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1.7.1 Core Groups - Practice Guidance

SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER

This practice guidance has been produced for staff in Children’s Social Care and provides clear information on the purpose of the Core Group. It also contains useful practical information to help with the smooth running of the Core Group Meeting, and sets out the Agenda to be used.

See also Working Together to Safeguard Children (2015).


Contents

  1. Purpose of a Core Group
  2. Membership of a Core Group
  3. Leadership of a Core Group
  4. The Core Group Meeting – Practical Considerations
  5. Core Group Meeting – Agenda to be Used
  6. Recording of Core Group Meetings
  7. Quoracy of a Core Group


1. Purpose of a Core Group

Working Together to Safeguard Children 2015 identifies that the purpose of a Child Protection Plan is to:

  • Ensure the child is safe from harm and prevent him or her from suffering further harm;
  • Promote the child’s health and development; and
  • 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.

A ‘Core Group of professionals and family members’ who are tasked with developing and implementing the Child Protection plan, with professionals required to ‘work together to safeguard the child from harm in the future, taking timely, effective action according to the plan agreed’.

Accordingly, an Initial Child Protection Conference which decides that a child has suffered or is likely to suffer Significant Harm will make a child subject to a Child Protection Plan. The Conference will develop an ‘outline’ Child Protection Plan, with ‘clear actions and timescales, including a clear sense of how much improvement is needed, by when, so that success can be judged clearly’.

Nevertheless, Working Together to Safeguard Children 2015 is clear that it is the responsibility of the Core Group to:

  • Further develop the outline child protection plan, based on assessment findings, and set out what needs to change, by how much, and by when in order for the child to be safe and have their needs met;
  • Decide what steps need to be taken, and by whom, to complete the in-depth assessment to inform decisions about the child’s safety and welfare;
  • Implement the child protection plan and take joint responsibility for carrying out the agreed tasks, monitoring progress and outcomes, and refining the plan as needed.


2. Membership of a Core Group

The Initial Child Protection Conference will ‘identify the ‘membership of the Core Group of professionals and family members who will develop and implement the child protection plan’. Subsequently, the allocated Social Worker who is responsible for ‘leading Core Group activity’ can add members or end membership of the Core Group in the best interests of the child.


3. Leadership of a Core Group

Responsibility for leadership of a Core Group is identified by Working Together to Safeguard Children 2015 as the allocated Social Worker for the children. The Social Worker is required to:

  • Be the lead professional for inter-agency work with the child and family, coordinating the contribution of family members and professionals into putting the child protection plan into effect;
  • Record decisions and actions agreed at core group meetings as well as the written views of those who were not able to attend, and follow up those actions to ensure they take place. The child protection plan should be updated as necessary; and
  • Lead core group activity.

In practice, this means that the allocated Social Worker for the children must:

  • Convene all Core Group Meetings within timescales, the Initial Core Group within 10 working days of the Initial Child Protection Conference and then no later than every 6 weeks thereafter;
  • Unless there are exceptional circumstances, Chair the Core Group Meeting and ensure that a record of the discussion is taken and subsequently recorded on the child’s record on the Children’s Social Care Case Management System;
  • Ensure that the Core Group Meeting Record is distributed within 5 working days of the Core Group Meeting to all Core Group Members.


4. The Core Group Meeting – Practical Considerations

4.1 Timescales

The first Core Group Meeting will be arranged at the end of the Initial Child Protection Conference and must be held within 10 working days from the date of the Conference.

Subsequent Core Group Meetings must be held at intervals of no more than every 6 weeks for the duration of the Child Protection Plan. Core Group Meetings can be held more frequently if it is in the best interests of the child to do so.

At the end of every Core Group, a date for the next Core Group Meeting must always be arranged. If there is to be an intervening Review Child Protection Conference, a date should nonetheless be arranged.

4.2 Venue

The venue of a Core Group Meeting should be subject to reasonable negotiation between all members of the Core Group. The accessibility, comfort and confidentiality of the venue for parents and carers should be important considerations. A Core Group Meeting may take place within the family home. It will be for the allocated Social Worker for the children, as Lead for Core Group activity to resolve any disputes as to the appropriateness of a venue.

4.3 Chairing

The Core Group Meeting should, ordinarily, be Chaired by the allocated Social Worker who is tasked in Working Together to Safeguard Children 2015 as being the ‘lead professional for inter-agency work with the child and family, coordinating the contribution of family members and professionals into putting the child protection plan into effect’ and ‘leading Core Group activity’. Accordingly, unless there are exceptional circumstances that would prevent the Social Worker from Chairing the meeting, such as unplanned sickness absence or an urgent safeguarding incident that has to take priority, it is expected that the allocated Social Worker attend and Chair the Core Group meeting.

