16.7 Initial Child Protection Conferences
Links were added in Section 6, Enabling Parental Participation and Section 12, Enabling Children's Participation to the SSCP information leaflets for children and young people and for families. March 2015.
- 1. Purpose of Initial Child Protection Conference(Jump to)
- 2. When an Initial Child Protection Conference must be convened(Jump to)
- 3. Timing of Initial Child Protection Conferences(Jump to)
- 4. Who Should Attend(Jump to)
- 5. Quorate Conferences(Jump to)
- 6. Enabling Parental Participation(Jump to)
- 7. Pre-birth Conferences(Jump to)
- 8. Role of the Social Worker(Jump to)
- 9. Role of All Agencies(Jump to)
- 10. Role of the Conference Chair before Conference(Jump to)
- 11. Criteria for Excluding Parents or Restricting their Participation(Jump to)
- 12. Enabling Children's Participation(Jump to)
- 13. Support for the Child After the Conference(Jump to)
- 14. Responsibilities of the Social Worker before the Conference(Jump to)
- 15. Reports to Conference (ICSF)(Jump to)
- 16. Responsibilities of Other Professionals(Jump to)
- 17. Responsibilities of the Conference Chair(Jump to)
- 18. The Decision Making Process(Jump to)
- 19. Categories of Abuse or Neglect(Jump to)
- 20. If a Child Requires a Child Protection Plan(Jump to)
- 21. Quality Assurance(Jump to)
- 22. Complaints and Representations(Jump to)
- 23. Record Keeping of Child Protection Conferences(Jump to)
- 24. Decision Letter(Jump to)
1. Purpose of Initial Child Protection Conference
The Initial Child Protection Conference brings together family members, the child (when appropriate), supporters / advocates and those professionals most involved with the child and family to share and assess information following a Section 47 Enquiry and to formulate an agreed plan of management and services, with the child's safety and welfare as its paramount aim.
Within this, the tasks are to:
- Share and evaluate information in an inter-agency setting about the family history, child's health, development and functioning and the parent / carer's capacity to ensure the child's safety and promote their well being;
- Consider the evidence and form a view about the likelihood of the child suffering Significant Harm in the future and decide whether the child is at continuing risk of Significant Harm;
- Make a decision about whether the child should be the subject of a Child Protection Plan;
- Devise an agreed outline inter-agency Child Protection Plan to safeguard the child and promote her/his welfare in order to decide how that action will be taken forward and with what intended outcomes and time-scales;
- Nominate a Lead Social Worker, to develop, co-ordinate and implement the Child Protection Plan;
- Identify the membership of the multi agency Core Group to develop and monitor the Child Protection Plan;
- Set the date for the first Core Group meeting to take place within 10 working days of the Conference;
- Set the date for the Child Protection Review Conference;
- If a Child Protection Plan is not required but the child is considered to be a Child in Need, recommend, subject to the family's views and consent, that services are provided to promote the child's health and development and/or to complete the Assessment.
2. When an Initial Child Protection Conference must be convened
An Initial Child Protection Conference must be convened when it is believed that a child is suffering or likely to suffer Significant Harm. Children may be abused through the infliction of harm or through the failure to act to prevent harm.
The conference must consider all the children in the household, even if concerns are only being expressed about one child.
The decision to convene a Child Protection Conference will be made at the final Strategy Discussion/Meeting if more than one is held.
Where a senior manager from another agency requests that an Initial Child Protection Conference is convened, this request must be given serious consideration by Surrey Children's Services and a response will be given in writing. Where an issue of professional difference is not resolved, see the Inter-Agency Escalation Policy and Procedure.
An Initial Child Protection Conference must normally be convened following a Strategy Discussion and Section 47 Enquiry, when it is believed that a child is suffering or is likely to suffer Significant Harm.
The Social Worker must complete Form SCS91 and e-mail with the Strategy Discussion (ICSd) and Record of Outcome of Section 47 Enquiries (ICSe) to the Safeguarding Children Unit within twenty-four hours of the decision being made. These are available on the children services intranet.
The Safeguarding Children Unit must contact the Social Worker to discuss the request and plan arrangements for the conference, including the date, venue and need for additional participants (to include legal advisers and young people to be invited to the conference).
The Social Worker must then contact the Safeguarding Children Unit Duty Desk with as many potential conference dates as possible to agree a date of conference.
The Social Worker must agree and book the venue, to include 2 rooms for use by families and children, allowing for up to three hours use starting half an hour before the conference start time.
The Social Worker must ensure that the purpose and process of the child protection conference is explained to parents/young persons in advance of the Conference date and must ensure that the leaflet 'A Family's Guide to the Child Protection System' is given to them.
The Safeguarding Children Unit must include a copy of the conference agenda with the parent's written invitation to attend the conference.
The Social Worker must ensure that parents have made the appropriate childcare arrangements.
3. Timing of Initial Child Protection Conferences
The Initial Child Protection Conference must take place within 15 working days of the:
- Strategy Discussion/Meeting (or the Strategy Discussion/ Meeting at which the Section 47 Enquiry was initiated if more than one was held) following completion of Section 47 enquiries; or
- Notification by another Local Authority that a child who is the subject of a Child Protection Plan has moved into the county and that Local Authority does not wish to retain responsibility.
