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1.1.4 Participation of Children and Young People in Assessments and Decision Making

RELATED CHAPTERS

Consultation Policy


Contents

  1. Policy Statement and Legal Framework for Participation
  2. Principles of Participation
  3. Definition of Participation
  4. Participation in Assessment and Section 47 Enquiries
  5. Children and Young People's Participation in Core Groups, Care Planning Meetings
  6. Children and Young People’s Participation in Looked After Reviews
  7. Children and Young People's Participation in Child Protection Conferences and Reviews
  8. Participation in Initial Child Protection Conferences
  9. Roles and Responsibilities
  10. The Role of the Chair of Conference
  11. Information for Children and Young People


1. Policy Statement and Legal Framework for Participation

The statutory framework for participation is embodied in The Children Act 2004 which amends both Sections 17 and 47 of the Children Act 1989 by inserting:

"For the purposes of making a determination under this section as to the action to be taken with respect to a child, a local authority shall, so far as is reasonably practicable and consistent with the child's welfare:

  1. Ascertain the child's wishes and feelings regarding the action to be taken with respect to him; and
  2. Give due consideration (having regard to his age and understanding) to such wishes and feelings of the child as they have been able to ascertain."

This requirement was already in place in relation to services for children under Section 20 of the Children Act 1989.

Participation is also in keeping with the requirements and philosophy of Article 12 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child:

"Parties shall assure to the child who is capable of forming his or her own views the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting them. For this purpose, the child shall in particular be provided the opportunity to be heard in any judicial or administrative proceedings affecting the child, either directly or through a representative."

The standard in law for ascertaining a child's wishes and feelings is that this must be done wherever reasonably practical and consistent with the child's welfare and is not based upon an assessment of the child's age and understanding. The standard is envisaged that it should be possible to ascertain the wishes and feelings of even quite young children, or use alternative communication methods where a child has a learning or communication difficulty. Careful description of observed behaviour of pre-verbal or non-verbal children, and their interactions with adults, can also be used to form a view of the child's wishes or feelings.

However there will be circumstances where this may be neither practical nor consistent with the child's welfare. For example, at times parents may prevent access to the child, or speaking with a child particular time may cause unacceptable levels of distress. Decisions regarding the child's safety may need to be urgently taken before it is possible to engage with the child or to arrange interpreters to assist with a child whose language is not English who has a communication difficulty.

The nature and level of involvement of a child/young person in meetings will be determined by the need to be sensitive to the child's needs, and it may be that it is necessary to hold some meetings, or parts of meetings, without them being involved. It will be necessary to consider the timing of meetings to avoid disruption of normal aspects of their lives, as far as possible.


2. Principles of Participation

Newcastle Children's Social Care will ensure the meaningful participation of children and young people and:

  • Listen to children and young people, as they have a right to have their opinions sought and to be listened to about services in Newcastle;
  • Actively encourage children and young people to be involved in the planning, review, monitoring and evaluation of services provided for them;
  • Explain to children and young people why we are intervening in their lives;
  • Recognise that children are individuals who have opinions of their own which may not, necessarily, be represented by adult carers or professionals;
  • Ensure that children have an increasing right to self-determination as they progress from childhood to adulthood;
  • Ensure that children and young people have the right to have their concerns considered and responded to recognise that failure to listen to children can have damaging consequences, and that their right to participate can be linked with the right to be protected;
  • Recognise that giving children and young people the right to express an opinion is not the same as giving them the final say in important decisions. Judgements might still have to be made but these will be based on a real consideration of the child's perspective.


3. Definition of Participation

Participation means ensuring that a young person is aware of, informed about, and encouraged to communicate something about each decision that that pertains to him or her which could result in significant changes being decided on their behalf about their lives.

Participation means making personal contributions at any stage of the process, including during any assessment, Child Protection Conference, review and planning meeting and could take the form of letters, drawings, telephone contact, or having their views explicitly represented by others. This can include the child or young person's attendance at any meeting concerning them, whether directly contributing or not.


4. Participation in Assessment and Section 47 Enquiries

The child must be seen and spoken with by the person(s) conducting the assessment or Section 47 enquiry.

It may not be consistent with the child’s welfare to discuss their wishes and feelings at a particular stage of an enquiry, for example, for fear of alerting an abuser, compromising evidence which may be needed for criminal proceedings or where a child may be placed at greater risk as a consequence of being spoken to.

Arrangements for engaging with the child, or decisions to defer this, must be recorded in the strategy discussion for any Section 47 Enquiry or assessment plan, and where this is not done, the reasons for not doing so must be stated, and arrangements made do so as soon as it is reasonably practical to do so.

Once the Assessment is completed the child's ascertained wishes and feelings must be considered in the reaching of any decision about the child. At this stage a judgement needs to be made, based upon the child's age and understanding, as to the extent to which they can be taken into account.


