Parents should be encouraged to attend the conference, they have an important contribution to make. The importance of working in partnership with parents and family members underpins all child protection work and there is a need to establish openness and honesty between professionals and families from the outset of the enquiries.
Parents should not be encouraged to attend at the cost of excluding a child who wishes to be present. Adults (and any children) who wish to be involved in the conference may not wish to speak in front of one another, or information regarding another family or other highly sensitive information may need to be shared. It may not always be possible to accommodate all family members at all times, particularly if one parent is the alleged abuser.
* The definition of parents within this context is meant in the broader term and not limited to the definition given within the Children (Guernsey and Alderney) Law 2008. If in any doubt about the relevance of a parent attending their child’s conference, a discussion should be had with the Chair. It may be helpful to refer to when and how to involve parents and carers.
How to do it
The social worker should discuss the attendance of parent or carers with the chair at least 24 hours before the conference, and preferably earlier. This discussion should include the likelihood of any friend or supporter attending the conference.
Any decision to exclude someone from all or part of the child protection conference rests with the conference chair. The reasons for deciding to exclude someone from all or part of a conference include the following:
- there is strong risk of violence or intimidation at or following the conference
- the police are seriously concerned by an alleged perpetrator’s attendance
- confidential information regarding another person needs to be discussed
- the police need to provide information which is sub judice
- there are serious concerns about the well-being of the family member should they attend
- someone is clearly under the influence of drugs or alcohol to the extent that their participation in the conference would be disruptive.
Any professional can request the exclusion of a parent from the conference. The request must be made to the conference Chair at the earliest opportunity. The Chair should discuss the request with the relevant agency manager before coming to a decision about whether to exclude. This may be for all or part of the conference.
If any agency representative has concerns around a person attending a case conference they need to discuss this with the chair, at the earliest opportunity and preferably shortly after the written invitation being received.
In every instance where someone has been excluded, the chair should record their reasons and the exclusion should be for the shortest possible period. Other means of getting the views of the excluded family member, and reporting the outcome of the conference to them, should be offered.
Whether the parents attend the conference or not, the lead professional should discuss the recommendations with the parents or carers within one working day.
The child protection conference minutes will be sent to the social worker, who is allocated as the lead professional, for them to be passed onto the parents. This will be within 10 days of the conference being held. There will be times when separate versions of these minutes need to be available to individual parents or carers, this will be decided following consideration as to whether the parent has parental responsibility or significant care of the child. There may be times when the child or any other person could be put at risk as a result of sharing child protection conference minutes. The decision about whether or not to share minutes, and the detail contained in the minutes, should be made by the chair of the conference. This decision may be made through discussion with the relevant social work manager and the police. Reasons for a decision not to share minutes with specific family members, or when this information has been limited will be carefully recorded in the minutes.
Preparing the parents or carers
The social worker initiating the conference should inform the parents of the process that will be followed and ensure that they understand the purpose of the conference and who will attend. Attendance is not the same as participation. All family members attending the conference must be properly prepared by the social worker. As well as involving them in the whole process of the child protection enquiry this means;
- giving them a copy of the report, in a form they can understand, in good time for them to consider it
- explaining why the report says what it does
- including their views in the report
- explaining to them who will be at the conference and what will happen.
If the involvement of parents is to be successful, they may need help in preparing for the conference (for example, in making written notes of what they want to say) as well as practical assistance with any child care or transport difficulties.
Parents should be encouraged to bring to the conference a friend, a relative or other supporter, provided the person concerned is not a suspected or known abuser. This should, however, be subject to respect for the child’s wishes and feelings and through discussion with the chair of the conference. The solicitor may attend as a supporter.
The conference chair should meet parents beforehand, preferably in the conference room before the other people attending arrive, and explain to them how the meeting will be conducted and what the ground rules are.
Family members may have had very difficult and painful experiences in their own personal history, and only issues which are relevant should be raised during the conference. Where such an issue does need to be discussed, the social worker should explore with the family member how to do this in the least distressing way (for example, the member may wish to leave the conference while the issue is discussed).