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This chapter should be read in conjunction with PSCB Threshold Document.

1. The Initial Child Protection Conference

1.1 Purpose of the Conference

The Initial Child Protection Conference brings together family members, the child, where appropriate, and those professionals most involved with the child and family following a Section 47 Enquiry. Its purpose is:

  • To bring together and analyse in an inter-agency setting, the information which has been obtained about the child’s developmental needs, and the parents’ or carers’ capacity to respond to these needs, to ensure the child’s safety and promote the child’s health and development within the context of their wider family and environment;
  • To consider the evidence presented to the conference, make judgements about whether the child is suffering or likely to suffer Significant Harm in the future and decide whether the child is at continuing risk of harm; and
  • To decide what future action is required to safeguard and promote the welfare of the child, how that action will be taken forward, and with what intended outcomes.

Those professionals and agencies who are most involved with the child and family, and those who have taken part in a Section 47 Enquiry, have the right to request that Children’s Social Care convene a conference, if they have serious concerns that a child’s welfare may not be adequately safeguarded. Any such request that is supported by a senior manager, or a Named Professional or a Designated Professional, should normally be agreed. Where there remain differences of opinion as to the necessity of a conference, every effort should be made to resolve them through discussion or explanation using the Strategic Management Procedure.

1.2 Timing of the Conference

All Initial Child Protection Conferences should take place within 15 working days of the Strategy Discussion, or, where more than one Strategy Discussion took place, of the Strategy Discussion at which the Section 47 Enquiry was initiated.

Any delay should be agreed with the relevant senior manager within Children’s Social Care. Records must be kept by the senior manager of conferences that occur after 15 working days of the Strategy Discussion and the reasons for this recorded in the minutes of the conference and the reasons why the conference has been held after 15 days. This information should be passed to the chair of the LSCB group responsible for quality audit.

1.3 Pre-birth Conferences

In the case of concerns about the safety of unborn children, a conference may be held as a result of:

  • The outcomes of a Child and Family Assessment on a case already known to Children’s Social Care indicating that the unborn child may be suffering likely to suffer Significant Harm; and/or
  • Previous children having been removed from the family as a result of legal proceedings and the family are known to Children’s Social Care; and/or
  • Previous historical knowledge indicates that there is a strong likelihood of the baby suffering Significant Harm.

For further information see Escalation and Conflict Resolution Procedure.

The timing of the conference should be such that there is time for proper plans to be made prior to the birth of the baby, but not so far before the baby is born that circumstances might significantly change. Pre-birth child protection conferences should therefore normally be held after the 24th week of pregnancy and not less than 6 weeks prior to the expected delivery date.

The relevant midwife should always attend pre-birth conferences.

2. The Review Child Protection Conference

2.1 Purpose

The purpose of the Review Child Protection Conference is to:

  • Review the safety, health and development of the child against the intended outcomes set out in the Child Protection Plan;
  • Ensure the plan continues to adequately protect the child from likelihood of harm;
  • Bring together and analyse information about the child’s health and development and the parent/carers’ capacity to ensure the child’s safety and welfare;
  • Make judgements about the likelihood of the child suffering Significant Harm in the future;
  • Decide what action is required to safeguard the child and promote their welfare.

2.2 Timing

The first Review Conference should take place within 90 days of the Initial Child Protection Conference.

Further Review Conferences must be held at intervals of not more than 6 months, for as long as the child is judged to be at risk of harm and there is the need for a Child Protection Plan.

Consideration must always be given to bringing the date of the conference forward when:

  • There is a new incident of abuse;
  • There are difficulties in carrying out the Child Protection Plan;
  • A child is to be born into the household of a child who is subject to a Child Protection Plan;
  • An offender convicted of offences against a child joins or commences regular contact with the household;
  • There are significant changes in the family circumstances, not anticipated at the previous conference that have implications for the safety of the child;
  • The Core Group, at any early stage, believes that the child no longer needs to be subject to a Child Protection Plan.

