CPConf2016 – Where do we go from here?

This is a post by Sarah Phillimore

Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfils the same function as pain in the human body; it calls attention to the development of an unhealthy state of things. If it is heeded in time, danger may be averted; if it is suppressed, a fatal distemper may develop.

Winston Churchill

The Second Child Protection Conference will take place on 3rd June 2016 in Birmingham. For more details about the event and how to book a ticket, please visit the Events page at the Transparency Project.

I am very grateful to the Transparency Project charity for once more supporting this event. I am one of the trustees of the Transparency Project, and also the site administrator of the CPR site. I am therefore wearing two different but probably overlapping hats. The aims of the TP are not to agitate for any particular change to the family law system but rather to increase and improve public understanding of how the system is intended to work.

The aims of the CPR site are clearly different – I hope it provides a clear explanation of existing law and practice but it is also unashamedly a vehicle for expressing my often very serious concerns about the activities of those individual and groups which (in my opinion) do so much harm to vulnerable parents and children by their irresponsible and often ludicrous scaremongering and promotion of risibly stupid conspiracy theories.

But I hope these two approaches will come together on June 3rd and help continue the impetus for practical change which we identified at the first conference – Is the Child Protection System Fit for Purpose?

The only critical comments we got about that event from the people who attended (apart from comments about our timekeeping, which was woeful) was that we were too negative and didn’t provide enough discussion about what was already being done that was good or what we were going to do that was better. To some extent that was pretty inevitable – this was the first time we had all come together to share our different perspectives and experiences and before we identify where we want to go, it’s important to find out where we are starting from.

However, I agree entirely that its easy to moan about something, its a bit harder to actually do something that might change it for the better.

I hope very much that the second Conference is going to plant the seeds of serious and positive change.  There have been discussions since June last year about what we could do and those discussions are crystalising into something quite exciting.

There have been some very interesting suggestions from some of our collaborators about what they would like to do and the CPR hopes to be part of this.

The first suggestion is for a new national interactive map of who is providing what advocacy and direct humane social work services to families in child protection.  It’s currently still too hard for parents to find what is there.

Mapping what is already out there will provide a focus for how we put another activities into a more formal scheme.

Particular suggestions so far include:

  • Training for local authority social workers as part of a broader campaign for more humane social work practices;
  • A nationwide scheme for training parents to help and support other parents through care proceedings;
  • Further consideration of what McKenzie friends can offer and considering how this can be regulated/monitored to protect the vulnerable;
  • Looking at other methods of dealing with concerns about families – for e.g.what about mediation in child protection cases?
  • Finding out more about what is done in other European countries, what is working well and what we could think about developing here.

Where do we go from here?

It would be great to see you at the Conference on June 3rd (I still have two free tickets left as of March 6th!). If you can’t come, please join in on the day via our Twitter hashtag CPConf2016 or join in comments on this site or at the Transparency Project.

If you have any ideas for what else could go on the list for discussion on the day, please let me or the Transparency Project know.

Let’s get something started.


29 thoughts on “CPConf2016 – Where do we go from here?

  1. HelenSparkles

    “Training for local authority social workers as part of a broader campaign for more humane social work practices” can I suggest that this needs to be directed at senior managers rather than social workers, it isn’t disingenuous to to say that social workers take direction from their leadership. Mine happens to be great, humane, clear with families about what and when things need to change, and use a strength based model (signs of safety). All that means I can be all of those things and when making decisions my manger and I can use group/peer supervision (weekly) as well as other case discussions to make sure we involve families well and make good decisions about children. I don’t work in an ideal world and there are many imperfections but grassroots change will be nothing without management buy in. LAs are big clunky bureaucracies, all the red tape may have been streamlined in a time of cuts, but they are huge organisations and you are turning round a cruise liner. it isn’t bottom up.

    “A nationwide scheme for training parents to help and support other parents through care proceedings” this would be great, we need well trained advocates who are able to support parents whilst remaining child centred.

