1.7 Initial Child Protection Conferences
AMENDMENTThis chapter was updated in October 2021. A note was added to remind all practitioners of the importance of establishing the nationality and immigration status of children and families. This will ensure they can be signposted for immigration advice and support where required. Furthermore, if as EU / EEA nationals they have been granted pre-settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme - it will ensure that they can be supported to apply for settled status when they accrue 5 years' continuous residence in the UK.
1. Purpose of Initial Child Protection Conference
The Initial Child Protection Conference brings together family members, the child (where appropriate - see Section 6, Enabling Children's Participation), supporters/advocates and those practitioners most involved with the child and family to share information, assess risks and to formulate an agreed plan of management and services, with the child's safety and welfare as its paramount aim.
Within this, there are the following tasks:
- To share and evaluate information in a multi-disciplinary setting about the family history, the child's health, development and functioning and the parent/carer's capacity to ensure the child's safety and promote his or her well being;
- To consider the evidence and form a view about the likelihood of the child suffering Significant Harm in the future;
- To decide if the child is still likely to suffer significant harm in the future and, whether an inter-agency Child Protection Plan is required and, if so, the category of harm;
- To devise an outline, agreed, inter-agency Child Protection Plan setting out how and what actions will be taken forward and with what intended outcomes and time-scales;
- To nominate a Lead Social Worker, to develop, co-ordinate and implement the Child Protection Plan;
- To identify the membership of the multi-agency Core Group to develop and monitor and assess progress of the Child Protection Plan;
- To set the date for the first Core Group meeting to take place within 10 working days of the Initial Conference;
- To set the date for the Child Protection Review Conference within 3 months (91 days) of the Initial Conference.
Where the child does not require a Child Protection Plan but is considered to be In Need, to recommend if appropriate that services are provided to promote the child's health and development under the local Family Common Assessment Framework Threshold Criteria and/or a continuation of the Single Social Care Assessment (SSCA).
Conferences should routinely seek to establish / confirm the nationality and immigration status of children and families. This will ensure that, where required, families can be signposted for immigration advice and support. Furthermore, if as EU / EEA nationals they have been granted pre-settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme - it will ensure practitioners can also support them to apply for settled status at the point at which they accrue 5 years' continuous residence in the UK. (See GOV.UK Switch from pre settled status to settled status)
2. When an Initial Child Protection Conference Should be Convened
An Initial Child Protection Conference must be convened in the following circumstances:
- Following Section 47 enquiries, assessment has indicated that a child has suffered or is likely to suffer, Significant Harm and that a Child Protection Plan is necessary;
- When it is considered that there is a risk of Significant Harm to an unborn child and a Child Protection Plan needs to be in place prior to the birth;
- On the birth of a child into a household where there is already a child subject to a Child Protection Plan;
- Where a child is living in a household where a person poses a risk or potential risk to children lives or frequently visits, following Section 47 enquiries;
- When a child subject to a Child Protection Plan in another area moves into the area;
- Where abuse is suspected to have been committed by another child, following Section 47 enquiries and an assessment that a child has suffered or is likely to suffer Significant Harm and that a Child Protection Plan is necessary in respect of the alleged victim; or in respect of the alleged abuser, who might also be a victim.
The conference must consider all the children in the household, even if concerns are only being expressed about one child. Where consideration is given to a child or children not being the subject of a conference, the reasons must be clearly stated in the Lead Social Worker's report.
Where a senior manager from another agency requests that an Initial Child Protection Conference is convened, this request will be given serious consideration by the relevant Children's Social Care Manager and a response will be given in writing. Where any issue of practitioner difference is not resolved, see Effective Challenge and Escalation Procedure.
3. Timing of Initial Child Protection Conference
The Initial Child Protection Conference should take place within 15 working days of the:
- Strategy Discussion or where more than one has taken place, of the Strategy Discussion at which the Section 47 Enquiry was initiated; or
- Notification by another local authority that a child subject to a Child Protection Plan has permanently moved into the area.
