Darlington Safeguarding Children Board Multi-Agency Child Protection Procedures
Welcome to Darlington multi-agency safeguarding procedures which have been developed by Darlington Safeguarding Children Board (DSCB) the procedures are applicable to all those working in the Darlington locality, whether paid or unpaid in DSCB agencies and in private or voluntary sector organisations with responsibility for children. They are also relevant to those who commission services to children and their families. These procedures replace all previous procedure manuals.
The development of the procedures is one of the core functions of DSCB in its role to co-ordinate local work to safeguard and promote the welfare of children. The procedures reflect current legislation and comply with government guidance such as Working Together to Safeguard Children (2018) (WT 2018)[PDF Document] and further professional guidance is available from What to do if you're worried a child is being abused (2015) [PDF Document].
Safeguarding is the process of protecting children from abuse or neglect preventing impairment of their health and development and ensuring they are growing up in circumstances consistent with the provision of safe and effective care that enables children to have optimum life chances and enter adulthood successfully. It includes both child protection and supporting children and families in need.
Safeguarding is everyone's responsibility and for services to be effective each individual and organisation should play a part. These procedures should be used in conjunction with organisational guidelines.
If you are in any doubt about what you should do you need to consult with safeguarding specialists within your organisation and/or visit the DSCB website [External Link] for further guidance and support.
- Continuum of Need Indicators (Thresholds)
- Definition of Significant Harm
- Categories of Abuse
- Signs and Symptoms of Possible Child Abuse
- Making a Referral
- Single Assessment (Children and Family Assessment)
- Strategy Discussion
- Child Protection Enquiries - Section 47 Children Act 1989
- Initial Child Protection Conference
- Pre Birth Conference
- Transfer Child Protection Conference
- Child Protection Review Conference
- Involving Children and Family Members in Conference Process
- Exclusion of Family Members from a Conference
- Split Child Protection Conferences
- Absence of Parents and Children at a Conference
- Information for a Conference
- Chairing a Conference
- Actions and Decisions of the Conference
- The Child Protection Plan
- If a Child does not require a Protection Plan
- Discontinuing the Child Protection Plan
- Administrative arrangements and Record Keeping
- Core Group
- Children Returning Home
- Children Subject to a Child Protection Plan who go Missing or are Absent
- Death of a Child Subject to a Child Protection Plan
- Child Protection Conference Complaints
Working Together to Safeguard Children (2018) [PDF Document] emphasises the importance of having clear thresholds for action which are understood by all professionals and applied consistently. By ensuring a shared understanding of local thresholds for intervention, children and young people should receive the right help at the right time. Local Safeguarding Children Boards are required to publish a threshold document that includes:
- The process for the early help assessment [External Link] and the type and level of early help services to be provided and;
- The criteria, including the level of need, for when a case should be referred to local authority children's social care for assessment and for statutory services under The Children Act 1989:
- Section 17 (Child in Need)
- Section 47 (reasonable cause to suspect child suffering or likely to suffer significant harm)
- Section 31 (Care Orders) and
- Section 20 (Duty to accommodate a child)
DSCB multi agency threshold tool (2017) [PDF Document] sets out local definitions of the levels of need. The threshold tool is the criteria used for taking action and providing help across the full continuum. This is to ensure there are clear thresholds for action which are understood by all professionals, and applied consistently.
The Children Act 1989 introduced the concept of significant harm as the threshold which justifies compulsory intervention in family life in the best interests of children.
Section 47 of the Act places a duty on local authorities to make enquiries, or cause enquiries to be made, where it has reasonable cause to suspect that a child is suffering, or is likely to suffer significant harm. A court may only make a Care Order or Supervision Order in respect of a child if it is satisfied that:
- The child is suffering, or is likely to suffer significant harm; and
- That the harm or likelihood of harm is attributable to a lack of adequate parental care or control (section 31).
Under Section 31(9) of the Children Act 1989, as amended by the Adoption and Children Act 2002:
Harm means ill-treatment or the impairment of health or development, including for example impairment suffered from seeing or hearing the ill-treatment of another;
Development means physical, intellectual, emotional, social or behavioural development;
Health means physical or mental health;
Ill-treatment includes sexual abuse and forms of ill-treatment that are not physical.
There are no absolute criteria on which to rely when judging what constitutes significant harm. Consideration of the severity of ill-treatment may include the degree and extent of physical harm, the duration and frequency of abuse and neglect, the extent of premeditation, the degree of threat, coercion, sadism, and bizarre or unusual elements in child sexual abuse. Each of these elements has been associated with more severe effects on the child and/ or relatively greater difficulty in helping the child overcome the adverse impact on the maltreatment.
Sometimes a single traumatic event may constitute significant harm e.g. a violent assault, suffocation or poisoning. More often, significant harm is a compilation of significant events, both acute and long-standing which interrupt, change or damage the child’s physical and psychological development. Some children live in family and social circumstances where their health and development are neglected. For them, it is the corrosiveness of long term emotional, physical or sexual abuse that causes impairment to the extent of constituting significant harm. In each case, it is necessary to consider any ill-treatment alongside the families’ strengths and supports.
To understand and establish significant harm, it is necessary to consider:
- The family context, including protective factors;
- The child’s development within the context of his or her family and wider social and cultural environment;
- Any special needs, such as a medical condition, communication difficulty or disability that may affect the child’s development and care within the family;
- The nature of harm, in terms of ill-treatment or failure to provide adequate care;
- The impact of the child’s health and development; and
- The adequacy of parental care
Abuse and neglect are forms of maltreatment of a child. Somebody may abuse or neglect a child by inflicting harm, or by failing to act to prevent harm. Children may be abused in a family or in an institution or community setting; by those known to them or, more rarely, by a stranger. They may be abused by an adult or adults or another child or children.
A form of abuse that may involve hitting, shaking, throwing, poisoning, burning or scalding, drowning, suffocating, or otherwise causing physical harm to a child. Physical harm may also be caused when a parent or carer fabricates the symptoms of or deliberately induces illness in a child (WT 2018).
The persistent emotional maltreatment of a child such as to cause severe and persistent adverse effects on the child’s emotional development. It may involve conveying to a child that they are worthless or unloved, inadequate, or valued only insofar as they meet the needs of another person. It may include not giving the child opportunities to express their views deliberately silencing them or 'making fun' of what they say or how they communicate. It may feature age or developmentally inappropriate expectations being imposed on children. These may include interactions that are beyond a child’s development capability, as well as overprotection and limitation of exploration and learning, or preventing the child participating in normal social interaction. It may involve seeing or hearing the ill-treatment of another. It may involve serious bullying (including cyber bullying), causing children frequently to feel frightened or in danger, or the exploitation or corruption of children. Some level of emotional abuse is involved in all types of maltreatment of a child, though it may occur alone (WT 2018).
Sexual abuse involves forcing or enticing a child or young person to take part in sexual activities, not necessarily involving a high level of violence, whether or not the child is aware of what is happening. The activities may involve physical contact, including assault by penetration (for example, rape or oral sex) or non-penetrative acts such as masturbation, kissing, rubbing and touching outside of clothing. They may also include non-contact activities, such as involving children in looking at, or in the production of, sexual images, watching sexual activities, encouraging children to behave in sexually inappropriate ways, or grooming a child in preparation for abuse (including via the internet). Sexual abuse is not solely perpetrated by adult males. Women can also commit acts of sexual abuse, as can other children (WT 2018).
In addition; Sexual abuse includes abuse of children through sexual exploitation. Penetrative sex where one of the partners is under the age of 16 is illegal, although prosecution of similar age, consenting partners is not usual. However, where a child is under the age of 13 it is classified as rape under s5 Sexual Offences Act 2003.
Neglect is the persistent failure to meet a child’s basic physical and/or psychological needs, likely to result in the serious impairment of the child’s health or development. Neglect may occur during pregnancy as a result of maternal substance abuse. Once a child is born, neglect may involve a parent or carer failing to:
- Provide adequate food, clothing and shelter (including exclusion from home or abandonment)
- Protect a child from physical and emotional harm or danger
- Ensure adequate supervision (including the use of inadequate care-givers)
- Ensure access to appropriate medical care or treatment
It may also include neglect of, or unresponsiveness to, a child’s basic emotional needs (WT 2018).
Additional definitions can be found on NSPCC website [External Link].
The welfare of unborn children
Everybody who works with or has contact with adults should be able to recognise, and know how to act upon, evidence that an unborn child’s health or development is or may be being impaired. Staff should be alert to the fact that domestic abuse and maternal substance misuse can pose a threat to an unborn child.
Where an assessment under s47 of the Children Act 1989 gives rise to concerns that an unborn child may be at future risk of significant harm, children’s social care may decide to convene an initial child protection conference prior to the child’s birth. Such a conference has the same status, and proceeds in the same way, as other initial child protection conferences, including decisions about a child protection plan. Similarly the same procedures apply in respect of child protection review conferences. The involvement of midwifery services is vital in such cases.
Abuse by children and young people: peer abuse
Children, particularly those living away from home, are also vulnerable to physical, sexual and emotional bullying and abuse by their peers. Such abuse should always be taken as seriously as abuse perpetrated by an adult. It should be subject to the same safeguarding children procedures as apply in respect of any child who is suffering, or at risk of suffering significant harm from an adverse source. A significant proportion of sexual offences are committed by teenagers, and, on occasion, such offences are committed by younger children. Staff and carers of children living away from home need clear guidance and training to identify the difference between consenting and abuse, appropriate or exploitative peer relationships. Staff should not dismiss some abusive sexual behaviour as ‘normal’ between young people and should not develop high thresholds before taking action.
Work with children and young people who abuse others, including those who sexually abuse/offend, should recognise that such children are likely to have considerable needs themselves, and also that they may pose a significant risk of harm to other children. Evidence suggests that children who abuse others may have suffered considerable disruption in their lives, been exposed to violence within the family, may have witnessed or been subject to physical or sexual abuse, have problems in their educational development, are likely to be children in need, and some will in addition be suffering or at risk of significant harm, and may themselves be in need of protection. Children and young people who abuse others would be held responsible for their abusive behaviour, whilst being identified and responded to in a way which meets their needs as well as protecting others.
