1.2.3 Strategy Discussions / Meetings
SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER
This chapter details guidance and procedure in respect of Strategy Discussions / Meetings which are convened when there are concerns that a child is suffering, or likely to suffer Significant Harm. A Strategy Discussion / Meeting is a multi-agency process used to determine if there should be a Child Protection Investigation (Section 47 Children Act 1989) and if so, how this should be conducted.Also see Action Following a Strategy Discussion Flowchart
1. Holding a Strategy Discussion
Children's Social Care Services must hold a Strategy Discussion whenever there is reasonable cause to suspect that a child has suffered or is likely to suffer Significant Harm.
This may be following a Referral and Single Assessment or at any time during an assessment or where a child is receiving support services, if concerns about Significant Harm to the child emerge.
2. Purpose of Strategy Discussion
The purpose of the Strategy Discussion is to decide whether a Section 47 Enquiry under the Children Act 1989 is required and if so, to develop a plan of action for the Section 47 Enquiry. The Single Assessment is the means by which the Section 47 Enquiry is carried out.
More than one Strategy Discussion may be necessary.
Where there is more than one Strategy Discussion, care must be taken to monitor the time frames involved so that no child is left for too long without a decision as to what services should be provided or what actions should be taken. Where an Initial Child Protection Conference is to be convene this must be within 15 working days of the Strategy Discussion at which it was decided to initiate the Section 47 Enquiry.
3. When the Strategy Discussion Should be a Meeting
The Strategy Discussion may take place over the telephone or at a meeting.
A Strategy Discussion must take the form of a face to face meeting, chaired by a manager from Children's Social Care Services, if there is concern about one of the following:
- Where there are suspicions of organised or multiple abuse - see Complex (Organised and Multiple) Abuse Procedure;
- Where concerns relate to fabricated or induced illness - see Fabricated or Induced Illness Procedure;
- Where concerns are considered to be complex;
- Following the death of a child, where there are child protection concerns and there are surviving siblings or other identified children who are vulnerable.
4. Who Should be Involved?
A local authority social worker, health practitioners and a police representative should, as a minimum, be involved in the Strategy Discussion. Other relevant practitioners will depend on the nature of the individual case but may include:
- The practitioner or agency which made the referral;
- The child's school or nursery;
- Any health or care services the child or family members are receiving.
If the child is a hospital patient (in-patient or out-patient) or receiving services from a child development team, the medical consultant responsible for the child's health should be involved, as should a member of the nursing team where the child is an in-patient.
Where a medical examination may be necessary, or has taken place, a senior doctor from those providing services should also be involved.
If the child lives outside of the area, all agencies that have information about the child and family must be invited to attend or contribute to the Strategy Discussion.
Where required, a legal adviser should be invited or legal advice sought to inform the Strategy Discussion.
Consideration should also be given to the need to seek advice from or invite a professional with expertise in the particular type of suspected Significant Harm.
Where parents or adults in the household are experiencing problems such as domestic abuse, substance misuse or mental illness, it will also be important to consider involving the relevant adult services professionals.
Those participating should be sufficiently qualified to be able to contribute to the discussions of the available information and to make decisions on behalf of their own agency.
5. Agenda for Strategy Discussion
The Strategy Discussion should be used to:
- Share available information;
- Agree the conduct and timing of any criminal investigation;
- Decide whether an assessment under Section 47 of the Children Act 1989 (Section 47 Enquiries) should be initiated, or continued, if it has already been initiated following an earlier Strategy Discussion/Meeting;
- Consider the assessment and the key action points, if already in place;
- Plan how the Section 47 Enquiry should be undertaken (if one is to be initiated), including the need for any medical assessment, and who will carry out what actions, by when and for what purpose;
- Agree what action is required immediately to safeguard and promote the welfare of the child, and/or provide interim services and support. If the child is in hospital, decisions should also be made about how to secure the safe discharge of the child;
- Agree, in particular, when the child will be seen alone, (if appropriate for the child) by the social worker during the course of these enquiries and agree the methods by which the child's wishes and feelings will be ascertained so that they can be taken into account when making decisions;
- In the light of the race, ethnicity, beliefs and culture of the child and family, consider how these should be taken into account and to establish whether an interpreter will be required; and
- Consider the needs of other children who may be affected (e.g. siblings and other children, such as those living in the same household, and/or in contact with alleged abusers);
- Determine what information from the Strategy Discussion/Meeting will be shared with the family, unless such information sharing may place a child at increased risk of significant harm or jeopardise police investigations into any alleged offence/s;
- Determine if legal action is required.
Children's Social Care Services are responsible for deciding how to proceed with the enquiries and risk assessment based on the Strategy Discussion/Meeting and taking into account the views of the child, their parents and other relevant parties (e.g. a foster carer). It is important that they ensure that both immediate risk assessment and long term risk assessment are considered. Where the child's circumstances are about to change, the risk assessment must include an assessment of the safety of the new environment (e.g. where a child is to be discharged from hospital to home the assessment must have established the safety of the home environment and implemented any support plan required to meet the child's needs).
At the completion of the Section 47 Enquiry, Children's Social Care Services must evaluate and analyse all the information gathered to determine if the threshold for significant harm has been reached.
The outcome of the Section 47 Enquiries may reflect that the original concerns are:
- Not substantiated; although consideration should be given to whether the child may need services as a Child in Need;
- Substantiated and the child is judged to be suffering, or likely to suffer, significant harm and an Initial Child Protection Conference should be called.
Concerns 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 re-assessed 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 any plan as appropriate;
- Provide services as specified in the plan for the child; and
- Review the impact of services delivered as agreed in the plan.
The Children's Social Care Services manager must authorise the decision that no further action is necessary, having ensured that the child, any other children in the household and the child's carers have been seen and spoken with.
Arrangements should be noted for future referrals, if appropriate.
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. The Initial Child Protection Conference should take place within 15 working days of a Strategy Discussion, or the Strategy Discussion at which Section 47 Enquiries were initiated if more than one has been held;
- 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 they are 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;
- 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;
- Suitable multi-agency arrangements must be put in place to safeguard the child until such time as the initial child protection conference has taken place. The social worker and their manager will coordinate and review such arrangements.
6. Recording of a Strategy Discussion
A full written record must be completed by each agency involved in a Section 47 Enquiry, using the required agency proforma, authorised and dated by the staff.
The responsible manager must countersign/authorise Children's Social Care Services Section 47 recording and forms.
Practitioners should, wherever possible, retain rough notes in line with local retention of record procedures until the completion of anticipated legal proceedings.
At the completion of the enquiry, the social work manager should ensure that the concerns and outcome have been entered in the recording system including on the child's chronology and that other agencies have been informed.
Children's Social Care Services recording of enquiries should include:
- Agency checks;
- Content of contact cross-referenced with any specific forms used;
- Strategy Discussion/Meeting notes;
- Details of the enquiry;
- Body maps (where applicable);
- Assessment including identification of risks and how they may be managed;
- Decision making processes;
- Outcome/further action planned.
All agencies involved should ensure that records have been concluded and countersigned in line with agency policies and recording procedures.
All records should be checked for the correct spelling of names and any alias as well as correct dates of birth.