In the time between the conclusion of the Section 47 Enquiry and the Initial Child Protection Conference, an Interim Plan must be agreed with clear roles and responsibilities, based on the outcome of the Section 47 Enquiry, in order to ensure that the child is protected until the Conference is held.
In the exceptional circumstance of complex enquiries or pre-birth assessments, the Initial Child Protection Conference may be delayed.
Any such delay must have written authorisation from the Manager of Children's Social Care (including reasons for the delay) who must arrange to notify all relevant agencies and the Quality Assurance and Involvement Service of the delay and ensure that risks to the child are monitored and an interim plan is in place to safeguard the child.
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 and/or family members;
- The child where deemed to be age appropriate and/or his/her representative appropriate;
- The child's Lead Social Worker and first line manager;
- The Police;
- Health services staff involved with the child/ren - e.g. health visitor, school nurse, GP;
- Education staff etc;
- The Consultant Paediatrician or other senior doctor responsible for any Medical Assessment of the child.
In addition, invitees may include those whose contribution relates to their practitioner expertise and/or knowledge of the family and/or responsibility for relevant services, and should be limited to those with a need to know or who have a contribution to make to the assessment of the child and family.
These may include:
- Supporter (including advocate), friend or solicitor (as supporters for the child and parent/carers;
- Health services involved with parent(s)/carers e.g. specialist doctors, psychiatrists, psychologists;
- Midwifery services where the conference concerns an unborn or new-born child (see Section 9, Pre-Birth Conferences);
- Probation service and/or staff in youth justice system where relevant;
- Housing services;
- Mental health (adult or child) services;
- Alcohol and substance misuse services;
- Domestic Abuse Services;
- Any practitioner 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, where relevant;
- Any other relevant practitioner or service provider;
- Legal services - if it is anticipated that legal advice will be required;
- The Children's Guardian and the child's solicitor where there are current court proceedings;
- An independent specialist where this is deemed necessary to assist the conference process.
A practitioner 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 one observer at any conference. It is the responsibility of the practitioner requesting the attendance of the observer to seek the permission of the family and the Conference Chair at least one day before the conference.
Practitioners who are invited but unable to attend for unavoidable reasons should:
- Submit a written report in the agreed format with copies and arrange wherever possible for another agency representative to attend;
- Inform the Conference Convenors and Conference Chair.
The time of day at which a conference is convened should be determined to facilitate attendance of the family and key contributors.
Where the 'supporter' is a legal representative then the Chair should note The Law Society guidance 'Attendance of solicitors at local authority Children Act Meetings' and related 'Code of Conduct (2011)'.
All solicitors attending these meetings should be aware of the local policies and procedures in respect of Children Act Meetings and of their role in terms of 'Working Together to Safeguard Children'.See also: Section 16, Electronic and Digital Recording by Parents.
The primary principle for determining a quorum is that there should be sufficient agencies present to enable safe decisions to be made in the individual circumstances.
Normally, minimum representation is the Lead Social Worker and at least two other practitioner disciplines which have had direct contact with the child and family.
Where a conference is inquorate it should not ordinarily proceed and in such circumstances the Conference Chair must ensure that either:
- An interim plan is produced; or
- The existing plan is reviewed with the practitioners and family members that do attend, in order to safeguard the welfare of the child/ren;
- Another conference date must be set immediately.
In exceptional circumstances, and having regard to the impact upon the child and family of a postponement, the Conference Chair may decide to proceed with the conference despite lack of agency representation. This would be relevant where:
- The child has not had relevant contact with 3 practitioner disciplines - e.g. pre-birth conferences;
- Where sufficient information is available, including where written reports from non-attendees have been submitted;
- Where previous conferences have been inquorate and/or there is unlikely to be greater attendance at a future conference; and
- A delay will be detrimental to the child.
6. Enabling Parental Participation
All parents and persons with Parental Responsibility must be invited to conferences (unless exclusion is justified as described below). Parents will be encouraged to contribute to conferences; usually by attending, unless it is likely to prejudice the welfare of the child.
The Lead 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, including providing them with a copy of the Conference report (see Section 11.2, Lead Social Workers Report to Conference).