Three key principles should guide work with children and young people who abuse others:
- there should be a co-ordinated approach on the part of youth justice, children’s social care, education (including educational psychology) and health (including child and adolescent mental health) agencies;
- the needs of children and young people who abuse others should be considered separately from the needs of their victims; and
- an assessment should be carried out in each case, appreciating that these children may have considerable unmet developmental needs, as well as specific needs arising from their behaviour.
The following factors should be taken into account when assessing risks to a child. This is not an exhaustive list.
- An unexplained delay in seeking treatment that is obviously needed;
- An unawareness or denial of any injury, pain or loss of function;
- Incompatible explanations offered or several different explanations given for a child’s illness or injury;
- A child reacting in a way that is inappropriate to his/her age or development;
- Reluctance to give information or failure to mention previous known injuries;
- Frequent attendances at Accident and Emergency Departments or use of different doctors and Accident and Emergency Departments;
- Frequent presentation of minor injuries (which if ignored could lead to a more serious injury);
- Unrealistic expectations/constant complaints about the child;
- Alcohol misuse or other substance misuse;
- A parents request to remove a child from home or indication of difficulties in coping with the child;
- Domestic violence;
- Parental mental ill health;
- The age of the child and the pressures of caring for a number of children in one household.
Children may present with both physical and psychological symptoms and signs that constitute alerting features of one or more types of maltreatment, and maltreatment may be observed in parent or carer – child interactions.
There is strong evidence of the harmful short and long term effects of child maltreatment. All aspects of the child's health, development and wellbeing can be affected. The effects of child maltreatment can last throughout adulthood and include anxiety, depression, substance misuse, and self-destructive, oppositional or antisocial behaviours. In adulthood, there may be difficulties in forming or sustaining close relationships, sustaining employment and parenting capacity. Physical abuse may result in lifelong disability or physical scarring and harmful psychological consequences, and may even be fatal. The National Service Framework (NSF) for Children, Young People and Maternity Services for England [External Link] states 'The high cost of abuse and neglect both to individuals (and to society) underpins the duty on all agencies to be proactive in safeguarding children.' Further details are available within the NICE Guidance [External Link].
Abuse and neglect are forms of maltreatment – a person may abuse or neglect a child by inflicting harm, or by failing to act to prevent harm.
Child welfare concerns may arise in many different contexts, and can vary greatly in terms of their nature and seriousness. Children may be abused in a family or in an institutional or community setting, by those known to them or by a stranger, including, via the internet. In the case of female genital mutilation, children may be taken out of the country to be abused. They may be abused by an adult or adults, or another child or children. An abused child will often experience more than one type of abuse, as well as other difficulties in their lives. Abuse and neglect can happen over a period of time, but can also be a one-off event. Child abuse and neglect can have major long-term impacts on all aspects of a child's health, development and well-being.
Information on warning signs and symptoms of child abuse can be found on What to do if you're worried a child is being abused (2015) [PDF Document].
There are four main categories of abuse and neglect: physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse and neglect. Each has its own specific warning indicators. (see full descriptions under Categories of Abuse)
See local Bruising in non-mobile children Protocol [PDF Document] for the assessment of bruising and other possible injuries in “Non-Mobile” Children.
Further guidance is also available from DSCB Fabricated or Induced Illness Practice Guidance Document.
Additional information on signs, symptoms and effects of child abuse or neglect is available on the NSPCC website [External Link].
To keep a child or young person safe all professionals have a duty under section 11 of the 2004 Children Act to ensure they consider the need to safeguard and promote the welfare of children when carrying out their functions.
If you are concerned about a child, but are unclear if this is an immediate risk you must discuss with your manager or the designated person responsible for child protection within your organisation (refer to own agency safeguarding policy) for further guidance and support. However if you are concerned about a child or believe a child is at immediate risk you should make contact with Children's Social Care and/or the Police as described below.
Effective Safeguarding arrangements in every local area should be underpinned by two key principles (WT 2018):
- safeguarding is everyone's responsibility: for services to be effective each professional and organisations should play their full part; and
- a child-centred approach: for services to be effective they should be based on a clear understanding of the needs and views of children
Child’s immediate safety
The need for emergency action may become apparent only over time, as more is learned about the circumstances. When deciding whether emergency action is required, workers should also consider whether action is also needed to protect other children in the same household (for example, siblings), in the household of an alleged perpetrator, or elsewhere and colleagues and other professionals.
If any allegation of abuse is made against a person who works with children and young people, including those who work is a voluntary capacity then you should follow the procedures as set out in Procedure for managing allegations and concerns against staff, carers or volunteers [PDF Document].
You should also consider DSCB Learning Improvement Framework [PDF Document] if you believe or suspect there may have been circumstances where the threshold for holding a Serious Case Review (SCR) is met. Working Together to Safeguard Children 2018 states, the criteria for a serious case review is where abuse or neglect is known or suspected and either:
- a child dies; or
- a child is seriously harmed and there are concerns about how organisations or professionals worked together to safeguard the child.
It is the responsibility of all partner organisations to inform the Local Authority of any incident that may meet the criteria under the Notifiable Incident Process and notification form. A notifiable incident is an incident involving the care of a child which meets any of the following criteria:
- A child has died (including cases of suspected suicide), and abuse or neglect is known or suspected;
- A child has been 'seriously harmed' and abuse or neglect is known or suspected;
- A looked after child has died (including cases where abuse or neglect is not known or suspected); or
- A child in a regulated setting or service has died (including cases where abuse or neglect is not known or suspected).
The safety and welfare of the child overrides all other considerations, including the following:
- Gathering of evidence
- Commitment or loyalty to relatives, friends or colleagues
For further details refer to Information Sharing Protocol [PDF document]
If you believe that the child may be at risk of significant harm or is a Child in Need as defined by Section 17 of the Children Act 1989 you should contact the Children's Access Point [External Link]. You can telephone to discuss your concerns and seek any advice.
Telephone number: 01325 406222.
Out of Hours Emergency Duty Team Telephone Number: 08702 402994
Contact Form [Word Document]
Your contact should cover these basic facts:
- Children and family member details
- Significant others
- Other services involved
- Details of person making referral
- Presenting Issues
- Reason for referral/request for services - outline concerns and why you believe this child is at risk of significant harm or in need of additional services (including impact on the child)
- What support is currently in place
- Named lead identified and ownership of the contact made
On receipt of a contact to Children’s Social Care, the Children’s Access Point has 24 hours in which to make a decision about any actions to be taken in respect of the identified child (See Working Together to Safeguard Children 2018 Flow Chart 1 page 33 and flow Chart 2 page 35).
When a decision is made that a contact should progress, this will be allocated to the relevant team and should be communicated to the original professional who made the initial contact.
When safeguarding concerns are identified at the Single Assessment stage a strategy discussion should be held to determine if a Section 47 enquiry should be progressed.
Dependent on the outcome of the Section 47 investigation the Single Assessment will either form the basis of the social worker’s evidence to an Initial Child Protection Conference/Legal Gateway Meeting or will provide the assessment framework which underpins and informs a child in need intervention.
In either case the need for robust multi agency planning and review is critical to the effectiveness of the process.
Where a contact received has progressed to a referral and a decision is made by the Team Manager that a Single Assessment is required this must be progressed and allocated within 2 working days.
When a strategy discussion is initiated the Section 47 enquiry will be recorded within the Single Assessment documentation.
The referrer should receive an acknowledgement within 10 working days.
If you are unhappy with any if the decision making, refer to DSCB Professional Challenge Procedure [PDF Document].
Introduction and background
Working Together to Safeguard Children 2018 communicates a clear aim of the revised framework for assessment, which brought in the expectation for Darlington Borough Council to develop a Single Assessment.
The focus of the Single Assessment is to draw on the professional judgement to analyse and reflect on information gathered regarding that child or young person, and focus the assessment on the specific needs identified, leading to a high quality assessment that is child focused.
The Single Assessment will provide an opportunity for social workers to focus on the specific needs of children, young people and their families and allow appropriate time within the assessment for reflection and direct work with the child/young person to ensure a robust and analytical assessment.
An assessment is a fluid process that considers emerging needs and sustainability of any change for the family.
Working Together to Safeguard Children is clear that Single Assessments should be undertaken within a maximum of 45 working days from the point of referral (see Working Together to Safeguard Children 2018 Flow chart 3 page 38) [PDF Document].
The timeliness of an assessment is a critical element of the quality of that assessment and the outcomes for the child. The speed with which an assessment is carried out after a child’s case has been referred into local authority children’s social care should be determined by the needs of the individual child and the nature and level of any risk of harm faced by the child. This will require judgement to be made by the social worker in discussion with their manager on each individual case. Adult assessments, i.e. parent carer or non-parent carer assessments, should also be carried out in a timely manner, consistent with the needs of the child.
The purpose of the assessment is to determine if there is identifiable evidence of risk or identifiable significant harm to the child or whether they are unlikely to achieve or maintain a reasonable standard of health or development or they have a disability.
The assessment is intended to be used proportionately to gather the most significant and relevant information according to the circumstances of particular children and will determine the range and type of detail of the assessment.
Darlington Borough Council will undertake assessments of the needs of individual children to determine which services to provide and what action to take.
The assessment will determine whether the child is a child in need (Section 17) or a child in need of protection (Section 47). The assessment will describe how those needs will be addressed through a plan, including whether they would benefit from input from other relevant services.
Once the assessment has been completed it is necessary to communicate the outcome to the child, family and all key professionals involved.
Should the analysis of the case lead to closure – clear rationale must be recorded and made in respect of this decision and based on transparent and evidence based information.