When a Child Assessment Order has been made, the conference should be held immediately on conclusion of examinations and assessments.
In the exceptional circumstance of some complex enquiries e.g. fabricated or induced illnesses, organised or institutional abuse or pre-birth assessments, the Initial Child Protection Conference could be delayed. For further detail, see:
Any such delay must have written authorisation from the Surrey Children's Services Team Manager (including reasons for the delay). The Team Manager must ensure that the risks to the child are monitored and action is taken to safeguard the child. The Social Worker must notify all key individuals involved of the delay.
4. Who Should Attend
The conference should consist of the smallest number of people consistent with effective case management, but the following should normally be invited:
- Parents and those with Parental Responsibility;
- The child, aged over 12 and having due regard to the guidance in Section 12, Enabling Children's Participation;
- The child's Social Worker and first line manager;
- Police Officer;
- Health services staff involved with the child(ren) - e.g. Health Visitor, School Nurse, GP;
- Education services (schools, Education Welfare Officers etc);
- Designated Nurse and Designated Doctor.
In addition, attendees may include those whose contribution relates to their professional expertise or responsibility for relevant services and should be limited to those with a need to know or who have a contribution to the task involved.
All professionals must consult their agency records and provide a signed report with copies for conference members (see Section 15, Reports to Conference (ICSF)).
Attendees may include:
- The Children's Guardian if there are current Court proceedings;
- Health services involved with parent(s) / carers e.g. specialist Doctors, Psychiatrists, Psychologists;
- Midwifery services if the conference concerns an unborn or new-born child (see Pre-Birth Child Protection Procedure);
- Probation Providers;
- Housing services;
- Mental health (adult or child) services;
- Alcohol and substance abuse services;
- Domestic abuse services;
- Staff in the Youth Justice System where relevant;
- Any professional or service provider involved with the children or adults in the family, including foster carers, residential staff and/or early years staff;
- A representative of the Armed Services, when relevant;
- Any other relevant professional or service provider;
- Supporter (including advocate), friend or solicitor (as supporters for the child and parent / carers).
A professional observer can only attend with the prior consent of the Conference Chair and the family and must not take part in discussions or decision-making. There will only be 1 observer at any conference.
Professionals must provide a written report in the SSCP format (see Section 15, Reports to Conferences (ICSF)).
Professionals who are invited but unable to attend for unavoidable reasons must:
- Arrange wherever possible for another agency representative to attend to represent them;
- Inform the conference administrator / chair in good time;
- Submit a written report.
The time of day at which a conference is convened should be determined so as to facilitate attendance.
5. Quorate Conferences
The primary principle for determining quoracy is that there should be sufficient agencies present to enable safe decisions to be made in the individual circumstances.
Normally, minimum representation is the Social Worker and 2 other agencies which have had direct contact with the child and family.
When a conference is inquorate it should not ordinarily proceed and in such circumstances, the Conference Chair must ensure that either:
- An interim protection plan is produced; or
- The existing plan is reviewed with the professionals and family members that do attend, so as to safeguard the welfare of the child(ren);
- Another Conference date must be set immediately.
In exceptional circumstances the Conference Chair may decide to proceed with the conference despite lack of agency representation. This would be relevant when:
- The child has not had relevant contact with 3 agencies - e.g. pre-birth conferences;
- Sufficient information is available; and
- A delay will be detrimental to the child.
When an inquorate conference is held, an early review Conference must be arranged.
6. Enabling Parental Participation
All parents and persons with Parental Responsibility must be invited to conferences (unless exclusion is justified as described below). Parents must be encouraged to contribute to conferences; usually by attending, unless it is likely to prejudice the welfare of the child (see Section 11, Criteria for Excluding Parents or Restricting Their Participation). The SSCP leaflets for parents/families (and children and young people) should be provided to them to assist them to understand the process and enable them to participate. See Child Protection Conference: Information for Families andChild Protection Conference: Information for Children and Young People.
If parents / carers feel unable to attend the conference, alternative means must be provided for them to communicate with the Conference Chair - see Section 10, Role of the Conference Chair Before Conference
7. Pre-birth Conferences
See also Pre-Birth Child Protection Procedure
A pre-birth conference is an Initial Child Protection Conference concerning an unborn child. Such a conference has the same status and purpose and must be conducted in a comparable manner to an Initial Child Protection Conference.
Pre-birth conferences should always be convened where there is a need to consider if a Child Protection Plan is required.
This decision will usually follow from a pre-birth Assessment and a conference should be held:
- Where a pre-birth assessment gives rise to concerns that an unborn child may be at risk of Significant Harm;
- Where a previous child has died or been removed from parent(s) as a result of Significant Harm;
- Where a child is to be born into a family or household which already have children who are the subject of a Child Protection Plan;
- Where a person known to pose 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 sixteen about whom there are concerns regarding her ability to care for herself and/or to care for the child.
All agencies involved with the expectant mother should consider the need for an early referral to Surrey Children's Services so that assessments are undertaken and family support services provided as early as possible in the pregnancy.
Timing of Pre-Birth Conferences
The pre-birth conference should take place as soon as practical and at least 10 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.
The key agencies involved in the delivery of the child must attend the conference. It is important that this conference makes an informed decision about whether or not the child should remain in the parents' care and draws up protection plans that link to either decision.
