The meeting you have with the Chair of the Child Protection Conference (CPC) before the case conference is VERY important – if you are able to establish a good relationship with the Chair this could help turn your case around.
Respond in writing. Write a short reply to the social worker’s reports, which you should have received at least two days before the case conference, and make sure the Chair gets a copy of your reply the day before. It helps if you are able to write an accurate chronology of what’s happened. If you have any evidence that contradicts what the social worker’s report says, highlight these and hand them to the Chair pointing out what they should look at the day before so they have time to read it. If your case is medical or domestic abuse, gather up all the relevant medical paperwork, school evidence as well as any police or hospital records. Of course, if there are inaccuracies or misinformation in their report you should correct these, but stick to the facts; don’t make allegations against social workers unless it’s absolutely necessary. Be careful with the words you use to disagree with what has been written. You may be upset and angry by what you read but showing how angry you are or accusing them of lying is usually not helpful.
Stay in control. Remember that some of the professionals invited to the CPC might never have met you BUT they will be voting at the end of the meeting. All they will know about you is what the social worker’s report says. If the report says that you can’t work with professionals and you get upset and cross during the CPC, they may take this as evidence of what has been written about you and the truth that you are trying to show will be lost.
Think about what you wear.An experienced advocate suggests “It can be helpful to dress smartly.Always turn up early, so you’re not rushed or flustered. When you greet people, look at them and smile. This isn’t easy because these meetings are stressful, but it’s worth trying, because many people in the room will not know you and first impressions count for a lot.”
Prepare yourself to speak. At the Conference you will be asked if you have read the reports and if you wish to comment. It is better if you say that you would like to listen to the professionals first. This gives you an advantage because you can respond to what they’ve said and, if they make mistakes, you can correct them. While each professional speaks, don’t interrupt no matter what you hear and how upset you might feel. Wait until it’s your turn and then respond to what they’ve said. Remember you are being watched and judged by people who don’t really know you. When you are speaking it is best to look at the Chair and address your points to them.
Bring someone you trust. Take someone with you to take notes – you will need the notes later. And even though they are not allowed to speak, you will feel less intimidated if you are not facing the State alone. It is best if it is not a family member because they will naturally want to defend you but if they pitch in it might make matters worse – in trying to defend you they could say things that can be used against you. You are entitled to take an advocate; some councils have free advocates but you can look online or in the library. You are entitled to take a lawyer but this will not be covered by legal aid. At the end there will be a vote by all those present about whether your child will be put on a Child Protection plan. You and your advocate will NOT be entitled to vote. If the decision goes against you, remember you have the right to challenge the decision.