Purpose: A Child Protection meeting or conference (CPC) is convened after a Section 47 investigation has concluded there is evidence to support the concern that the subject child is at risk of significant harm. An inter-agency conference will meet to decide what plans need to be put in place to safeguard this child.
In English: There has been an assessment done by a Social Worker, known as a Section 47. This would have involved you, your child/ren, school or nursery, health professionals who see your child and anyone else involved with your family. This assessment has decided that your child/ren are at risk of significant harm unless plans are put in place. Significant harm can be any one or more of four possible types of harm: physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse and neglect but it can also include witnessing violence or abuse at home. “Harm” can also mean a parent has failed to protect their child from another person. Whichever type of harm, there will need to be an Initial Child Protection Conference (ICPC) so that all of the people involved with your child/ren can attend and make a plan to keep your child/ren safe. It will be chaired by an Independent Reviewing Officer, or a Child Protection review Officer who is a person with a background in social work, but independent from your own social worker. The conference can also be held in respect of an unborn baby.
Who will attend:
- Child/ren (where appropriate)
- Other family members who are involved (such as Grandparents or aunts/uncles)
- Independent Reviewing Officer/Chairperson
- Local Authority Solicitor (not always present)
- Social Worker
- Senior Social Worker (or team manager)
- Minute taker (usually from the local authority)
- Police Officer
- Health professional (your midwife, health visitor, GP, school nurse, any specialist healthcare professional such as CAMHS or speech therapist) and possibly their manager
- Education professional (your child’s nursery keyworker, school teacher, learning mentor, SENCO – special educational needs coordinator) and possibly their manager
- Any other agencies involved – examples include the Probation Service, Community Psychiatric Nurse, Domestic Violence keyworker.That is quite a list, and it can be daunting walking into a room with all of those people. It’s likely you will not know some of the people attending.
Parental Involvement: A child protection conference is a serious matter but the Government guidelines state that you should be involved and that everything should be child-centered and focused on the needs of the child and the family. You do not have to give your consent to the meeting, like Child In Need or TAC/TAF meetings. The Social Worker must meet with you before the conference to discuss the results of the assessment and share with you their own report. The guidelines also state that any reports should be with you 48 hours before a meeting. The Chair should also meet with you before the day of the conference to get your views and answer any questions you may have about the process of the meeting.If there is an issue around Domestic Violence, the Social Worker or Chair may decide that the perpetrator is not to attend, but they will always ensure that they have a voice via other means such as a letter/email. 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 and the Chair a few days ahead of the conference.
The Social Worker and Chair 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/Chair 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. I’m not going to lie to you, these meetings are really tough and it is incredibly helpful to have the moral support of someone present who can explain things to you afterwards. Whilst I am an excellent advocate for myself and know this system really well, I still have someone present at every single meeting for the reasons above. 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: If the child/ren are at an age where they will understand and be able to cope with the meeting, they are usually invited. If they are considered too young, they will usually not be invited, but the Social Worker will meet with them to get their views. In the case of child protection procedures, the Social Worker can see your child with or without your consent. Sometimes, the child/ren are invited but only to a particular part of the meeting, so they can give their views, but then don’t have to sit through the rest of the meeting which might be difficult, or upsetting. An advocate for your child/ren can always attend on their behalf to give their views, and this is something the Social Worker and Chair should offer. The links below are to national advocacy organisations specifically for children:
Venue: Child Protection conferences are formal so they’re not held within your home, unless there are reasons (such as disability) which might prevent you attending otherwise. A typical venue might be a local children’s centre, a school, a library/community centre or the Children’s Services offices. Thought should be given though as to how you will get there and assistance should be given if it’s needed.
My experience: Well, I can’t be anything other than truthful with you here; these meetings are really hard. You have to sit in a room with a load of professionals, some of whom you’ve never met before and some of whom have never met your child/ren whilst they discuss your parenting and make decisions about your family. I would defy anyone not to find that stressful, and I often ask social workers, or student social workers to try to put themselves in a parent’s shoes at that moment. You will hear things that are terribly upsetting and might make you feel very angry towards the person saying it. You will feel disempowered as people make decisions by a show of hands and your opinion means nothing. All of the professionals are on their guard and most are covering their own backs so sometimes it might feel as though the punishment doesn’t fit the crime. It can feel very “us and them” as sometimes before and after the meetings the professionals, who all know each other, can chit-chat about such-and-such who’s leaving, or other cases (anonymously…obviously!)…but you’re not included. The system is really risk-averse at the moment and people are frightened to get it wrong or make mistakes; so they err on the side of caution instead of trusting you. It can feel very judgemental and make you feel like the worst parent since God created parents. In short, there’s no point pussy-footing around; it’s an awful experience. However, there are things you can do to prepare which should make the whole thing a bit better and easier to endure.
