Every decision to end a child protection plan should be reviewed within three months and after that at intervals of no more than six months.
Consider bringing forward the date of a review conference where
- the core group believes that ending the plan should be considered
- there has been a further incident of significant harm to the child
- it has not been possible to carry out a significant part of the child protection plan
- a person who is a danger to children begins to have contact with the child
- a significant change takes place which has implications, or will have implications, for the safety of the child or another child in the household, or increases the risk of significant harm, or
- the child moves from where they were at risk to a safer place, either with foster carers, a children’s home, other family members or friends of the family.
Each review conference will
- review the safety, health and development of the child and compare this with what was hoped for
- ensure that the child continues to be protected
- consider whether the child protection plan should continue as it is, or should be changed
- decide either that the child continues to be at risk of significant harm and should be made subject to a further child protection plan, or that their present plan should be ended.
Interpreters should be used where the family’s first language is not English, or where anyone has needs because of a disability.
It is not always possible to involve everyone throughout the conference. This may be because one of the parents is responsible for serious abuse to the child, or there is a high level of conflict between family members. Professionals themselves may have concerns about violence or intimidation, and if so this should be communicated in advance to the chair. [WTSC 5.85]
A decision to exclude someone from 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, or the Crown Prosecution Service (if criminal proceedings have begun) are seriously concerned by an alleged perpetrator’s attendance
- confidential information regarding another person needs to be discussed
- 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.
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.
You should let the chair of the conference know as soon as possible any particular requirements for the conference, for example, interpreters, separate attendance by family members and possible exclusions.
Attendance at a conference should be based on a professional’s potential to make a significant contribution as an expert, or from knowing the child or family, or both [WTSC 5.82] If there are too many people present it can be intimidating for the family or for some professionals. Instead of attending, people can contribute to a conference in writing, either separately or by being included in the social worker’s report.
A conference cannot go ahead unless there is a social worker present from children’s social care, and at least two other professional groups or agencies that have had direct contact with the child [WTSC 5.83]
How to do it
Parents (including divorced or separated parents) and children and young people who are being discussed should be invited to attend, and to bring an advocate, friend or supporter if they wish. [WTSC 5.84] Children and young people should be involved throughout the child protection process. This does not necessarily mean that they must attend the actual conference, though this is often helpful. The child’s voice must be heard at the conference. This can be done by them
- being there, either alone or with an advocate
- writing a statement which is read out
- making a video to show to the conference, or
- being represented by an advocate.
Whichever method is used the social worker, and where appropriate other people at the conference, should be able to explain
- what the child says happened
- what the child wants to happen now
- the child’s experience of living in the family.
It is the responsibility of the conference chair to show that the child’s voice was heard in the conference and that the child’s voice was able to influence decision making. If it was not, the chair should ensure that it will be included in any work that happens after the conference.
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, and
- explaining to them who will be at the conference and what will happen.
Reports should be available to the chair of the conference, the parents and children in enough time for them to read and consider the contents and question the writer.
Confidential information should be recorded separately from the main agency report and brought to the chair’s attention, who will decide who should remain in the conference while this information is shared.
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 do to this in the least distressing way (for example, the member may wish to leave the conference while the issue is discussed).
All written information should be provided in the first or most appropriate language for the family or in another medium accessible to them (for example, Braille, audio tape).
The chair should meet with the parents and child prior to the conference to discuss how the meeting will work. This may be done with the parents and children together, or separately, as the chair sees fit.
Lessons from research
The enquiry into the death of Caleb Ness, who died aged 11 weeks, focused on the child protection conference about him. It was noted that the ward nurse, who was attending her first conference, did not feel able to say what she really thought, because she felt herself to be of lower status than the other professionals there. Unfortunately, she was the person who had spent most time with the parents and the child.
It is therefore important to make sure that all members of the conference, including children, young persons and parents, are taking part fully, and this should not be the sole responsibility of the chair.