Parents/caregivers must always be actively encouraged to attend the child protection conference, because they should have a significant contribution to make
(Except if there are specific reasons to exclude them, see below Determining whether it is in the child’s best interests for a parent to attend a child protection conference).
In order to achieve this relationship (Section 3 Part 1, engaging parent/s and caregivers in Section 47 enquiries) practitioners must be open and honest.
The social worker initiating the conference must therefore:
inform the parents/caregivers of the outcome of the s47 enquiries and the process that will be followed;
ensure that they understand the process including:
requirement and purpose of multi-agency assessments and reports;
the purpose of the conference;
how the conference operates;
Parents/caregivers must receive adequate preparation from a social worker prior to the conference.
The aim is to enable them to participate as fully as possible. This includes:
giving them a verbal and written invitation to the conference and a leaflet explaining the purpose of the conference and of registration as well as the complaints leaflet;
ensuring they understand the process and their role within it. The use of an advocate may assist in this process, especially where communication is a difficulty;
sharing the conference report with parents in advance of the conference and giving them sufficient time to read the report and ask any questions, points of clarification etc (see conference reports);
helping prepare for the conference, for example, in making written notes of what they want to say as well as practical assistance with any childcare or transport difficulties;
encouraging them to bring to the conference a friend; a relative or other supporter, provided the person concerned is not a suspected or known abuser;
preparing the parent must take account the wishes and feelings expressed by the child;
providing support and guidance to parents, making them aware that they may be asked to leave for parts of the conference if there is a reason to share information that they unable to hear, due to confidentiality and data protection.
Remember attendance alone is not participation.
Unless there are circumstances that determine parents should not attend, parents/caregivers should always be actively encouraged to attend and participate in the conference for the following reasons:
parents/caregivers will have their perspective on the concerns and need to understand why practitioners believe the child is at continuing risk of significant harm;
they need to understand why the care and support protection needs must be addressed in order to safeguard and promote the health and well-being of the child/ren;
they should learn why agencies are involved with their family and their children;
parents have a voice and can provide insights into their lived experience and family circumstances;
they have an opportunity to correct any inaccuracies.
All practitioners who have face-to-face contact with the family should support and encourage attendance, unless there are reasons that mean the chair needs to consider excluding the parent/s. For example, the suspected perpetrator has bail conditions of no contact or a restraining order against them in relation to the other parent.
Attendance by parents can be facilitated by:
providing financial or practical help for transport to the conference;
arranging the conference for a time which is compatible with childcare or other responsibilities;
identifying a conference venue which is accessible, and/or which may provide a child-minding service to allow the parent to participate fully in the conference;
arranging for a child and family to see the venue prior to the conference;
arranging for a translation service or any other specific needs to be met;
encouraging the parent/caregiver to invite a supporter, who may be a friend, family member, or member of a professional or voluntary organisation.
Where a parent/caregiver does not to attend the conference, efforts should be made to ensure their views, wishes and feelings are represented and recorded.
An advocate can help develop this communication.
The conference chair must meet parents beforehand, preferably in the conference room before the other people attending arrive.
They should ensure the parent understands:
the purpose of the conference;
how the meeting will be conducted
the possible outcomes;
how they can participate;
how their preferred medium of communication will be addressed;
the importance of seeking clarification if they do not understand terminology etc;
how they can complain, if they so wish to do so;
If the conference members decide to place the child’s name on the child protection register, the chair and social worker should spend time after the conference explaining:
what it means for the child to be subject to a care and support protection plan
what child protection registration means;
what the parent/s are required to contribute to the care and support protection plan;
the role and responsibilities of other practitioners included in the core group;
how a core group operates;
how they will be involved in further care planning through the core group and at a review conference.
If parents disagree with the conference decision, they should be informed about the Regional Safeguarding Board complaints and/or appeals procedure.
Parents may feel overwhelmed, anxious and distressed at the end of the conference. These feelings will impact on their ability to make sense of any information imparted to them at this point. It is important therefore, in order to engage with parents in a meaningful manner, that time is spent de-briefing the parent/s and preparing them for core group working on the plan in the days immediately following the conference.
Whether the parents attend the conference or not, they should be sent in writing within 5 working days of the conference.
the conference decision;
outline care and support protection plan.
Role of social worker
The social worker should discuss the recommendations with the parents and child to ensure they understand the reasons and implications of the decision. This may require discussion of contingency plans or consequences if the child protection plan is not complied with or proves ineffective.
The child protection conference records should also be sent to parents and, where appropriate, the child except where the child or any other person could be put at risk as a result.
The decision as to whether to send the records should be made by the chair, in consultation with the conference members.
Reasons for a decision not to send records to relevant family members should be carefully recorded.
In rare circumstances a parent or caregiver will not be invited to attend a child protection conference.
Any practitioner can request the exclusion of a parent/caregiver from the conference.
N.B. requests to not include parents in the conference must be linked to issues pertaining to risk to child, or others and cannot be used as a mechanism for not sharing information or fear of damaging ongoing working relationships with parents/caregivers.
The practitioner should:
Make the request to the conference chair at earliest opportunity.
This decision must not be left to the day the conference is taking place, and the decision will ultimately be made by the conference chair.
The chair should:
discuss the request with the relevant agency manager before coming to a decision about whether to exclude
determine whether to exclude the parent/caregiver from all or part of the conference, the chair can exercise discretion where one or more of the following criteria apply:
there is a strong risk of intimidation of the child or anybody else by a family member at or after the conference;
when the presence of the parent / caregiver may seriously disrupt the conduct of the conference;
there are implications for criminal proceedings of a parent who is the alleged perpetrator attending. however, the fact that a person may be prosecuted is not in itself a reason for exclusion and the chair should take advice from the police before making this decision;
children of sufficient age and understanding state that they do not wish their parents/caregivers to be present.
If a person with parental responsibility is to be excluded:
they have a right to know why they have been excluded, and to request the chair reconsider the decision to exclude them, and to be consulted before and after the conference;
they should have the chance to discuss their exclusion with the chair, and to communicate their views to the conference by other means;
the chair should ensure that the parent’s views are sought by the social worker and made available during the conference;
they have a right to be informed of the decisions of the meeting that directly affect their family life;
reasons for not inviting parents to the conference must be noted in the records;
the chair’s decision is final and made in exceptional circumstances, although a complaint may be made;
if the parents are not invited or unable or unwilling to attend, the reasons for this should be included in the records.
Whilst parents must be encouraged to attend, this should not be at the cost of the child who wishes to be present not attending.
It may not always be possible to accommodate all family members at the same time.
adults and children who wish to make representations to the conference may not wish to speak in front of each other;
information regarding another family may need to be shared;
there is other highly sensitive information, particularly if one parent is the alleged abuser.