Child Protection Plans and Core Groups

1. Introduction

The Child Protection Plan is an important tool for professionals to use in working together with families to achieve the necessary outcomes for children. If a child is the subject of a Child Protection Plan, they have been assessed as being at identified risk of harm and the plan will be the vehicle through which the risk will be reduced. It is therefore vital that, although Children's Social Care has lead responsibility for ensuring that a plan is in place, agencies named on the plan take an active role in ensuring that it is implemented. Where Family Group Meetings are being used, the wider family group will also have an agreed role in developing and taking forward a plan of action.

The Core Group is the vehicle through which professionals and families can work together to implement the plan and achieve positive change for children.

The Core Group can decide that it is appropriate to use a Family Group Meeting as a vehicle by which families and professionals can work together to implement the plan.

2. The Core Group

The Core Group is an important forum for:

  • Working with parents, wider family members, and children of sufficient age and understanding. Families may find child protection conferences intimidating and the Core Group is a place where they can express their views regarding the help they need to improve the situation for their child;
  • Ensuring that all professionals develop effective working relationships based on trust and a full understanding of each other's roles.

The Core Group meeting should:

  • Take place within 10 working days of the Initial Child Protection Conference. This meeting should not be held immediately after the child protection conference. At this time everyone is likely to be tired and family members may be shocked or upset. Time to reflect on the meeting will be beneficial for all concerned and will enable the best use to be made of the Core Group meeting;
  • Be chaired by a member of the Core Group. 

Subsequent Core Group meetings:

  • Should meet within the timescales specified at the initial or review conference.

All Core Group meetings should:

  • Be held at a venue which is accessible for all concerned and in which family members will feel comfortable and able to contribute. Schools, health centres or children's centres may be the most suitable venues;
  • Be minuted by a nominated member of the group (not the chair) and minutes circulated within 5 working days.

The Core Group is responsible for:

  • Developing the Child Protection Plan as a detailed working tool and implementing it within the outline plan agreed at the initial conference. The findings of the Assessment should inform the detailed development of the plan;
  • Monitoring the progress of the plan including the impact of any changes in family circumstances which might increase the likelihood of the child suffering Significant Harm;
  • Ensuring that all aspects of the plan are carried through. The Lead Social Worker should alert the Review Manager immediately if there are significant aspects of the outline plan which it will not be possible to implement;
  • Reporting progress on the plan to the Review Child Protection Conference.

    For the Review Conference, the Core Group has a collective responsibility to produce reports which will be pulled together by the Lead Social Worker to provide an overview of the work undertaken by family members and professionals and evaluate progress against the outcomes specified in the detailed Child Protection Plan. Those Core Group members who are unable to attend the Review Conference should forward a copy of their individual report to the Lead Social Worker;

    In addition to the reports above, the outcome of the completed Single Assessment will also be presented to the Review Conference.

3. The Child Protection Plan

The aim of the Child Protection Plan is to:

  • Ensure the child is safe and prevent them from suffering further harm

    by supporting the strengths, addressing the vulnerabilities and risk factors and helping meet the child's unmet needs;

  • Promote the child's health or development i.e. his or her welfare; and
  • Provided it is in the best interests of the child, to support the family and wider family members to safeguard and promote the welfare of the child.

The plan should use a format consistent with the information set out in the exemplar for the Child Protection Plan (Department of Health 2002). This should include;

  • Identification of the child's needs derived from the findings of the Single Assessment;
  • When and in what situations the child will be seen by the child's Lead Social Worker, both alone and with other family members or caregivers present;

  • Specific, achievable, child-focused outcomes;
  • Realistic strategies and specific actions to achieve the planned outcomes;
  • A Contingency Plan to be followed if circumstances change significantly and require prompt action;
  • Clear identification of the roles and responsibilities of professionals and family members including the nature and frequency of contact. This should include professionals with routine contact as well as those providing specialist or targeted support;
  • Points at which progress will be reviewed and the means by which it will be judged.

The plan should:

  • Be based on the findings from the Single Assessment and draw on knowledge about effective interventions;
  • Take into consideration the wishes and feelings of the child, and the views of the parents, insofar as they are consistent with the child's welfare;
  • Be constructed with the family in their preferred language/communication method and they should be given a copy in that format. Where the parent has a learning disability, care must be taken to ascertain their level of understanding and give them a copy of the plan in a format that is accessible to them;
  • Acknowledge and give reasons for any disagreements with family members about how to best safeguard and promote the welfare of the child;
  • Be signed by all members of the Core Group including family members. The plan therefore will form a written agreement between all members of the Core Group;
  • Be adjusted as necessary at subsequent Core Group meetings and the amended copy signed and circulated.

Negotiating the plan with the Parents: 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 and what is expected of them as part of implementing the plan.

4. Child Protection Plans and Children Looked After by the Local Authority

In exceptional circumstances you may have a transitional period where a child is subject to a Child Protection Plan and a Child Care Plan as they have become looked after.

The Lead Social Worker should send a copy of the detailed Child Protection Plan developed at the first Core Group meeting to the Independent Reviewing Officer responsible for the Child Care Review held under Review Regulations.