The parents will receive a written invite from the Quality Assurance and Involvement Service but this should also be conveyed verbally by the Lead Social Worker.
The Lead 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 if their child is deemed to require a Child Protection Plan and the complaints process.
Provision should 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 should 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.
The parents should be provided with a copy of the relevant leaflet which includes information regarding 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 Appeals 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 Lead Social Worker must facilitate this by:
- Enabling the parent to write, or tape, or use drawings to represent their views;
- Meeting the Conference Chair prior to conference;
- Agreeing that the Lead Social Worker, or any other practitioner, expresses their views.
7. Criteria for Excluding Parents or Restricting their Participation
In circumstances where it may be necessary to exclude one or more family members from part or all of a conference the request to exclude or restrict a parents participation should 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 on. The Conference Chair must consider the representation carefully and may need legal advice before coming to a decision.
The decision should be made according to the following criteria:
- Indications that the presence of the parent may seriously prejudice the welfare of the child, for example where information shared could further victimise the child or increase the child's vulnerability to further abuse;
- Sufficient evidence that a parent/carer may behave in such a way as to disrupt the conference such as violence, threats of violence, racist, or other forms of discriminatory or oppressive behaviour or being in an unfit state e.g. through drug, alcohol consumption or acute mental health difficulty;
- A child requests that the parent/person with Parental Responsibility or carer is not present while s/he is present;
- Conflicts between different family members who may not be able to attend at the same time e.g. in situations of Domestic Abuse;
- It is necessary to present information to the conference 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, for example because they have yet to be interviewed or because bail conditions restrict their attendance;
- 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.
The possibility that the parent may be prosecuted for an offence against a child is not in itself a reason for exclusion although in these circumstances the Conference Chair may take advice from the Police and, if criminal proceedings have been initiated, the Crown Prosecution Service, about the implications arising from an alleged perpetrators attendance.
If the Conference Chair makes a decision to exclude or restrict the participation of a parent, the decision should be communicated to the following people:
- The person making the request;
- All other practitioners invited to the meeting;
- The parent concerned (in writing) - unless a decision is made that they should not be informed at all of the conference (see below).
The letter to the parent must be signed by the Conference Chair and set out
- The reason 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 - see Appeals about Child Protection Conferences Procedure.
Any exclusion period should be for the minimum duration necessary and the decision to exclude must be clearly recorded in the conference minutes.
Those excluded should usually be provided with a copy of the Lead Social Workers 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 should 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.
Where 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.
Where a parent/carer attends only part of a conference as a result of exclusion, the Conference Chair will decide which parts of the minutes the excluded parent/carer may receive.
8. Enabling Children's Participation
Child Protection Conferences are essentially a meeting for adults and in the main children do not attend. Many, of course are too young to understand and the matters being discussed are often not suitable for children to hear. The child's voice, however, should always be evident and it is essential that the needs of the child are at the centre of the conference.
All children aged over 5 who are subject to an initial Child Protection Conference will be offered an independent advocate. This will be arranged by the Quality Assurance and Involvement Service within 1 working day of a request for a conference.
The advocate will work with the child to help them articulate their wishes and feelings and either attend the conference on behalf of the child or in the case of older children help them to participate in the conference. They will also help children to understand the outcomes from the Child Protection Conference. Advocates will share their report with the social worker in advance of the initial conference. They will also brief the chair where necessary to ensure the child's participation is properly managed.
Social workers will need to liaise closely with the children's advocate and ensure that they understand the wishes and feelings of the child in advance of the initial conference. Where there is no allocated advocate the social worker should ensure that they have ascertained the child's wishes and feelings and completed the relevant form, and ensure that they are recorded in their assessment.
Independent advocates are not yet available for all review conferences and social workers should take responsibility for ensuring that this work is completed using the initial independent advocate's work as a starting point.
The child must receive written information in their preferred language to explain the purpose of a child protection conference and receive the booklet "Information for children about child protection conferences and plans". It is the responsibility of the social worker to provide this.
For those with communication difficulties an alternative medium, for example tape, should be offered.
