Policy for Children's Participation in the Child Protection Conference Process
SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER
This chapter recognises that participation (whole or part) of a child subject to a child protection conference should be actively considered, but following a considered assessment of this. A framework for this assessment is offered together with consideration of an independent advocate.
It will always be important for the conference to have an understanding of the child's wishes, wants and views and there are ways that this should be provided. The chair of the conference should always be advised in advance, so that the management of the conference can be given due consideration.
AMENDMENTIn June 2020, this chapter was updated locally to update guidance in relation to meeting children's communication needs.
Working Together to Safeguard Children – a guide to inter-agency working to safeguard and promote the welfare of children states that we need to develop a child – centred approach to safeguarding children. Children should therefore be informed and engaged in the child protection process.
There is an expectation therefore that children should participate in the conference process and that their views, wishes and feelings should be known and shared at the conference. This should support better outcomes for children in terms of them staying safe and making a positive contribution.
Participation is a process not an event; it can be achieved by a variety of ways and does not necessarily mean attendance at the actual conference. A child focused approach means that imagination and discussion is needed to determine how best a child or young person can actively participate in the conference process. It will involve seeing the child/young person prior to every conference to ascertain how best their views can be conveyed.
Special provision should be put in place to support dialogue with children who have communication difficulties, unaccompanied children, refugees and those children who are victims of modern slavery and/or trafficking.
The following guidance has been produced to aid in planning and achieving children's participation in the child protection conference process.
2. Preparation for Participation
The age at which children should be invited to attend a conference cannot be rigidly set. Each child should be assessed in their own right and a decision made as to the suitability of them attending, even if partially. However, it is expected that children between the ages of 4 - 11 years will not be invited to attend the conference but their views and feelings ascertained by the social worker in a variety of ways. Children aged 11 + should be visited and assessed as to their suitability to attend using the following criteria:
- Does the child have sufficient understanding of the process?
- Does the child require additional support due to communication needs?
- Has the child expressed a wish to attend and participate this way?
- Is inclusion in the conference assessed to be of benefit to the child?
- Whether the child's attendance at the conference will cause him or her harm.
Consideration should be given to the views of and impact on the parent /carer of the child's proposed attendance; however, where there is a conflict between the wishes of the child and the views of the parents/carers, the child's interests should take priority. Discussion should take place with the conference chair with regard to how this can be managed. When necessary, separate attendance should be facilitated.
In order to establish their wishes and suitability to attend the conference, the child must first be provided with a full and clear explanation of the purpose, conduct and membership of the conference by the social worker. The potential provision of an independent Advocate should also be explored and discussed with the child. If an Advocate is required, this needs to be indicated on the list of invitations to be sent provided by the social worker.
If the child does not attend, their wishes and feelings should be gathered by the lead professional and, on occasions, by the other professionals involved, for example, teacher, school nurse, GP, psychologist, advocate. These should be part of the assessment and when possible part of the plan.
3. Direct Participation
Responsibility of the social worker
If the decision is that the child will attend all or part of the conference, then the social worker should:
Identify and agree a supporter or independent Advocate with the child if required (see The child's independent advocate).
- Ensure that the child has an opportunity to discuss any concerns that s/he may have about attendance;
- Explain to the child who will be at the conference, their roles and responsibilities in the meeting, the information likely to be discussed and the possible outcomes (Child Leaflet);
- Decide with the child the extent to which s/he wishes to participate and how his or her wishes and views will be presented;
- Share and discuss the content of the social work report for the conference;
- Inform the parent/carer of the views of the child;
- Inform the chair that the child will be attending;
- Inform the chair who the Advocate for the child is before the conference, (where relevant).
Responsibility of the chair
If the child is attending the conference, it is the responsibility of the child protection chair to:
- Clarify with the child's social worker what information will be available to the child both before and during the conference;
- Meet with the child and independent Advocate or supporter separately to the parents/carers immediately prior to the conference;
- Ensure that the child has sufficient support to present his/her wishes and views during the conference;
- Monitor the child's welfare throughout the conference, and arrange for the child to have a break if necessary;
- Ensure that the child is informed of the decisions and recommendations of the conference in a child friendly format;
- Write personally to the child to confirm the decision and recommendations;
- Ensure that the conference record adequately reflects the child's contribution to include a separate paragraph outlining the child's wishes and views.
The child's independent advocate
A referral to NYAS is automatically generated from the Quality Assurance Unit for any child over 11 years old. The social worker is then required to complete the on-line referral form to enable an Advocate to contact the family.
Where an Advocate is to attend a conference the social worker must inform the child protection chair before the conference.
Support to the child after the conference
The social worker should meet with the child as soon as possible after the conference to feedback and discuss the outcomes of the conference and to allow the child to ask any questions about the decisions made.
Consideration should be given to the child's understanding communication needs, and the most effective and appropriate way in which to convey any information regarding the Conference or a Protection Plan.
4. Indirect Participation of Child
If it is decided that the child should not attend a conference, every effort should be made by the social worker to obtain and present the views and wishes of the child, which can include:
- A submission by letter, email, text message, a picture, an audio – prepared alone or with support;
- The child's independent Advocate;
- The child meeting the child protection chair before the conference to share his or her views.
5. Decision that a Child Should Not Attend
Any decision that a child should not attend a conference should be made using the following criteria:
- The child's age and understanding indicate that attendance would be inappropriate;
- The conference would be unable to fulfil its own aims of protection due to the disruptive behaviour of the child or parent;
- Criminal charges or court appearances of the parent/carer are pending and the child may be a witness;
- Child does not want to attend.
The decision not to include a child of the relevant age should be recorded, with the reasons why in the child protection conference minutes and on the child's file.
This decision must be explained to the child by his or her social worker.
6. Child's Participation in Core Group Meetings
The above principles should also be used to consider how children and young people can participate in Core Group meetings. The social worker is responsible for explaining the purpose of these meetings and discussing how the child/young person can participate. When a decision has been made that the child /young person will attend the meeting, the need for an Advocate will be discussed. The child /young person must have a child friendly copy of the Child Protection Plan suitable for their communication needs and understanding before they attend the meeting.
If the child /young person does not attend the Core Group, the Core Group meeting members need to agree who is best placed to ascertain the child's wishes and feelings about whether they feel safer as a result of the actions being taken.