and cannot be broadcast more widely. The service user should be invited to sign to indicate their agreement to, and understanding of, these limitations. Each such request should be considered on its own merits. If the decision-maker decides to refuse the request, legal advice should be sought.

If a party seeks to admit such recorded material into court proceedings, it is at the discretion of the court whether to allow this or not. Such evidence will only be admitted if it is relevant to the issues in the case.

The Data Protection Act 1998 does not prohibit data processing ‘by an individual only for the purposes of that individual's personal, family or household affairs’. The scope of this in the context of recording is not clear. However, Jackson J in M v F (Covert Recording of Children) [2016] EWFC 29 expressed the view that the exemption is intended to protect normal domestic use, and would not cover the covert recording of individuals, and particularly children, for the purpose of evidence-gathering in family proceedings and Ward of Court proceedings.

There is further information available on this through the Transparency Project’s Parents recording social workers - A guidance note for parents and professionals.

Outcome of the conference

Initial Child Protection Conference – Decision

The conference should determine whether a child has suffered or is likely to suffer significant harm and whether a child protection plan is required to safeguard the child’s welfare.

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

  1. 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.
  2. The conference may decide that a child has not suffered, or is not likely to suffer, significant harm and a child protection plan is not needed. The child may still 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 to assist the family in responding to them.

No conference should end without an agreed plan that is clear about what will happen next and what the consequences are if agreed actions are not taken or outcomes are not achieved.

A formal decision letter, signed by the conference chair, should be sent together with the outline child protection plan (see below), to all those who attended or where invited to the conference within one working day. The letter should give details of conference decisions and recommendations, the name of the lead social worker and details about the right to complain.

Initial Child Protection Conference – Outputs

1. If a decision is made that a child requires a child 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 local authority children's 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.

The outline child protection plan should:

  • describe the concerns the conference has identified
  • 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 (for example, recommend the consideration of legal action and the circumstances which would trigger this).

2. If the conference determines that a child does not need the specific assistance of a child 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.

Review Conference – Decision

Review conferences consider whether the child protection plan should continue or should be changed. They 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.

Review Conference – Outputs

Every Review conference will update the child protection plan:

  • If the key concerns have been resolved, the conference should conclude that a child protection plan is no longer needed and it should therefore be converted to a child in need plan. For further information see the section on discontinuing a child protection plan.
  • It there has been satisfactory progress toward achieving the outcomes in the child protection plan but the key concerns have not yet been adequately addressed, the conference may consider that the child protection plan should continue in force and arrange a further conference.
  • If the family have not made satisfactory progress toward achieving the outcomes and/or addressing the key concerns by the second review, the conference should recommend that children’s social care take legal advice about initiating family proceedings.
  • If the risk to the child appears to be increasing the conference may recommend that children’s social care take urgent action.

Transfer-in Conference – Decision

A Transfer-in Conference will make a decision about the continuing need for a child protection plan in the new local authority area.

Transfer-in Conference - Outputs

If a decision is made to continue a child protection plan, the Transfer-in conference will arrange for responsibility to be transferred from the authority the child has left to the authority the child has moved to.

The Transfer-in Conference may transfer responsibility but recommend joint work with professionals from agencies in the area the child has left continues for a time limited period. Where this occurs, professionals must comply with the terms of the revised child protection plan.

Recording and sharing the decision

The formal decision letter and outline/revised child protection plan should be sent to all those invited to the conference within one working day.

The conference record, signed by the conference chair, should then be circulated within 20 working days of the conference. Any amendments should be received within one week of receipt of the record.

The social worker should also discuss the record with the parents within the 20 working days. The conference chair may decide that confidential material should be excluded from the parent's copy. Families should be left in no doubt what they need to change, what the plan is to achieve change, how change will be measured, how they will be helped to achieve change and what will happen if this change is not achieved.

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.

Where parents and/or the child has 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.

Managing complaints or disagreement

If an agency does not agree with a decision or recommendation made at a child protection conference, their professional dissent must be recorded in the record of the conference. An agency or individual who does not agree with the decision must feel able to, and know how to, use the local LSCB escalation process for professional disagreements but must be prepared to contribute to the plan anyway.

Complaints from children or their parents should be addressed to the independent Chair who will liaise with the appropriate local authority staff. For more information, see the additional guidance on Complaints by Children and/or Parents.

This page is correct as printed on Monday 11th of December 2017 07:16:30 PM please refer back to this website (http://westmidlands.procedures.org.uk) for updates.
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