    “Further consideration of what McKenzie friends can offer and considering how this can be regulated/monitored to protect the vulnerable” This would be helpful.

    “Looking at other methods of dealing with concerns about families – for e.g.what about mediation in child protection cases?” Do you know about the way family meetings are used to mediate issues and family group meetings are used to build strengths? We have meetings about meetings in social work and many are to mediate issues.

    “Finding out more about what is done in other European countries, what is working well and what we could think about developing here.” I think we need to do long term fostering much better than we do or ever have done, adoption is the preferred permanency route for some children because it is the most stable and secure, but other cultures do this differently. Some children will need to have a growing up family and a birth family but adoption severed too many links and attachments.

    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      Of course training ultimately has to be directed at managers, they direct what happens in their organisation and determine its key goals/aims. Any training would need to be paid for by LAs – presumably this will only happen if managers authorise it! If they are prepared to pay for it, presumably that means they see a value to it and will want to understand the ambit of the training. Hopefully those SW who do work in a positive and well structured environment will be willing to share more details with us about how their organisations work well and what has made that possible.

      I know very little about family meetings, other than there seems to be no consistent practice between different local authorities – one SW Manager even told me ‘we don’t do Family Group Conferences here’. That’s why I am interested to hear what Victoria Teggin has to say as she has done specific research into the use of mediation. I think I can safely say I have never had a care case where any form of ‘mediation’ was attempted. Even FGC have to be fought for it seems.

      There is an urgent need to understand better what other European Countries are doing – IJ says its all brilliant in France etc but I am not so sure about that. Simply having children drifting in long term foster care is as unlikely to be the solution as forcing everyone to be adopted.

      Thanks for your comments. I will try to gather together any comments I get on the CPR site into a post before the conference so we can get an overview of what people think as I know some people would like to come but can’t make it.

      1. HelenSparkles

        I could bore for England about LAs and what works and what doesn’t. One of the most vexing issues is someone saying they do that there, let’s do that here because it works really well, instead of looking at the demographics. This is also why you don’t get consistency, that wholesale use of practice only works in comparator LAs.

        Another is Ofsted, the inspection regime is brutal and not fit for purpose. It doesn’t help that the government want to wield a sword of damocles over the heads of ADs, should they perform poorly, judged by an organisation who apparently can do a volte face on their own practice by changing a report (post Baby P) when they get it wrong. Basically LAs are inspection driven and have to be.

        A lot of LAs don’t do FGC because they can’t afford to now, it is a really expensive service and in my LA the spending consultation revealed nobody wanted to spend money on any aspect of social care.

        I didn’t mean to sound glib about adoption versus foster care, I am just mindful that other cultures do this differently, again that won’t always be transferable and the finality of adoption has both its benefits and drawbacks. Ultimately I suppose would really like the legislature and judiciary to stop the spat and to be transparent about the law. There is research on placement services, SW is a global profession; FGCs came from New Zealand. Signs of Safety from Australia.

  2. Angelo Granda

    Helen, Thanks for your comment.Having read the post, I was already thinking much the same as you.I know exactly what you mean.
    Maybe a parent’s view will help

    1.I have looked at LA job advertisements for managers lately and I have noted that the job descriptions stipulate that applicants are to act in support of ordinary social workers in a consultancy role. There is to be a practitioner/ consultant relationship between managers and those at the sharp end.
    Can i point out, reasonably,that the same thing happens in the NHS with one very significant difference.
    Social work managers rely entirely on the scribbled-down notes of their subordinates and third-party opinions,theories , guesswork etc. when making decisions.They also tell the sw’s what to do next,whether they should supply support,or whether to get an order to remove. They make these decisions without even seeing parents or the children!
    With doctors and hospital consultants, of course,the latter never fails to see clients( patients) ,assesses their needs and so on for themselves and makes his own assessment.That is his duty. Then he delegates work to his juniors.
    Is that a fundamental fault in the CS?