The framework of the single assessment
The focus of the Single Assessment will follow the domains of the Regional Framework for Assessment Diamond as illustrated in the diagram [Word Document]
Please refer to the Regional Assessment Framework [PDF Document] which is a tool to provide an agreed range of assessment domains whether the assessment is an 'early help assessment' or a 'statutory assessment' undertaken under statutory guidance. It is intended to provide the practitioner with an understanding of what factors need to be understood within the assessment and practice pointers when considering the domains of the assessment.
The professional who made the initial contact and any professionals who have been involved in the single assessment process should be informed of the outcome and any next steps. Where this has not been done this should be followed up with the relevant Children’s Services contact. Should any professional disagree, they should consider to instigate the professional challenge procedure [PDF Document].
Whenever there is reasonable cause to suspect that a child is suffering, or is likely to suffer, significant harm there should be a strategy discussion involving local authority children’s social care (including the fostering service, if the child is looked after), the police, health and other bodies such as the referring agency. This might take the form of a multi-agency meeting or phone calls and more than one discussion may be necessary. A strategy discussion can take place following a referral or at any other time, including during the assessment process. See Flow Chart 4, Working Together to Safeguard Children 2018 (page 42) [PDF Document].
Local authority children’s social care should convene a strategy discussion to determine the child’s welfare and plan rapid future action if there is reasonable cause to suspect the child is suffering, or is likely to suffer, significant harm.
Where there are suspicions of organised or multiple abuse – see DSCB Organised or Multiple Abuse Procedure and Practice Guidance.
Where concerns relate to fabricated or induced illness – DSCB Fabricated or Induced Illness Practice Guidance.
Additional guidance on children in specific circumstances can be found on the DSCB website [External Link].
A local authority social worker and their manager, health professionals and a police representative should, as a minimum, be involved in the strategy discussion. Other relevant professionals will depend on the nature of the individual case but may include:
- the professional or agency which made the referral
- the child's school or nursery and
- any health services the child or family members are receiving
All attendees should be sufficiently senior to make decisions on behalf of their agencies.
The discussion should be used to:
- share available information
- agree the conduct and timing of any criminal investigation and
- decide whether enquiries under section 47 of the Children Act 1989 should be undertaken
Where there are grounds to initiate an enquiry under section 47 of the Children Act 1989, decisions should be made as to:
- what further information is needed if an assessment is already underway and how it will be obtained and recorded;
- what immediate and short term action is required to support the child, and who will do what by when; and
- whether legal action is required e.g. Legal Gateway Panel
The timescale for the assessment to reach a decision on next steps should be based upon the needs of the individual child, consistent with the local protocol and certainly no longer than 45 working days from the point of referral into local authority children's social care.
The principles and parameters for the assessment of children in need in Chapter 1 Working Together 2018 should be followed for assessments undertaken under section 47 of the Children Act 1989.
High quality assessments:
- are child centred. Where there is a conflict of interest, decisions should be made in the child’s best interests;
- are rooted in child development and informed by evidence;
- are focused on action and outcomes for children;
- are holistic in approach, addressing the child’s needs within their family and wider community;
- ensure equality of opportunity;
- involve children and families;
- build on strengths as well as identifying difficulties;
- are integrated in approach;
- are a continuing process not an event;
- lead to action, including the provision of services;
- review services provided on an ongoing basis; and
- are transparent and open to challenge
Local Authority children's social care should convene the strategy discussion and ensure it:
- considers the child’s welfare and safety, and identifies the level of risk faced by the child
- decides what information should be shared with the child and family (on the basis that information is not shared if this may jeopardise a police investigation or place the child at risk of significant harm)
- agrees what further action is required, and who will do what by when, where an EPO is in place or the child is the subject of police powers of protection
- records agreed decisions in accordance with local recording procedures; and
- follows up actions to make sure what was agreed gets done.
The police should:
- discuss the basis for any criminal investigation and any relevant processes that other agencies might need to know about, including the timing and methods of evidence gathering;
- lead the criminal investigation (local authority children's social care have the lead for the section 47 enquiries and assessment of the child's welfare) where joint enquiries take place.
Initiating Section 47 enquiries
A section 47 enquiry is carried out by undertaking or continuing with an assessment in accordance with the guidance set out in WT 2018 and following the principles and parameters of a good assessment as identified above. Local authority social workers have a statutory duty to lead assessments under section 47 of the Children Act 1989. The police, health professionals, teachers and other relevant professionals should help the local authority in undertaking its enquiries.
A section 47 enquiry is initiated to decide whether and what type of action is required to safeguard and promote the welfare of a child who is suspected of, or likely to be, suffering significant harm.
Social workers with their managers should:
- lead the assessment in accordance with these procedures;
- carry out enquiries in a way that minimises distress for the child and family;
- see the child who is the subject of concern to ascertain their wishes and feelings; assess their understanding of their situation; assess their relationships and circumstances more broadly;
- interview parents and/or caregivers and determine the wider social and environmental factors that might impact on them and their child;
- systematically gather information about the child’s and family’s history;
- analyse the findings of the assessment and evidence about what interventions are likely to be most effective with other relevant professionals to determine the child’s needs and the level of risk of harm faced by the child to inform what help should be provided and act to provide that help; and
- follow the guidance set out in Achieving Best Evidence in Criminal Proceedings: Guidance on interviewing victims and witnesses, and guidance on using special measures (March 2011) [PDF Document], where a decision has been made to undertake a joint interview of the child as part of any criminal investigation.
The police should:
- help other agencies understand the reasons for concerns about the child’s safety and welfare;
- decide whether or not police investigations reveal grounds for instigating criminal proceedings;
- make available to other professionals any evidence gathered to inform discussions about the child’s welfare; and
- follow the guidance set out in Achieving Best Evidence in Criminal Proceedings: Guidance on interviewing victims and witnesses, and guidance on using special measures (March 2011) [PDF Document], where a decision has been made to undertake a joint interview of the child as part of the criminal investigations.
Health Professionals should:
- undertake appropriate medical tests, examinations or observations, to determine how the child’s health or development may be being impaired;
- provide any of a range of specialist assessments. For example, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, speech and language therapists and child psychologists may be involved in specific assessments relating to the child’s developmental progress. The lead health practitioner (probably a consultant paediatrician, or possibly the child’s GP) may need to request and coordinate these assessments; and
- ensure appropriate treatment and follow up health concerns
All involved professionals should:
- contribute to the assessment as required, providing information about the child and family; and
- consider whether a joint enquiry/investigation team may need to speak to a child victim without the knowledge of the parent or caregiver.
Outcomes of a Section 47
Section 47 Enquiries may conclude that the original concerns are:
- Not substantiated, although consideration should be given to whether the child may need services as Child in Need or at an Early Help level
- Substantiated and the child is judged to be suffering, or likely to suffer significant harm and an Initial Child Protection Conference should be called.
Where concerns of significant harm are not Substantiated
Social workers with their managers should:
- Discuss the case with the child, parents and other professionals;
- Determine whether support from any services may be helpful and help secure it, and
- Consider whether the child’s health and development should be reassessed regularly against specific objectives and decide who has responsibility for doing this.
All involved professionals should:
- Participate in further discussions as necessary
- Contribute to the development of a Child in Need Plan
- Provide services as specified in the Child in Need Plan for the child; and
- Review the impact of services delivered as agreed in the Child in Need Plan.
Where concerns of significant harm are Substantiated and the child is judged to be suffering, or likely to suffer significant harm
Social workers with their managers should:
- Convene an Initial Child Protection Conference. The timing of this conference should depend on the urgency of the case and respond to the needs of the child and the nature and severity of the harm they may be facing. It should take place within 15 working days of the Strategy Discussion, where more than one Strategy Discussion took place, of the Strategy Discussion at which section 47 enquiry was initiated. Any delay must have written agreement from the Children's Social care team manager;
- Consider whether any professionals with specialist knowledge should be invited to participate
- Ensure that the child and their parents understand the purpose of the conference and who will attend; and
- Help prepare the child if he or she is attending or making representations through a third party to the conference. Give information about advocacy agencies and explain that the family may bring an advocate, friend or supporter.
All Involved Professionals Should:
- Contribute to the information their agency provides ahead of the conference, setting out the nature of the agency’s involvement with the child and family
- careful preparation for conference, including the provision of reports
- Consider, in conjunction with the police and the appointed conference Chair, whether the report can and should be shared with the parents and if so when; and
- Attend the conference and take part in decision-making when invited
- Deliver on actions that are planned to safeguard the child(ren).
A child protection conference brings together family members (and the child where appropriate), with the supporters, advocates and professionals most involved with the child and family, to make decisions about the child’s future safety, health and development. If concerns relate to an unborn child, consideration should be given as to whether to hold a child protection conference prior to the child’s birth.
Types of Conference
The Initial Child Protection Conference (ICPC) brings together family members, the child where appropriate, and those professionals most involved with the child and family. Its purpose is:
- To bring together and analyse, in an inter-agency setting, the information which has been obtained about the child's developmental needs, and the parents' or carers' capacity to respond to these needs to ensure the child's safety and promote the child's health and development within the context of their wider family and environment;
- To consider the evidence presented to the conference, make judgements about the likelihood of a child suffering significant harm in future and decide whether the child is at continuing risk of significant harm; and
- To decide what future action is required to safeguard and promote the welfare of the child, including the child becoming the subject of a child protection plan, what the best developmental outcomes are for the child and how best to intervene to achieve these.
The conference must consider all the children in the household, even if concerns are only being expressed about one child.
In some cases, it may be appropriate to develop a child protection plan (CPP) for only one (or more) of the children within a household. If significant concerns arise subsequently about a sibling (or others in the household), a further ICPC must be held. It should be combined with the child protection review conference (CPRC) concerning the child who is already subject to a child protection plan.
The ICPC should take place within 15 working days of the strategy discussion or, where more than one strategy discussion took place, of the strategy discussion at which the section 47 enquiry was initiated.
Any delay must have written agreement from the Children’s Social Care team manager (including reasons for the delay) and Children's Social Care must ensure risks to the child are monitored and action taken to safeguard the child.