3. The Conference Process – Initial and Review Conferences

3.1 Attendance

Professionals attending conferences should be there because they have:

  • Professional expertise relevant to the case; and/or
  • Knowledge of the child and family.

The local authority social work manager should consider whether to seek advice from, or have present, a medical professional who can present the medical information in a manner which can be understood by the conference attendees and enable such information to be evaluated from a sound knowledge base.

There should be sufficient information and expertise available -through personal representation and written reports – to enable the conference to make an informed decisions and plans. However a conference that is larger than it needs to be can inhibit discussion and intimidate the child and family members.

Those who have a relevant contribution to make to a conference may include:

  • The child, or his or her representative;
  • Family members;
  • Staff from Children’s Social Care who may have led or been involved in an assessment of the child and family;
  • Foster carers (current or former);
  • Residential care staff;
  • Professionals involved with the child (for example, health visitor, midwife, school nurse, Children’s Guardian, paediatrician, school staff, early years staff, GP, NHS Direct, staff in the youth justice system where relevant);
  • Professionals involved with the parents or other family members (for example, family support services, adult mental health services, probation, GP, NHS Direct;
  • Professionals with expertise in the particular type of harm suffered by the child or in the child’s particular condition, for example a disability or long term illness;
  • Those involved in investigations (for example the police);
  • Local authority legal services (child care);
  • NSPCC or other involved voluntary organisations;
  • A representative of the armed services, in cases where there is a Service connection.

3.2 Involving the Child and Family Members

Before a conference is held, the purpose of the conference, who will attend and the way it will operate should be explained to the child of sufficient age and understanding, the parents and other involved family members. They should be given a leaflet explaining the child protection conference and informed that they may choose to bring a friend, advocate or supporter to help them fully participate in the conference and express their view. This may be a solicitor acting in the role of a supporter, not as an advocate.

This means that they may therefore ask points of clarification through the Conference Chair; however they must not cross-examine any of the participants.

Subject to consideration of their age and understanding, the child/ren should be given the opportunity to attend the conference should they so wish. They should be told that they may bring an advocate, friend or supporter.

In deciding whether to give a child the opportunity to attend the conference the primary questions to be addressed are:

  • Does the child have sufficient understanding of the process?
  • Have they expressed an explicit or implicit wish to be involved?
  • What are the parents’ views about the child’s attendance?
  • Is inclusion assessed to be of benefit to the child?

Normally it should be assumed that a child of twelve or over should be eligible to attend unless there is a reason not to do so.

If the child states that they do not wish to attend the conference this must be respected; similarly, if they wish to attend, this should be acceded to unless it can clearly be shown that this is contrary to their best interests.

When the child does not attend the social worker must ensure that every effort is made to ensure the child’s views are conveyed to conference members. This may be via:

  • A pre-meeting with the conference chair;
  • Written statements/e-mails/text messages and recorded comments.

Where the child or the parents/carers are bringing a friend, supporter or advocate it should be explained to them that:

  • The role of a friend or supporter is not to represent the parent/child or to speak on their behalf, but to provide emotional support and assist them in understanding the information presented to the conference and in expressing their view. In exceptional circumstances a conference chair may prevent a friend or supporter from attending a conference, e.g. where their presence is disruptive or where the person is deemed to a risk to children;
  • The role of an advocate is to speak on behalf of a parent/carer or child, having ascertained their view in advance of the meeting.

Where the child’s attendance is neither desired by them, nor appropriate, the local authority’s Children’s Social Care professional who is working most closely with the child should ascertain their wishes and feelings and make these known to the conference.

Parents should normally be invited to attend the conference and be helped to participate fully in the conference. Such help is the responsibility of the child’s social worker and should include:

  • Assistance with preparing for the conference, including thinking in advance what they want to convey and how best to do this. Some may wish to prepare a written report, and assistance with this should be given should the parent/carer so wish;
  • Help with travel arrangements to and from the conference;
  • Provision of an interpreter for parents/children whose first language is not English or, who are deaf and use sign language;
  • Assistance with reading written material if this is required;
  • Ensuring that the exact requirements needed to support fully the participation of parents with disabilities are identified, and that these requirements are met;
  • Informing the conference chair if the child or family are bringing a friend, relative or supporter;
  • Young children should not attend conferences, and alternative child care arrangements should be made for them with the help of the social work team where necessary.