    2. I agree we need well-trained advocates to help and support parents.Firstly, can i point out that ‘advocacy’ means advice and active intervention.It means advocates are to attend meetings with parents ,put over their views ( agreements,disagreements etc. and clarify CS concerns.
    According to the Working Together frameworks,sw’s are supposed to inform clients of available practical advocacy services and of their right to have one.I don’t think many sw’s actually undersstand that duty.Most,in my experience advise parents to get a solicitor. Do they all understand what the statute means by ‘ advocacy service’?
    Ideally,there should certainly be a national advocacy scheme . Government officials think we already have one but we do not. One official wrote to an MP. ” The Government provides funds to the Family Rights Group to provide advocacy to parents.Of course,we all know that is fallacious.The FRG,much as it would like to, does not supply advocacy nationwide.It cannot and it relies mainly on charitable donations. A parent to parent scheme will help matters but would it be better if we concentrated on correcting Government fallacies? We should help Cathy Ashley obtain funding for a scheme we already have,perhaps.

    3. McKenzie friends can be helpful,i suppose,in private law proceedings.In Public Law proceedings,however,I think there can be no substitute for a real Barrister.

    4. I think an impartial lawyer should be involved from the outset of serious cases.They have the skills of mediation needed to keep matters out of court if at all possible. In my experience,SW’s rarely instigate Family meetings probably because of the practical difficulties.Plus i think many extended family members fear involvement just in case it brings attention on themselves.

    5.As you have suggested,the current system is an overturned battle cruiser not a kayak. Radical action is called for to fix it.
    Non-concensual ( forced) adoption should be banned ,in my opinion,and the most severe sanction should be temporary ( short or long-term) .I hope those who attend the conference will discuss this.

    All comments welcome especially from those who disagree.

    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      I agree that disconnected and distant Managers are one of the biggest problems in care proceedings; improving that situation could be a key aim of any training. I suspect the biggest problem is one of case loads; it is hard to find time for proper reflection and supervision if everyone is juggling double or even triple the amount of work they can sensibly manage.

      There are existing advocacy services but again I agree, provision is patchy, they aren’t really known about. The big positive difference between parent advocates and others is that experiences in other countries, as seen in the changes to the practice in NYC, is that parents in proceedings were more willing/able to listen and accept support from other parents who had been through the same experience.

      Thanks again for the constructive dialogue – even in just two comments from you and Helen, already a lot to work with.

    2. HelenSparkles

      1. This doesn’t happen in my LA, managers meet parents face to face (not always the children but we have a multi agency perspective on them to work with).
      2. No disagreement here re a scheme, my only codicil is that they are well trained advocates, because (anecdotally) I have met a number who are collusive and don’t understand CP which paradoxically doesn’t support parents.
      3. I agree re representation but guess I support MKFs being regulated so that those who choose to use them know they will not be led astray so to speak.
      4. I always offer, as do most of my colleagues, it isn’t always possible. Logistics can be an issue but sometimes it brings too many other issues into the room which break instead of creating safety and there are other ways of working.
      5. I said cruise liner. No mention of battles! I disagree with eradicating non consensual adoption because there are cases where that is the most appropriate form of achieving permanency for children. Calling it a sanction is too parent focussed for me. We instead need a balanced approach to those who have capacity to effect change, with support, and the child’s timescales. I would ban 26 weeks.

      1. Sam

        I think Helen might have outlined some of the problem. She obviously works for a decent LA , who does follow the legal framework. I suspect that most of the vocal parents are struggling with LA’s that bend the law , and they naturally get upset.

  3. Angelo Granda

    Helen,regarding ‘forced adoption’— Is it your target to find the most appropriate form of achieving permanency for children?
    For laypersons,please define permanency.

      1. Angelo Granda

        Thank you Helen but does permanence mean long term stability ? Does it mean stability for life,stability until the child is eighteen or what? Should a responsible parent look to achieve permanency for their children? What is it? Permanency is professional jargon.Can you explain ?
        I am not being deliberately obtuse,i am genuinely interested.

