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Engaging the parents/carers in the plan

Section 4

A care and support, protection plan is dependent on the family actively engaging with the core group and the implementation of the plan. Their engagement must focus on achieving child-centred outcomes. Co-production is essential. The family are most likely to engage in the plan if:

  • they believe they are working in partnership with practitioners
  • practitioners are being open and honest
  • their strengths are recognised
  • practitioners demonstrate they are supporting and providing services to enable parent/s and carers to make necessary changes so they can meet the needs of the child.

Securing engagement of parents

Securing engagement and co-production is most likely to occur if the parents/carers:

  • understand why their child is subject to child protection registration;
  • have a clear understanding of the planned child-centred outcomes;
  • are not overwhelmed by the content of the plan, but priorities are set, and progress measured incrementally, taking into account the needs of the child;
  • accept the plan and are willing to work to it in order to improve the lived experience of the child;
  • appreciate what they need to change and why;
  • understand what is expected of them as part of the plan;
  • know how they will be supported and assisted by practitioners;
  • have practical assistance, such as child care, travel, venue and time of meetings take into account the specific circumstances and needs of the family;
  • know if they expected to keep appointments that practitioners are expected to do the same;
  • are kept informed of service waiting times;
  • language of choice is known and understood. Arrangements need to be made to conducting meetings in language of choice;
  • the specific needs of parents with learning disabilities and/or communication difficulties are addressed, for example, in the documentation they receive and the assistance they are given to understand the plan, the rationale behind it and the expectations;
  • practitioners recognise that some families, may not understand policies and processes relating to safeguarding children. As a consequence, they may not know why they have been asked to attend core groups, or why practitioners are involved with the family.

When engaging with families it is important that practitioners:

  • do not use euphemisms but be explicit for example, rather than saying the house is ‘dirty’ be explicit ‘the kitchen surfaces are covered with food debris, the sink full of dirt encrusted dishes, the toilet is heavily stained and there are dirt rings around the bathroom sink;
  • avoid being non-specific for fear of upsetting or damaging relationships with the family;
  • do not use professional or umbrella terms such as ‘neglect’ or ‘failure to thrive’ which are meaningless to the family;
  • avoid sanitising the language used to describe situations, for example, ‘inappropriate images’ means little;
  • are honest and say when they do not understand something;
  • routinely involve fathers and father figures1;
  • involve other adults who have a significant role in the child’s life.

Excluding a parent/carer from the core group

In some cases, a parent/carer may need to be excluded from participating in the core group. If this is the case:

  • circumstances when this might occur, such as family situations involving domestic abuse and harassment, should have been considered at the initial child protection conference.
  • an explicit agreement must be recorded clearly on the child’s file that outlines the measures in place that have been agreed by the excluded parent and the social worker regarding communication and participation to the process.
  • alternative plans should be made for keeping the parent informed and still enabling them to contribute to the plan where appropriate.
  • in cases where a decision has been made to exclude a parent from a core group, this decision and rationale must be included as part of the core group record for future reference.

Lack of engagement by the family with the plan

Parents/carers whose children are on the child protection register need to demonstrate both commitment to the plan as well as making the effort to change behaviours. Some may lack the ability and/or motivation to actively engage in the plan.

This lack of engagement can lead to parents:

  • engaging with practitioners in a tokenistic manner and completing tasks that do not necessarily lead to child-focused outcomes;
For example: they attend the required number of parenting sessions, but this has no impact on the lived experience of the child.
  • assuring practitioners, they will complete tasks but never quite getting around to them;
For example: the parent always appears to have crises or excuses for failing to attend appointments etc.
  • avoiding practitioner contact;
For example: failing to keep appointments, moving or not attending agreed sessions with no justifiable excuse.
  • being physically or verbally aggressive and defiant.
For example: threatening practitioners, not letting them into the house.

Whilst in some cases, lack of engagement demonstrates a failure to commit to the plan and child-focused outcomes it is not necessarily the case. Therefore, the core group should be specific about the behaviours that demonstrate a lack of engagement and assess what these behaviours are demonstrating.

For example: Is the parent afraid to say they cannot cope and therefore make excuses not to attend the core group or specified interventions?

Does the parent lack the ability to understand and apply learning to their own family situation?

Are parent/s expected to complete tasks that are difficult to achieve because of practical issues such as child care, transport?

Are parent/s defensive because they are afraid of losing their child?

Do practitioners provide the support and interventions included in the plan?

Do the parent/s have an open and honest relationship with practitioners?

N.B. not an exhaustive list

If, after assessing the lack of engagement, it is not possible to progress and implement the care and support protection plan, this need to be to escalated to the relevant social services team manager with a consideration of seeking legal advice. This escalation should wait until a further review conference. If a review conference needs to be brought forward, the care and support protection plan co-ordinator in consultation with the relevant team manager and the conference chair should reconvene the child protection conference.

Pointers for Practice: Influences on Parental Ongoing Engagement with The Plan