The child’s social worker should brief the conference chair if there are any reasons why it may not be possible to involve all family members at all times in the conference, for example if there is a high level of conflict between family members or adults, and any children who do not wish to speak in front of one another.

There is an expectation that all information should be shared, with the exception of information relating to a third party. Any concerns which the professional concerned have must be discussed with the conference chair before the conference. This decision should be recorded in the minutes of the meeting.

Parents/carers should only be excluded partially or completely from the conference if one of the criteria below applies. The decision to exclude rests with the chair of the conference. Reasons for exclusion should be conveyed to the parents, both orally and in writing. Reasons for exclusion should also be recorded in the minutes of the meeting.

If parents are excluded or unable to attend, they should be enabled to communicate their views to the conference by another means, for example via a written report. The chair, in consultation with conference members, will agree what information from the minutes of the meeting will be received by the excluded person.

Criteria for excluding parents/carers from a child protection conference;

Full Exclusion Partial Exclusion
A strong risk of violence or intimidation by a family member at or subsequent to the conference, towards a child or anybody else. The presence of an alleged perpetrator may affect the outcome of criminal proceedings.
If the parent or carer presents on the day or during the meeting in a way which indicates that they are likely to cause disruption to the meeting.

3.3 Quorate Conferences

The primary principle for determining quoracy is that there should be sufficient agencies present to enable safe decisions to be made in the individual circumstances.

The minimum representation for quoracy is Children’s Social Care and at least two other agencies which have had direct contact with the child and family.

Where a conference is inquorate it should not normally proceed and in such a circumstance the chair must ensure that either:

  • An immediate Child Protection Plan is produced;
  • Any existing plan is reviewed with the professionals and family members that do attend so as to safeguard the welfare of the child;
  • The notes of this discussion must be minuted and circulated to all those who should have attended the conference;
  • Another conference date is set immediately.

In exceptional circumstances the chair may decide to proceed with the conference despite lack of agency representation. This may occur where:

  • A child has not had relevant contact with three agencies;
  • Where sufficient information is available and delay will be detrimental to the welfare of the child.

3.4 Information for the Conference

All information provided to the conference, whether written or verbal, should take care to distinguish between fact, observation, allegation and opinion.

At the Initial Conference, Children’s Social Care should provide the conference with a report relating to each child. This should be consistent with the information set out in the Initial Child Protection Conference Report (Department of Health 2002). The Social Worker’s Report to Conference should include the dates when the child was seen by the Lead Social Worker during the Section 47 Enquiry, if the child was seen alone and if not, who was present and for what reason.

Although a Child and Family Assessment is the means by which a Section 47 Enquiry is carried out, it is unlikely that it will have been completed in time for the Initial Child Protection Conference. The report will therefore summarise and analyse the information obtained so far. The report should include:

  • A Genogram that has been prepared with the family;
  • A Chronology of significant events and agency and professional contact with the child and family;
  • Information on the child’s current and past state of developmental needs;
  • Information on the capacity of the parents and other family members to ensure the child is safe from harm, and to respond to the child’s developmental needs, within their wider family and environmental context;
  • Information on the family history and both the current and past family functioning;
  • The expressed wishes and feelings of the child, and the views of parents and other family members;
  • An analysis of the information gathered and recorded using the Assessment Framework dimensions to reach a judgement on whether the child is suffering, or likely to suffer, significant harm and consider how best to meet his or her developmental needs. This analysis should address:
    • How the child’s strengths and difficulties are impacting on each other;
    • How the parenting strengths and difficulties are affecting each other;
    • How the family and environmental factors are affecting each other;
    • How the parenting that is provided for the child is affecting the child’s health and development both in terms of resilience and protective factors, and vulnerability and risk factors; and
    • How the family and environmental factors are impacting on parenting and/or the child directly; and
  • The local authority’s recommendation to the conference.