Parents or carers should be invited as they would be to other Child Protection Conferences and should be fully involved in plans for the child's future.
If a decision is made that the child requires a Child Protection Plan, the main cause for concern must determine the category of abuse or neglect under which the decision is made and the Child Protection Plan must be outlined to commence prior to the birth of the baby.
The Core Group must be established and meet if at all possible prior to the birth, and certainly prior to the baby's return home after a hospital birth.
If a decision is made that the unborn child requires a Child Protection Plan, this should be recorded, including the child's name (or 'baby', if not known) and expected date of delivery, pending the birth. The senior midwife must notify the Lead Social Worker of the name and correct birth date following the birth. If this takes place out of hours, then the senior midwife must inform the Emergency Duty Team, who will then notify the Lead Social Worker by the beginning of the next working day. The Lead Social Worker must then ensure that the name and correct birth date is notified to the Manager of the Child Protection Unit following the birth.
Timing of Review Conference
The first child protection review conference will be scheduled to take place within 3 months of the child's birth and that a core group meeting is held within one month of the child's birth to review the safety plan.
8. Role of the Social Worker
The Social Worker must facilitate the constructive involvement of the parents by ensuring in advance of the conference that they are given sufficient information and practical support to make a meaningful contribution.
Invitations for the parent(s) to attend the conference must be conveyed verbally by the Social Worker and confirmed in writing.
The Social Worker must explain to parents / carers the purpose of the meeting, who will attend, the way in which it will operate, the purpose and meaning of a decision that a child requires a Child Protection Plan and the complaints process.
Provision must be made to ensure that visually or hearing impaired or otherwise disabled parents / carers are enabled to participate, including whether they need assistance with transport to enable their attendance.
Preparation must also include consideration of childcare arrangements to enable the attendance of parents.
Those 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.
Written information must be left with the parents regarding conferences, the right to bring a friend, supporter (including an advocate) or solicitor (in the role of supporter), details of any local advice and advocacy services and the Complaints about Child Protection Conferences Procedure.
If parents 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;
- Enabling the parent to write, or tape, or use drawings to represent their views;
- Meeting the Conference Chair prior to Conference;
- Agreeing that the Social Worker, or any other professional, expresses their views.
9. Role of All Agencies
- Treat all family members with dignity and respect and offer a caring and courteous service;
- Ensure family members know the child's safety and welfare has priority;
- Minimise infringement of privacy consistent with protecting the child;
- Be clear about powers and purpose of any intervention;
- Be aware of the impact on the family of professional actions;
- Respect confidentiality and pass on information/observations about the family only with permission or to protect the child;
- Listen to and try to understand the concerns, wishes and feelings of child and family before formulating explanations and plans;
- Learn about the child's religious, cultural, community and familial context;
- Consider strengths, potential and limitations of family members;
- Ensure all family members know their responsibilities and rights with respect to receipt or refusal of services and its consequences;
- Use simple jargon-free language appropriate to age and culture of each individual;
- Be open and honest about concerns and professionals' responsibilities, plans and limitations;
- Allow individuals time to absorb professional concerns and processes;
- Distinguish between personal feelings, values, prejudices and beliefs, and professional roles and responsibilities and seek and use supervision to check achievement of this;
- Always acknowledge errors, failures or oversights and the distress caused to families;
- Explicit consideration should be given to the potential of conflict between family members and possible need for children or adults to speak without other family members present.
10. Role of the Conference Chair before Conference
Immediately prior to the conference, the Conference Chair must meet with any family members to ensure they understand the process. This may, where the potential for conflict exists, involve separate meetings with the different parties.
11. Criteria for Excluding Parents or Restricting their Participation
In circumstances where it may be necessary to exclude 1 or more family members from part or all of a conference the request to exclude or restrict a parent's participation must be discussed with the Conference Chair and confirmed in writing if possible at least 3 days in advance.
The agency concerned must indicate which of the grounds it believes is met and the information or evidence the request is based upon. The Conference Chair must consider the representation carefully and may need legal advice.
Before making a decision, the Conference Chair must obtain and consider the views of all professionals invited.
The Conference Chair must 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 / carer may behave in such a way as to interfere seriously with the work of the conference e.g. violence, threats of violence, racist, or other forms of discriminatory or oppressive behaviour or being in an unfit state through drugs or alcohol consumption or an 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 or carer is not present while (s)he is present;
- The presence of parents would prevent a participant from making her/his proper contribution;
- The need (agreed in advance with the Conference Chair) for members to receive confidential information that would otherwise be unavailable, e.g. 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;
- It is necessary to present information which, if shared with certain family members, might increase the risk to the child;
- Attendance by a known, alleged or suspected perpetrator may threaten or otherwise place the child at risk;
- Their presence may prejudice any legal proceedings or Police investigation;
- There is a serious threat of violence toward any person at the Conference.
Exclusion at one Conference is not reason enough in itself for exclusion at further Conferences.
If the Conference Chair excludes or restricts participation of a parent, the decision must be communicated in writing to the following people:
- The person making the request;
- All other professionals invited to the meeting;
- The parent concerned - unless a decision is made that they should not be informed at all of the Conference (see 3.1.59).
