Child protection conference
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A formal meeting between a child’s family and children’s services. A conference may be arranged when children’s services are concerned that a child may be suffering or at risk of significant harm. Child protection conferences are sometimes held before a baby is born. For example, if another child living in the home is the subject of a child protection plan, or if the mother has had a child taken into care in the past.
The purpose is to decide whether a child protection plan needs to be put in place. This plan will set out how to keep the child safe.
The meeting will include a number of people:
- The child’s parents. There are some situations when the conference chair may not allow a parent or other family member to attend the child protection conference. For example, if there has been domestic abuse or a high level of conflict between the parents. In this situation, the parents could attend two separate conferences.
- If the child is old enough, they may attend where appropriate. If they do not attend, their views can be represented in other ways such as drawings or notes.
- The child’s social worker.
- Other people who know the child (e.g. their teacher, doctor or a health visitor).
The meeting will be led by a conference chair. This will be someone from children’s services, but they are independent in that they will not work directly with the child’s social worker.
The first meeting is called an ‘initial’ child protection conference. An initial conference may be called after child protection enquiries have found that a child is likely to have suffered or is at risk of significant harm. The initial conference should take place within 15 days of a strategy discussion.
The format of a child protection conference varies across local authorities. They all must follow government guidelines and principles set out in Working Together 2018.
These guidelines say that:
- Children’s services will prepare a report in advance of the conference. This includes an analysis of the family’s situation and needs. It should also provide recommendations about how to keep the child safe and well cared for. The family should receive a copy before the conference. The social worker should take time to explain the recommendations to the family.
- The social worker should explain to the child and their parents what will happen at the conference and who will be there.
- Children’s services should give the parents and the child information about local advocacy services. The parents should be able to bring an advocate, friend or solicitor to the conference if they want to. If a child is attending, they can bring an advocate. If the parents bring a solicitor to a conference, they can assist the parent but are not a full participant. For example, they could help by clarifying a point that has been made by the conference chair.
- The conference chair should meet the parents before the conference starts to make sure they understand why it is being held and what will happen.
If it is decided at the conference that a child protection plan is necessary, then in the meeting, the following things should be done:
- A lead social worker appointed.
- An outline child protection plan should be drawn up. This should be developed into a full detailed plan within 10 days.
- The conference should agree which professionals and family members will be on the core group that will develop the outline plan into a full child protection plan. The core group will also meet regularly to make sure the plan is carried out. If the child is made subject to a child protection plan at the conference, then the first meeting of the core group should take place within 10 days of the initial conference.
- Timescales for meetings of the core group and child protection review conferences (these may be called ‘review meetings’ or ‘review conferences’).