Other professionals attending the Initial Conference who have had direct contact with the child and family should provide a report in advance, outlining:

  • A Chronology of their involvement with the child and family;
  • Knowledge they have concerning the child’s health and development, the capacity of the parents and other family members to safeguard the child and family and environmental factors which might affect parenting capacity;
  • Their analysis of the implications of the information for the child’s future safety and meeting of his or her developmental needs.

For the Review Conference, the Core Group has a collective responsibility to produce reports which together provide an overview of the work undertaken by family members and professionals and evaluate progress against the outcomes specified in the detailed Child Protection Plan. The content of the report to the Review Conference should be consistent with the information set out in the Child Protection Review (Department of Health 2002).

In addition to the reports above, the outcome of the completed Child and Family Assessment will also be presented to the Review Conference.

The parents and each child will be provided with a copy of the inter-agency Single Assessment and all additional reports at least one working day in advance of the conference. The contents of reports should be explained and discussed with the child and relevant family members in advance of the conference itself in the preferred language(s) of the child and family members.

3.5 Actions and Decisions for the Conference

It is the role of the conference to:

  • Decide whether the child is still likely to suffer Significant Harm and therefore requires inter-agency help and intervention delivered through a formal Child Protection Plan;
  • Formulate an outline plan;
  • Ensure that, where a child is not judged as being at continuing likelihood of suffering Significant Harm, consideration is given as to whether the child may need services to promote his or her development.

It is the role of the conference chair to:

Determine which of the Categories of Abuse or Neglect the child has suffered. The category used (that is Physical Abuse, Emotional Abuse, Sexual Abuse or Neglect) will indicate to those consulting Children’s Social Care record the primary presenting concerns at the time the child became the subject of a Child Protection Plan.

3.6 Decision Making at the Initial Conference

The questions to ask as part of the decision-making process are:

  • Has the child suffered Significant Harm? or
  • Is the child likely to suffer Significant Harm?

The test for the likelihood of the child suffering Significant Harm in the future should be that either:

  • The child can be shown to have suffered ill-treatment or impairment of health or development as a result of Physical Abuse, Emotional Abuse, or Sexual Abuse or Neglect, and the professional judgement is that further ill-treatment or impairment are likely; or
  • Professional judgement, substantiated by the findings of enquiries in this individual case or by research evidence, is that the child is likely to suffer ill-treatment or the impairment of health or development as a result of Physical Abuse, Emotional Abuse, or Sexual Abuse or Neglect.

The conference decision should result from the chair ensuring that:

  • All the information available to conference has been scrutinised by the conference members and information that is missing has been noted;
  • All conference members have had an opportunity to present their views and challenge the views of others.

3.7 Child Subject of a Child Protection Plan

Where a child is to be made subject of a Child Protection Plan, it is the responsibility of the conference to consider and make recommendations on how agencies, professionals and the family should work together to ensure that the child will be safeguarded from harm in the future.

The conference should:

  • Appoint the lead statutory body (either the local authority’s Children’s Social Care or the NSPCC) and a Lead Social Worker, who should be a qualified, experienced social worker and a member of the lead statutory body. Where it is not possible to appoint a Lead Social Worker at the conference it becomes the responsibility of the team manager whose team is bringing the case to ensure the Lead Social Worker role and functions are met and that a Lead Social Worker is appointed by the first Core Group meeting;
  • Identify the membership of a Core Group of professionals and family members who will develop and implement the Child Protection Plan as a detailed working tool;
  • Consider whether a Family Group Conference / Meeting would be an effective way of engaging the wider family group in developing and implementing the Child Protection Plan;
  • Establish how children, parents (including those with Parental Responsibility) and wider family members should be involved in the ongoing assessment, planning and implementation process and the support, advice and advocacy available to them;
  • Establish timescales for meetings of the Core Group, production of a Child Protection Plan, and for child protection review meetings;
  • Identify in outline what further action is required to complete or update the Child and Family Assessment and what other specialist assessments of the child and family are required to make sound judgements on how best to safeguard and promote the welfare of the child;
  • In the case of an Initial Conference, outline the Child Protection Plan, especially identifying what needs to change in order to safeguard and promote the welfare of the child;
  • Ensure a Contingency Plan is in place if agreed actions are not completed and/or circumstances change;
  • Agree a date for the Review Child Protection Conference, and clarify under what circumstances it might be necessary to convene the conference before that date.

