Initial Child Protection Conference

Following section 47 enquiries, an initial child protection conference brings together family members (and the child where appropriate) with the supporters, advocates and professionals most involved with the child and family, to make decisions about the child’s future safety, health and development.

Timing

The initial child protection conference should take place within a maximum of 15 working days of the strategy discussion at which the section 47 enquiries were initiated.

Within one working day of a decision to proceed to conference the allocated social worker should contact the child protection administrator to arrange a date, time and location for the conference and to define who should be asked to attend. The conference administrator should notify attendees in writing of their need to attend within local guidelines.

Attendance and quorum for attendance

Attendees at the conference may include:

  • The child / young person
  • Parents / wider family members
  • Local authority social worker
  • Education e.g. school / nursery
  • Health e.g. GP, health visitor, paediatrician, school nurse, midwife
  • Other involved professionals e.g. youth justice workers, child's guardian
  • Professionals involved with the parents e.g. mental health workers, drug and alcohol services, adult social services, probation
  • Professionals with specific expert knowledge e.g. on the particular harm suffered by the child, disability services
  • Police and Local Authority Legal Services
  • Foster carers / residential staff
  • Involved voluntary agencies

The type / number of attendees should depend on the circumstances of the child and should be based on who is required in order for the conference to come to an informed decision.

It is important that those with pertinent information / involvement are invited whilst ensuring that the number involved is so large that the conference becomes difficult to manage and / or intimidates the child / family members.  As a minimum the conference should be attended by children's social care and two other professionals / agencies who have had direct contact with the child. Professionals who are unable to attend should submit a written report / send a briefed agency representative.

Informing and involving the child and family members

The purpose and operation of the conference should be explained to the child (provided they are of sufficient age and understanding) and the parents / involved family members. This should normally be undertaken by the involved and should be done before the conference is held. This should include details of any local advice and advocacy services and information about the complaints procedure.

The child (subject to age and understanding) and parents should normally be invited to the conference. The parents should be given information about how to access advocacy services and of their right to bring an advocate, friend or supporter. The child can also bring an advocate, friend of supporter, if s/he so wishes.

Where the child does not wish to attend or it is inappropriate for him / her to do so, their wishes and feelings should be ascertained and these views should be made known at the conference.

Participation of the child / parents / other family members should be carefully planned e.g. if one parent is the alleged abuser or there is parental friction then it may not be possible to involve all family members at all times. In some circumstances the child / family members may not wish to make representation in front of each other or in the presence of other family members. In exceptional circumstances (e.g. due to intimidation, threats or on advice from the police in regard to the implications or criminal proceedings) the conference chair may make a decision to exclude a family member from part or all of the conference.

Exceptionally it may be necessary to exclude one or more family members from part or all of a conference. The Chair of the conference or in her / his absence their manager will make any decision to exclude family members based upon the following criteria:

  • Indicators that the presence of the parent may seriously prejudice the welfare of the child
  • Sufficient evidence that a parent / carer 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 behavior or being in an unfit state e.g. through drug or alcohol consumption or acute mental health difficulty
  • A child requests that the parent / person with parental responsibility or carer is not present whilst s/he is present
  • The presence of the parents would prevent a participant from making his / her contribution
  • The need for members to receive confidential information that would otherwise be unavailable, such as legal advice or information about a criminal investigation
  • Conflict between different family members who may not be able to attend at the same time e.g. in situations of domestic violence
  • Any conflict of interest between the child and parent / carer

Where a worker from an agency believes a parent should be excluded, representation must be made, if possible at least five days in advance of the conference. The agency concerned must indicate which of the above grounds is believed to be met and the information or evidence to support this. The chair must consider he representation carefully and may need legal advice.

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

It may 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 can fully present their information and views whilst at the same time allowing the parents to participate as fully as circumstances allow.

If, prior to the conference, the chair has decided to exclude a parent, this must be communicated in writing with information on how s/he may make their views known, how s/he will be told of the outcome of the conference and about the complaints procedure.