A pre-birth child protection conference should be conducted as if it were an ICPC concerning an unborn child.
A pre-birth conference should be held where a:
- Pre- birth assessment gives rise to concerns that an unborn child may be at risk of significant harm;
- Previous child has died or been removed from parent(s) as a result of significant harm;
- A child is to be born into a family or household which already have children subject to a child protection plan;
- A person identified as a presenting a risk, or potential risk, to children resides in the household or is known to be a regular visitor.
Other risk factors to be considered are:
- The impact of parental risk factors such as mental ill-health, learning disabilities, substance misuse and domestic violence;
- A mother under 16 for whom there are concerns regarding her ability to self-care and/or to care for the child.
All agencies involved with pregnant women who have concerns should consider the need for an early referral to Children's Social Care, so that assessments are undertaken, and family support services provided, as early as possible in the pregnancy.
The pre-birth conference should take place ideally at least 3 months before the due date of delivery, so as to allow as much time as possible for planning support for the pregnancy and the birth of the baby.
Where there is a known likelihood of a premature birth, the conference should be held earlier.
Those who normally attend an ICPC must be invited. In addition representatives of the midwifery and relevant neo-natal services should also be invited.
If a decision is made that the unborn child requires a child protection plan, the main cause for concern must determine the category of concern and a protection plan be outlined to commence prior to the birth of the baby.
The Core Group must be established and is expected to meet prior to the birth, and ensure that the child protection plan describes the birth plan and any additional support/monitoring that is required during the baby's return home after a hospital birth.
When Children's Social Care is notified that a child subject to a child protection plan moves into the authority's area, the responsibility for the child protection plan rests with the original authority until the conference has been held, Darlington staff should liaise with the lead social worker from the originating authority until the Transfer Child Protection Conference is held.
The originating Children's Social Care should send a written request and key documents to the receiving authority, in accordance with any locally agreed protocols, before a transfer conference is convened.
A transfer conference should be held within 15 working days of the agreement between the two authorities. This should be based on the principle that the child is now normally resident in the receiving area.
The lead social worker from the originating authority must be invited to the transfer conference and is expected to submit a report at least five working days before the conference having shared this with the child and the family.
The transfer conference should be treated as an initial child protection conference in the receiving authority. The discontinuing of the child protection plan should only be agreed following a full risk assessment of the child and family in their new situation.
The purpose of the child protection review conference is to:
- Review the safety, health and development of the child against the planned outcomes set out in the child protection plan;
- Ensure that the child continues to be safeguarded from harm.
Consider whether the child protection plan should continue in place or should be changed.
If a child becomes the subject of a child protection plan, the first review conference must be held within 3 months (91 days) of the initial conference.
Further reviews must be held at intervals of not more than 6 months (182 days), for as long as the child remains the subject of a child protection plan.
Consideration should always be given to bringing the date of a conference forward:
- Where child protection concerns relating to a new incident or allegation of abuse have been sustained;
- When there are significant difficulties in carrying out the Child Protection Plan;
- Where a child is to be born into the household of a child who is subject to a Child Protection Plan;
- Where a person known to pose a risk to children is to join, or commences regular contact with, the household;
- When there is a significant change in the circumstances of the child or family not anticipated at the previous conference and with implications for the safety of the child;
- Where a child subject to a Child Protection Plan is Looked After by a local authority and consideration is being given to returning her/him to the circumstances which required a Child Protection Plan (unless this step is anticipated in the existing protection plan);
- Where the Core Group believes that the Child Protection Plan is no longer required.
Those attending conferences should be there because they may have a significant contribution to make, arising from professional expertise, knowledge of the child or family or both.
Those who have a relevant contribution to make may include:
- The child, (if of sufficient age and understanding: (as highlighted in Involving Children and Family Members section, Criteria for Presence of Child at Conference) or his or her representative;
- Family members (including the wider family);
- Children's Social Care staff who have led and been involved in an assessment of the child and family;
- Foster carers (current or former);
- Residential care staff;
- Professionals involved with the child (for example, health visitors, midwife, school nurse, Children's Guardian, paediatrician, school staff, early years staff, the GP, staff in the youth justice system including the secure estate);
- Professionals involved with the parents or other family members (for example, family support services, adult services (particularly those from mental health, substance misuse, domestic violence and learning disability), probation, the GP;
- Professionals with expertise in the particular type of harm suffered by the child or in the child's particular condition, for example, a disability or long term illness;
- Those involved in investigations (for example, the police);
- Local authority legal services (child care) - Further details available in professional guidance as outlined by The Law Society [External Link] (which provides professional guidance on attendance by lawyers at child protection conferences)
- NSPCC or other voluntary organisations involved;
- A representative of the armed services, in cases where there is a Service connection.
The primary principle for determining quoracy at Child Protection conference is that there should be sufficient agencies or key disciplines present to enable safe decisions to be made in the individual circumstances. Normally, minimum representation is Children's Social Care and at least two other agencies or key disciplines that have had direct contact with the child and family. Where a conference is inquorate it should not ordinarily proceed and the chair must ensure that either:
- An interim protection plan is produced; or
- The existing plan is reviewed with the professionals and family members that do attend, so as to safeguard the welfare of the child(ren).
Another conference date, usually within a month, must be set immediately.
In the following circumstances the chair may decide to proceed with the conference despite lack of agency representation. This would be relevant where:
- Children's Social Care and one other agency are represented;
- A child does not have relevant contact with 3 agencies;
- There are local difficulties concerning agency attendance (this must also be reported to the senior child protection manager and the LSCB);
- Where sufficient information is available; and a delay will be detrimental to the child.
In these circumstances, consideration should be given to arranging an early Review Conference.
A child protection plan should not be removed at the first review conference except in exceptional circumstances where it can be demonstrated that all risks have been eliminated.
Exceptional circumstances are defined as:
The perpetrator of the abuse is the subject of a significant custodial sentence that removes the risk of further significant harm, or the perpetrator is deceased.
Involving Parents and Carers
Parents and carers must be invited to conferences (unless exclusion is justified as described in Exclusion of Family Members from a Conference Procedure). Parents/others with Parental Responsibility who no longer live with the children should also be invited.
The social worker must facilitate their constructive involvement by ensuring in advance of the conference that they are given sufficient information and practical support to make a meaningful contribution. This includes:
- Explaining to parents/carers the purpose of the meeting, who will attend, the way in which it will operate, the purpose and meaning of being made subject to a Child Protection Plan and the complaints process;
- Consideration of childcare arrangements to enable the attendance of parent(s);
- Those for whom English is not a first language must be offered, if required, an interpreter. A family member should not be expected to act as an interpreter of spoken or signed language (see Use of Interpreters, Signers or Others with Communication Skills Procedure);
- Provision should be made to ensure that visually or hearing impaired or otherwise disabled parents / carers are enabled to participate.
If parents / carers feel unable to attend the conference, alternative means should be provided for them to communicate with the chair of the conference.
Written information about conferences should be left with the family and include references to:
- The right to bring a friend, supporter or an advocate;
- The fact that if the family is accompanied by a solicitor her /his role is limited to that of a supporter;
- Details of local advice and advocacy services; and
- The conference complaints procedure
The role of the supporter is to enable the parent/carer to put her/his point of view, not to take an adversarial position or cross-examine participants.
The child, subject to her/his level of understanding, needs to be given the opportunity to contribute meaningfully to the conference.
In practice, the appropriateness of including an individual child must be assessed in advance and relevant arrangements made to facilitate attendance at all or part of the conference.
Where it is assessed, in accordance with the criteria below, that it would be inappropriate for the child to attend, alternative arrangements should be made to ensure her/his wishes and feelings are made clear to all relevant parties - e.g. use of an advocate, written or taped comments.
Criteria for Presence of Child at Conference
The primary issues to be addressed are:
- The child's level of understanding of the process;
- Any expressed or implicit wish to be involved;
- The parent/carer's views about the child's proposed presence;
- Whether inclusion is assessed to be of benefit to the child.
The test of 'sufficient understanding', is partly a function of age and partly the child's capacity to understand. Generally, a child of less than 12 years of age is unlikely to be able to be a direct and/or full participant in a conference. An older child is potentially able to contribute, but each should be considered individually in the light of maturity, and cognitive development.
In order to establish her/his wish with respect to attendance, the child must be first provided with a full and clear explanation of purpose, conduct, membership of the conference and potential provision of an advocate or support person.
Written information translated into the appropriate language should be provided to those able to read and an alternative medium e.g. tape, offered those who cannot read.
A declared wish not to attend a conference (having been given such an explanation) must be respected.
Consideration should be given to the views of and impact on parent(s) of their child's proposed attendance.
Consideration must be given to the impact of the conference on the child e.g. if they have a significant learning difficulty or where it will be impossible to ensure they are kept apart from a parent who may be hostile and/or attribute responsibility onto them.
In such cases, energy and resources should be directed toward ensuring by means of an advocate and/or preparatory work by a social worker, that the child's wishes and feelings are effectively represented.
Indirect Contributions When a Child is not attending
Indirect contributions from a child might include a pre-meeting with the conference chair.
Other indirect methods include written statements, emails, text messages and taped comments prepared alone or with independent support, and representation via an advocate.
Direct Involvement of a Child in a Conference
In advance of the conference, the chair and social worker should agree whether:
- The child attends for all or part of the conference, taking into account confidentiality of parents and/or siblings;
- (S)he should be present with one or more of her/his parents;
- The chair meets the child alone or with a parent / carer prior to the meeting.
If the child attends all or part of the conference, it is essential that (s)he is prepared by the social worker or independent advocate, who can help her/him prepare a report or rehearse any particular points that the child wishes to make.
Those for whom English is not a first language should be offered and provided with an interpreter.
Provision should be made to ensure that a child who has any form of disability is enabled to participate.
Consideration should be given to enabling the child to be accompanied by a supporter or an advocate.