The letter must be signed by the Conference Chair and set out:
- Reason/s for exclusion or restriction;
- An explanation of any other methods the parents have open to them to ensure their views and wishes are considered;
- How the parents will be told the outcome of the conference;
- The complaints procedure.
Any exclusion period must be for the minimum duration necessary and the decision to exclude must be clearly recorded in the Conference minutes.
Those excluded must 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.
If, in planning a conference, it becomes clear to the Conference Chair that there may be conflict of interests between the children and parents, the conference must be planned so that the welfare of the child can remain paramount.
This may mean arranging for the child and parents to participate in separate parts of the conference and make separate waiting arrangements.
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 Conference Chair may ask them to leave.
If a parent is on bail, or subject to an active Police investigation, it is the responsibility of the Conference Chair to ensure that the Police can fully present their information and views and also that the parents participate as fully as circumstances allow.
The decision of the Conference Chair over matters of exclusion is final.
When a parent/carer attends only part of a conference as a result of exclusion, (s)he must receive the record of the conference. The Conference Chair must decide if the entire record is provided or only that part attended by the excluded parent/carer.
On rare occasions, as specified in the Fabricated and Induced Illnesses Procedure, it may be appropriate to convene a conference without informing parents.
12. Enabling Children's Participation
Involving the Child
The child must be kept informed and involved throughout Section 47 Enquiries and, if their level of understanding is sufficient, must be invited to contribute to the conference; which can include attendance. In practice, the appropriateness of enabling an individual child to attend must be assessed in advance and relevant arrangements made to facilitate attendance at all or part of the conference.
All children aged 12 or over must be offered advocacy through a social worker referring to the In-house Advocacy Service regardless of whether they wish to attend the Conference.
The Surrey leaflet ' Child Protection Conference: Information for Children and Young People' must be given to and discussed with every child of sufficient understanding.
Criteria for Attendance of Child at Conference
The key considerations are:
- Does the child have sufficient understanding of the process?
- Has (s)he expressed an explicit or implicit wish to be involved?
- What are the parent(s)' 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. A guiding principle is that usually a child of 12 or over should be invited to attend and a child under 12 should not.
In order to establish her/his wish with respect to attendance, the child must be first provided with a full and clear explanation of the purpose, conduct, membership of the Conference and potential provision of an advocate or support person (as set out in the Surrey leaflet 'Child Protection Conferences - Information for Children and Young People').
Written information translated into the appropriate language must be provided to those able to read and an alternative medium e.g. tape, offered those who cannot read.
Consideration must 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. where it will be impossible to ensure they are kept apart from a parent who may be hostile and/or attribute responsibility onto them.
Decision that a Child should or should not attend
A decision about whether to invite the child must be made in advance of the Conference by the Conference Chair, in consultation with the Social Worker, her/his manager and any other relevant professional.
In making this decision, the views of the parents and of professionals who know the child should be taken into consideration.
Any decision that a child should not attend the Conference must be made using the following criteria:
- Child's level of understanding indicates attendance would be inappropriate;
- The Conference would be unable to fulfil its own aims of protection due to the disruptive behaviour of the child;
- Criminal charges or Court appearances of the parent are pending and the child is to be a witness.
It is not appropriate for any child under 10 to attend and attendance by pre-school children is not permitted. It is the responsibility of the Social Worker or the child's key worker to assist the parents in arranging childcare.
The decision of the Conference Chair is final.
If it is decided that the child should not attend, it is essential that the wishes and feelings of the child are fully represented. Indirect contributions from a child could include a pre-meeting with the Conference Chair or representation by a In-house advocate. Other indirect methods are suggested in the Surrey leaflet 'Child Protection Conferences - Information for Children and Young People'.
If the decision is that the child is to attend the conference, then the Social Worker must:
- Make sure the child has been referred to the In-house Advocacy Service for independent advocacy, unless the child wishes to choose another supporter;
- Ensure that the child has an opportunity to discuss any concerns that (s)he may have about attendance;
- Decide with the child how her/his wishes and views will be presented;
- Provide an appropriate social work report to the child and advocate - this may not be the same report provided to parents and professionals - the Social Worker shares with the advocate only the information that can be shared with the child;
- Plan the child's transport arrangements to and from the Conference.
If the child is attending the Conference, it is the responsibility of the Conference Chair to:
- Clarify with the Social Worker what information will be available to the child both before and during the Conference;
- Meet with the child and advocate separately to the parents before the Conference
- Ensure that the child has sufficient support to present their wishes and views during the Conference;
- Check that the agency reports are balanced and reflect the child's strengths;
- Monitor the child's welfare throughout the Conference, and arrange for them to have a break if necessary;
- Ensure that the child is informed of the decisions and recommendations;
- Write personally to the child to confirm those decision and recommendations;
- Ensure that the record adequately reflects the child's contribution.
If the child is attending the Conference, it is the responsibility of all professionals to:
- Complete separate reports on different children in the family;
- Make clear which parts of the report can be shared with the child;
- Share and discuss it with the child prior to the conference;
- Use language understandable to both child and their family;
- Discuss with the Social Worker any potential difficulties arising from the child's participation.