Direct involvement of a child in a conference
Social workers will need to liaise closely with the children's advocate and ensure that they understand the wishes and feelings of the child in advance of the initial conference. Where there is no allocated advocate, the social worker should ensure that they have ascertained the child's wishes and feelings and ensure they are recorded in their assessment.
Independent advocates are not yet available for all review conferences and social workers should take responsibility for ensuring that this work is completed using the initial independent advocates work as a starting point.
Conference Chair tasks in relation to child's attendance
All children of 11 years or older will be invited to attend the ICPC to discuss their situation. The advocate will facilitate this if the child wishes to attend. If there is no advocate the lead Social Worker will have to hold discussions with the child and liaise with the conference chair. The child will be seen by the chair in advance of the meeting. A decision will have already taken place about whether this will be in the presence of a parent or whether the child will be accompanied by a supporter.
Consulting with the child, post conference
Whether the child has attended the conference or not, time will need to be spent after the conference to fully inform them of the decisions that have been made. This should be done directly following the conference if the child attended or later the same day if they did not attend. It is important that the child is informed by the social worker or a trusted professional and that this task is not left to the parents. Where a child advocate has been involved this task will normally fall to them or jointly with the social worker. This needs to be recorded. If this has not been done, the reasons why not should be recorded and signed by the team manager.
Following a conference, the child and their advocate (if appropriate) should receive a copy of the grid produced in conference and later a copy of the record of the meeting. These documents highlight:
- The concerns and risks of harm;
- The impact on the child;
- What complications there are that need resolving;
- What strengths and safety exist in the family;
- What the child's views were about the situation and that of parents or elements that will be included in the plan (and type of plan);
- Date of core group;
- Date of review.
9. 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 purpose and must be conducted in a comparable manner to an Initial Child Protection Conference.
Pre-birth conferences should be convened following Section 47 Enquiries, where there is evidence that the child is suffering or is likely to suffer significant harm and 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 Abuse;
- 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 Children's Social Care so that assessments are undertaken and family support services provided as early as possible in the pregnancy.
9.1 Timing of Pre-Birth Conferences
The pre-birth conference should take place as soon as practicable and ideally at 8 to 10 weeks before the due date of delivery, 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.
In addition to those who normally attend an Initial Child Protection Conference, midwifery, relevant neo-natal and support services must be invited.
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.
9.3 An Unborn Child with a Child Protection Plan
If a decision is made that the unborn child should be made subject to a Child Protection Plan, the main cause for concern must determine the Category of Significant Harm 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 discharge from hospital.
If a decision is made for an unborn child to have a Child Protection Plan, the child's name (or 'baby', if not known) and expected date of delivery should be sent to the Child Protection Enquiry Team (CPET) pending the birth. The Lead Social Worker must then ensure that the name and correct birth date is notified to the CPET following the birth.
If the child is resident outside of the area at birth, the local authority in whose area the child is resident must be advised that the child is in their area and is the subject of a Child Protection Plan.
9.4 Timing of Review Conference
The first Child Protection Review Conference will be scheduled to take place within 3 months (91 days) of the initial conference.
10. Convening the Conference
Initial conferences must be convened within a maximum of 15 working days of the last Strategy Discussion that initiated the Section 47 enquiry In consultation with the Social Worker, the Quality Assurance and Involvement Service will be responsible for:
- Agreeing the date and time of the conference;
- Sending out invitations to practitioner representatives, the child and family members as appropriate;
- Ensuring that agencies are informed whether or not the parents have been invited and that they are clear about their responsibilities;
- Consulting with the Conference Chair where there has been a request to exclude or limit the participation of parents or children;
- Collating and presenting to the Conference Chair relevant written contributions where available;
- Providing with the invitation the Information Leaflet about conferences for children and parents.
