4.9 Multi Agency Practice Guidance for Core Groups
This chapter was updated in December 2020 to update terminology and to reflect local guidance.
1. Social Worker
Where a child is to be the subject of a Child Protection Plan, it is the responsibility of the conference to consider and make recommendations on how agencies, professionals and the family should work together to ensure that the child will be safeguarded from harm in the future. This will be in the form of an outline Child Protection Plan. This should enable both professionals and the family to understand exactly what is expected of them and what they can expect of others.
A Social Worker will have been appointed for each child who is the subject of a Child Protection Plan. Where more than one child in a family or household has a Child Protection Plan it is best to appoint a single Social Worker.
The Social Worker will not be the only professional to have contact with the family, or even be the person who sees those most often. The Child Protection Plan is a multi-agency plan. Each professional will continue to have their respective responsibilities for child protection in addition to the task designated in the plan. In addition, the Social Worker has specific responsibilities:
- Developing the Child Protection Plan into a co-ordinated inter-agency plan, at the 1st core group meeting after the Initial CP Conference;
- Convening regular Core Group meetings – minimum frequency every 4 weeks;
- Coordinating and ensuring the implementing of the Child Protection Plan;
- Submitting a report to the conference Chair before each Review Child Protection Conference regarding progress made on implementing the plan;
- Maintaining regular and frequent visits to each child and their family/carers as the Child Protection Plan sets out;
- Alerting their managers to any difficulties that are experienced in seeing and speaking alone to a child and agreeing the action necessary to resolve those difficulties;
- Co-ordinating the contributions of family members to required activities and ensuring that the parents know and understand how the need for a Child Protection Plan can be reduced;
- To actively keep up to date with the case and to seek out new and additional information. This will require the reading of case files and updating chronologies;
- Acting as a lead professional for the inter-agency work, providing a focus and a contact for information about the child/ren, keeping those involved up to date with new and additional information and informing those who become newly involved about the Child Protection Plan;
- Completing the Children and Family Assessment of the child and family with contributions from the Core Group and others and progressing any other assessment work recommended by the conference;
- Being involved in any further enquiries about the alleged or suspected abuse of any member of that child's previous and current households and extended family;
- Keeping all professionals informed of changes of adults in the household;
- Ensure that the child is involved in the Child Protection Plan (age appropriate) and understands the child protection process. The child is at the centre of the plan.
2. The Core Group
The child protection conference will agree the membership of a Core Group consisting of the child (if appropriate), parent/carers and professionals drawn from all relevant involved agencies. The work of the Core Group will address the risks in meeting the needs of the child and the capacity of the parents to protect and promote his/her welfare. It will focus on developing any existing strengths that the family are able to demonstrate under Signs of Safety.
Membership of the Core Group should include the Social Worker, who leads the Core Group, the child if appropriate, family members and professionals or foster carers who will have direct contact with the family. Although the social worker has the lead role, all members of the core group are jointly responsible for the formulation and implementation of the Child Protection Plan, refining the plan as needed, and monitoring progress against the planned outcomes set out in the plan. The function of the Core Group is to:
- Bring together all persons who are jointly responsible for making and implementing the Child Protection Plan;
- Develop the Child Protection Plan at the first meeting after the Initial Conference;
- Decide at its first meeting who will need to do what to complete the Children and Family Assessment, if required;
- Be jointly responsible for developing the Child Protection Plan as a detailed working tool;
- Jointly monitor and report progress on implementing the Plan and/or any contingency plan to the next child protection review conference;
- Allocate tasks identified in the Child Protection Plan to core group members and review their progress as required;
- Maintain a focus on strengths as well as areas that need to be improved in considering the needs and progress of the child and family;
- Meet as a group no less than once four weeks after the first review conference (see Section 5, Frequency of Core Group Meetings), or at a level agreed by the core group, sufficient to safely progress the work. All meeting dates should be scheduled at the first core group meeting. Changing the date of a Core Group should be avoided. In the event this is unavoidable the key worker should advise all members of the change;
- Maintain a record of group discussions and decisions using the core group record template. This is a joint responsibility and all agencies should take turns to take the notes from the meeting;
- Review its membership as and when necessary ensuring representation from all main agencies;
- Recommend to the Conference Chair if the conference should be reconvened at an earlier date than already agreed.