Exceptionally it may be necessary to exclude one or more family members from part or all of a conference. These situations will be rare, and the conference chair must be notified by the social worker, or a worker from any agency, if they believe based on the criteria below, that a parent should be excluded. This representation must be made, as soon as possible and at least three working days in advance of the conference.
The worker concerned must indicate which of the grounds it believes are met and the information, or evidence, the request is based on. The chair must consider the representation carefully and may need legal advice.
The chair should make a decision in response to:
- Indications that the presence of the parent might seriously prejudice the welfare of the child;
- Sufficient evidence that a parent / carer may behave in such a way as to interfere seriously with the work of the conference e.g. violence, threats of violence, racist, or other forms of discriminatory or oppressive behaviour or being in an unfit state perhaps through drug, alcohol consumption or acute mental health difficulty (but in their absence a friend or advocate may represent them at the conference);
- A child asking that a parent/ person with Parental Responsibility or carer are not present while (s)he is present;
- The likelihood that the presence of parents would prevent a participant from making her/his proper contribution;
- The need (agreed in advance with the conference chair) for members to receive or share confidential information that would otherwise be unavailable, such as legal advice or information about a criminal investigation;
- Potential conflicts between different family members indicating that they should attend at separate times e.g. in situations of domestic abuse.
If, in planning a conference, it becomes clear to the chair that there may be conflict of interests between the children and parents, the conference should be planned so that the welfare of the child can remain paramount. This may mean arranging for the child and parents to participate in separate parts of the conference and for separate waiting arrangements to be made. Any exclusion period should be for the minimum duration necessary and must be clearly recorded in the conference record.
It may also become clear at the beginning or in the course of a conference, that its effectiveness will be seriously impaired by the presence of the parent(s). In these circumstances, the chair may ask them to leave.
Where a parent is on bail, or subject to an active police investigation, it is the responsibility of the chair to ensure that the police can fully present their information and views and also that the parents participate as fully as circumstances allow. This may involve the chair and police having a confidential meeting prior to the conference to agree a way of managing the process and the information.
The decision of the chair over matters of exclusion is final regarding both parents and the child(ren).
If the chair has decided, prior to the conference, to exclude a parent, this must be communicated to the parent prior to conference, ideally in writing. If this is not possible then the Chair must still confirm in writing the reasons for their decision. The social worker should have prepared the parent for the possibility that this may occur.
The parent must be informed about how to make their views known, how (s)he will be told the outcome of the conference and about the Complaints by Service Users Procedure. The parent should be advised on the possibility of preparing a contribution for the conference e.g. a letter, others attending on her/his behalf e.g. solicitors, advocate.
Those excluded should be provided with a copy of the social worker's report to the conference (three working days before an Initial Conference and five working days before a Review Conference) and be provided with the opportunity to have their views recorded and presented to the conference.
If a decision to exclude a parent is made, this must be fully recorded in the minutes. Exclusion from one conference is not reason enough in itself for exclusion from a further conference.
Sometimes it may be necessary to conduct a split Child Protection Conference.
Circumstances where this may be necessary include where:
- parents/ carers / young people have made a request,
- there is a potential for conflict,
- a legal order / bail conditions are in place,
- one party fears for their safety, or
- a decision has been taken by professionals that a split conference is appropriate
When a split conference is arranged, Social Workers and conference Chairs should ensure that the following actions are carried out:
- Social Workers should write to parents or other attendees at least three working days before the conference to confirm arrangements:
- the date and time
- which entrance they should use and when they should arrive
- there should be at least a 30-minute break between each part of a conference to allow the previous attendees to disperse before the next attendees arrive.
- when the first part ends, either the Social Worker or conference Chair should escort the attendees to the exit, where possible ensuring this is away from the entrance that will be used by the next attendees.
If parents and/or children do not wish to attend the conference they must be provided with full opportunities to contribute their views. The social worker must facilitate this by:
- Exploring the use of an advocate or supporter to attend on behalf of the parent or child;
- Enabling the child or parent to write, or tape, or use drawings to represent their views;
- Agreeing that the social worker, or any other professional, expresses their views.
The Child Protection Conference report should include:
- A chronology of significant events, agency and professional contact
- Information on the child's current and past state of developmental needs
- The dates when the child was seen by the Lead Social Worker during the Section 47 Enquiry or since last conference, if the child was seen alone and, if not, who was present and for what reason.
- Information on the capacity of the parents and other family members to ensure the child is kept safe from harm, and to respond to the child's developmental needs within their wider family and environmental context
- Information on the family history and both the current and past family functioning
- The expressed views, wishes and feelings of the child, parents, and other family members
- An analysis of the information gathered and recorded using the Assessment Framework dimensions (See WT 2018) to reach a judgment on whether the child is suffering, or is likely to suffer Significant Harm and consider how best to meet his or her developmental needs. This analysis should address:
- How the child's strengths and difficulties are impacting on each other;
- How the parenting strengths and difficulties are affecting each other
- How the family and environmental factors are affecting each other
- How the parenting that is provided for the child is affecting the child's health and development both in terms of resilience and protective factors, and vulnerability and risk factors; and
- How the family and environmental factors are impacting on parenting and/or the child directly.
The report should be provided to parents and older children (to the extent that it is believed to be in their interests) at least two working days in advance of Initial Child Protection Conferences, and two working days before Review Child Protection Conferences, to enable any factual inaccuracies to be identified, amended, and areas of disagreement noted. Where necessary, the reports should be translated into the relevant language or medium.
The report should be provided to the chair at least three working days prior to the Initial Child Protection Conference and three working days in advance of the Review Child Protection Conference.
All reports must make it clear which children are the subjects of the child protection conference (previously decided by the social worker and her/his manager). Even if not the subject of the conference, all children in the household need to be considered at the Initial Child Protection Conference and information must be provided on each of them in the record.
The report will be sent out after the child protection conference (with the conference record) to those invited but who did not attend the child protection conference.
Information from Other Agencies
It is the responsibility of all the agencies who have participated in the Section 47 Enquiry, or who have relevant information, to make this available to the conference through a written report. Contributors should, wherever possible, provide in advance a written report to the conference that should be made available to those attending.
Where any agency representatives are unable to attend the conference they must ensure that their written report is made available to the conference, through the chair and, if possible, that a well-briefed colleague attend in their place.
For agencies in contact with the family, the reports should be shared with the child and parents before the conference, (two working days) and where necessary, should be translated into the appropriate language or medium.
All written reports will be attached to the chair's report for circulation or incorporated into the conference record.
The chair of a Child Protection Conference will be an Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO). (S)he must not have operational or line management responsibility for the case. The Conference Chair is accountable to the Director of Children and Adult Services.
The chair must meet with the family, child and social worker prior to the conference to ensure they understand the purpose of the conference and how it will be conducted.
Where necessary, interpreters, etc. should be made available to facilitate family participation.
At the start of the conference the chair will:
- Set out the purpose of the conference;
- Confirm the agenda;
- Emphasise the need for confidentiality;
- Address equal opportunities issues e.g. specifying that racist, homophobic, religious hatred and threatening behaviour will not be tolerated;
- Clarify the contributions of those present, including supporters of the family.
During the conference the chair will ensure that:
- The conference maintains a focus on the welfare of the child(ren);
- Consideration is given to all the children in the household;
- All those present, including the parents and child(ren) if present, make a full contribution and that full consideration is given to the information they present. This may include the use of interpreters if English is not the first language of family members;
- Reports of those not present are made known to parties;
- The wishes and feelings of the child(ren) are clearly outlined;
- Issues of race, religion, language, class, gender, sexuality and disability are fully taken into account in the work of the conference;
- Appropriate arrangements are made to receive third party confidential information;
- All concerned are advised/reminded of the complaints procedure;
- Arrangements are made with the social worker for absent parents or carers to be informed of the decisions of conferences;
- A decision is made as to whether the child should become, remain or cease to be the subject of a Child Protection Plan.
As described in Working Together to Safeguard Children 2018 (Flowchart 4 page 42). Action following a strategy discussion the conference should consider the following questions when determining whether the child should be the subject of a Child Protection Plan:
- The child is likely to suffer Significant Harm? or
- The child is not likely to suffer Significant Harm.
The test for likelihood of suffering harm in the future should be that either:
- The child can be shown to have suffered ill-treatment or impairment of health or development as a result of Physical, Emotional, or Sexual Abuse or Neglect, and professional judgement is that further ill-treatment or impairment is likely; or
- Professional judgement, substantiated by the findings of enquiries in this individual case or by research evidence, is that the child is likely to suffer ill-treatment or the impairment of health and development as a result of Physical, Emotional or Sexual Abuse or Neglect
If the child is at continuing risk of Significant Harm, (s)he will require inter-agency help and intervention delivered through a formal Child Protection Plan.
The decision making process will normally take place with parents / carers present.
The chair must make a decision about the need for a Child Protection Plan based on the views of all agencies represented at the conference and also take into account any written contributions that have been made.
The chair of a conference is responsible for the conference decision. (S)he will consult conference members, aim for a consensus as to the need for a plan or not, but ultimately will make the decision and note any dissenting views.
Category of Abuse
If the decision is that the child is in need of a Child Protection Plan the chair should determine under which category of abuse the child has suffered or likely to suffer.
The categories used (Physical, Emotional Abuse, Sexual Abuse or Neglect) will indicate to those consulting the child's social care record the primary presenting concern at the time the child became subject to a Child Protection Plan.
Multiple categories should not be used to cover all eventualities, and 'other significant concerns' recorded instead.
The need for a Child Protection Plan should be considered separately in respect of each child in the family or household.
Where a child is made the subject of a Child Protection Plan, it is the role of the conference to consider and make decisions on how agencies, professionals and the family should work together to ensure that the child will be safeguarded from harm in the future. This should enable both professionals, and the family, to understand exactly what is expected of them and what can they expect of others.