Where a child has suffered, or is likely to suffer, Significant Harm in the future it is the local authority’s duty to consider the evidence and decide what, if any, legal action to take. The information presented to the Child Protection Conference should inform that decision-making process but it is for the local authority to consider whether it should initiate, for example, Care Proceedings. Where a child who is the subject of a Child Protection Plan becomes Looked After, the Child Protection Plan should form part of the child’s Care Plan.

3.8 Child not Subject of a Child Protection Plan

If it is decided at the Initial Conference that the child does not need a Child Protection Plan, the conference should develop an outline Child in Need Plan. It may be helpful to use a Family Group Conference/Meeting to complete the Child in Need Plan, and to engage the wider family group in this process.

3.9 Discontinuing the Child Protection Plan

A child should no longer be subject of a Child Protection Plan if:

  • It is judged that the child is no longer likely to suffer Significant Harm requiring safeguarding by means of a Child Protection Plan. Under these circumstances only a child protection conference can decide that a Child Protection Plan is no longer necessary;
  • The child and family have moved permanently to another local authority area. In such cases the receiving local authority should convene a child protection conference within 15 working days of being notified of the move. Only after this event, and after written confirmation has been received, should the Child Protection Plan be discontinued in the original authority;
  • Where the child’s parents are in the armed services and are moving to an overseas command, Children’s Social Care should ensure that SSAF-FH, the British Forces Social Work Services (overseas), or the NPFS for Royal Naval families are informed and can confirm that appropriate resources exist in the proposed location to meet identified needs;
  • The child has reached 18 years of age (to end the Child Protection Plan, the local authority should have a review around the child’s birthday and this should be planned in advance), has died or has permanently left the UK.

When a child is no longer subject of a Child Protection Plan:

  • Notification should be sent to all those agencies’ representatives who were invited to attend the Initial Child Protection Conference, subsequent reviews or Core Group meetings;
  • The Review Child Protection Conference should discuss with the child (if attending) and family what services continue to be required in order to meet the child’s developmental needs. Recommendations should be made concerning whether the child continues to be a Child in Need, and the content of any Child in Need Plan;
  • The Lead Social Worker should meet with the child and family within 10 working days of the discontinuation of the Child Protection Plan in order to confirm the content of any Child in Need Plan and the process for implementation and review.

3.10 Recording

Conference minutes

  • Children’s Social Care will be responsible for ensuring that all child protection conferences have a dedicated person to take notes and produce minutes of the meeting;
  • The conference minutes will include the following information:
    • A list of those present and apologies for absence;
    • Family composition and legal status of the children;
    • A record of any delay in convening the conference with the reasons;
    • Reasons for the decision to convene a conference;
    • The essential facts of the case;
    • A summary of discussion at the conference;
    • All decisions reached, and reason for the decisions;
    • The outline or revised Child Protection Plan.
  • A copy of the minutes will be distributed to all agencies and parents invited to the conference, whether or not they were present, except where any agency has indicated that there is no current involvement with the family or any planned for the future;
  • Minutes will not be distributed to any friends, supporter or advocates who have attended the conference;
  • Full minutes will be distributed within 15 working days;
  • Minutes are a confidential document and should not be passed by professionals to third parties without the consent of either the conference chair or the Lead Social Worker. However in cases of criminal proceedings, the police may reveal the existence of the notes to the Crown Prosecution Service in line with the Criminal Procedure and Investigation Act 1996. Arrangements must be made to keep the minutes securely and retained by the recipient agencies in accordance with their record retention policies. They should not be filed in professional records that have open access.

A letter outlining the decisions and recommendations of the conference and date of first the Core Group will be sent within 24 hours to parents, children (where appropriate) and all those invited to the conference.