5. Child Protection Plans and the Children in Need Planning Process

Where a child has been subject to a Child in Need Plan prior to the Initial Child Protection Conference, the Child in Need Plan should be used by the Core Group to develop the Child Protection Plan. This should ensure that the focus of interventions is to reduce the likelihood of harm, as well as meeting the overall developmental needs of the child. 

Where a child ceases to be subject of a Child Protection Plan, if appropriate an inter-agency meeting should be held within 20 working days to agree/define the Child in Need Plan.

6. Practice Guidance - Developing Effective Plans and Interventions

6.1 Plans

The Child Protection Plan should be a document which is owned and understood by the family and all relevant professionals. Thus great care should be taken at the first Core Group meeting to ensure that everyone is clear about their roles and responsibilities and what they should do if, for any reason, they are unable to fulfil their obligations in respect of the plan.

In developing plans the following Government guidance should be taken into account

6.2 Child Care Plans - General Principles (DoH 2000)

  • Plans should be drawn up in agreement with the child / young person and key family members;
  • Objectives should be reasonable and timescales not too short or unachievable;
  • Plans should not be dependent on resources which are known to be scarce or unavailable;
  • The plan must maintain a focus on the child even though help may be provided by a number of family members as part of the plan.

6.3 Areas in Which Clarity is Required in Child Care Planning (DoH 2000)

  • Objective of the plan;
  • Services to be provided - by whom?
  • Timing and nature of professional contact;
  • Purpose of services and professional contact;
  • Specific commitments to be met by the family;
  • What is negotiable / non-negotiable;
  • What needs to change - goals to be achieved;
  • What is unacceptable care;
  • What sanctions will be used if the child is placed in danger;
  • What preparation will service users receive if in court as a witness in criminal proceedings?
  • Contingency plans.

All plans need to define clearly measurable outcomes.

Planned outcomes should be:

  • Specific;
  • Measurable;
  • Achievable;
  • Related to the assessed needs of the child / young person;
  • Time related.

6.4 Family Group Meetings/Conferences and Child Protection Plans

A Family Group Meeting/Conference is a family decision-making and planning process which harnesses the skills and knowledge of wider family members in collaboration with professionals. They have been used successfully to plan in a number of different contexts, including where there are safeguarding concerns (Marsh and Crow 1998, Lupton and Stevens 2000).

The Family Group Meeting/Conference is a more informal and a less intimidating way for the wider family network to be centrally involved. The wider family and friendship network are brought together by an independent co-ordinator and there are four distinct phases of the meeting/conference process:

  • Information provision by professionals connected with the family and by the family themselves;
  • Private family time - where the family is left to plan alone and come up with a plan of action that addresses the main safeguarding concerns and the child needs;
  • Appraisal and agreement of the plan by Children's Social Care Services, and agreement of the resources necessary to implement the plan;
  • Process of implementation and review agreed.

In order for the Family Group Meeting/Conference to be successful it is important that:

  • The family group is provided with clear, accurate and jargon free information, which is provided in a format which is understandable and respectful. Where family members use English as a second language, it is important that appropriate interpretation or translation is provided. Where parents have other challenges to communication in meetings, such as a learning disability, it is important that advice is sought about the most appropriate way of providing information.

The information provided to the meeting/conference should include:

  • Findings from the Single Assessment and any other material which relates to the well-being of the child and safeguarding concerns.

It is important that the family and professionals are clear about:

  • The decision or plan to be made;
  • Any limitations on family decision making;
  • How the family's plan will fit alongside other decision-making forums;
  • What resources are available for the family to implement the plan, and that these are realistic and time-focused.

Children and young people are central to family decision making and it is essential that they are enabled to contribute their views. They can do this by:

  • Attending the meeting, and being provided with advocacy to do so. It may be necessary to harness advocates within the family system, or use an advocacy service. It has been important to consider children's views about what is most helpful (Dalrymple and Horan 2004);
  • Having someone else represent their views either from their family or an advocacy service;
  • By proving written information, in their own words, about their circumstances, to the meeting/conference.

Family Group Meetings/Conferences do not replace or remove the need for a child protection conference, which should always be held where the relevant criteria are met (see Child Protection Conferences Procedure) and they could run in parallel.

Family Group Meetings/Conferences have been successful in making plans in the context of safeguarding where:

  • A Child in Need and a plan to fully engage the parents and wider family in maintaining the child's well being is needed;
  • A Section 47 Enquiry does not substantiate Significant Harm, but where it would be helpful to engage the parents and wider family in developing a plan to ensure the child's well-being;
  • After the child protection conference the Family Group Meeting/Conference may be a way of fully engaging the parents and wider family in developing and implementing the outline Child Protection Plan. There will need to be agreement from the Core Group that this is an appropriate form of action. This is also relevant after a Review Child Protection Conference;
  • When a child should no longer be subject of a Child Protection Plan, the Family Group Meeting/Conference may be a way of fully engaging the parents and wider family in developing and implementing a plan to ensure the child's well-being.

Where Family Group Meetings/Conferences may not be helpful:

  • Where Section 47 Enquiries have substantiated Significant Harm and there is uncertainty about the circumstances of that harm, or who was responsible for it.