Those excluded should be provided with a copy of all reports submitted to the conference and be provided with the opportunity to have their views recorded and presented to the conference. Following the conference they will receive the minutes of the conference. The chair should decide if the entire record is provided or only that part attended by the excluded parent / carer.

Exclusions Other than Parents or Family

The decision of the chair over matters of exclusion is final. If a decision to exclude is made, this must be fully recorded in the minutes. Exclusion at one conference is not reason enough in itself for exclusion at further conferences.

Responsibilities of the conference chair

A professional who is independent of operational or line management of the case should chair the conference. The conference chair should:

  • Meet the child / parents / involved family members prior to the conference and ensure that the workings and purpose of the conference has been explained to them and that they have understood this
  • In introducing the conference set out the agenda and purpose to all attendees and ensure they are aware of the confidential nature of the proceedings
  • Ensure all attendees are given the opportunity to contribute
  • Ensure the conference makes an informed explicit decision
  • Ensure the conference is conducted in line with anti-discriminatory practice

The social care conference report

Children's Social Care should provide a written report to the conference. The report should summarize and analyse information gathered during the initial assessment, S47 enquiry (as progressed so far) and previous information / existing records on the child. The report should be presented in a locally agreed format and should include the following:

  • Dates child seen and whether seen alone
  • Dates parents / other family members seen
  • A chronology of significant events
  • Outline of the child's developmental needs and of the parental capacity to respond to these within their wider family and environmental contact
  • Outline of family history and past / current family functioning
  • Views, wishes and feelings of the child / parents / other family members
  • An analysis of whether the child is suffering or is likely to suffer significant harm
  • Recommendation to the conference
  • Where appropriate the child / parents should be provided with a copy of the report in advance of the conference

Information provided by other agencies

Other professionals attending the conference should bring with them details of their involvement with he child and family and information concerning their knowledge of the child's developmental needs, capacity of the parents to meet the needs of their children within their family and environmental context. Contributors should, wherever possible, provide a written report in advance to the conference and these should be made available to those attending

Decisions for conference

The conference should consider whether the child should be subject to a child protection plan. This decision is based on whether the child has suffered significant harm and is likely to suffer significant harm in the future. The decision making process should take into account the views of all agencies represented at the conference and any written contributions that have been made.

The conference should consider the following criteria when determining whether a child should be the subject of a Child Protection Plan:

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

 Decisions will normally take place with parents / carers present. The chair of the conference will make the decision as to whether the child should be present at the decision making stage. On meeting the child the chair will discuss the child's view of remaining for the decision making par of the conference. If the child wishes to remain for this part of the conference, the chair should agree to this as long as this is in the child's best interests and the chair has assessed there is unlikely to be a negative impact on either the child or parent / carer.

In the event that the chair decides it is not in the best interests of the child or the child does not wish to attend for this part of the conference, the child will be given the decisions either through rejoining the conference or from the chair at the conclusion of the conference. If the child has left the building the social worker will convey the decision.

Where a child is to be the subject of a child protection plan, it is the responsibility of the conference to consider and make recommendations on how agencies, professionals and the family should work together to ensure that the child will be safeguarded from harm in the future. Specific tasks include the following:

  • allocating the lead social worker
  • identifying the membership of a core group and timescales for the core group to meet
  • outlining the child protection plan
  • ensuring a contingency plan is in place if agreed actions are not completed and / or circumstances change e.g. if a parent removes the child from a place of safety
  • agreeing a date for the first child protection review conference and under what circumstances if might be necessary to convene the conference before that date

Where a child has suffered or is likely to suffer significant harm in the future, it is the local authority's duty to consider the evidence and decide what, if any, legal action to take.

A decision that a child does not require a child protection plan may nonetheless require services to meet his or her needs. In these circumstances the conference should consider what future help might assist the child and family. Where appropriate, a child in need plan should be drawn up by the allocated social worker and reviewed at regular intervals (the recommended frequency is a maximum every six months).