It is essential that planning takes place prior to the conference to ensure that the practical arrangements are suitable. The Social Worker must in discussion with the Conference Chair:
- Identify a venue where the child will feel comfortable;
- Identify and meet any additional needs;
- Arrange the timing of the conference to minimise disruption to the child's normal routine;
- Identify a separate, comfortable waiting area for the child and the supporter (with suitable refreshments and accessible toilets);
- The Role of the Supporter/Advocate.
The supporter or the In-house Advocacy Service will have been arranged by the Social Worker in consultation with the child and agreed with the Conference Chair.
In-house Advocacy Service work to National Advocacy Standards and NYAS guidelines.
A supporter's only role at the conference is to support and accompany the child. The supporter should be an adult and they should be fully briefed on the principles of confidentiality.
The role of the supporter is to enable the child to put her or his point of view, not to take an adversarial position or cross-examine the participants.
If the supporter identified would otherwise be a participant at the conference e.g. a teacher then another agency / organisation representative must be identified and attend to present the report and be involved in the decision-making process.
13. Support for the Child After the Conference
The supporter or In-house Advocacy Service should ensure that immediately after the conference the child has an opportunity to discuss their experiences of the meeting and feelings about the decision and recommendations made. If the supporter has concerns about the child these must be discussed immediately with the Social Worker.
The Social Worker must meet with the child as soon as possible after the conference to:
- Feedback and discuss the outcomes of the Conference and to allow the child to ask any questions about the decisions made;
- Identify what support they want informally through family, friends and the professional network;
- Identify what actions and outcomes the child believes should be included in any plan of intervention - this would include the Child Protection Plan or, when the child does not require a Child Protection Plan but identified needs have still to be met, the Family Action Plan;
- Discuss how (s)he wishes to be involved in the next Conference.
14. Responsibilities of the Social Worker before the Conference
The Social Worker is responsible for the following:
- Considering as described in Section 6, Enabling Parental Participation and Section 12, Enabling Children's Participation the participation of parents and children in the conference;
- Inviting the child if appropriate;
- Inviting the parent(s) unless a decision is reached to exclude them;
- Informing the child and parent(s) about the role, purpose and process of the conference unless a decision is reached not to inform them - this information must include an explanation of who will be there and why; parents must 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; parent(s) and children must be given a copy of the relevant information leaflet about the role and purpose of the conference. They must 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 must be encouraged to present their contributions in writing or in another form and assisted to do so;
- Establishing whether an interpreter is required and briefing the interpreter as necessary, or whether parent(s) or children need assistance, e.g. transport or child care arrangements;
- Completing Section 47 enquiries and preparing and presenting a written report to the conference (see below).
15. Reports to Conference (ICSF)
The Social Worker must provide to the conference a typed, signed and dated written Initial Child Protection Conference report (SCS125) including a chronology of significant events, which must be endorsed and counter signed by the Team Manager.
Information on all children in the household must be provided and the report must be clear about which children are the subjects of the conference.
- The concerns leading to the decision to initiate Section 47 enquiries, dates of Strategy Discussions, agency consultation and the outcome of the investigation;
- A chronology of significant events and agency and professional contact with the family;
- Information on the child's current and past developmental needs;
- Information on the capacity of the parents and other family members to ensure the child is safe from harm, and to respond to the child's developmental needs, within wider family and environmental context;
- Information on the family history and both the current and past family functioning;
- The dates when the subject child was seen by the Lead Social Worker during the Section 47 Enquiry, if the child was seen alone and if not, who was present and for what reason;
- The expressed views, wishes and feelings of the child, parents and other family members; and
- An 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.
- The local authority's recommendation to the conference.
The report must be provided to parents and older children (to the extent that it is believed to be in their interests) at least 2 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 when confidential information cannot be shared with the child or parent(s) beforehand, the Social Worker must seek guidance from her/his manager, who may wish to consult the Conference Chair.
When necessary, the reports must 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 must be provided to the Conference Chair at least one working day prior to the Initial Child Protection Conference.
16. Responsibilities of Other Professionals
All participants are responsible for the following:
- To make available relevant information to the conference;
- Confirming in advance with the Safeguarding Unit their attendance at the conference or informing the Unit if they are unable to attend;
- Ensuring that information to be presented by them at conference is known to, and shared with, the child and parents beforehand;
- In exceptional circumstances where confidential information cannot be shared with the child or parent(s) beforehand, they must seek guidance from their manager, who may wish to consult the 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 that have participated in a Early Help Assessment or Assessment and Section 47 Enquiry or have relevant information about the child and/or family members should make this information available to the conference in a report (SCS914 Assessment).
The report must 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, capacity of the parents to meet the needs of their child within their family and environmental context.
See Guidance for Mental Health Professionals Submitting Reports to Child Protection Conferences (which is accessible via the 'Guidance & Protocols' button at the top left hand side of the page).
Agency representatives attending conferences must confer with their colleagues before preparing the report to make sure it contains all relevant and available information and bring sufficient copies of the report (legible and signed) 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.
When necessary, the reports must 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 must be shared with the parents and the child (if of sufficient understanding) before the conference, in the same way as described for Social Workers.
Such reports must also be made available to the Conference Chair, when possible, 24 hours in advance of the conference.
When agency representatives are unable to attend the conference, they must ensure that a written report is made available to the conference, through the Conference Chair, or that a colleague attends in their place.