A Core Group meeting should never assume functions that are the responsibility of a Review Child Protection Conference. Consideration should be given, following consultation with a Team Manager or Operational Manager, to convening an earlier conference if the particular circumstances of the case suggest this would be appropriate. Core group members should always relay their concerns to their line manager and the social worker. It is also advisable to consult with the Child Protection Review Manager about these issues. It is difficult to be prescriptive about specific criteria that may prompt such an eventuality, but the following are possible pointers:
- A serious level of non co-operation with the protection plan and agencies implementing it and the child's safety and wellbeing is not improving;
- Partial level of parental co-operation with some agencies; the core group would need to carefully evaluate whether the protection plan could be effectively delivered in these circumstances;
- New knowledge emerging which means that the protection plan requires review;
- When the level of chronic risk to the child is higher than the initial assessment revealed, reconvening an urgent review child protection conference is essential. For one off incidents which place a child at risk of Significant Harm; legal advice would need to be sought in order to give the child immediate protection.
The child protection conference is convened following the Section 47 enquiry. It will consider the information that has been obtained in an Early Help Assessment (EHA) or children and family assessment about the child's developmental needs and the parents' capacity to meet them in the context of their wider family and environment. If a single assessment has been started but not completed, the social worker and the Core Group will continue the assessment and formulate the details of the Child Protection Plan. A completed single assessment will be completed by the first review Child Protection Conference.
A children and family assessment is defined as an in-depth assessment of which the central and most important aspect are the needs of the child and the capacity of his or her parents or caregivers to respond appropriately to these needs within the wider family and community context. While this assessment is led by a social worker, it will invariably involve other agencies, or independent professionals, who will either provide information they hold about the child or parents, contribute specialist knowledge or advice or undertake specialist assessments. At the conclusion of this phase of assessment, there will be an analysis of the findings, which will provide an understanding of the child's circumstances and direct the planning, case objectives and the nature of service provision. The child's voice and views must be present in the assessment and the assessment should capture the child's lived experience.
4. The Child Protection Plan
An outline Child Protection Plan will be agreed by the child protection conference. The core group will draw up a full and detailed Child Protection Plan at the 1st core group. Consideration should be given to holding the 1st core group immediately after the Initial Conference. The aim of the Child Protection Plan is to:
- Ensure the child is safe from harm and prevent him or her from suffering further harm;
- Support the family and wider family members to safeguard and promote the welfare of their child, provided it is in the best interests of the child;
- Promote the child's health and development.
Each core group member (including the parents/carers and if appropriate, the child) should be given their own copy of the Plan. The Plan should take into consideration the wishes and feelings of the child, the views of the parents, insofar as this is consistent with the child's welfare. The social worker should make every effort to ensure that the children and parents have clear understanding of the objectives of the Child Protection Plan that they accept it and are willing to work to it. If family members' preferences are not accepted about how best to safeguard the child, the reasons for this should be explained.
5. Frequency of Meetings
It is good practice for the first core group to take place straight after the initial or review conference. If this is not possible the first core group meeting must be within ten working days of the conference. The dates for core group meetings for the forthcoming review period should be agreed at the first core group meeting. After that the core group should meet within four weeks of the first meeting and at a minimum frequency of once every month following the first review conference. More regular meetings may be required according to the needs of the child.
6. Venue of Meetings
The venue is subject to reasonable negotiation. The accessibility, comfort and confidentiality of the venue for parents and carers are important considerations.
7. Chairing of Meetings
It is a requirement for the first Core Group Meeting to be chaired by the social worker's Team Manager.
The social worker will usually chair subsequent meetings. It is recognised that contributing to and minuting such a meeting can be difficult for the social worker. The Core Group will ensure the aforementioned tasks are shared amongst the professionals in the core group.