The chair must ensure that the following tasks are completed:
- Clarify the different purpose and remit of the Initial Child Protection Conference, the Core Group, and the Child Protection Review Conference;
- That a Lead Social Worker is identified, and if this is not possible that a first line manager from Children's Social Care is identified to act in that role in the interim;
- Identify the membership of the Core Group;
- Establish how the child, parents (including all those with Parental Responsibility) and wider family members should be involved in the ongoing assessment, planning and implementation process, and the support, advice and advocacy available to them;
- Establish timescales for meetings of the Core Group, production of a Child Protection Plan, and for child protection review meetings;
- Outline the Child Protection Plan, in as much detail as possible, especially, identifying what needs to change in order to achieve the planned outcomes to safeguard and promote the welfare of the child;
- Ensure a contingency plan is in place if agreed actions are not completed and/or circumstances change; for example, if a caregiver fails to achieve what has been agreed, a court application is not successful or a parent removes the child from a place of safety;
- Agreeing a date for the first Child Protection Review Conference, and under what circumstances it might be necessary to convene the conference before that date.
Where a child has suffered, or is likely to suffer, Significant Harm in the future, it is the local authority's duty to consider the evidence and decide what, if any, legal action to take. The information presented to the Child Protection Conference should inform that decision-making process but it is for the local authority to consider whether it should initiate for example, Care Proceedings. Where a child who is the subject of a Child Protection Plan becomes Looked After, the Child Protection Plan should form part of the child's Care Plan.
Outline Child Protection Plan
The Outline Child Protection Plan should be outcome focussed and:
- Identify factors associated with the likelihood of the child suffering Significant Harm and ways in which the child can be protected through an inter-agency plan based on the current findings from the assessment and information held from any previous involvement with the child and family;
- Establish short-term and longer-term aims and objectives that are clearly linked to reducing the likelihood of harm to the child and promoting the child's welfare, including contact with family members;
- Be clear about who will have responsibility for what actions - including actions by family members - within what specified timescales;
- Outline ways of monitoring and evaluating progress against the planned outcomes set out in the plan; and
- Be clear about which professional is responsible for checking that the required changes have taken place, and what action will be taken, and by whom, when they have not.
If it is decided that the child is not at risk of continuing Significant Harm, but the child is in need of support to promote her/his health or development, the conference must ensure that recommendations are made to this effect.
Subject to the family's views and consent, it may be appropriate to:
- Make recommendations about support and help, including through the Early Help Plan process
- Establish commitment to inter-agency working, particularly where the child's needs are complex (this should involve a regularly reviewed child's plan)
The decision must be put in writing to the parent(s), and where appropriate the child, as well as communicated to them verbally.
As indicated in Working Together to Safeguard Children 2018 Flow Chart 5 page 52 [PDF Document]. A child should no longer be the subject of a Child Protection Plan if:
- It is judged that the child is no longer continuing to, or is likely to, suffer significant harm and therefore no longer requires safeguarding by means of a Child Protection Plan;
- The child and family have moved permanently to another local authority area. In such cases, the receiving local authority should convene a Child Protection Conference within 15 working days of being notified of the move. Only after this event may the original local authority discontinue its Child Protection Plan; or
- The child has reached 18 years of age (to end the Child Protection Plan, the local authority should have a review around the child's birthday and this should be planned in advance), has died or has permanently left the United Kingdom.
When a child is no longer the subject of a Child Protection Plan, notification should be sent, as minimum, to all those agency representatives who were invited to attend the initial Child Protection Conference that led to the plan.
Where one or more agencies currently working with a child are not present at the conference deciding on whether to discontinue the Child Protection Plan, the chair may decide to seek their views first. This should be done in writing within 10 working days and written responses provided within 10 working days.
The discontinuation of the Child Protection Plan should not lead to the automatic withdrawal of help. The Lead Social Worker must discuss with parents and child(ren) what services are wanted and needed, based on the re-assessment of the child and family. The Core Group should also consider what continuing support should be offered and, where the discontinuation of the Child Protection Plan is recommended, they should also submit a plan for the provision of the proposed continuing support, including the identification of a Lead Professional and which multi agency professionals will continue their involvement.
Consideration should be given to holding a multi-agency meeting 10 days following the discontinuing of the Child Protection Plan to develop a detailed child's plan and 3 months afterwards to provide a first review to the child's plan. Subsequently the child’s plan should be reviewed at least every 6 months.
Looked after children with child protection plans
Children, who are already looked after, will not usually be the subject of child protection conferences, though they may be the subject of a section 47 enquiry. The circumstances in which a child, who is looked after, may be considered for a child protection conference or be subject to a child protection plan are likely to be a rare occurrence. The Care Plan and Placement Plan for a child who is looked after (whether there are proceedings pending an outcome, an interim Care order or a Care order in place) should provide the means to safeguard the child. The Care Plan and Placement Plan should be reviewed and updated regularly and in response to new information or concerns about the welfare of the child.
Children returning home
If it is proposed that a child subject to a Care order should be returned to their birth family / returned home, the members of the statutory looked after child case review (The Children Act 1989 Guidance and Regulations Volume 2: Care Planning, Placement and Case Review (2015)) [PDF Document] when considering the proposal for rehabilitation must decide and record whether an initial child protection conference should be convened prior to the change. If the decision of the Review is that an initial child protection conference should be convened, the child's social worker must request it to take place within 15 days of the case review decision.
A child looked after under section 20 of the Children Act 1989, who has been or is about to be returned to a parent's care, about whom there are concerns about risk of significant harm may be subject of a s47 enquiry and a child protection conference.
See The Children Act 1989 Guidance and Regulations Volume 2: Care Planning, Placement and Case Review (2015) [PDF Document]and the Practice Guidance for the Use of Section 20 Provision in the Children Act 1989 in England.
If a parent removes or proposes to remove a child looked after under section 20 from the care of the local authority and there are serious concerns about that parent's capacity to provide for the child's needs and protect them from significant harm, the social worker must discuss the case with their manager, who will make a decision about whether a child protection enquiry should be initiated. If a section 47 child protection enquiry is initiated, the reasons for this must be clearly recorded on the child's record and may lead to an initial child protection conference.
Any plan should be based on the child's welfare needs and avoid delay. In these circumstances, the Local Authority children's social care social worker and manager should consider whether legal proceedings are required to protect the child in line with the Public Law Outline LINK.
Children with child protection plans who become looked after
If a child subject of a child protection plan becomes looked after under section 20, their legal situation is not permanently secure and the next child protection review conference should consider the child's safety in the light of the possibility that the parent can simply request their removal from the local authority's care. The child protection review conference must be sure that the looked after Care Plan and Placement Plan provide adequate security for the child and sufficiently reduces or eliminates the risk of significant harm identified by the initial child protection conference.
If a child ceases to be subject of a child protection plan as a result of a decision at a child protection review conference, and the parent then unexpectedly requests the return of the child from the local authority's care, the social worker and manager should discuss the need for an initial child protection conference. The social worker must record the reasons for the decision whether or not to hold a conference.
In the circumstances outlined above, where there is no foreseeable plan for the child to return home, a Review Conference should be convened to consider discontinuing the Protection Plan to avoid ‘double protection’ and to ensure that the child has one care plan.
Darlington Borough Council, Children's Social Care is responsible for administering the Child Protection Conference service.
All initial and review conferences should be noted by a dedicated person whose sole task within the conference is to provide a written record of the meeting in a consistent format.
Guidance on electronic and digital recording is available on the DSCB website.
Decision of Conference
The decisions of a child protection conference, whether Initial (including Transfer), Pre-birth or Review and where appropriate, details of the category of abuse or neglect, names of the key worker and the core group membership and the outline Child Protection Plan are to be circulated to all those invited within two working days.
The notes of the conference should be distributed as soon as possible (and within 20 working days).
Conference records should include:
- Name, date of birth and address of the subject(s) of the conference, parents / carers and other adults in the household;
- Who was invited, who attended the conference and who submitted their apologies;
- A list of written reports available to conference and whether available to parents or not;
- The purpose of the conference;
- All the essential facts;
- Opinions of conference members, clearly identified as such;
- Views of child;
- Views of parents / carers;
- A summary of discussion at the conference, accurately reflecting contributions made;
- All decisions reached, with information outlining the reasons;
- An outline or revised Child Protection Plan;
- Name of Lead Social Worker;
- Members of the Core Group and date of first meeting;
- Date of next conference.
The conference record should be sent to all those who attended or were invited, within 20 working days of the conference. Any amendment to accuracy of record should be sent, in writing, within 10 working days of the receipt of that record to the chair.
The parents' copy of the conference record should be clearly 'marked ' on all pages that it is a parent's copy. Confidential material may be excluded from the parents' copy.
Where an advocate, supporter or solicitor has been involved the parent should decide whether they give a copy of the conference record.
Where a child has attended a Child Protection Conference, the social worker must arrange to see her/him and arrange to discuss relevant sections of the record. Consideration should be given to whether that child should be given copies of the record. They may be supplied to a child's legal representative on request.
Where parents and / or the child(ren) have a sensory disability or where English is not their first language, steps must be taken to ensure that they can understand and make full use of the conference record.
Conference records are confidential and should not be passed to third parties without the consent of either the conference chair or order of the court. In criminal proceedings the police may reveal the existence of child protection records to the Crown Prosecution Service and in Care Proceedings the record of the conference may be revealed in court.
Every agency must establish arrangements for the storage of Child Protection Conference records in accordance with their own confidentiality and record retention policies.
When the decision is made by an Initial Child Protection Conference to make a child subject to a Child Protection Plan, the Conference must
- Formulate an outline Child Protection Plan (see Actions and Decisions of the Conference Procedure, Outline Child Protection Plan);
- Ensure a Lead Social Worker from Children's Social Care is appointed to coordinate and lead all aspects of the inter-agency Child Protection Plan; and
- Identify members of the Core Group and set the date of the first meeting.
The Core Group is responsible for the formulation and implementation of the detailed Child Protection Plan, previously outlined at the conference.
