Children are made subject to a Child Protection Plan when they are deemed to be at risk of significant harm. Central to the implementation of a Child Protection Plan is the Child Protection Conference (CPC), a meeting of between 8-25 people, including social workers, teachers, health visitors, police officers, parents and young people (where they are deemed mature enough).

For this study we conducted research in two local authorities in England. We interviewed 52 parents and 40 children who were subject to a child protection plan. An overwhelming majority of the parents in our study described the CPC experience in a negative way, using words and statements such as “tearful”, “not listened to”, “intimidated”, “stressed” and “angry”.

“I feel like whatever I say in a meeting is disregarded”
(32-year-old mother)

Most parents reported feelings of powerlessness and stated that they found conferences to be a very intimidating experience.

Young people reported having little understanding of the purpose of a CPC. Moreover, when they were included they did not feel like their views were being taken seriously through the process.

“I prepared myself and thought I would have a say.
Afterwards I stormed out crying and never went back.
The Chair asked me a question then shut me off”
(16 year-old-girl)

“I felt my opinion did not matter.
I couldn’t speak at the conference”
(15 year-old-girl)

Government guidance states that social workers should work closely with families to try and increase parents’ and children’s meaningful participation during the child protection process, both to encourage joint working and offer support to families. But the negative feelings children and parents have about CPCs have the opposite effect of discouraging their participation in their meetings and impacting negatively on the opportunities for social workers to build up positive working relationships with parents and children at a crucial time.

My research found that a determining factor in the reporting of negative feelings around the CPC is that social workers are not adequately preparing families for the meeting. The majority of the parents reported that they only saw the social work report for the CPC either the day before the meeting or on the day of the meeting itself.

Parents wanted the social worker to share reports and assessments well in advance, and to take time in discussing the report and the process with them. Parents reported that often there

was inaccurate or out-of-date information in the social work reports. Receiving them just before the conference meant there was no time to properly challenge incorrect information or amend it. If parents did try to challenge social work reports some reported being told that they were not ‘engaging’ which made things worse for them.

Thirty-eight of the 40 young people interviewed had not seen a report related to the meeting. Only those who had attended a CPC recalled having seen a report or assessment.

If we are serious about supporting vulnerable children and families, and valuing and properly considering their meaningful participation in decision making about their lives, we must start by taking more care with the process – ensuring families and children understand the reasons for meetings, are adequately prepared for them, and realise their participation is both necessary and valued. By taking more care with the process, the quality of care itself can improve.

Dr Clive Diaz, Cardiff University
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Diaz, C. (2020) Decision Making in Child and Family Social Work: Perspectives on Participation. Policy Press, Bristol.