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Our advice service

We provide advice to parents, grandparents, relatives, friends and kinship carers who are involved with children’s services in England or need their help. We can help you understand processes and options when social workers or courts are making decisions about your child’s welfare.

Our advice service is free, independent and confidential.

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By phone or email

To speak to an adviser, please call our free and confidential advice line 0808 801 0366 (Monday to Friday 9.30am to 3pm, excluding Bank Holidays). For Textphone dial 18001 followed by the advice line number. Or you can ask us a question via email using our advice enquiry form.

Discuss on our forums

Our online advice forums are an anonymous space where parents and kinship carers (also known as family and friends carers) can get legal and practical advice, build a support network and learn from other people’s experiences.

Advice on our website

Our get help and advice section describes the processes that you and your family are likely to go through, so that you know what to expect. Our webchat service can help you find the information and advice on our website which will help you understand the law and your rights.

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Initial child protection conference

A child protection conference is organised by children’s services. It’s purpose is for everyone present to look at all relevant information about the child’s situation. Information should include information from existing social work records. And information from enquiries that have been made before the conference.

The conference must decide if they think the child is likely to suffer significant harm in the future. If they do they must:

  • Come up with plans to make sure the child is safe and well cared for
  • Decide whether there needs to be a child protection plan
  • Set a date for any future review conference.

This decision will depend on whether the conference thinks a child has suffered significant harm. Or if the conference thinks the child is likely to suffer significant harm in the future. The conference should have read and discussed all the relevant information to help decide this.

Click on the dropdowns below for information to questions families often have about child protection conferences.

When does a child protection conference take place?

A child protection conference must be held within 15 working days of the strategy discussion at which the need for child protection enquiries was agreed. The child protection enquiries may still be ongoing at the date of the conference.

How is a child protection conference run?

The person responsible for managing the child protection conference is called the Chair. This is an experienced, senior social work manager. But the Chair will not be someone directly involved in managing the social worker who has carried out the child protection investigation.

The precise format of the meeting may vary slightly depending on local procedures. But all children’s services departments should follow the same general principles set out here, which come from government guidance in Working Together 2018.

Some local authorities use the Strengthening Families model for child protection conferences for example. This aims to make sure that that the knowledge of families as well as practitioners is fully drawn during the child protection conference. Whatever way child protection conferences are carried out by a children’s services department, this should be fully explained before the conference by the conference chair and the child’s social worker.

Who should attend a child protection conference?

Working Together 2018 makes clear that as well as the social worker, the parents or carers should attend. If the child is old enough, they should attend as well. All the practitioners already involved with the child should be invited. This could include the GP, health visitor, teacher, police, paediatrician or anyone else working with the family.

Will advocacy support be available?

The child’s social worker should give information about advocacy agencies to the family. They should explain that the parents or carers may bring an advocate or supporter to the conference. The advocate may be a solicitor (see Working Together 2018 at page 48).

Parents or carers who want to bring an advocate to the child protection conference might want to visit our Top tips and templates page to:

What families should be able to expect from a child protection conference?

Working Together says (pages 49-50)

  • The social worker should help parents and the child understand what will happen at the conference and who will be there. This should happen well in advance – at least a few days before the meeting takes place. This will help the parents to prepare and decide whether they want to take anyone with them
  • The social worker who carried out the assessment should have written a report for the conference. Parents and carers should receive a copy of this report before the conference
  • The Chair of the conference should meet with the parents to make sure they understand the purpose of the conference and what will happen. This should be in advance and may be on the day of the conference itself.

See our Top tips and templates page for tips on Getting ready for a child protection conference.

Can a parent or carer be excluded from a child protection conference?

Sometimes the conference Chair may decide to exclude someone from attending part, or all, of a conference.

They should only do this if they think it is necessary to make sure everyone is safe.  Examples of when someone may need to be excluded include:

  • Where there is a lot of conflict between family members or parents
  • Where there is a history of violence between family members or parents
  • Where someone has a history of being violent towards a practitioner.

If the Chair decides to exclude someone, they should clearly explain the reasons to that person. They should also discuss with them how their views can be presented to the conference in their absence – for example, in a recording or in writing.

Can a child attend a child protection conference?

Yes, the child will be invited to attend the meeting if:

  • They are old enough
  • If it’s considered appropriate, and
  • If their parent agrees.

The child should be invited to bring an advocate. The social worker should help prepare the child for the meeting if the child is attending or being represented by an advocate.

What if a child isn’t attending?

If the social worker thinks it isn’t appropriate for a child to attend or if the child doesn’t want to be there, then the social worker or the child’s advocate should find out the child’s views and report them to the conference.

For more information about how children are involved in the child protection process, see our Children’s involvement in the child protection process section. And for information about advocacy support for children, see our Children working with advocates guide on our Top tips and templates page.

What information will the conference use to decide what is best for a child?

The conference must look at all the available evidence from existing records. And from the enquiries made before the conference.

The conference should make clear the type of information being looked at and taken into account. This means they should take care to explain and record whether a piece of information is:

  • Fact
  • Observation
  • Allegation or

This is very important. It is part of making sure what is discussed and recorded is accurate. It helps to make sure that decisions reached are fair.

Social work and other reports

The social worker who carried out the assessment should have written a report for the conference. This should include:

  • An analysis of the child and family’s situation
  • The social worker’s recommendations for how to keep the child safe and well cared for in future.

The social worker should share the report with the parent or carer before the conference. Where appropriate, it should also be shared with the child.

If other practitioners want to provide information to the conference this should be in a written report. Their reports should be ready before the conference. And they will need to agree with the Chair (and where necessary the police), whether the report can be shared with the parents and with anyone else.

What can a child protection conference decide?

The conference chair should decide what type of harm is the main concern based on the available information. Is it physical, emotional or sexual abuse? Or neglect?  See our Why? pages for information about what harm is and about different forms of abuse.

A conference can decide:

  • Whether or not a child protection plan needs to be developed to keep the child safe and well
  • The date for any future child protection review conference.

See Child protection plans for information about what should be included in a child protection plan.

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