- Meet within 10 working days from the initial child protection conference if the child is the subject of a child protection plan;
- further develop the outline child protection plan, based on assessment findings, and set out what needs to change, by how much, and by when in order for the child to be safe and have their needs met;
- decide what steps need to be taken, and by whom, to complete the in-depth assessment to inform decisions about the child’s safety and welfare; and
- implement the child protection plan and take joint responsibility for carrying out the agreed tasks, monitoring progress and outcomes, and refining the plan as needed.
Formulation of Child Protection Plan
Each child subject to a Child Protection Plan must have a written Child Protection Plan, using the Child Protection Plan pro-forma.
The purpose of this plan is to facilitate and make explicit a coordinated approach to the protection from further harm of each child subject to a Child Protection Plan.
The parents should be clear about:
- The evidence of significant harm which resulted in the child becoming the subject of a Child Protection Plan;
- What needs to change in the future; and
- What is expected of them as part of implementing the plan.
All parties must be clear about the respective roles and responsibilities of family members and different agencies in implementing the plan.
Lead Social Worker Role
At every initial conference, where a child is made subject to a Child Protection Plan, the chair will name a qualified social worker, identified by the social work team manager, to fulfil the role of Lead Social Worker for the child.
The Lead Social Worker should:
- Ensure that Core Groups take place with frequency;
- Ensure that the outline Child Protection Plan is developed, in conjunction with members of the Core Group (see Core Group Membership) , into a detailed multi-agency protection plan;
- Clearly note and include in the written record any areas of disagreement;
- Ensure Core Group members, the child (where appropriate) and family have the opportunity to understand and contribute to the Child Protection Plan and that it is distributed within five days of the Core Group meeting and maintained on the child's electronic record;
- Obtain a full understanding of the family's history (which must involve reading Children's Social Care records, including those relating to other children who have been part of any households including the current carers of the child - additional information should be obtained from relevant other agencies and local authorities);
- Complete the Child and Family Assessment of the child and family (if not previously completed), securing contributions / information from Core Group members and any other agencies with relevant information;
- Coordinate the contribution of family members and all agencies in putting the plan into action and reviewing the objectives stated in the plan.
- Must maintain a complete and up-to-date signed record on the current electronic record.
Stepping down conference/ may not meet 15 working day timescale – decision to rest with service manager level – check for some wording to incorporate
Seeing the Child
- Ensure the child(ren) is/are seen at least every 10 working days by the Lead Social Worker . This visit should be normally carried out at the home where the child is living, however should also on occasion be carried out at a parent’s home if the child visits/stays there.
- There may be occasions where the child is seen in another setting such as school however this should not be the norm.
- At least every six weeks the lead social worker should have access to where the child sleeps.
- If the Lead Social Worker has difficulty obtaining direct access to the child at home, the Children's Social Care line manager must be informed, as well as other Core Group members.
Absence of the Lead Social Worker
It is the responsibility of the Lead Social Worker, in liaison with the social work manager to ensure that clear cover arrangements are made when the Lead Social Worker is absent on planned annual leave, training etc.
Parents and child must be informed of planned absences of the Lead Social Worker, who will be covering the role and what contacts will be made.
Children's Social Care First Line Manager Role
The first line manager has a vital role in managing the progress of cases and supporting the Lead Social Worker. They should ensure any supervision and management case decisions are clearly visible and dated in the child’s record including; progress of the Child Protection Plan; ensuring there has been adequate direct contact with the child; oversee and countersign conference reports and the Child Protection Plan; review the plan when unexpected developments occur; attend all Conferences (or send a deputy) where necessary; confirm the visiting frequency of the Lead Social Worker and the frequency of Core Group meetings.
If a professional/agency becomes aware that a child who is subject to a Child Protection Plan has gone missing, or is absent from school/educational or day care settings, they should inform the Lead Social Worker immediately. See also Missing from home, care or education procedures.
If the child cannot be traced the Lead Social Worker should inform the senior Child Protection Manager and follow the Children and Families who Go Missing Procedure.
When a child who is subject to a Child Protection Plan dies, from whatever cause, the Lead Social Worker or her/his manager must inform the senior child protection manager, who will notify the chair of the LSCB.
There are three sets of circumstances where a child may return to live with their family but only in two of these do children cease to be looked after. This section covers circumstances where a child is no longer looked after, but a decision has been taken that local authority children’s social care will continue to provide support and services to the family following reunification. See Working Together to Safeguard Children 2018 (Flowchart 6, page 55)
Where the decision to return a child to the care of their family is planned, the local authority will have undertaken an assessment while the child is looked after – as part of the care planning process (under regulation 39 of the Care Planning Regulations 2010). This assessment will consider the suitability of the accommodation and maintenance arrangements for the child and consider what services and support the child (and their family) might need. The outcome of this assessment will be included in the child’s care plan. The decision to cease to look after a child will, in most cases, require approval under regulation 39 of The Care Planning, Placement and Case Reviews [England] Regulations 2015.
Where a child who is accommodated under section 20 returns home in an unplanned way, for example, the decision is not made as part of the care planning process but the parent removes the child or the child decides to leave, the local authority must consider whether there are any immediate concerns about the safety and well-being of the child. If there are concerns about a child’s immediate safety the local authority should take appropriate action, which could include enquiries under section 47 of the Children Act 1989.
Whether a child’s return to their family is planned or unplanned, there should be a clear plan that reflects current and previous assessments, focuses on outcomes and includes details of services and support required. These plans should follow the process for review as with any child in need and/or child protection plan.
Action to be taken following reunification:
- Practitioners should make the timeline and decision making process for providing ongoing services and support clear to the child and family.
- When reviewing outcomes, children should, wherever possible, be seen alone. Practitioners have a duty to ascertain their wishes and feelings regarding the provision of services being delivered.
- The impact of services and support should be monitored and recorded, and the help being delivered should be reviewed.
If child and/or parent/carer/professional are not satisfied with one of the following aspects of a child protection conference:
- The process of the conference
- The outcome, in terms of the category of primary concern at the time the child became subject of a child protection plan
- A decision for the child to become or continue or not to become the subject of a child protection plan
they should contact the Head Quality Assurance and Practice Improvement at Darlington Borough Council who will record their concern and make every attempt to resolve the situation and will respond within 10 working days. Whilst a complaint is being considered, the decision made by the conference stands.
Complaints about individual agencies, their performance and provision (or non-provision) of services should be responded to in accordance with the relevant agency's own complaints management processes.
If the child and/or parents/carer/professional is not satisfied with the response from the Head of Review and Development the matter will be forwarded to the Independent Chair of Darlington Safeguarding Children Board (DSCB) together with a copy of the minutes/reports, record of action already taken and any other relevant information.
Upon receipt of a complaint the Independent Chair will:
- Write to the child and/or parent/carer/professional or their advocate within five working days to confirm that the matter has been received.
- Consider the documents relating to the matter within fifteen working days.
- The Independent Chair will give due consideration and take any remedial action necessary and provide the child/parent/carer or professional or their advocate a written response within thirty working days of the initial receipt.
After receipt of the response from the Independent Chair the child/parent/carer/professional or their advocate may be dissatisfied with the outcome if so they should inform the Independent Chair of their dissatisfaction in writing and an appeal subcommittee will be convened.
DSCB will appoint an independent person to consider the merits of the matter and decide if there are grounds for convening an appeal subcommittee, it will be chaired by an independent person assisted by two members nominated by DSCB who have not had any involvement with the case. The appeal subcommittee will meet within twenty working days of receipt of the written notification by the child/parent/carer/professional to the Independent Chair. The appeal subcommittee will consider all of the documentation, conference minutes, reports, correspondence and other records.
The purpose of an appeal subcommittee will invite the child/parent/carer/professional and their advocate if necessary to attend a meeting of the appeal subcommittee where they will have the opportunity to address the specific matters that are the subject of the appeal. The appeal subcommittee will be able to seek clarification of specific issues from the child/parent/carer/professional. In addition the appeal subcommittee may also seek clarification from the Head of Review and Development on specific points relating to the subject of the appeal.
Following the meeting of the appeal subcommittee the child/parent/carer will be advised of the outcome within a further five working days. This will be the end of the appeal procedure but will not affect the child/parents/carers/professional right to seek other forms of redress. The appeal subcommittee will report the outcome to Darlington Safeguarding Children Board.
If the child/parent/carer/professional and their advocate are still unhappy with the outcome of the appeal they can refer to the Local Government Ombudsman [External Link].
It is widely recognised by almost all Serious Case Reviews, that children and young people are most effectively safeguarded if professionals work together and share information. Single factors in themselves are often perceived to be relatively harmless; however, if they multiply and compound one another the consequences can be serious, on occasions, devastating.
A Multi-agency Child Protection Chronology:
- Provides a mechanism through which information can be systematically shared and merged.
- Enables agencies to identify the history of a family.
- Provides invaluable information about a child’s life experience.
- Can reveal risks, concerns, patterns and themes, strengths and weaknesses within a family.
- Identify previous periods of professional involvement/support and the effectiveness/failure of previous intervention.
- Informs the overall assessment regarding the caregivers’ ability and motivation to change.
Chronologies are not only a means of organising and merging information; they enable practitioners to gain a more accurate picture of the whole case and highlight gaps and missing details that require further assessment and identification.
The chronology provides a skeleton of key incidents and events that inform the assessment of children and young people who are considered at risk of significant harm and are the subject of Child Protection Plans. If they are to be of value they should be:
- Succinct - If every issue/contact is recorded, the chronology loses its value.
- Simple in format – thus ensuring that information can be efficiently merged, sorted and analysed.
- In the agreed typed format - all contributions should be submitted in the Microsoft Word template and shared via secure email. See DSCB chronology template
The purpose of the Multi Agency Child Protection Chronology is to inform assessment and analysis of progress and levels of risk. It is therefore essential that the chronology is owned by the Core Group and that all members contribute to its production and analysis, including the formation of protection plans based on the outcome of such analysis. The chronology is only headline information and reports are still crucial to provide a full picture. Getting the facts agreed and seeing the overall pattern is essential and can often be informative and revealing.
