When should a strategy discussion take place?
Where there are concerns that there is a serious risk of harm to the child, strategy discussions should take place as soon as possible. Only in exceptional circumstances, where delay might place a child or young person at additional risk, should an enquiry into suspicions about serious harm be begun without a strategy discussion first being held. In such cases, a strategy discussion must take place within 24 hours of starting the investigation. In all other situations, a strategy discussion must be held before the investigation begins. In the event that the alleged abuser is under the age of eighteen a separate strategy discussion must take place to consider their needs.
Part of a process
If it is felt that there is a need for compulsory intervention, then there will need to be a plan made to carry out the enquiry and monitor its progress. Strategy discussions should be thought of as a process rather than a one-off event. They are the means for keeping relevant professionals involved in a child protection enquiry.
An investigation is different to an assessment, in that the consent of parents to interview the child and share information with other agencies is not necessary. Parents should be asked for permission, or should be told what is going on, wherever this is possible. Only when social workers or police officers fear that giving parents information might lead to the child (or another person) being put at further risk of significant harm, or where the police believe it might seriously damage a criminal investigation, should information be withheld from family members.
Holding a strategy discussion
A strategy discussion may take place at a meeting or by other means e.g. by telephone. In complex referrals a face to face strategy meeting should be held, as it is likely to be the most effective way of discussing the child's welfare and the planning of future action. Any strategy meeting should be convened and chaired by a Children and Family Community Services, social work manager.
Where there are allegations of recent abuse of a child, the first strategy discussion should be held on the same day as the referral is made, as it may be important to preserve forensic evidence.
All parties to strategy discussions should be notified in writing of the results of the enquiries within one working day.
A strategy discussion may need to be reconvened if after the investigation has been concluded, developments are suggesting that a different plan is needed from that agreed in the original strategy discussion.
It is important to keep all parties involved in the progress of the child protection enquiry.
Who should be involved?
Strategy discussions should involve the following:
- a first line manager from Children's Services
- a detective sergeant from the police
- other agencies as appropriate, for example, health, education
- the referrer, if they are a professional (but not if they are a member of the public).
The discussion should have information available from the referring agency and all other relevant agencies.
There should also be discussions with:
- the duty medical specialist group paediatrician or child's GP (as appropriate) who would examine the child (where it is thought a medical examination is needed),
- the named medical consultant for the child's health care (where the child is an in or out hospital patient or is receiving services from the Child Development team),
- the senior ward nurse (where the child is an in-patient).
It is vital that strategy discussions take place in a way which ensures that all key people are available and able to be fully involved. The venue may be a school or hospital, police station or an office in the premises of Children's Services - wherever the most relevant people can attend and contribute.
Although it is the chair's responsibility to make sure that everyone has contributed, everyone in the discussion should try to make sure that others feel able to say what they really think, as the people who know the child best may well feel nervous in a formal meeting.
The child might have difficulties communicating due to additional needs or disability. In such situations it is important to find the best person to offer advice and help the child communicate with you. (See also guidance on protecting children with disabilities from abuse).
Outcomes of strategy discussions should be recorded by or on behalf of the manager chairing the meeting, on the record of strategy discussion form [118kb]. They should include any information shared, all decisions reached, the basis for these. Any agreed decisions should be circulated within one working day to all parties to the discussion.
To summarise, strategy discussions will
- share available information
- agree the conduct and timing of any criminal investigation
- plan how the investigation should be undertaken, including whether a medical examination is needed
- agree who will carry out which actions, by when and for what purpose
- agree when the child will be seen.
- agree what action is required immediately to protect the child, and 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
- determine what information will be shared with the family, and how this will happen The specific details of the strategy discussion will not necessarily be shared with the family.
- determine if legal action is required.
Relevant matters will include
- the welfare of the child
- agreeing a plan for how the investigation will be carried out,
- what further information is required about the child and family, and how this should be obtained and recorded
- agreeing who should be interviewed, who by, for what purpose, and when
- agreeing how the child's views will be sought
- considering any arrangements necessary taking into account the race and ethnicity of the child and family
- considering the needs of other children who may be affected, for example siblings, other children living in the same premises, or children and young persons in contact with alleged abusers. Any child referred to in a strategy discussion should be opened as a new referral via enquiry to MASH. The MASH will then decide whether a strategy discussion is required for that child.
Lessons from research
From a study of 45 serious case reviews in 1996, Munro identifies a reluctance to alter or shift early judgments, even as the evidence of risk accumulates.
Reder and Duncan in their work on serious case reviews and child death inquiries identify what they call 'closed professional systems' where workers develop fixed views of a case, or where polarisation takes place between two different groups of workers with different views. Sometimes one person's views are given too much weight, or there may be confusion about who is doing what. It helps to take an objective view of the professional dynamics and check if everyone is clear about their role. See Reder P and Duncan S: Lost Innocents: a follow up study of fatal child abuse (1999).
Newly gathered information is sometimes seen in isolation rather than considered alongside previously known facts. Certain facts are then selected as important, to fit the worker's view of the family, rather than asking if there could be missing information or other explanations. All the information should be checked and evaluated.
See Cleaver H, Wattam C and Cawson P: Assessing Risk in Child Protection, London, NSPCC (1998)
A number of strategy meetings were held in Victoria Climbié's case. At one held in July 1999, although social services and the police were present, there was no one who had actually met Victoria or who could give her view of the situation. Key medical staff were not present because the meeting was held at a time when they were needed in hospital. Despite this, the meeting came up with 18 sensible questions that were to form the basis of a Section 47 enquiry, but the meeting was unclear about who should deal with these issues and no timescales were set. Victoria's case was then allocated to a social worker who had not been present at the strategy meeting, and who failed to complete a child protection investigation.
It is therefore vital that key people are present (including at least one person who knows the child), that actions decided are allocated to people, and a date set for a review of the discussion.
Pressure from high-status referrers or the press, expressing fears that a child may die, may lead to over zealous action. Ask yourself: Would I see this referral as a serious protection matter if it came from another source?
- Worried about a child?
- Case Conference
- After the Initial Case Conference
- Supplementary Guidance