11. Responsibilities of the Lead Social Worker before the Conference
11.1 General Responsibilities
The Lead Social Worker is responsible for the following:
- Considering as described in Section 6, Enabling Parental Participation and Section 8, Enabling Children's Participation above the participation of parents and children in the conference;
- Arranging for the child to attend if appropriate;
- Arranging the parent(s)' attendance unless a decision is reached to exclude them;
- Preparing the child and parent(s) and informing them about the role, purpose and process of the conference (unless a decision is reached not to inform them). This information should include an explanation of who will be there and why. Parents should 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;
- The child and parents should 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 should 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;
- Establishing whether parent(s) or children need assistance, for example, with transport or child care arrangements;
- Completing the Section 47 Enquiry and preparing and presenting a written report to the conference using the relevant pro forma;
- Consider if legal advice is required.
11.2 Lead Social Worker's Report to Conference
The Lead Social Worker should provide to the conference a typed, signed and dated written report, which must be endorsed and counter signed by their manager. The report should include the dates when the 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.
Information about all children in the household must be provided; the report should be clear about which children the concerns relate to, and rationale given if any children are not thought to be at risk.
For an Initial Child Protection Conference, the report should include:
- The concerns leading to the decision to initiate the Section 47 Enquiry, the dates of Strategy Discussions, agency consultations and the outcome of the Enquiry;
- Information on the child's current and past health and developmental needs;
- Information on the capacity of the parents and other family members to ensure that the child is safe from harm, and to respond to the child's developmental needs, within the wider family and environmental context;
- Information on the family history and both the current and past family functioning;
- 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; and
- The local authority's recommendation to the conference.
- 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:
The report should 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 where confidential information cannot be shared with the child or parent(s) beforehand, the Lead Social Worker should seek guidance from their manager, who may wish to consult the Conference Chair.
Where necessary, the reports should 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 should be provided to the Conference Chair at least 2 working days prior to the Initial Child Protection Conference with copies for all those invited.
12. Responsibilities of Other Practitioners/Agencies
12.1 General Responsibilities
All participants are responsible for the following:
- To make attendance at conferences high priority;
- To make available relevant information in a written report to the Conference chair at least two working days prior to the conference (see Section 12.2, Other Agency Reports to Conference) and contribute to the discussion, assessment of risk and decision;
- To confirm in advance with the Quality Assurance and Involvement Service their attendance at the conference or informing the Service if they are unable to attend;
- To ensure that information to be presented by them at conference is shared with the parents at least two days prior to the conference taking place;
- To ensure that their contribution is non-discriminatory;
- In exceptional circumstances where confidential information cannot be shared with the child or parent(s) beforehand, to seek guidance from their manager, who should consult the Conference Chair;
- To ensure 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;
- To ensure 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.
12.2 Other Agency Reports to Conference
All agencies which have participated in a Section 47 Enquiry or have relevant information about the child and/or family members should make this information available to the conference on the report pro forma.
Agency representatives attending conferences should confer with their colleagues before preparing their contribution to a conference, 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.
The reports should be shared with the parents and the child (if old enough) before the conference, in the same way as described for Lead Social Workers, at least 2 working days in advance of the conference.
Such reports should also be made available to the Conference Chair, at least 2 working day in advance of the conference and they should bring sufficient copies of their report to the conference.Where agency representatives are unable to attend the conference, they must ensure that their report is made available to the conference through the local Quality Assurance and Involvement Service and that a colleague attends in their place.
13. Responsibilities of the Conference Chair
The conference will be chaired by a dedicated and experienced Child Protection Coordinator from the Quality Assurance and Involvement Service.
The Conference Chair must ensure that, in addition to the Lead Social Worker, at least two practitioner disciplines are represented at the conference unless agreed otherwise - see quorum for conference in Section 5, Quorum.
The Conference Chair is responsible for ensuring that conferences are conducted in line with these procedures, are child focussed and are carried out in an anti-discriminatory manner, ensuring that everyone uses unambiguous respectful language.
13.1 Before the Conference
The responsibilities of the Conference Chair in relation to decision-making about enabling/restricting parents' and children's participation are set out in Section 6, Enabling Parental Participation and Section 8, Enabling Children's Participation.