Exceptionally, where a Social Worker is unable to attend and it is decided by the Social Worker that the Core Group should nevertheless proceed in their absence, the Social Worker should delegate the Chairing to another Social Work colleague or professional member of the multi-agency Core Group for that occasion. In such circumstances, the following Core Group must be Chaired by the allocated Social Worker to ensure that no more than one Core Group in succession is not attended by the Social Worker who is tasked with ‘leading’ this key safeguarding activity.

4.4 Recording the Discussions of the Meeting

It is recognised that for one person to Chair, contribute and record the discussions of Core Group Meeting can be difficult. Therefore, the Social Worker may, to assist in the smooth running of the meeting, request another professional present (not a family member) at the meeting to take notes of the discussion and actions agreed (See Section 5, Core Group Meeting – Agenda to be Used and Section 6, Recording of Core Group Meetings for guidance).

4.5 Attendance

The Initial Child Protection Conference will designate who will initially be members of the Core Group. However, additional members of the Core Group can be added in order to ensure that the work under the Child Protection Plan progresses.

All professional members of the Core Group should attend all Core Group meetings. Where this is not possible, a brief report should be submitted to the Social Worker either verbally or in writing prior to the Meeting, detailing progress since the last Core Group Meeting. Where a professional deputises a colleague to attend, it will be for the allocated Social Worker as leader of the Core Group to determine the value of such attendance based on the contribution the deputy can make. This is because the Core Group should be limited to those professionals actively engaged in implementing the Protection Plan. 

Every effort should be made to achieve the attendance of relevant family members at the Core group Meetings. Such efforts may include:

  • If required, ensuring that a qualified interpreter is arranged for each meeting (a family member should never be used as an interpreter for a Core Group);
  • Reducing the size of the Core Group Meeting if it is considered that a smaller meeting would be less overwhelming and intimidating for parents;
  • Practical assistance around child care to facilitate parents’ attendance;
  • Practical assistance around transport to/from the Core Group to facilitate parents’ attendance;
  • Support for parents/carers to be accompanied by an Advocate or supportive friend or relative if they wish, subject to agreement by the Social Worker.

Whether it is appropriate for a child or young person subject to a Child Protection Plan to attend and participate in a Core Group Meeting should be considered by the allocated Social Worker. Where a child or young person could attend and meaningfully participate, consideration should be given to the use of Advocacy to support them.

Where the attendance of any individual, whether or not a Core Group Member, would prevent the Core Group from achieving its purpose as established by Working Together to Safeguard Children 2015 (see above), consideration may be given to excluding the individual. The allocated Social Worker will make this decision in the child’s best interests. Such a decision and the reasons why, must be recorded within the Core Group Meeting Record.


5. Core Group Meeting – Agenda to be Used

The agenda for each Core Group should be the same. This consistency is important as the discussion will be recorded and subsequently inputted by the Social Worker onto the Children’s Social Care Case Management System, prior to distribution to all Members within 5 working days. Deviation from the agenda may not only result in difficulties inputting the Record of the Core Group but may mean that a full and comprehensive safeguarding discussion did not take place and relevant information may not have been elicited and shared appropriately.

The Agenda should follow the format of the Core Group Meeting Record. The Record was intentionally designed as an aide memoire and should act as a prompt to the Chair to frame and structure the discussion of the Core Group.

The Core Group Agenda should be as follows:

1.

Introductions

The Chair should welcome attendees and remind participants of the purpose of the Core Group, the need for confidentiality and that a record of the discussion will be made.

The Chair should request/nominate a Minute Taker from the professionals in attendance.
2.

Record of Attendance and Apologies

The Chair should ensure that an accurate record of attendees is made and share any apologies. It is important that the Chair clarify the address of each attendee for the distribution of Minutes of the meeting. These addresses will be generated automatically and therefore their accuracy is very important. 
3.

A Summary of the reason for the Child Protection Plan

A starting point to frame the subsequent discussion is a reminder from the Chair of the reasons for the Child Protection Plan and the risk factors identified at the last Conference and, possibly added to at subsequent Core Groups. This will help focus the discussion. This summary will particularly assist Core Group members added to the Group who may not have been present / party to the last Conference.
4.

An Outcome focused discussion to establish and then Update progress against each element of the Child Protection Plan

If the Core Group is the first since Conference, it is incumbent upon the Core Group Members to develop the outline child protection plan agreed at Conference into a more detailed inter-agency plan. It is essential that the Core Group set out what needs to change, by how much and by when in order for the child to be safe and have their needs met. The Core Group should look to ensure that the outline Plan is developed into a clear working tool for the Core Group Members over the weeks and months ahead so that success can be judged clearly.

This means that each element of the outline Plan should be broken down into five clear, straight forward statements answering the following questions:

  1. What stops this child being safe / achieving their potential?
  2. What needs to be different for the child?
  3. What needs to be done?
  4. Who will do it?
  5. When will it happen by?