        1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

          As I understand it ‘permanence’ is jargon for with whom the child will live throughout his or her childhood. A ‘permanent’ or ‘forever’ family is better for child’s emotional development than a succession of short lived foster placements so ‘permanency’ is often the stated goal for a child.

        2. HelenSparkles

          As Sarah says, permanence is the phrase used by social workers about the placement that will best see a child through to independence. We all have our jargon!

  4. Angelo Granda

    Thank you, Sarah. I suggest you put it in the CP glossary.
    As far as the parent advocacy scheme is concerned or any other scheme ( such as the FRG), it is crucial that sw’s follow the legal frameworks. Otherwise the schemes are useless. Over the years,i have asked countless parent victims of malpractice whether sw’s followed guidelines and informed them of the advocates available and of their right to have one attend cp conferences,meetings etc. to offer support.Almost invariably, they have not followed that requirement.

    Some parents get there own advocate; they may go to the CAB or online for help. However, when they turn up at conferences or meetings with the advocate, the CS will not allow them in the room to participate and do their job. As i said above,quite simply i do not think the young social workers know what the rules mean by ‘advocate’. Most think they mean solicitor.Make that point at the conference, perhaps.
    A second point about advocacy.The advocate must be well-versed in procedural correctness at conferences and meetings because CS do not appear to be. CP conferences,for example should be quorate, but often are not.Many people who should attend do not because they haven’t even been asked or if they have been , they have got the invite without due notice. Parents agreements and disagreements are not circulated because they are not told of concerns until the last minute etc.etc. It is essential that the advocates are professionals or that they are BACKED by a professional body. Where guidelines and frameworks are flouted by the LA , they should be allowed to either provide written evidence to the judge to the effect that process has not been fair and impartial OR be allowed to attend court to state the same under oath.

    Another major difficulty when the sw’s don’t follow guidelines and work with parents,involve them in care-plans etc. is that parents don’t know what is planned for their children . So they accept the judgment and knuckle down to working with the CS . They decide not to appeal but to make changes and work towards rehabilitation home for their children.
    That is not fair. Parents and most laypersons think reasonably that foster-care means that children are cared for temporarily until rehabilitation home becomes possible. Were guidelines followed and they were fully informed that a ‘permanence’ plans means that children are to remain in care throughout their childhood, then many would appeal immediately. They are deceived.

    There is a very good reason for each and every legal guideline and there is always a serious consequence when the LA does not follow them.
    Hope this helps.

  5. Angelo Granda

    I would add that where concerns are genuine and families have serious problems ( mental health , dv. perhaps), sometimes parents take stock and recognise that they need to work with the law and the CS.
    To that end ,they often sign an S20 and allow their children to be placed into care on a voluntary basis. Unfortunately,very often the SW involved actually has no intention of ever returning the children or even talking to parents let alone one to offer support and assistance. They have prejudged the case themselves and are contemplating a ‘permanence’ plan before even investigating fully.
    I think this especially happens a lot in AK47 inquiry cases. If only Sw;s would come to the CPR conference and confess to that common fault .Let us hope some attend and that they will speak freely.

  6. ian josephs

    YES section 20 is used by social workers as a weapon of war !
    “Sign this or we shall go to court and you will never see your children again” is the way parents are dragooned into signing a virtual death warrant as far as keeping their children is concerned.Any who dare ask questions are told “it allows us to take children to the doctor if they are ill” true enough as far as it goes but suddenly the parents are allowed only limited supervised contact and certanly not told that as it is listed as voluntary care they have the right to take their children home at any time .
    Of course the social workers more often than not have no intention of ever returning the children who are marked down for permanent fostering and possible adoption.

  7. Angelo Granda

    Thanks for the link to the practice guidance/ transparency project, Sarah.