Prior to the conference, the Conference Chair will meet with the child, parents and any supporters to ensure that they understand the purpose of the conference and how it will be conducted. This may, where the potential for conflict exists, involve separate meetings with the different parties. This pre-meet between the Conference Chair and family members and children, will take place 30 minutes before Part Two of the conference process. At the same time professionals will be reading the reports for conference and preparing for the conference Part two to commence.The level and manner of any supporter's involvement in the conference will be negotiated beforehand with the Conference Chair. Supporters may seek clarification of information given by a conference member through the Conference Chair, but they will not be allowed to question conference members directly.
13.2 At the Start of the Conference
At the start of the conference the Conference Chair will:
- Set out the purpose of the conference;
- Confirm the agenda;
- Emphasise the confidential nature of the meeting;
- 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 supporter, the Conference Chair will need to clarify the supporter's role, ensuring that any solicitor who attends in this role is clear that he/she may support parent(s), clarify information but may not cross-examine any contributor.
13.3 During the Conference
The Conference Chair will ensure that:
- Parents are given a reasonable opportunity to:
- Understand the purpose of the meeting and the role of all agencies involved in the protection of their children;
- Consider and respond to any information or opinions expressed by other participants;
- Contribute as fully as possible to the assessment and planning process;
- 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;
- 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;
- Consideration is given to the welfare and safety of all 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;
- An analysis takes place of the strengths, concerns and risks, all options are considered and that the conference reaches decisions in an informed and non-discriminatory way;
- All concerned are advised/reminded of the complaints procedure;
- Where a decision has been taken to exclude or restrict the level of parental or child participation, arrangements are made with the Lead Social Worker for absent parents or carers to be informed of the decisions of conferences;
- A decision is made that best meets the needs of the child.
13.4 The Decision Making Process
The conference should examine the following questions when determining whether the child should be subject to a Child Protection Plan.
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 either that:
- The child is shown to have suffered ill-treatment or impairment of health or development as a result of physical, emotional or sexual abuse or neglect, and practitioner judgement is that further ill-treatment or impairment are likely; or
- Practitioner judgement, substantiated by finding 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.
If the child remains likely to suffer Significant Harm, it will therefore be the case that safeguarding the child requires inter-agency help and intervention delivered through a Child Protection Plan.
The Conference Chair must ensure that the decision about the need for a Child Protection Plan takes account of the views of all agencies represented at the conference and also takes into account any written contributions that have been made. This discussion will take place with the parents/carers present.
The decision will be taken by practitioners attending the conference, i.e. those eligible to be counted for the purposes of establishing a quorum (see Section 5, Quorum); for example, this will not include the child, parents, carers, supporters although they may be asked to comment on the strengths, concerns, risks, future plans and protection.
Where a consensus decision cannot be reached, the Conference Chair will make the decision.
Where the Conference Chair considers the consensus decision to be either:
- An unsatisfactory decision that the child should have a Child Protection Plan where, in the Chairs opinion, the criteria have not been met and/or such a plan is not necessary; or
- An unsatisfactory decision that the child does not require a Child Protection Plan where, in the Chair's opinion, the child would still be likely to suffer significant harm if a Child Protection Plan was not in place Sheffield Children Safeguarding Partnership may authorise the Conference Chair to have final decision-making powers.
The Conference Chair must ensure that all members of the conference are clear about the conclusions reached, the decision taken and recommendations made, and that the conference records accurately reflect the discussions, the decision and, where relevant, the reasons for the Conference Chair exercising his or her decision-making powers.
Any dissent by practitioners at the conference must be recorded in the conference record (see also Section 14, Dissent from the Conference Decision).
If parents/carers disagree with the decision, this also must be recorded in the record and the Conference Chair must discuss the issue with them and explain their right to and the process for challenge - see Appeals about Child Protection Conferences Procedure.
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.
13.5 Categories of Significant Harm
If the decision is that the child is still likely to suffer Significant Harm and is therefore in need of a Child Protection Plan, the Conference Chair should determine the category of significant harm which the child has suffered or is likely to suffer.
The category used must indicate to those consulting the Children's Social Care' List of Children Subject to a Child Protection Plan what the primary presenting concerns were at the time the child was made the subject of a Child Protection Plan. See Developing and Implementing the Child Protection Plan Procedure for more information about the List.