This may take time, but the effort taken at the first Core Group will benefit the progress of the Child Protection Plan.

At any point, including the first Core Group, additional elements of concern can be added and addressed. It is important that the Chair stress that the Child Protection Plan is a working and ‘living’ document.

At subsequent Core Groups, each element needs to be reviewed by way of an Update about work to achieve difference for the child. Three areas of discussion are required and should be facilitated by the Chair:

  1. Outcome - A reminder of ‘What needs to be different for this child’;
  2. Review - An Update on progress towards achieving difference;
  3. Actions - What still needs to be done.
Some updates may be brief, some more detailed. It is important that the Minute Taker summarise both Update and Actions in sufficient detail that someone with no previous knowledge of the case would have sufficient information to make reasonable safeguarding decisions and understand what actions were required. 
5.

Any additional discussion

At the end of the substantive discussion about the development/review of the Child Protection Plan the Chair should ensure that there is an opportunity for wider discussion. Any discussion should be recorded. An example would be an update from the Social Worker on assessment work being undertaken and/or timescales for completion.

This Section should record any disagreement to the discussion held or the proposed actions of the Core Group. It is an essential part of the practice of the Core Group that all Core Group Members should be given the opportunity to express their views about any aspect of the Core Group Meeting. The Chair should, in particular, ensure that any disagreements to the actions discussed are recorded along with the reasons why.

6.

Additions or Amendments to the Child protection Plan

Working Together to Safeguard Children 2015 tasks the Core Group with ‘refining the plan as needed’. This means that the Child Protection Plan should be a ‘living plan’ rather than ‘fixed’, changing with the circumstances of the child.
7.

The Voice of the Child/ren subject to the Plan

It is an essential part of the practice of the Core Group that the voice of the child informs the work undertaken. If the child or young person is present, the Chair should ensure that there is an opportunity for the Group to hear and record the views and wishes of the child or young person. If not present, family and professionals may wish to represent the views and wishes of the young person as they are understood. Any discussion should be recorded.

This section also includes a record of when Qualified Social Workers have visited the child since the last Core Group. The Chair must detail the dates to the Core Group of when the child was seen, by whom, where and whether the child was alone or not. This will ensure professional accountability and identify any difficulties Children’s Social Care may have had in meeting its responsibilities to see the child.
8.

The views and wishes of the parents/carers of the child.

It is an essential part of the practice of the Core Group that the views and wishes of the parent or carer be understood and recorded. The Chair should ensure that there is an opportunity for the Group to hear and record the views and wishes of the parent or carer and, if not present, for family and professionals to represent the views and wishes as they are understood.
9.

Agreement and recording of the next date for the Core Group.

Finally, before closing the meeting, the Chair must ensure that those present agree to a new time, date and venue for a further Core Group Meeting within a maximum of 6 weeks  If there is to be an intervening Review Child Protection Conference, a date should nonetheless be arranged.
10.

Concluding Comments

The Chair should conclude by ensuring that all members of the Core Group are aware of what actions to take if the child subject to a Child Protection Plan is not safe.

The Chair should ensure that the written Record, if taken by another professional, is provided to the Social Worker at the end of the meeting or an arrangement that this be done within 2 working days. The Chair should close by reminding Members that copies of the Core Group Meeting Record will be circulated to all Members of the Core Group, whether they attended or not, by Children’s Social Care within 5 working days.


6. Recording of Core Group Meetings

Working Together to Safeguard Children 2015 notes that it is the responsibility of the allocated Social Worker to ‘Lead Core Group activity’ and that this includes ‘recording decisions and actions agreed at core group meetings as well as the written views of those who were not able to attend’. It is essential that every Core Group is recorded on the Children’s Social Care Case Management System and a Record subsequently distributed to all those involved, whether or not they attended the Core Group. If Minutes were taken during the Core Group by another agency professional, they must be provided to the Social Worker for input onto the Case Management System within 2 working days so that a Record can be distributed to all parties involved in Core Group within five working days.


7. Quoracy of a Core Group

Working Together to Safeguard Children 2015 notes that it is the responsibility of the allocated Social Worker to ‘Lead Core Group activity’. Accordingly, it will be the judgment of the Social Worker whether a Core Group is or is not quorate. In exercising this judgment, Social Workers should bear in mind the overall purpose of the Core Group to implement the Child Protection Plan, ensure joint responsibility for carrying out the agreed tasks, to monitor progress and outcomes and to refine the Plan as needed. As such, it may be that a Core Group is quorate with one other Agency in attendance or not quorate when a key Agency is absent despite the attendance of several others. The Social Worker must judge the need to meet locally established timescales against the overall purpose of a Core Group in coming to a judgment about quoracy and the continuation of a meeting without members of the Core Group in attendance. Particular caution should be exercised when family members are not in attendance, given the centrality of their contribution to implement the Protection Plan.

End