    At the risk of appearing alarmist, may i comment that, as in so many other ways,SW’s often flout practice guidance. Indeed, later in open Court, the Judge may well severely criticise the Local Authority for using an S20 inappropriately.
    After all guidance is only guidance and a legal framework is ‘only a framework’.

    This has been happening for more years than we care to remember. If Courts continue to let the malpractices pass ( merely criticising them) , nothing will change.

    Please can anyone tell me whether or not parents are supposed to be given a copy of the S20? Is any legal agreement valid when both parties do not have a copy? Does the SW have to sign it also?

    Also,under an S20, is it unlawful for the LA to change a child’s GP without the permission of the parents?

  8. Sarah Phillimore Post author

    A parent should have a copy of any written agreement with a LA. I don’t think a SW has to sign it. It’s more important to record a parent’s agreement.

    Section 20 does NOT given the LA PR so it is not lawful for a LA to make any changes to the child’s GP without permission from the parents – unless of course the child is ‘Gillick competent’ and wants to make the change. Then it can get more complicated.

    Sometimes children on section 20 say they don’t want their parents involved and if they are teenagers, SW generally go with what the children are saying.

  9. Angelo Granda

    Many parents are often persuaded/advised by SW’s to agree to an S20, being told that it will be a temporary arrangement pending further enquiries. They presume that these further enquiries will include a correct and proper interview with both parents,the child’s GP and/or consultant, health-visitor possibly, schoolteachers and also other relevent professionals involved with the children.They also expect to be visited at home for a full assessment of home conditions and that past background of the family will be established. They are told that the object is to examine the extent of support measures to be put in place,if necessary.They expect the enquiries to be done in a matter of days and their children returned home.
    This is a trick which barristers should look out for. In reality, the CS may not carry out fair enquiries at all having already decided on some sort of ‘permanence’plan under a full care-order.
    For that reason,lawyers should always check whether enquiries have taken place at all,ask for written confirmation of meetings which are claimed to have taken place etc. and copies of written reports from GP’s and other professionals.I think they will find there aren’t any in a lot of cases.Often parents,the child’s real GP and schoolteachers etc. are not involved in a core-assessment ,for example.

    In many cases , the children’s GP’s are changed unbeknown to parents; the new medical teams are supplied with false information by the CS and/or foster-carers ( usually hearsay to the effect that the children have suffered significant neglect or abuse from parents) . The new GP’s then put down the disturbed behaviour of children which is caused by removal to the parents and make assessments on that basis.
    I am not saying that always happens , Sarah,but i am saying it is a fairly regular occurrence and a commonly used way of misleading the Court. Lawyers should always watch out for it. If a court orders a paediatric report of a child from an independent expert, they are sent only opinions of the new medical teams and misleading reports from the CS with which to work.
    Lawyers, on your next case , check out my allegations!
    Social Workers ,do your job correctly and follow the rules. Act fairly and do change a child’s doctor unlawfully!
    I would add that parents should always attend medical apppointments for their children whilst they are in care. In reality ,they are not even told of them or permitted to contact the child’s doctor.

  10. Angelo Granda

    If any solicitors attend the CPR conference,Sarah please would you address this anomaly with them should you get the chance.

    QUOTE: Solicitors are not permitted to attend conferences or reviews meetings, I am only able to attend meetings in very limited circumstances :UNQUOTE

    That quote is from a solicitor’s letter to a parent.

    Below are quotes from the Law Society’s practice guidance to solicitors in the position of acting for parents in regards to Children’s Act meetings.

    QUOTE: It is good practice for LA’s to invite you to accompany parents as a supporter to LA Children’s Act meetings: UNQUOTE

    QUOTE:This will facilitate a full exchange of information and also avoid the stressful situation of parents having to face a meeting of professionals without any professional assistance themselves:UNQUOTE

    QUOTE: If court proceedings are a possible outcome or these are already in existence, you should discuss with the client the implications of giving information to the meeting ,particularly if there is a possibility that they may later be cross-examined in court:UNQUOTE

    Well , as an ordinary parent, i see this as an anomaIy but there may be an explanation. I think it has implications especially for parents advocacy schemes you will be discussing.