The need for a Child Protection Plan should be considered separately in respect of each child in the family or household.
13.6 If a Child is made the Subject of a Child Protection Plan
Where a decision is reached that a child needs to be the subject of a Child Protection Plan, the Conference Chair must ensure that:
- A Child Protection Plan is outlined and clearly understood by all concerned including the parents and where appropriate, the child; and the outline plan sets out what needs to change in order to safeguard the child including professional bottom lines;
- A Lead Social Worker (i.e. a qualified Lead Social Worker) is appointed to develop, coordinate and implement the Child Protection Plan (if this is not possible, the relevant manager should be the point of contact);
- The membership of a Core Group of practitioners and family members is identified, who will develop, implement and progress the Child Protection Plan as a detailed working tool including the frequency of direct contact with the child. The date of the first core group meeting is set;
- It is established how children, parents and wider family members should be involved in the ongoing assessment, planning and implementation process, and the support, advice and advocacy available to them;
- 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;
- The parents and child know the name of the Lead Social Worker and Core Group members;
- The parents/carers and child/ren are advised of their right to invoke the appeals and complaints procedure and their right to challenge the decisions made by those present at the conference - see Appeals about Child Protection Conferences Procedure;
- The decisions and recommendations of the conference have been recorded in a clear manner;
- 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.
13.7 If a Child is not assessed as being in need of a Child Protection Plan
A child may not be the subject of a Child Protection Plan, but he or she may nonetheless require services to promote his or her health or development. In these circumstances, the conference, together with the family, should consider the child's needs and what further help would assist the family in responding to them. Subject to the family's views and consent, it may be appropriate to continue with and complete an Assessment of the child's needs to help determine what support might best help promote the child's welfare. Where the child's needs are complex, inter agency working will continue to be important. Where appropriate, a Child in Need Plan should be drawn up and reviewed at regular intervals - no less frequent than every 6 months.
14. Dissent from the Conference Decision
In cases where there is disagreement regarding the threshold for significant harm being met or not being met (see Section 13.4, The Decision Making Process) the Conference Chair will attempt to facilitate the conference to reach a consensus by drawing the conference members' attention to the threshold and considering this in the light of the information which has been shared and the child's assessed needs.
Section 13.4, The Decision Making Process sets out the decision-making powers of the Conference Chair where there is no consensus.
If an agency does not agree with a decision or recommendation made at a conference, the dissent will be recorded in the record of the conference.
If a practitioner concludes that a conference decision places a child at risk, s/he must seek advice from her/his Designated Practitioner or Named Practitioner or manager.
Where the issue is not resolved, the agency may consider taking action under the Effective Challenge and Escalation Procedure.
If parents/carers disagree with the conference decision, the Conference Chair must further discuss their concerns and explain their rights to challenge under Complaints and Appeals about Child Protection Conferences Procedure.
15. Record of Child Protection Conferences
The record of the conference is a crucial working document for all relevant practitioners and the family.
All conferences will be attended by administrative staff whose sole task within the conference is to provide a written record of proceedings in a consistent format. The Conference Chair is responsible for ensuring that the record accurately reflects the discussion held and decisions and recommendations made.
The record of the conference, signed by the Conference Chair, will be sent to all practitioners who attended or were invited and to relevant family members within 15 working days after the Conference.
Copies of the record should be given to the parents, child (if old enough) and the child's advocate by the Lead Social Worker where appropriate.
Where parents and/or the child/ren have a sensory disability or where English is not their first language, steps must be taken to ensure that they can understand and make full use of the record.
Where parents and/or the child/ren have a sensory disability or where English is not their first language, steps must be taken to ensure that they can understand and make full use of the minutes.
Where a parent or child has been fully excluded from the conference, the decision on what information they should receive will be taken by the Conference Chair in consultation with other conference members.
Where a supporter, solicitor, other family member or observer has attended a conference, the record will not be distributed to them unless they have a role in the Child Protection Plan and the conference agrees it appropriate.
Conference records are confidential and should not be passed to third parties without the consent of the Conference Chair, or by a Court Order.