5. Children and Young People's Participation in Core Groups, Care Planning Meetings

Children and young people should be supported to participate in any meetings about their plans.

This applies to Core Groups, Care Planning meetings, including meetings with health or education or school personnel regarding health assessments, Personal Education Plans and /or Reviews of Individual Education Plans associated with the Code of Practice for Special Educational Needs.

The nature and level of involvement will be determined by the need to be sensitive to the child's needs, and it may be that it is necessary to hold some meetings, or parts of meetings, without them being involved. It will be necessary to consider the timing of meetings to avoid disruption of normal aspects of their lives, as far as possible.


6. Children and Young People’s Participation in Looked After Reviews

The timing, venue and attendance at LAC Reviews must be arranged in consultation with the child. Whilst parents, carers and professionals must be consulted, about a child's review, the only person who must, by statute, be consulted about the arrangements for a LAC Review is the child or young person themselves. If the circumstances require the involvement of parties unable to attend when the child is available, or whom the child does not wish to have at their review, then alternative arrangements must be made to meet with such parties or their views provided in writing. The Social Worker and the Independent Reviewing Officer both have responsibilities to ascertain the child's views on this and help them prepare for the review.

Where a young person declines to attend or contribute to their review this must not be taken for granted. Whilst there are pressures on a young person's life in care which may make this a challenge, being in care is a fact of life for some young people, and it is professionals’ responsibility to encourage young people in care to learn to take increasing responsibility for themselves as they grow up. Their confidence to do so will be supported by positive experiences of having their views heard and responded to in reviews and planning meetings.


7. Children and Young People's Participation in Child Protection Conferences and Reviews

Child Protection Conferences and Reviews can be particularly daunting for young people.

It is the policy of Newcastle Safeguarding Children Board that, wherever possible, children or young people wishing to attend a case conference or review should be enabled to do so. It is recognised that conferences are a formal setting where there is a wide disparity of power between young people and adults and that there are reasons why a young person may need to be excluded for parts of the meeting.


8. Participation in Initial Child Protection Conferences

At the point of convening the ICPC, the social worker and the Conference Chairperson and the Children's Worker will discuss participation of the child/young person to clarify:

  • How the young person's views have been ascertained throughout the child protection process thus far;
  • What form their participation will take in the conference process in light of their age, understanding and expressed wishes;
  • If the young person's attendance at the conference is considered to be an appropriate form of participation, a clear plan of attendance will be agreed between the Social Worker and the Chairperson which considers the following issues:
    • The form of participation planned with the young person, i.e.:
      • By providing written information;
      • An advocate or supporter speaks on behalf of young person;
      • Child speaks directly to case conference.
  • Any ongoing civil or criminal proceedings and the implications for rules of evidence, etc;
  • Parental permission for the child to attend;
  • Parental participation and any conflicts of interest which may impact on the young person's participation. Where there is a conflict of interest, the attendance of adults with Parental Responsibility will take precedence over the child and another form of participation must be considered;
  • Whether a closed section of the conference is required and how this will be explained to the young person;
  • Any additional needs to be considered e.g. language, culture, disability;
  • Any impact of the child’s attendance on the conference and how this may be addressed.


9. Roles and Responsibilities

The Social worker will:

  • Prepare the young person for their participation in the conference/review;
  • Assess and explain how they have reached the decision about the form of the child's participation;
  • Provide all required paperwork and information in sufficient time to allow adequate preparation;
  • Negotiate with parents re their participation and how this may impact on the young person's involvement;
  • Where it has not been possible to ascertain the child’s wishes and feelings, to explain why, and what steps are subsequently to be taken to ascertain the child's views.


10. The Role of the Chair of Conference

See also Appointment and Role of the Independent Reviewing Officer Procedure. The Chairperson will:

  • Ensure other attendees are advised in consultation with the social worker concerned;
  • Consult with the young person, where they are asked to attend, about the specifics of their participation;
  • Consult with parents about the attendance of the child/young person;
  • Deliver an opening statement which will advise conference of the need for attendees to be mindful of their responsibilities in avoiding questioning the young person in a manner which would subject them to evidential enquiry or to hear, read or give new evidential facts;
  • Be responsible for facilitating introductions for young people, ensuring that language is appropriate, and managing the process in a way that is not oppressive to the young person;
  • Be available following conference to further advise the young person and/or their advocate of the outcomes of the conference if they so wish.


11. Information for Children and Young People

Whilst all professionals have practice roles in ensuring that young people's voices are heard, it is important that information is available to all young people about the processes in which they are involved, including understanding the expectations of their involvement.

Written information about the process should be made available, wherever possible, in plain, jargon-free language understandable to young people.

End