    Sarah, two quick questions, if you have the time.

    a) Should a parent engage with a direct-access barrister and forget about using a firm of solicitors ,will he or she be permitted to attend Children’s Act conferences and review meetings?
    b) If a parent has a solicitor and obtains legal funding,can he or she dispense with the solicitors services half-way through a case and transfer the funding certificate to a direct-access barrister? Or does it have to be another solicitor?I bear in mind the Bar advice to the Secretary of State about the quality of solicitor’s representation.
    All comments welcome .

    1. HelenSparkles

      Solicitors can indeed attend most meetings, their role is limited though. They are there to hear the conference not contribute to it, that is done one the pre proceedings meetings.

  11. Angelo Granda

    Thank you for that comment,Helen. In your area at least Solicitors are indeed able to attend most meetings.
    More constructive questions:-

    1. Which meetings are they not able to attend and why not ?
    2. In what way are their roles limited and who or which body sets the limits?
    3. According to the practice guidance,solicitors are to attend all Children’s Act meetings and provide support to parents; yet are unable to contribute to the meeting. They can only listen or ‘hear’ the meeting. Is that not somewhat illogical?
    4. Advocacy means ‘support and active intervention’ on the behalf of a client. Should a member of the bar be acting as parent’s advocate at a meeting , would he or she be allowed to contribute and talk? Or would their roles also be limited?
    5. The ‘Working Together ‘ frameworks of The Children’s Act stipulate that SW’s are to inform parents of advocacy services and have their right to have one of their choice in order to attend meetings and provide support and active intervention. Would an advocate from the FRG or the CPR’s planned parent’s advocacy service also be prevented from voicing a parent’s views?
    6. Is the ability of parents themselves to contribute to meetings limited in any way.Are they allowed to speak freely and proffer agreements and disagreements? Or are they also silenced?

    Solicitors,any idea why some of you claim you aren’t allowed to attend conferences and review meetings when the rules actually encourage it? Is it due to your firms financial limitations,possibly?

    I look forward to replies to these questions from any source. Sarah , stopping advocates from talking and stopping parents ,even,from expressing themselves at meetings ( on the grounds that professionals object to their demeanour and/or use of language) has clear implications for Article 10 and 14 ( ECHR). Do you agree?

    Sam , did you find anything out about support services available to ASD children in their own homes whether part -time outreach work or 24 hour? Is any available or not? Is it available through the NHS or a charitable organisation perhaps?

  12. Angelo Granda

    One more question:-

    Are limits set on the ability of other professionals at meetings to contribute? For example, school representatives and medics,foster-carers ,children etc.
    Parents often claim that those people appear unable to say anything which may contradict or negate CS assessments. They say very little and meetings seem little more than rubber-stamp exercises.
    All comments welcome here.No limits as long as they are constructive.

    1. helensparkles

      A lawyer can attend any meeting without any issue in my experience. It is a courtesy to advise that they will, but they wouldn’t be excluded anyway. The contribution of lawyers is made in meetings where the LA also has legal representation, nobody is silenced, lawyers just talk to each other which is fair. Parents can always make a contribution to any meeting, those who need support can have advocates present, and interpreters can attend. There are sometimes confidentiality issues regarding voluntary agencies which don’t apply to statutory bodies. This isn’t a barrier to participation; it just needs to be negotiated, perhaps in a conference where a parent 1 has an advocate but there are other parties involved. An example would be 3 children where various different permutations mean 3 people have PR and their new partners are also involved. All those parenting would be asked to be in the same meeting but there is legislation around information sharing and an advocate doesn’t have he right to hear for example family history of parent 3 should it be relevant. It might mean someone attending part of a meeting to support a parent and a separate meeting with the SW and conference chair if any clarity is needed.

      If you are looking at support for ASD children you might want to look at autism outreach.

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