Where there are ongoing criminal proceedings, there should be consultation between the Police and the Crown Prosecution Service in relation to the sharing of the record.
The recipient agencies and practitioners should retain the record of the Child Protection Conference in a manner which ensures their confidentiality and in accordance with their agencies record retention policy. Agencies should determine who it is appropriate to be given access to the record - usually this will be restricted to relevant staff, their manager and any person who has a role in the Child Protection Plan.
Subsequent requests for access to the record by practitioners who do not have a legal or direct role in the case should be referred to the Designated Manager (Children with a Child Protection Plan) or the Conference Chair.
Children (if of sufficient age and understanding) and/or parents on their behalf may have the right of access to their records held by Children's Social Care. Access can be refused if it is likely to result in serious harm to someone or on other limited grounds, but, where the criteria for refusal do not apply, the Safeguarding children and Independent Reviewing Service will release the open access sections of the conference record without any further checks with practitioner colleagues. The closed access section of the minutes will not be released without full consultation with all parties and any disclosure will be in line with the Data Protection Act 2018. For more information, see Underlying Principles and Values, Principles of Case Recording.
16. Electronic and Digital Recording by Parents
Advances in technology make the recording of meetings and other conversations e.g. via smart phones much more easily available to individual service-users. This may be simply because they wish to have a verbatim record of the meeting/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 this is overt or covert. Thus, whilst good practice would suggest that advance consent should be sought for any planned recording, a blanket ban on recording is unlikely to be lawful.
This is not a clear-cut area, and legal advice must be sought as appropriate. Practitioners should be mindful that covert recording may be taking place, and should endeavour to ensure that they do not make statements during 'private' conversations which they would not be prepared to hear produced as evidence in court.
If the scale or style of recording is excessive, oppressive or disproportionate, then this may cross a threshold. For example, a parent recording their questioning of the child in a manner which is oppressive may in fact be evidence of possible emotional abuse of the child by that parent.
Where the making of an audio or video record of a child protection/safeguarding meeting is proposed then this request should be considered by an LA senior manager who will consult participating agency managers and others as required, in the light of up-to-date local policy and legal advice.
In the case of Child Protection Conferences the Conference Chair should determine the response in consultation with Conference members and/or by taking legal advice. For Core Group meetings the chair, often an LA Manager, or Lead social worker will determine the response.
In considering the request by any party, it should be ensured that agreeing to such a request will not impact on the quality of the information-sharing and discussion, or compromise the decision-making with regard to the safeguarding of the child. The interests of the child must be the primary concern and confidentiality must be observed.
Whilst the recording itself may well be legitimate, there may be restrictions on its use.
If a party seeks to admit such material into court proceedings, then 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 and not, for example, in furtherance of a personal grievance by a parent against a social worker.
The Data Protection Act 2018 does not apply to the processing of personal data by an individual in the course of a purely personal or household activity. However, the scope of this provision in the context of recording is not clear. Jackson J in M v F (Covert Recording of Children)  EWFC 29 expressed the view that a similar exemption contained in the previous Data Protection Act (1998) was 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.
Wider distribution of any material recorded as part of a child protection conference, for example, making such recordings available via the internet, would be in contravention of the General Data Protection Regulations and the Data Protection Act 2018. Such recordings are likely to contain information (including possible 'sensitive personal information') relating to third parties, and the distribution of such information so as to enable those third parties to be identified would be in breach of data protection legislation. If the issues in question are the subject of ongoing court proceedings, then there is also a possible contempt of court.
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 to take place. It is preferable for this to be addressed with all service-users at an early stage, rather than waiting until the situation arises at the start of a meeting. 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. It should also make clear to the service-user the limitations upon the use of the recorded material, e.g. that it can only be used in relation to the ongoing family proceedings / child protection processes and cannot be broadcast more widely. The service-user will preferably be invited to sign to indicate their agreement to and understanding of these limitations.
It is important that each such request is considered on its own merits. If the decision-maker is minded to refuse the request, then legal advice should be sought.
For further information, see: Parents recording social workers - A guidance note for parents and professionals (the Transparency Project).