Following a distinguished career in children’s services, Cynthia is consoled by her dog, Lucy. Cynthia is a regular contributor to the journal.
I was an early member of Voice for the Child in Care (VCC) (now Voice), in 1976 one of the demands it was making was for children to attend their Reviews. I always had reservations about this. There have always been debates around, what is the primary task of Reviews and who should attend; it seems to me that there is no universal answer.
A Review for an adolescent leaving care (when attendance throughout the Review may be appropriate) will be very different than that for a disturbed primary aged child, but in neither case should there be any surprises or sudden changes if people have been talking and working together in the best interests of the child.
The Children Act Guidance 1989, Volume 4 Residential Care, (original version published 1991), Section 3.3 Reviews stated
3.3. The concept of review as governed by the reviews of Children’s Cases Regulations and discussed in this guidance is a continuous process of planning and reconsideration of the plan for the child. Review will include a number of components leading to meetings held to discuss the plan which has been drawn up for a child who is being looked after or accommodated by a responsible authority. This will require consultation and the gathering of information on an ongoing basis, discussing that information and making decisions to amend the plan as necessary. The agenda for meetings should include consideration of progress in implementing the plan, need for changes in approach on service provision, a possible reallocation of tasks or a change in the status of the child (need for care proceedings on discharge of a care order, for example). Any meeting which is convened for the purpose of considering the child’s case in connection with any aspect of the review of that case Falls within the scope of these Regulations. Whether such a meeting is called a planning meeting or a review or review meeting will not determine whether it is in fact part of a review. This will depend on the purpose for which the meeting is convened.
and in Section 3.10
3.10. Before the review is arranged the field social worker responsible for the case, in discussion with his line manager, should identify who should be invited. Only in exceptional cases should a parent or a child not be invited to our review meeting. The first review meeting is the occasion on which the planning process is most clearly illustrated as being inseparable from the review process. It is the first opportunity to confirm formally that the plan is meeting the child’s needs. Those to be invited should include those who have been consulted (including the child and his parents) in drawing up the initial plan and who may need to contribute to the review.
What social workers thought participation meant seemed to vary between telling children and parents a Review was taking place and asking them if they wanted the meeting to be aware of any issues, to feeling that all children and parents should be present for all of the Review.
To attend their Review a child needs to be well prepared and supported by a trusted person. They need to know what the purpose is and who is going to be there and why. They should be helped to formulate anything they wish to say and taken through possible outcomes. To be fair to the VCC, Gwen James did try to set up a “Children’s Spokesman” scheme in Haringey to do just that, but it never really got off the ground. We now have Independent Representation and Advocacy schemes to help children put their point of view.
If a child is to be included in their review I believe they should meet the chairperson a day or so before, the purpose of the Review should be explained and who will be there and why. Participants need to be briefed about being honest and open and most importantly to use language that will be understood by the child.
I believe that in many cases the inclusion of the child in a Review makes it less likely that important matters will be discussed. Participants will have telephone calls or meetings beforehand to discuss and decide things which they believe to be contentious or too sensitive to be discussed in front of the child. These discussions will not be recorded which means that important factors in the decision making will not be subject to scrutiny nor will people be able to refer back to help understand the reason why a certain course of action may have been taken.
The reason for excluding certain things from a Review if it is known the child is going to be present, can in many circumstances be justified on the grounds not only of third party information, but more importantly because there are issues which cannot be discussed in such a forum without them being hurtful and open to misinterpretation by the child.
My experience has been that when children and parents have been included in Reviews, then they are often left with many unresolved questions which would require a number of follow up meetings to sort out. These are not going to happen.
I think that children should be fully informed about the fact that their Review is to take place and they should be able to choose who will represent them. That person has an obligation to talk to the child before and after the Review and ensure that any concerns the child has are addressed.
I know in a number of places a child will come in at the end of their Review and be introduced to the participants and informed about the decisions, this has always felt to me like tokenism, and often the child feels disempowered and intimidated.
Cynthia Cross, 2016
© Cynthia Cross and goodenoughcaring.com
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