Use of Confidential Section within Conferences
It is good practice for all agencies to be open with clients about what information they have regarding them, and their families, and with whom they are going to share that information.
In exceptional circumstances, however, agencies can ask to share information without members of the family being present. Requests for a confidential section must be made to the Conference Chair and must be made in advance of the conference. The information and the reasons for the request must be discussed with the Conference Chair.
In most cases the agency requesting the confidential section should inform the parents and the child that they intend to do this and inform them of the reasons. Any decision not to share such information must be agreed with the Conference Chair prior to the conference.
The Conference Chair can agree to the inclusion of a confidential section if:
- Certain information were it to be shared, would expose the child to danger or the possibility of further abuse;
- The information comes from a relative or neighbour - on the basis that they will remain anonymous;
- Information is legally privileged (this will be on the advice of the County Solicitor or the Crown Prosecution Service);
- There are concerns about risk to persons from domestic abuse, and it is considered necessary to keep the information confidential from the alleged perpetrator.
If one or more of the criteria for the introduction of a Confidential Section are met, the Conference Chair should:
- Plan the timing of the confidential section to ensure the minimum disruption to the parents and child;
- Ensure only confidential items agreed with her/him prior to the conference are discussed during the confidential section;
- Ensure that whenever possible a strategy is agreed at the end of the confidential section about what further work is needed in order to share the information with the parents;
- Record in the minutes the reason why certain information is confidential from the parents.
The Social Worker must ensure that parents waiting during the confidential section are comfortably seated, and that refreshments are provided.
17. Responsibilities of the Conference Chair
The Conference Chair must not have any operational or line management responsibility for the case.
The Conference Chair must ensure that at least 3 agencies are represented at the conference unless agreed otherwise (see Section 5, Quorate Conferences)
The Conference Chair is responsible for ensuring that conferences are conducted in an anti-discriminatory manner, ensuring that everyone uses unambiguous language.
Before the Conference
The responsibilities of the Conference Chair in relation to decision-making about restricting parents' participation and not inviting children are set out in Section 11, Criteria for Excluding Parents or Restricting their Participation and Section 12, Enabling Children's Participation.
Before the Conference begins, the Conference Chair should meet the parents and child, if they have attended, to ensure that they understand the purpose of the conference and how it will be conducted. Where necessary, interpreters or translators must be made available to facilitate family participation.
At the Start of the Conference
At the start of the conference, the Conference Chair must:
- Set out the purpose of the conference;
- Confirm the agenda;
- Emphasise the need for confidentiality;
- Address equal opportunities issues e.g. specifying that racist, homophobic and threatening behaviour will not be tolerated;
- Facilitate introductions;
- Clarify the contributions of those present, including supporters of the family.
If the parent(s) or the child brings a friend / supporter or advocate, the Conference Chair will need to clarify the supporter's role, ensuring that any solicitor who attends in this role is clear that (s)he may support parent(s), clarify information but may not cross-examine any contributor.
During the Conference
The Conference Chair must ensure that:
- Parents have been given a reasonable opportunity to understand the purpose of the meeting, the role of all agencies involved in the protection of their children, respond to and challenge any suspicions, allegations or the opinions expressed by other participants, contribute as fully as possible to the investigative, assessment and planning process and play a part in helping to safeguard and promote their children's welfare;
- The conference maintains a focus on the welfare of the child(ren);
- Consideration is given to all the children in the household and within the family network;
- All relevant people, including the subject child(ren) and parents, have been given appropriate opportunities to make a full contribution and that full consideration is given to the information they present;
- Reports of those not present are made known to parties;
- The wishes and feelings of the child(ren) are clearly outlined;
- Needs arising from the child's gender and any disabilities, as well as those arising from the child's racial, cultural, linguistic or religious background, are fully considered and accounted for when making decisions or developing plans;
- Appropriate arrangements are made to receive third party confidential information (see Section 11, Criteria for Excluding Parents or Restricting their Participation);
- The Conference reaches decisions in an informed and systematic way;
- All concerned are advised / reminded of the Safeguar/skptx/complaints-and-disagreements/complaints-about-child-protection-conferencesding Children Board's Complaints about Child Protection Conferences Procedure;
- Where a decision has been taken to exclude or restrict the level of parental or child participation, arrangements are made with the Social Worker for absent parents or carers to be informed of the decisions of conferences.
18. The Decision Making Process
The questions to ask as part of the decision making process are:
- Has the child suffered Significant Harm? and
- Is the child likely to suffer Significant Harm?
The test for the likelihood of the child suffering Significant Harm in the future should be:
- 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 judgement is that further ill-treatment or impairment are likely; or
- professional judgement, 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.
The Conference Chair must ensure the decision is based on the views of all agencies represented at the conference and also take into account any written contributions that have been made. This must normally take place with the parents / carers present. Any dissent must be recorded in the conference minutes.
If parents/carers disagree with the decision, the Conference Chair must discuss the issue with them and explain their right to and the process for challenge.
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. The information presented to the Child Protection Conference should inform that decision-making process but it is for the local authority to consider whether it should initiate, for example, Care Proceedings. Where a child who is the subject of a Child Protection Plan becomes Looked After, the Child Protection Plan should form part of the child's Care Plan.