Preparation: You are bound to be frightened, that’s totally normal and to be expected. This is where outside help comes in and I’ve detailed some ideas below. It’s also important though to make absolutely sure you know what’s going on and why. You might feel very distrustful towards your Social Worker and the natural thing to do is disengage and avoid them, but I would actually encourage you to try and use them as a source of information. Child protection procedures can feel a bit cloak-and-dagger, but if we as parents are proactive and seek out answers to the questions we may have, it can help you to feel empowered and a bit more in control. Follow the tasks below to be fully prepared:
- You are entitled to legal advice at this stage and I would strongly advise you to seek a Family Law solicitor. Regardless of your financial situation, most law firms offer a half an hour free advice session before they take your case on (or, after that half an hour you are free to look elsewhere if you’re not impressed by the quality of practice). You can find a list of solicitors accredited by the Family Law Panel and/or Children’s Law Panel on the link below which also allows you to refine by area: http://solicitors.lawsociety.org.uk/
- The “Working Together” guidelines state that in order to encourage parents and/or children to participate fully in this type of meeting, they may feel more confident if they have an advocate, supporter or friend with them and that this person may be their solicitor. In my experience, not every solicitor is able to attend Child Protection Conferences, purely because of a lack of funding. However, a paralegal (someone who is trained in law but not yet qualified), or an advocate (see links above under “Parental Involvement”) may be able to attend. In any event, you must ensure that the Chairperson is aware a few days before the meeting that this person will be attending with you. The link to “Working Together” is below: Working Together
- Good practice states that you should receive a letter detailing the time, date and venue of the meeting around two weeks beforehand, but that the Social Worker should also confirm that verbally with you. You should aim to get to the Conference 15 minutes before it’s due to start. At the bottom there should be a “distribution list”. This will tell you the names, job titles and contact details of each attendee (except where the address is confidential – this sometimes happens in Domestic Violence cases). Make sure you know why each person has been invited and what their role is.
- Before the meeting, the Social worker must visit you and your child/ren to seek your views and help you to understand the procedure of the meeting. The Chairperson should also visit or contact you and your children to ensure you are clear about what is happening, and it is common practice for them to speak with you 15 minutes before the Conference start time.. Remember that the Chair is independent (though it doesn’t always feel that way!). It is really important to make sure you get your views across clearly at these visits. The Social Worker should take notes and it is good practice for them to ask you if that’s ok but, more importantly, to allow you the chance to see the notes they’ve made afterwards. This promotes honest, open working and should help you to feel as though you can trust them. Whilst the Social Worker is there primarily for your children, it is also good practice for them to look at you as a family, and parents are key.
- The Government guidelines state that you should receive written reports from the Social Worker two working days before the meeting. This gives you a chance to read them, reflect and prepare your responses in time for the meeting. These reports will be broken down into sections and should give a full view of the plan for you child/ren. If you are not sure at this stage, it is very important to speak to the Social Worker. Don’t leave it until the morning of the meeting, act as soon as you have received the report(s). If you don’t receive a report until the start of the meeting, you are well within your right to ask for the meeting to be stood down, as that is the current guidance for Chairpersons. You could otherwise ask for the meeting to be delayed whilst you read the report(s) and are in a position to reflect and respond. Don’t feel as though you’re holding anyone up; it is good practice to ensure you have the report(s) beforehand and you cannot be expected to read, reflect and respond within the space of a few minutes. The guidelines are on your side here and the Chairperson should support this. You should similarly receive reports from Health and Education and if they are given to you at the start of the meeting; the same applies.
- 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.
- Once the meeting begins, it is incredibly important to try to keep your cool. Easier said than done, I know. I would advise you to take some water, tissues, a pen and some paper. Optional extras I always found useful are chewing gum (to focus on when things get tough) and Bach’s Rescue Remedy – a godsend. If you feel like you’re going to lose it, or you don’t feel physically or emotionally well, ask the Chair to have a short 10 minute recess. This is entirely your right and – as long as you don’t take the mick! – should be granted to you. It is extremely important to listen during the meeting, don’t interrupt people, even if you don’t like what is being said. Just make a note of it and when you get your chance to speak, bring it up. Sometimes you will hear very upsetting things, but try not to react if you can. Remember your actions are being watched.
- The Chair is responsible for ensuring you also play a full and active role. This means that you should be given a good opportunity to speak and give your opinion. The Chair will either come to you after every “section” (ie. Health/Education) have spoken and give you a chance to respond, or (increasingly commonly) you will simply be given the floor at the end once all of the professionals have had their say. This is not a time to rant, rave and storm out in manner of Oscar-winning actress (yes…I have done that before…!). This is a good opportunity to consider and respond to the concerns raised, and demonstrate how you will engage in keeping your child/ren safe. This is why I advise bringing a pen and paper; so you can make notes for yourself. Similarly, if you have an advocate there, they can help you to make your points as carefully and clearly as possible.
- At the end of the meeting, there should be a Plan put in place. This may be that your child/ren are made subject to “Child In Need” plans (see above), made subject to “Child Protection” plans (also known as being put on the “At risk” register), or that care proceedings will commence. It is highly unlikely that the meeting will end with no further action and a promise never to darken your door again, so it’s best to be prepared for the outcomes above. More information is linked below from the Family Rights Group and explained in a straightforward, easy to understand way: Child In Need
- Before the meeting ends, depending on the outcome, there should be a Care Team/Core Group (see below) meeting organised for 4-6 weeks time (if not sooner), and there should be a Review meeting date put in too. 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.