Administrative duties following the conference

The conference administrator should take minutes, which should include:

  • the essential facts of the case
  • a summary of discussion at the conference, which accurately reflects contributions made, decisions reached and the reasons for these and an outline child protection plan

The conference administrator should circulate the following to all those invited to the conference within one working day of the conference taking place:

  • Decision of the conference
  • If the conference decides that the child is in need of a child protection plan, the category of this i.e. physical, emotional, sexual abuse or neglect. NB it is the chairs responsibility to determine the category of abuse or neglect (please note the subsection below for action to be taken when the category is neglect)
  • Name of the lead social worker
  • Core group membership

The conference administrator should update the IT system with the outcome of the conference and category within one working day of the conference.

  • A full copy of the minutes, after approval by the Conference chair should be sent to all those invited to the conference. (If family members were excluded from parts of the conference, the minutes sent to them should be edited appropriately). The minutes are confidential and should not be passed by professionals to third parties without the consent of the conference chair.

 Action to be taken when the category of the plan is neglect and a Paediatric Assessment is required

Within Tees all children who are subject to a child protection plan under the category of neglect and a full paediatric assessment is required should be complete within four weeks of becoming subject to a protection plan. The child's social worker is responsible for completing a paediatric assessment form within five working days of the child protection conference.

The full procedures for this, plus a copy of the paediatric referral form, assessment form and a monitoring form can be found in section 3.1.4 Child Protection Medical.

Recording (Initial, Pre-birth and Review Conference)

The decisions of a child protection conference, whether Initial, Pre-birth or Review and where appropriate, details of the category of abuse or neglect, names of the key worker and the core group membership and the outline Child Protection Plan are to be recorded in line with national requirements and circulated to all those invited including GPs, within one working day.

Additionally there is to be a record of the conference, which is to include:

  • The essential facts of the case
  • A summary of discussion at the conference, which accurately reflects contributions made
  • All decisions reached with information outlining the reasons for decisions
  • The outline or updated / revised Child Protection Plan

This record should be sent as soon as possible after the conference to all involved including family members, except for any part of the conference from which they were excluded. (The record is not to be sent to GPs).

The record is confidential and should not be passed by professionals to third parties without the consent of either the Conference chair of the Team Manager with case responsibility. However in cases of criminal proceedings, the police may reveal the existence of the notes to the CPS in accordance with he Criminal Procedure and Investigation Act 1996.

Role of the lead social worker

The lead social worker is responsible for:

  • making sure that the outline child protection plan is developed into a more detailed inter-agency plan
  • completing the core assessment of the child and family
  • acting as the lead professional for the inter-agency work
  • co-ordination of the contribution of family members and other agencies to the plan
  • seeing the child, alone when appropriate, in accordance with the plan and ascertain the child's wishes and feelings
  • maintaining the social care record for the child including when the child was seen and who else, if anyone was present at the time of each visit and also he reasons for deciding (or not) to see the child alone
  • completing a paediatric referral form when the category of the plan is neglect (see above subsection)

The Core Group

The core group is responsible for developing the child protection plan as a detailed working tool and implementing it within the outline plan agreed at the initial child protection conference. Membership should include the lead social worker (who also chairs the core group), the child (if appropriate), family members and professionals or foster carers who will have direct contact with the family.

The first meeting of the core group should take place within 10 working days of the initial child protection conference. Thereafter, core groups should meet within locally agreed timescales.

The lead social worker should ensure that there is a record of the decisions taken and actions agreed at core group meetings, as well as of the written views of those who were not able to attend. The child protection plan should be updated as necessary in line with these decisions.

Complaints process

If parents / carers disagree with decisions made or any other part of the process, the chair must discuss their concerns with them and explain their right to challenge and the process for this (for more detail on the process to be followed, see complaints from service users).