19. Categories of Abuse or Neglect
If the decision is that the child has suffered, or is likely to suffer Significant Harm and in need of a Child Protection Plan, the Chair must determine under which category of abuse or neglect the decision is made.
For the categories, see Deciding and Recording that a Child should be Subject to a Child Protection Plan Procedure.
The need for a Child Protection Plan must be considered separately in respect of each child in the family or household.
20. If a Child Requires a Child Protection Plan
If a decision is reached that a child requires a Child Protection Plan, the Conference Chair must ensure that:
- Criteria for Child Protection Plans are satisfied and the category is determined;
- A Child Protection Plan is outlined and clearly understood by all concerned including the parents and when appropriate, the child;
- A named Lead Social Worker is appointed to develop, co-ordinate and implement the Child Protection Plan (if this is not possible, the relevant Team Manager must be the point of contact);
- It is established how children, parents and wider family members should be involved in ongoing assessment, planning and implementation process, and the support, advice and advocacy available to them;
- Membership of a Core Group of professionals and family members is identified, who will develop, implement and progress the Child Protection Plan as a detailed working tool;
- Any further action required to complete the Assessment is outlined and any other specialist assessments of the child and family identified, which are required to make sound judgements on how best to safeguard and promote the welfare of the child;
- A contingency plan is in place if agreed actions are not completed and/or circumstances change, for example if a carer fails to achieve what has been agreed, a Court application is not successful or a parent removes the child from accommodation;
- Parents and child know the name of the Lead Social Worker and Core Group members
- Parent(s) and child(ren) are advised of their right to invoke the Complaints about Child Protection Conferences Procedure and their right to challenge the decision that the child requires a Child Protection Plan;
- Decisions and recommendations of the conference have been summarised;
- A date is set for the first Core Group meeting within 10 working days of the Initial Child Protection Conference and timescales set for subsequent meetings;
- A date is set for the Child Protection Review Conference, and under what circumstances it might be necessary to convene the conference before that date.
The Conference Chair must also ensure that the Head of the Safeguarding Unit or, if out of hours, the Emergency Duty Team, is informed of the decision.
The Chair has authority to specify the minimum visiting and contact pattern between Surrey Children's Services and the child and her/his family.
The Chair cannot commit resources until the Team Manager within the Surrey Children's Services has been consulted.
In instances where a disparity arises between the minimum requirements specified by the Chair and resources, which are to be committed for any reason, this must be resolved within 3 days by the relevant Area Manager.
In such an instance the Chair must immediately inform the Service Manager, Safeguarding Children Unit of the circumstances and issues.
The Chair's authority to specify contact patterns is a minimum protective framework, which forms part of the child's overall care plan and should not be taken to limit the discretion of the key worker or the Core Group in this respect.
When the Lead Social Worker finds it is not possible to implement the Child Protection Plan following the conference, (s)he must follow the guidance as laid down in Section 9, Roles and Responsibility of the Team Manager and Lead Social Worker when the Child Protection Plan Cannot be Implemented of the Child Protection Review Conferences Procedure.
In relation to other agencies, should a mutually agreed Child Protection Plan not be possible, the Chair must ensure that any dissenting views on aspects of the Plan are recorded in the minutes as well as the nature and purpose of any action they wish to take.
If following a conference, any individual or agency is unable to implement the Child Protection Plan they must in consultation with their line manager decide on an alternative action and inform the Conference Chair, Lead Social Worker and other conference members in writing. This must then be further discussed at the Core Group and a revised Plan agreed.
If a child does not require a Child Protection Plan
If it is considered that the criteria for Child Protection Plans have not been reached, but the child is in need of help to promote her/his health or development, the Conference Chair must ensure that the conference draws up a Family Action Plan and makes recommendations as appropriate to the relevant agencies to:
- Continue the Assessment to help determine the support required;
- Provide support and help;
- Establish commitment to inter-agency working, particularly where the child's needs are complex;
- Review the plan at regular intervals of no more than every 3 months.
21. Quality Assurance
The Conference Chair has responsibility for ensuring consistently high standards of practice by encouraging inter-agency co-operation and identifying shortcomings in practice. In order to achieve this, the Conference Chair must:
- Ensure that relevant data is collected for quality monitoring and complete the form accordingly;
- Advise the Service Manager, Safeguarding Children Unit and the relevant line manager of any breach of procedure or system failure that may have adversely affected a child or young person;
- Take up any concerns about an individual worker's practice with them directly at the time of the conference, but not during the meeting. These issues may also need to be brought to the attention of the worker's line manager;
- Draw to the attention of the Service Manager, Safeguarding Children Unit, any case where it is the opinion of the Conference Chair that the risk associated with a child's situation/plan is very high, they must then ensure that the appropriate Service Manager is aware of the situation;
- Be responsive to any comments and feedback made about their own performance, in order to facilitate their own professional development and to improve the quality of the service provided.
Dissent from the Conference Decision
If an agency does not agree with a decision or recommendation made at a conference, its dissent must be recorded in the minutes of the Conference and a discussion with the Independent Chair is to be held immediately following the conference.
If a dissenting professional concludes that a conference decision places a child at risk, (s)he must seek advice from her/his Named or Designated or Lead Professional or manager immediately and give consideration to the Inter-Agency Escalation Policy and Procedure.
