The child protection conference should follow a process that ensures the focus remains on the child and their care and support protection needs.
Chairing the child protection conference
The conference chair should be:
a practitioner who is independent of operational or line management responsibility for the case;
trained in chairing child protection conferences;
possess a good understanding and practitioner knowledge of child protection, children’s well-being and development, and best practice in working with children and families;
able to look objectively at and assess the implications of the evidence on which judgements should be based and confident in managing and drawing to clear conclusion the views and judgements of conference members;
skilled in chairing meetings in a way that encourages constructive participation while maintaining a clear focus on the well-being of the child and the decisions that need to be taken;
knowledgeable about diversity and committed to anti-discriminatory practice.
The primary role of the conference chair is to ensure that the conference is child-centred and that the care and support protection needs of the child/ren are identified and addressed.
This should be achieved by:
meeting the child and family members in advance, to ensure that they understand the purpose of the conference and what will happen;
deciding whether or not there are valid reasons for excluding any children or other family members from attending the conference if this request is made;
ensuring that the conference agenda is followed;
enabling all those present, including children and family members, to make their full contribution to discussion and decision making, which will include consideration of advocacy arrangements for parents, caregivers and/or child;
ensuring that the conference makes decisions in an informed, systematic and explicit way;
enabling conference members to share all appropriate information and evaluate risks;
ensuring that the conference is conducted in an anti-discriminatory manner and considers issues of race, culture, language, religion, gender and disability;
ensuring that dissenting views and reasons are recorded in full;
clearly differentiate between fact, observation, allegation and opinion;
establishing the opinions of lead persons from practitioner groupings about placing the child’s name on the child protection register;
drawing together the views of the conference members and arbitrate where different views are being expressed, in line with Regional Safeguarding Board protocols;
being available after the conference to explain decisions to parents and children;
taking responsibility for the accuracy of the conference records;
taking responsibility for who will receive copies of the conference records.
The chair is responsible for ensuring the conference remains child-centred. The agenda is designed to achieve this and should cover:
the purpose or reasons for the conference and the tasks of conference members;
introductions, apologies, confidentiality, agency roles with the family;
sharing/summary of reports;
details of the events leading up to the initial child protection conference;
information from the section 47 enquiries and the assessment to date;
background information from all agencies, including past and present involvement;
a summary by the chair of all the main information provided to the conference;
the views of children and family members
an analysis of the implications of all the information shared for the child’s future safety, health and development: i.e. whether the child at continuing risk of harm;
consideration of the risks of harm if, and explicit recommendations for how the risks can be managed;
consideration of the need for legal advice;
decision whether to place the child’s name on the child protection register and the category(s) of risk;
outline of care and support protection plan, if required;
summary of conference actions.
It is essential to the decision-making process, that individual practitioners contribute all the relevant information held on their records.
Information received during the safeguarding process must be treated in strict confidence. Anyone obtaining such information should not disclose it for any purpose other than the protection of children, unless they have the expressed consent of the practitioners or any family member who provided it. If there is any doubt about sharing information this should be discussed with the chair before the conference. (The same rules for confidentiality apply to strategy meetings).
Parents or care givers will receive a record of the conference irrespective of whether they are in attendance or not are not present at the meeting, they will receive a copy of the full record of the conference, unless the chair and conference members decide that it is not appropriate to provide them with full records in the interests of the children. The decision not to share the records will be at the discretion of the chair with a clear decision and rationale recorded.
It is good practice for the chair to ask practitioners, in advance of the conference, whether there is anything a practitioner is unable to share with parents.
The chair will facilitate a discussion with practitioner attendees as how this information is to be shared.
Any agency that wishes to withhold any confidential information from the conference, must discuss this with the conference chair at the earliest possible opportunity.
In the event of any member of the conference exercising their right to withhold confidential information from the family members after the conference has started, the family will be asked to leave the conference briefly for a closed session.
There are some situations when information must be disclosed. These are:
1: Right to request personal information.
Subject to limited exceptions, any person has a right to request access to personal information held about them. This includes information contained in child protection conference records and this must be disclosed upon request whether the individual attends the conference or not.
It should be noted that non-family members might also apply to see information about themselves that may be contained in child protection conference records.
2: Court and legal proceedings
If there are court proceedings child protection conference records may be disclosed to the parties. Records will generally only be disclosed to the parties following an order of the court This applies to both family proceedings and to criminal proceedings. Conference members may be asked or ordered to attend court to give evidence.
If there are legal or private proceedings, the CAFCASS children’s guardian may see the child protection conference records, and any strategy meeting records and may refer to them in their reports.
Where there are criminal proceedings, the police will disclose the records to the Crown Prosecution Service and if they contain any information, which either undermines the prosecution case or assists the defence case, also to the defence.
3: Practitioner disclosure
To other practitioners involved with the child who have not attended the conference. Permission should be obtained from the conference chair before passing information to a third party including other agencies.
4: Public interest
Disclosure of confidential information when necessary, in the public interest when persons may be at risk of harm. The public interest in child protection overrides the public interest of maintaining confidentiality.
Disclosures should be justifiable in each case and legal advice should be sought.