3.11 Action Following the Child Protection Conference

The Lead Social Worker is responsible for:

  • Co-ordinating the work of the Core Group to ensure that the outline Child Protection Plan is developed into a more detailed inter-agency plan;
  • Ensuring that all Core Group members understand the role and function of the Core Group and have a copy of the leaflet Attending Core Group Meetings;
  • Completing the Child and Family Assessment securing contributions from Core Group members and others as necessary;
  • Acting as lead worker for the inter-agency work with the child and family;
  • Seeing the child as agreed in the Child Protection Plan in order to monitor their wellbeing and be aware of their wishes and feelings;
  • Co-ordination of the actions required to put the Child Protection Plan into effect and reviewing progress against the objectives set out in the plan.

3.12 Complaints About a Child Protection Conference

Children, Parents and caregivers are entitled to make representations or complain, in respect of one or more of the following aspects of the functioning of child protection conferences:

  • The process of the conference;
  • The outcome, in terms of the fact of and/or the category of primary concern at the time the child became the subject of a Child Protection Plan;
  • A decision for the child to become or not become, the subject of a Child Protection Plan or not, or to cease the child being the subject of a Child Protection Plan.

Complaints about individual agencies, their performance and provision (or non-provision) of services should be responded to in accordance with the relevant agency’s complaints handling process.

Complaints about aspects of the functioning of conferences described in 5.52 should be addressed to the conference chair. Such complaints should be passed on to Children’s Social Care which, since they relate to Part V of the Children Act 1989 should be responded to in accordance with the Complaints Directions 2006. In considering and responding to complaints the local authority should form an inter-agency panel made up of senior representatives from the Local Safeguarding Children Board and member agencies. The panel should consider whether the relevant inter-agency protocols and procedures have been observed correctly, and whether the decision that is being complained about follows reasonably from the proper observation of the protocol(s).

Professionals contributing to the child protection process do not have a formal means of complaint against it as do family members. However, professionals who dissent from the consensus view of the child protection conference will have their dissent recorded and in the event that professional views are equally split between the need for a Child Protection Plan or not the conference chair will decide.

More generally a professional from any agency may formally express their concern to Children’s Social Care about the management of a particular child’s circumstances. In this instance the file will be read and reviewed by a Service Manager, the professional raising the concerns will be met with and spoken to and the outcome will be recorded on the case file and any actions implemented.

4. Practice Guidance – The Child Protection Conference

4.1 Chairing the Conference

  • Should be a qualified and experienced worker in children’s services, independent of operational or line management responsibilities for the case;
  • Must be trained in the role and should have:
    • A good understanding and professional knowledge of children’s welfare and development and best practice in working with children and families;
    • The ability to look objectively at, and assess the implications of, the evidence on which judgements should be based;
    • Skills in chairing meetings in a way which encourages constructive participation, while maintaining a clear focus on the welfare of the child and the decisions which have to be taken;
    • Knowledge and understanding of anti-discriminatory practice.

The conference chair should:

Prior to the meeting

  • Meet the child and family members to ensure that they understand the purpose of the conference, what will happen and explain about the complaints procedure;
  • Decide whether a conference is quorate within the terms of the LSCB protocol.

During the meeting

  • Set out the purpose of the meeting to all those present, confirming the agenda and emphasising the confidential nature of the occasion;
  • Enable all those present and absent contributors to make their full contribution to discussion and decision making;
  • Encourage detailed scrutiny of the information presented to conference and constructive challenge between conference members;
  • Ensure that neither the content of the meeting, nor the way in which it is conducted, is discriminatory and that any discriminatory behaviour is addressed;
  • Ensure that the conference takes the decisions required of it in an informed, explicit and systematic way.

Following the meeting

  • Ensure that the conference minutes are circulated to the correct people within the expected timescale.

Signs of Safety / Strengthening Families Framework

For detailed information see Signs of Safety Briefing paper April 2012.