It is the responsibility of each agency to ensure that there is a mechanism to collate all significant events in the child’s life over time;
- It is expected that any professional or agency that contributes to the protection of children will provide up-to-date information for the Multi-Agency Child Protection Chronology.
- The Multi-agency Child Protection Chronology will commence at the strategy discussion/meeting verbally. In addition, some families have long and complicated histories – the compiling of a chronology will be a more onerous task and cannot be completed within a short period of time. It is essential that as much work as is practicable is completed in the early stages and continued commitment and time be given to the completion of a full chronology through the course of the child protection period. Basic chronological information must be shared with the social worker in time for a merged document to be included within their Assessment and subsequently shared at the Initial Child Protection Conference.
- At the Initial Child Protection Conference, when a child or young person is made the subject of a child protection plan, the continued requirement of a Multi-agency Child Protection Chronology will form part of the child protection plan – the chair of the conference will be responsible for reinforcing the requirement in the planning stage of the meeting. Members of the Initial Child Protection Conference will decide the timescale for the chronology.
- Thereafter, the chronology will be updated prior to each monthly core group and a copy sent to the social worker prior to the core group meeting. The chronology will be presented to each Child Protection Review Conference by the Key Worker as an appendix to the social work report. It is the responsibility of all core group members to ensure that the chronology is kept up to date and the key worker must ensure that the chronology is disseminated with core group minutes As the lead agency, the responsibility for collating the information gathered is that of Children’s Social Care. In these cases, it will be the key worker who is identified at the Initial Child Protection Conference.
- It is essential that all professionals and agencies understand that they have a joint responsibility in safeguarding vulnerable children and young people and should be active participants in the child protection process. All professionals are to ensure that information describing key incidents/events/information is passed on to the key worker, each month, in the agreed typed format. This can be done by secure email.
- It is the responsibility of all professionals not just to provide information but to contribute to its analysis. The analysis of the multi-agency information is key.
- Core group minutes must reflect the discussion of the chronology at all meetings and the analysis of improvements and levels of risk as a consequence.
- The Social Work Team Manager is responsible for ensuring that all chronologies are maintained and kept up-to-date for each child subject to a child protection plan.
- Managers of all workers involved in the supervision and support of children who are the subject of child protection plans, are responsible for ensuring that workers actively contribute to the Multi-agency Child Protection Chronology in the agreed format.
The formatting of shared information will be done so in a simple, agreed format. See DSCB Chronology template.
Name This is the name of the child
DOB This is the child’s date of birth
Address This is the address of the child
Agency- This is the agency sharing the information
Author This is the name of the author of the chronology
Date and Time - The date the episode event is said to have taken place (not the date of recording) Dates should be recorded in the following format to enable electronic merging of each agencies chronology DD/MM/YY.
Significant Event - The significant piece of information e.g. police log of reported incidence of domestic violence: report from school that child arrives from home hungry, unkempt and tired: missed medical appointments: allegation of non-accidental injury: anonymous referral regarding child left unsupervised: Section 47 enquiry etc.
Professional/Agency - The record from which the information was obtained, e.g. social work record, health visiting record, school nursing record, police record, probation record, etc.
Who was involved - Who was involved in the event. The names of each individual involved in the episode including professionals, child/ren or parent/s, carer/s other adults.
Decisions/ Actions Outcome - Comments should inform the reader of key decisions taken, any action taken and the outcome in response to the event or episode.
Child Seen/ View obtained - Yes or No. If obtained, statement re the child’s views, either expressed or observations of behaviour should be noted.
Author comments: i.e. any additional information that may inform the context of the entry.
The DSCB chronology template is available on the DSCB website and should be made easily accessible for staff within their own workplace.
Significant Information/ Events
A significant event is an incident that impacts on the child’s safety and welfare, circumstances or home environment. This will inevitably involve a professional decision and/or judgement based upon the child and family’s individual circumstances.
A chronology provides a sequential story of significant events in a family’s history whilst interweaving information about emotional and/or relationship difficulties. It contributes to an emerging picture, based on fact and interactions of a case – current information is understood in the context of previous information, informing professional assessment.
There are a number of core incidents, which should be recorded. Dependent upon the nature of the harm, these may differ from case to case. Examples of Core Incidents:
- Contacts or referrals about the child and/or family
- Assessments e.g. family support
- Strategy discussions/meetings
- Section 47 investigations
- House moves
- School exclusions
- School attendance/major incidents e.g. bullying racism
- Attendance/admittance to Accident and Emergency Department or hospital
- Frequent use of out of hours and walk in services rather that GP services
- Criminal proceedings
- Change in school
- Change in GP e.g. this could be particularly significant in cases of Fabricated and Induced Illness
- Referrals to other agencies/teams
- Enquiries regarding whether the child is subject to a Child Protection Plan
- Child absconded/missing
- Child becomes looked after/child is discharged from Local Authority care
- Death in the family
- Parent/Carer has new partner
- Another person moves into the family home
- Birth of a new baby
- Person moves out of the family home
- Attempted suicide or overdose
- Failure to attend/no access
- Evidence of parental or young person’s substance misuse/ mental health difficulties
- Police logs detailing pertinent info re family members/family home e.g. reported incident of domestic violence; drunken behaviour of carers etc.
There are also a number of other incidents, which may be significant to the child and family, depending on their circumstances. Examples include: A significant observation during home visits e.g. the frequent presence of unknown adults, evidence of damage to the property.
If chronologies are to accurately reflect family circumstances, protective factors should also be recorded. Examples include: Evidence of the family’s engagement with professionals. Parents self-referral for help/guidance support with relevant agencies. The child’s presentation in school significantly improves
The above provide a small number of examples and it is essential that practitioners use their professional judgement in identifying pertinent information. Workers are encouraged to use this information and to consult with their managers and/or safeguarding leads if clarity is needed regarding significant events/ episodes/ information.
To establish processes to ensure a culture which promotes professional challenge is embedded across all agencies.
When working in the arena of safeguarding and child protection, it is inevitable that from time to time, there will be practitioner disagreement. Whilst this is understandable and generally acceptable, it is vital that such differences do not affect the outcomes for children and young people. This procedure provides a process for resolving practitioner disagreements and ensuring there is effective challenge in the system. It also provides practitioners with advice and support to enable them to escalate concerns where disagreements are not resolved at a practitioner level.
Professional challenge is a positive activity and a sign of good professional practice and effective multi-agency working. Being professionally challenged should not be seen as a criticism of the person’s professional capabilities.
Both national and local Serious Case Reviews continue to draw attention to the importance of interagency communication and have identified an apparent reluctance to challenge interagency decision making with concerns that were not followed up with robust professional challenge which may have altered the professional response and the outcome for the child.
Disagreements can arise in a number of areas of multi-agency working such as:
- threshold applications
- outcomes of assessments
- decision making; roles and responsibilities of workers
- service provision
- information sharing and communication in relation to practice or actions which may not effectively ensure the safety or well-being of a child or young person or his/her family
Professional challenge and critical reflection about the focus and intended outcome of intervention should include questioning and being open to professional challenge from colleagues, as well as being confident to challenge others.
Many professional challenges will be resolved on an informal basis by contact between the professional raising the challenge (or their manager) and the agency receiving the challenge and will end there.
Professional challenge is about challenging decisions, practice or actions which may not effectively ensure the safety or well-being of a child or young person or his/her family.
At no time must professional disagreement detract from ensuring that the child or young person is safeguarded. Any unresolved issues should be escalated with due consideration that might exist for the child. Every effort should be made to resolve the disagreement as quickly and openly as possible, within a time frame which clearly protects the child, determined on a case by case basis. Effective working together depends on resolving disagreements to the satisfaction of practitioners and agencies and a belief in a genuine partnership.
How should a professional make a challenge?
- Concerned professional to speak to person who made original decision to express their view and discuss the basis of the decision. Record reason why to you do not agree and record reason for disagreement on case management file.
- If the issue cannot be resolved at Stage 1 it should be raised with respective managers/named professional/designated safeguarding lead.
- If manager deems appropriate, arrange an interagency meeting to discuss differing views. Agreement should be reached on who should attend. A clear record of the agreed outcome and any outstanding issues should be made.
- If the issue cannot be resolved in Stage 3 the professional raising the concern should escalate to their Head of Service who will contact the relevant agency's Head of Service to attempt to resolve. With a decision to be reached as soon as possible ensuring the interest of the child taking precedent over professional stalemate.
- If resolution cannot be found at Stage 4 the relevant Head of Service for the agency raising concern should raise the issue with the Chair of Darlington Safeguarding Children Board who will make the ultimate decision on the next course of action.
Threshold for reporting the use of professional challenge to DSCB
The threshold for reporting professional challenge to DSCB is when it becomes necessary to move to stage 5 above, i.e., cannot be resolved at stages 1 - 4.
To monitor the use of this procedure the following information should be provided to DSCB Business Unit by the Named Person for the agency which raised the challenge:
- What was the challenge?
- What was done to address the challenge?
- What was the outcome of these actions?
- How was the issue resolved?
- Are the professionals involved satisfied with the outcome?
- If resolution could not be achieved was the issue referred to the LSCB?
The areas of challenge, the use of this procedure and the outcomes will be reported to the Local Safeguarding Children Board and subsequently reported to the Chief Executive of the Local Authority (as the lead agency for safeguarding children) on a six monthly basis. Statistical information about professional challenge and the use of this procedure to address professional challenges will be reported in the Local Safeguarding Children Board Annual Report. The procedure will be reviewed in light of any feedback provided to the Local Safeguarding Children Board.
You can access a wide range of additional information and guidance based on children in specific circumstances as well as signposting to National and Statutory guidance to support the Child Protection Procedures which are applicable for those working with children and families.
Link to practice guidance here [External link].
Link to Glossary of terms document here [PDF Document]