Where the issue is not resolved, see Inter-Agency Escalation Policy and Procedure
When this occurs, the Social Worker must involve that agency in future decision-making and in the implementation of the Child Protection Plan.
Research and fatal case enquiries have shown that differences of opinion between agencies can lead to conflict resulting in a less favourable outcome for the child.
If parents / carers disagree with the conference decision, the Chair must further discuss their concerns and explain the Complaints about Child Protection Conferences Procedure
Parents, anyone with Parental Responsibility for the child or young person, or the child or young person concerned (when of sufficient age and understanding) have the right to apply for an independent review on certain grounds. See Section 22, Complaints and Representations below.
The application must be addressed to the Service Manager, Quality Assurance.
Potential applicants must be informed of their right to apply by a leaflet explaining the process and by the Conference Chair. The Social Worker must also be available to supply information and clarify the procedure.
22. Complaints and Representations
Each consultant constituent agency of the Surrey Safeguarding Children Partnership operates and publicises its own complaints procedures, which includes an independent element.
Complaints and representation specific to one professional are therefore to be addressed to the particular agency involved, whether arising during the investigation or child protection conference.
The Independent Conference Chair must ensure that complaints/representations arising at conference are directed to the attention of the agency or agencies as appropriate.
23. Record Keeping of Child Protection Conferences
The record of the Conference is a crucial working document for all relevant professionals and the family. The record produced is not a verbatim minute but is a summary of the main facts and issues, which are raised and addressed at the conference.
All reports presented at conference will be referred to as appendices with the express permission of the author.
All Initial and Review Conferences must be recorded by a dedicated person whose sole task within the Conference is to provide a written record of proceedings in a consistent format.
Conference records must include:
- Name, date of birth, ethnicity and address of the subject/s of the conference, parents/carers and other adults in the household;
- Who was invited, who attended and who submitted apologies;
- A list of written reports available to Conference and whether open to parents or not;
- The reason for the Conference;
- All the essential facts of the case, including a summary of significant events and previous agency involvement;
- A summary of the Assessment;
- Views and wishes of each child;
- Views of parents / carers;
- The Conference Chair's summary of information, analysis of risk and protective factors;
- Opinions of agencies on risk and registration;
- Decision on the need for a Child Protection Plan, with information outlining the reasons, including category of abuse or neglect;
- An outline Child Protection Plan or any Family Action Plan;
- Name of Lead Social Worker;
- Members of the Core Group if Child Protection Plan is made and date of first meeting;
- Date of next conference.
The record of the conference, signed by the Conference Chair, must be sent to all professionals who attended, or were invited, within 10 days of the conference, and to relevant family members within 15 days. The Social Worker's report must be attached to the record.
Requests for amendments must be made in writing within one week of receipt of the conference record so that they can be circulated with a covering letter requesting that the recipient attach the amendment to the original record.
Amendments must be circulated where information recorded is factually incorrect or where the wording used substantially alters the meaning of what was said. This must be agreed with the conference chair.
A copy of the draft outline Child Protection Plan must be passed to the Lead Social Worker in time for the first Core Group meeting and posted to parents who attended the conference. This Plan may be modified subsequently by the Chair and the final version must be circulated as part of the record of the Initial Child Protection Conference. The Conference Chair must inform the Lead Social Worker in writing of any significant changes made.
Copies of the conference record for parents who did not attend the conference and children/young people must always be sent to the Social Worker who must give and discuss them with the parent/child within 5 days of receipt from the Safeguarding Children Unit, i.e. within 15 working days from the date of the conference.
The Chair may decide, on the advice of conference members that parents will not be given a copy of the conference record and must reach agreement on the most appropriate method of informing them of the details of the conference, through an appropriately worded letter or verbally by the key worker.
Supporters of family members who attend conference will not receive a copy of the record. It is expected that the family member concerned will share their copy of the record with their supporter if they wish.
Family members invited in their own right, for example, grandparents, must receive a copy of the record.
When a child has attended a Child Protection Conference, the Social Worker must arrange to see her/him and arrange to discuss relevant sections of the conference record.
Consideration must be given to whether a child should be given copies of the conference record. They may be supplied to a child's legal representative on request.
When parents and/or the child(ren) have a sensory disability or if English is not their first language, steps must be taken to ensure that they can understand and make full use of the conference record.
Conference records are confidential and should not be passed to third parties without the consent of either the Conference Chair or order of the Court.
When there are ongoing criminal proceedings, there should be consultation between the Police and the Crown Prosecution Service in relation to the sharing of Conference records.
The Chair must, where appropriate and subject to legal advice, give permission on behalf of conference members for the record to be used in Court proceedings by parents and their legal representatives in such matters as divorce, domestic violence disputes and Section 8 Orders(Children Act 1989).
The recipient agencies and professionals must retain the Conference record in accordance with their record retention policy.
24. Decision Letter
The Chair must forward a letter to the parents and child(ren) confirming the decisions and recommendations of the Conference.
The decision letter must be dispatched to parents / carers and other participants within 2 working days of the conference. This gives details of whether the child(ren) was made subject of a Child Protection Plan, the name of the Lead Social Worker and the recommendations of the conference.