Purpose: The Core Group Meeting will be made up of relevant professionals involved with a family and the parents. A schedule of Core Group Meetings will be agreed. The purpose of these meetings is to turn the Child Protection Plan into a “workable” document for all involved.
In English: Core Group/Care Team meetings are held for looked after children, children on Child Protection Plans and children on Child In Need plans. These meetings are held regularly, every 6 weeks or thereabouts, although this may be longer if your child is deemed to be a “Stable LAC” (a looked after child who is in a stable placement). The purpose of these meetings is to share information and ensure the Care Plan for the child/ren who are either “Looked after” by the local authority, subject to Child Protection Plans, or subject to Child In Need plans are being followed. Life isn’t static, things change all of the time, so it’s important to have these meetings so that everyone stays up to date on how your child/ren are doing.
Parental Involvement: Whilst these meetings are less formal than Child Protection Conferences, Child In Need Conferences or Review meetings, it’s still just as important that you as Mum or Dad are involved and kept informed. You won’t be able to choose who comes to the meeting, but I would still advise you to be proactive in contacting your child’s Social Worker if you have any questions. If English is not your first language and you feel you need an interpreter, you can ask your Social Worker if one can be provided by the local authority. You can also ask if a family member can provide that service, but be aware that that would need to be agreed by the Social Worker a few days ahead of the conference.
The Social Worker should also make sure you know that you can have an advocate with you at this conference. Advocacy services for birth parents or family members (not children) are rare unfortunately – though I’m hoping to change that myself – but the links below may help. The advocate can also be a family law solicitor, a friend, or someone like your own Community Psychiatric Nurse or Key Worker. You do not have the legal right to have someone there, but the Social Worker should make you aware that you can, and I personally would always advise that you do. It helps you as there’s someone there who can take notes, and you will ultimately find that people behave slightly differently when you have an advocate present. http://www.frg.org.uk/images/Advice_Sheets/10-advocacy-for-families.pdf
(North East only) http://www.familiesincare.com/#!services/cee5
Child/ren Involvement: The child/ren should also be fully involved in the meeting process and invited to it, but only where this is age-appropriate. There’s no hard and fast rule to this, as one child at the age of ten might be able to understand what’s happening, compared to another child of the same age who might not. The general rule though is that nursery age children and young primary age children would not ordinarily be too involved.
Venue: Core Group/Care Team meetings do tend to be a bit less formal than some of the meetings listed above and this is reflected in the venue. They tend to be held in local buildings, so a school, library, community centre, or the children’s services offices. They can also be held at the child/ren’s placement (if the child/ren are looked after by the local authority), or possibly within your home. As always, thought should be given to how you will get there and help should be given where there are access requirements or transport costs.
My experience: I’ve always found Care Team/Core Group meetings easier to bear than Child In Need, Child Protection or LAC Reviews. They seem to be a bit more relaxed – a little like TAC/TAF meetings, but with slightly more formality and structure. I’ve found that people aren’t as “on their guard” and are open to ideas and information sharing. People don’t tend to have their own agendas as much, and so as a parent you feel a bit more included. Sometimes difficult subjects need discussing, but it usually (not always!) feels a tiny bit less accusatory when they do.
Preparation: The social worker will be responsible for inviting others, sorting out the venue and chairing the meeting. This doesn’t mean that you as parents can’t be involved though! Think of this as a chance to work together with the Social Worker; if you have an idea about who should come, then say. Key agencies must attend, but if you have any issues about their attendance, it’s a good idea to speak to the Social Worker a few days beforehand. Follow the tasks below to be fully prepared
- You will be formally invited to this meeting by letter. On the bottom of the letter should be a “Distribution List” stating who is coming, their role and their contact details. Make sure you why each professional has been invited. If you’re not sure, ask the Social Worker.
- Talk to the social worker about the “agenda” for the meeting and ask to be involved in adding what you think might be useful.
- Think about what you want to get out of the meeting, for your family. For example, you might be concerned about aspects of their placement if they are looked after by foster carers, you might feel that your child needs extra support in school, or you might be concerned about aspects of your child’s health, or you might need a bit of practical support within the home if your child/ren remain with you. Make a list of your “objectives” and refer to them in the meeting.
- If you’re not familiar with the venue or don’t drive, refer to http://www.traveline.info/ – a journey planner where you can input the postcodes of where you’re travelling from and to and a time and date of travel. If you do drive, you can put the postcodes from and to into a Google search and up should pop a route planner.
- To the meeting take a pen, some paper and your “objectives”. I would also take some water and you may want to take tissues if you think you may get upset.
- Listen to what is being said and jot down key points, suggestions or ideas that people have. Let everyone have a chance to speak, and make sure that you are given the same opportunity. It’s important not to interrupt people, even if you are hearing upsetting things. Just make a note of it and when you get a chance to speak, bring it up then. Try not to react too much, and keep your cool, even if the plans for your child/ren are not ones you agree with.
- At the end of the meeting, the social worker should go back over any key points so that everyone is clear on their roles and responsibilities with the child/ren’s Care Plans. If you’re not sure about anything at this stage, don’t be afraid to shout up. Good communication is very important. Another meeting date will be set before you leave, make sure that the venues, dates and times suit you as well as the other professionals, and take into account your access needs, transport and responsibilities in terms of family and/or work.
I hope this has been a helpful guide to preparing for meetings. It has taken me what feels like 3 months to write it! However, if you have any suggestions on how it can be improved, please do comment below. I’d like to think of this as a working document between parents and professionals.