The traditional format for a child protection conference provides a valuable forum for professionals from a number of agencies to come together. When asked about what works well in this model, professionals often talk about the information-sharing that takes place between agencies, the development of an action plan and the positive work of Core Groups. They also value the fact that the child protection conference as a forum is taken very seriously.

The ‘Strengthening Families’ framework aims to build upon these positive features, but also to address some of the weaknesses that have been highlighted by research in this area. These weaknesses are summarised in the bullet points below:

  • With a heavy focus on information-sharing, there is often insufficient time spent on planning at child protection conferences;
  • Parents usually take a fairly passive role at conferences and have little impact on decisions made;
  • Lack of parental involvement and insufficient focus on planning means that plans are sometimes unfeasible. Families and/or professionals may be unwilling/unable to co-operate with them;
  • Once particular decisions are reached at a conference, they often go unchecked at subsequent meetings/reviews. Professional views or opinions are therefore too frequently unquestioned;
  • The Child Protection Process is often seen by parents as a test of their ‘willingness to co-operate’. Even when they believe things that are said at the conference to be incorrect, they therefore find it extremely difficult to challenge them.

Strengthening Families Child Protection Conferences are designed to help families participate more easily, to help all participants assess risk better and for all to be more engaged in the development of a Child Protection Plan

The model aims to be:

Collaborative: Whilst some power imbalance is unavoidable in the context of child protection, the ‘Strengthening Families’ model aims to foster as far as possible a spirit of collaborative working between professionals and families. The model incorporates a stage of information sharing in which all of those present (including family members) are invited to participate. Family members are asked to put forward their views, to talk about their own strengths/concerns and to contribute ideas about the best way forwards. By the end of the conference, there should be a mutually agreed set of goals that both the family and professionals agree to work towards.

Strengths-based: Information that is shared within the context of a ‘Strengthening Families’ conference is organised using a specific framework, that also acts as a tool for risk assessment. By completing the framework in full, conference members are made aware, not just of the risks and concerns within a family, but also of their strengths and protective factors. It provides a balanced picture of the family, and an awareness of some of the positives that already exist, and can be built upon.

Prospective: Although it is important to be aware of the events that precipitated a particular child protection conference, the ‘Strengthening Families’ model should assist professionals to look beyond specific incidents. By listening to family members and by completing the framework, conference participants should build up a full and balanced understanding of the family and its needs. This knowledge can then be used to develop a realistic and meaningful set of goals for the future.

Relationship-focused: One of the consistent messages from social work research is that the quality of relationship between worker and client is one of the best predictors of outcomes. Relationships can have an impact on outcomes even when clients are mandated to work with us. The ‘Strengthening Families’ model seeks to achieve positive outcomes by developing partnerships between professionals and families, by establishing a sense of equality within these relationships and by ensuring that families are listened to, respected and actively involved.

What is the format for a ‘Strengthening Families’ conference?

A ‘Strengthening Families’ Child Protection Conference comprises a number of stages:

  • There is a meeting between key family participants and the chair before the conference begins. The chair helps prepare the family for the meeting and encourages them to take an active role throughout;
  • Following introductions, there is an ‘ice-breaker’ session in which the family help to create their own genogram on a white board at the front of the room. This actively involves the family from the outset on a subject that they are familiar and comfortable with;
  • There is an information sharing session in which families, as well as professionals, are encouraged to express their views and opinions. Key information from this exchange is written up on a white board at the front of the room. The ‘Strengthening Families’ framework is used to organise the information under five headings: Danger/Unmet Needs, Risk Statements, Complicating Factors, Strengths/Protective Factors, Grey Areas. This tool is also used as a mechanism for assessing risk. A plan is developed outlining the ‘next steps’: actions needed in order to ensure sufficient safety for case closure. Responsibility and timescales for each of these actions is documented.

The role of the Conference Chair will therefore become a much more facilitative rather than chairing role and conferences will focus on risk and planning.

For professionals attending conference the expectations will remain the same; that they will prepare a report, using the existing report template, and that this should be shared with the family before conference. At conference, professionals will continue to be asked for their view of risk but will also be asked to identify areas of strength that could be built on.

 

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