It is essential that practitioners engage with every child within the family who is on the register to establish whether the plan is improving the quality of their lives and protecting them from harm.
Effective engagement is much more than attendance at core group meetings. The care and support protection plan co-ordinator is expected to ‘see the child alone at least every 10 working days and at least one meeting every 4 weeks should be at the child’s home.
Children and young people are entitled to an active offer of advocacy from a statutory Independent Professional Advocate (IPA) when they become looked after or become subject of child protection enquiries leading to an initial child protection conference.
‘Seeing’ the child is much more than physically seeing them. It means engaging with the child taking account of their age, development and individual needs. The aim is to:
understand what life is like for them;
ascertain their wishes and feelings;
enable children to communicate in a way that is comfortable to them e.g. through the use of drawings, play, verbally;
observe their behaviour and interactions with family members;
understand the world of the child by using various tools etc.1
Effective engagement means:
providing the child with information so they understand practitioner concerns and why they are involved in their lives;
giving them opportunities to express their wishes, feelings and opinions as to the impact of the plan on their daily lives;
-taking their opinions seriously and ensuring their opinions are considered by the core group and at review conferences.
It is important that each child in a family who is subject to a plan is provided with opportunities to meet with the care and support protection co-ordinator on their own. This ensures that their particular needs, views and opinions are considered without being influenced by others.
The use of advocacy must be considered at all stages of the child protection process for the child. The offer of advocacy is not a “one off” event and should be revisited at each stage. It should be noted that the active offer is as follows:
Depending on the age/level of understanding the child, it may be appropriate for them to be given the opportunity to attend the core group.
When making this decision the following should be considered:
What are the views of the child or young person? Do they want to attend in person, have an advocate or have their views fed into the core group in other ways?
Do practitioners who know the child well believe it is appropriate for them to attend?
What is the potential impact on family relationships?
If the child attends the core group, then:
the venue and time of meetings should take into account their needs;
every effort should be made to facilitate active participation without detracting from the aim of the meeting and plan.
Where a child does not attend the core group, it is primarily the allocated care and support protection plan coordinator’s responsibility to:
ascertain the child’s view about the situation;
establish whether the child feels safe;
gain the child’s view as to whether the quality of their lived experience has improved.
If the social worker or other core group practitioners are obstructed or denied access at any time to a child on the child protection register, the relevant senior manager in social services should be informed, as well as the other core group members. The core group should formally agree that another agency carry out face-to-face contact and/or a review child protection conference should be arranged. The care and support, protection plan co-ordinator in consultation with managers and legal advisors should consider whether any form of legal action is required to ensure the child is protected. Any necessary protective action to secure the safety and well-being of any child at risk of significant harm must not be delayed because a core group meeting is pending or imminent.
1 www.socialworkerstoolbox.com/ provides tools, worksheets etc than can be used to communicate with children on care and support protection plans.