Purpose: A statutory meeting to share information and to ensure the care plan for the looked after child is still appropriate and the child’s needs are being met.
In English: There is a legal requirement that a meeting must be held four weeks after your child becomes a LAC (looked after child). If your child remains looked after, there must be a second review no more than three months after that and then further reviews must be held at least every six months (or sooner, if needs be). These meetings include the professionals involved in your child/ren’s lives who will all contribute to say how they think your child is doing and if there’s anything that needs to be put in place to help them further. It is also required each and every time that the “care plan” for your child/ren is reviewed and thought is given as to whether anything needs to change. This ranges from contact arrangements, to placement options, to legal status – anything which affects your child and by default, you.
Who will attend:
- Independent Reviewing Officer
- Minute Taker
- Foster Carer/residential worker
- Foster Carer’s Social Worker
- Child/ren’s Social Worker
- Social Worker’s Team Manager/Senior Social Worker (may not always attend)
- Health professional (your midwife, health visitor, GP, school nurse, any specialist healthcare professional such as CAMHS or speech therapist)
- Education professional (your child’s nursery keyworker, school teacher, learning mentor, SENCO – special educational needs coordinator)
- Any other agencies involved – examples include the Probation Service, Community Psychiatric Nurse, Domestic Violence keyworker.
You should know everyone at this meeting.
Parental Involvement: 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 should be sent a “Consultation document” which enables you to record your views ahead of the 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. 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: Children should be fully involved in the process of a LAC Review. The Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO) must meet with your child/ren in plenty of time before the meeting in order to get their views. Current guidelines encourage the IRO to build a relationship with the child/ren and so they may meet with them more than once. The child/ren are normally given a paper document to record their views and the IRO can go through that with them. However, it is worth knowing about MoMo as some local authorities (including my own) are currently using this tool. MoMo is an award-winning tablet, smartphone, Android and iPhone app described as “like having an advocate in your pocket”. If your local authority doesn’t, you could suggest that they do and give them the link above.
Children can attend the LAC Review if it is felt appropriate by the Social Worker and Chair. They may attend for all or some of it and in some cases they may be encouraged to “act as chair” which helps them to feel fully involved with the process, empowered and more in control.
Venue: LAC Reviews are more 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. This type of meeting is also sometimes held within your child’s placement, whether that be the foster carer’s home, or a residential unit. Thought should be given though as to how you will get there and assistance should be given if it’s needed.
My experience: I have attended many of these reviews over the last few years – the most recent being this week! – and the first word that springs to mind when I think about them is draining. They tend to be very long; my last one lasted over two hours, with a lot of talking and formalities. It’s an awful lot to take in, and I can honestly say I’m totally knackered afterwards. But what I have learnt over the years is to be fully prepared and to try and take as much emotion out of it as I could. Everyone tends to be a little on their guard; there’s not much room for chit-chat other than between the professionals who all know each other…and you as a parent are excluded. And whilst that’s only right and proper, as such it does feel very formal and can exacerbate the feeling of “us and them”,. These particular reviews follow a very strict structure, and I have been “told off” for raising issues that the Chair felt should be discussed in a Care Team meeting (see below) rather than at review. There are lots of rules at these Reviews…but no one thinks to tell you, the parent, what they are. Hopefully my preparation guidelines will help below.
Preparation: It is totally normal to dread these meetings and to worry about what will happen during them. It can feel very nerve-wracking sitting in a room with so many people, even though you will know them. You might feel resentful or jealous towards the foster carers, you might feel anger or distrust towards the Social Worker; or you might feel at peace with it all. It depends on where you are in your journey. Follow the tasks below to be fully prepared:
- 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. 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 Review 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.
- You should receive a “Consultation Document” alongside the invitation to the meeting which sets out questions for you to answer. This can be brought to the meeting with you so that you can refer to your answers. It’s a good idea to spend some time on this a few days before the meeting and make sure you have some quiet time to think and reflect on the questions you’re being asked. Sometimes it’s really difficult to concentrate during these meetings because there’s so much going on and so many people talking; this is where having your answers/notes with pay off.
- 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 IROs/Chairs. 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 IRO/Chair 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.
- The IRO 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 IRO 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 points that other professionals have raised and 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.
- 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. However, during the meeting, don’t be afraid to be assertive with the professionals in attendance. That doesn’t mean shouting to get your point across, I have found the best way to do this is by being calm, quiet and measured. For example, at my most recent LAC Review, the Social Worker said that my children who remain in foster care were “happy, settled and part of the family”. I calmly, but assertively raised the point that this was a very hurtful thing to say in the presence of a birth parent, and asked that she consider the way that she makes her points. The Social Worker may not have liked being pulled up on this during a meeting, but it was a fair point to make, and to her credit, accepted what I had said. As a parent, regardless of whether your child is looked after on a Section 20 (see my Glossary), or on a Care Order, you still hold Parental Responsibility and therefore your views, wishes and feelings still matter a good deal.
- The meeting will end with everyone going through the Care Plan for your child/ren. It is exceptionally important to listen to every word of this as the wording itself matters. Each point (they are numbered) should have an action attached; for example “John and Jane to continue to have their health needs monitored by the Public School Nurse”. The reason this matters is that if at any time you think that the professionals involved are not carrying out their duties as per the Care Plan, you have evidence to show that it was agreed at Review. This is particularly valuable during Care Proceedings and when it comes to things like Contact and Legal Status.
- Before the meeting ends, there should be a Care Team/Core Group (see below) meeting organised for 4-6 weeks time, 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.