8. Attendance at Meetings
Attendance should be for family members and or extended family network, and those professionals actively engaged in implementing the Child Protection Plan. Where a family member's presence would prevent the Core Group from functioning, consideration may be given to excluding the individual. The social worker's Team Manager will make this decision.
The conference will designate who will be members of the Core Group. If the allocated professional cannot attend the Core Group Meeting they must ensure their line manager is informed. The line manager will endeavour to provide cover; if this is not possible a written report must be provided to the Core Group Meeting. All agencies will provide a written report to each core group meeting.
The social worker or a representative must always attend the Core Group.
Every effort should be made to achieve the attendance of relevant family members at the Core Group Meetings. An interpreter must be invited if needed. The Core Group is an essential working meeting and the parents/carers participation is necessary. Small meetings will be less overwhelming and intimidating for parents. It is reasonable for parents/carers to be accompanied by a friend or relative if they wish. It is an important task of the Core Group to encourage and welcome the parent/carer to the group to ensure they participate and contribute fully.
The absence of family members from the Core Group Meetings is unfortunate, but their non-attendance should not prevent the group from developing and implementing the Child Protection Plan. The effectiveness of the group will be diminished, but the prime consideration is the welfare of the child/ren. Advice should be sought from the Child Protection Review Manager where there is non-co-operation or superficial compliance. In some cases this may also result in the seeking of legal advice and orders being applied for.
The child/young person should be encouraged to attend the Core Group, where it is felt the child is able to understand the purpose of the group. In their absence their view must be sought prior to the meeting.
Where there is conflict between agencies the advice of the Child Protection Review Manager should be sought.
9. Agenda for the Core Group
The agenda of the first Core Group, following the conference, is to develop the Outline Child Protection Plan and to plan completion of the single assessment. Core Group members will sign their agreement to the Child Protection Plan. The Core Group thereafter will monitor progress of the Child Protection Plan and analyse the level of current risk to the child/ren.
10. Record of Core Group Meetings
It is the task of the Core Group to record the main discussion and decision points of the meeting on a form designated for this purpose. The Social Worker will be responsible for the distribution of updated plan/minutes.
The record should be distributed to all parties involved in the Child Protection Plan, within 5 working days.
11. Other Meetings
The key worker should inform Core Group members of the content and outcomes of other meetings held regarding the child/ren, such as 'Legal Gate Keeping' meetings. Such meetings could inform the content and outcomes of core group meetings despite their different purpose and focus.
12. Supervision of Child Protection Staff
Supervisors in all agencies responsible for the supervision of staff with child protection responsibility should acquaint themselves with this guidance. The supervisor should ensure that they have an oversight of those children who have a Child Protection Plan. The supervisor should satisfy themselves of the following during supervision:
- The Child Protection Plan remains effective in keeping the children safe and progress is being made in the achievement of planned outcomes;
- The Child Protection Plan is meeting and promoting the needs of the children;
- The Core Group is meeting within timescale and is effectively progressing the Child Protection Plan.
During supervision it is important the supervisor supports the supervisee in reflecting upon the work undertaken, what has gone well and what could have been done better. The supervisor must challenge where appropriate.
If the supervisor has a concern in relation to the safe working of the Child Protection Plan or Core Group it should be immediately raised with their child protection lead.
13. Removal of Child Protection Plan
The decision to remove a child from a Child Protection Plan takes place at a Review Conference. The social worker and Core Group should ensure that the child/young person has adequate and appropriate support when it is recommended the Child Protection Plan be removed. The recommendation for the child to be removed from the Child Protection Plan should be agreed at the Core Group prior to the Child Protection Review Conference. This core group must be chaired by a Team Manager. Parents must be informed that this is only a recommendation and the Conference will decide if this is appropriate. Any disagreement should be clearly recorded in the social worker's report to conference.
The Review Child Protection conference will consider if the child requires continuing support once the Child Protection Plan ends. It is expected that the child /family will be supported by a Child In Need plan for a minimum of 3 months following the conference.
Note: A Child in Need Plan is required, identifying the services to be provided with timescales. The social worker would remain as the Lead Professional and be responsible for ensuring the plan is reviewed.