What is a Child Protection Conference?
Social workers arrange a child protection conference if they are worried that a child may not be safe or well cared for. This is a multi-agency meeting organised by the Local Authority. The meeting brings you together with all the professionals already involved with your child; (for example, your child’s social worker, GP, health visitor and teacher) to look at your child’s situation. Sometimes other professionals are invited too such as the police or a paediatrician.
The meeting will be organised by a child protection conference chair. This person will be separate from the social work team that have looked into your child’s situation. It is the chairperson’s job to make sure everyone’s opinion is heard, and that you get a chance to say what you think. The chairperson will meet with you before the conference takes place, and will explain the procedure at the meeting and answer any questions you may have.
Should I attend the Child Protection Conference?
It is really important you go to the child protection conference and that you prepare some notes beforehand to help you say what you think is best for your child and what help you need to look after your child. You can normally take someone with you to the conference, such as a family member to help you remember what you want to say and also to remember what was said at the meeting afterwards. It is not usual to take a solicitor with you to a Child Protection Conference and legal aid is unlikely to be available, but you should speak to a solicitor if you feel there is a reason why you will need to be represented at the meeting, for example there is complex or disputed medical evidence or a criminal investigation.
You and your child’s other parent should be invited to the conference unless there is a very good reason that one of you shouldn’t attend (this will only usually be the case if there is serious conflict, including domestic violence between parents, or if there is concern that one of you may pose a risk to a child or anyone else at conference). If you are excluded from the meeting, you should still have an opportunity to have your views heard at the meeting.
Will my children be part of the Child Protection Conference?
If your child is old enough (usually 10 or over) they may be invited to take part in the conference. The Chair will decide if your child will come to all or part of the meeting depending on the information being discussed. Your child’s views are very important, and your child should be offered a children’s advocate whose job is to help children say what has happened and what they need. If your child does not want to go to the conference, the advocate may be able to go along on their behalf. Whether or not an advocate is involved, getting across your child’s feelings and views is a key part of the social worker’s job.
What should I expect at the Child Protection Conference?
You should normally be given the chance to meet with the Chair before the conference or put your views in writing. If you have more than one child with different biological parents, each parent should be invited. Step parents who live with the child may also be invited. This means that sometimes there are a number of different family members at the conference. The conference chair person should make sure that any confidential information about your child is only discussed with professionals and you and your child’s other parent. Information should not be discussed with any other family members who do not have parental responsibility for your child, unless you agree. This means that people may come in and out of the conference at different times.
What is the aim of the Child Protection Conference?
The aim of the conference is to look at all the relevant information provided by everyone at the meeting and decide what should happen next:
- If those at the meeting think your child is (or might be) at risk of harm in the future, they must make a child protection plan. This plan will say what needs to be done and by whom, to make sure your child is safe and well cared for in future. The plan should explain how professionals will know that things are getting better for your child. The plan will be reviewed after 3 months and then again after six months to see if things are improving for your child.
- If those at the meeting think that your child is not at risk of harm but that they still need extra support, professionals at the meeting may suggest that a lower level of involvement such as a child in need plan is appropriate or that other support services are put in place.
- The plan should be clear about what is expected of you and what you can expect of other people to help your child’s situation get better. If you are confused or you don’t know what you need to change or do differently, ask the social worker to explain it to you in writing after the conference and if necessary see a solicitor
- If a child protection plan is agreed the Social Worker will arrange smaller meetings called core group meetings which will add more information to the plan about what you and your family must do to improve the care of your child and what the social worker and other professionals will do to help you and your child.
Can the Child Protection Conference remove my child from my care?
Please note: the child protection conference cannot remove your child from your care. This can only happen if you agree, or if the Court makes an order stating that your child can be removed. But if Social Services are concerned that your child’s situation is not improving and your child continues to be at risk, they might hold a legal planning meeting to decide if they should ask the Court to remove your child from your care. If they do this they will normally write to you to tell you and you should see a solicitor immediately.