Improving family engagement and empowerment in Child Protection Conferences (Part 1)


Co-designing solutions to help families share their views and actively participate in meetings.

In Part 1 we describe the challenge and our design approach. In Part 2 we will share outcomes and learnings.

The Challenge

How might we improve family engagement and empowerment across the Child Protection Conference process?​

Child Protection Conferences (CPCs) are critical meetings between family members, social workers and other professionals that are held when there are significant concerns about a child’s safety, health and development. The aim is to share the available information and plan how best to promote the child’s welfare together. The result is a plan containing actions for families and professionals to enable the child to flourish. Active participation of the family is essential to shape the best support for the child and the entire family. However, the process can be intimidating, and it can be difficult to engage with families on very sensitive topics. Our Children’s services wanted to try new ways to better engage and empower families in order to bring their needs and opinions to the centre of the Child Protection Conference process.

Our Approach

Co-design with colleagues and residents

We started by shadowing conferences and interviewing parents with lived experience as well as professionals. This helped us to understand the process and the realities of these meetings. One thing that stood out for us was how worried many families were about the process, but that they also didn’t fully understand it. This meant parents were worried that their children could be removed from them but weren’t sure how to effectively approach the meeting.

With the help of our social work colleagues, we set up a design group made of parents and professionals including social workers, team managers and conference chairs.

The first design phase was all about exploring the conference experience from families’ perspective and understanding problems and issues that people wanted to tackle. We brought everyone together, including parents that had previously experienced the process, in a discovery workshop. It was important to establish a friendly and open environment where everyone felt safe to share their experiences and ideas. Ultimately, families sometimes felt professionals were not on their side and so we shaped the session and the activities to make sure the atmosphere was both open and constructive. The session focussed on brainstorming activities to define ideal outcomes of a Child Protection Conference and mapping out what an ideal journey should look like. We then considered all the current pain points and barriers and compared those to an ideal journey for the family.

We found that:

  • When families receive the initial documentation, it is sometimes the first time they hear about a “Child Protection Conference” and this can generate fear and confusion — they do not know what it is, why it is needed and how they can contribute.
  • Initial documentation can be extremely long (30 pages of case history was not uncommon) and it can be hard to distinguish the reason for the current conference compared to previous issues the family has faced.
  • Technical jargon used in reports, and language barriers, can increase disorientation and can discourage parents from reading the materials.
  • Fear, combined with a lack of understanding of what is going on, can result in family members attending conferences without feeling able or confident to contribute, even when encouraged by professionals.
Virtual whiteboard from our Discovery Workshop

The group decided to focus on improving families’ experience before the conference while not making life any harder for our busy social workers. We wanted to test the assumption that a better experience at this stage could trigger more active participation of family members during the conference. We agreed to work on the following opportunity areas:

  • Provide clear and concise information that could support initial conversations between family members and their social workers.
  • Test more accessible ways of sharing information with families.
  • Enable parents to constructively reflect in advance of the conference on what they want to share and include in their plan.
Opportunity 1: Example of a scenario card used in ideation workshops
Opportunity 1: divergent ideation activity

We then ran 3 ideation workshops — one for each opportunity area — to explore and brainstorm solutions. We used scenarios and user stories to foster participants’ creativity and it was a great opportunity for everyone to think outside the box, come together and build on each other’s ideas.

Test & learn

Using the outputs of the workshops, we started designing prototypes of the solutions and testing them with participants.

Once we reached a “good-enough” version of the solutions, the group decided to test them live with a small group of social workers and families. The pilot lasted for 5 months, and we developed short guidance to support social workers to integrate the new approaches in their normal practice. We tested different communication formats such as videos and written materials, new report structures, and email prompts to social workers and managers to be sent at specific points of the journey.

Read our next post to find out about the solutions we designed and what we learned from this project.

Words by Emilia D’Orazio, Senior Service Designer in Barking and Dagenham’s Insight and Innovation Support Team. Project team: Emilia D’Orazio, Tim Pearse, Saumya Singhal



LBBD Insight and Innovation Support Team

We are the Insight and Innovation Support Team at the London Borough of Barking & Dagenham. We work with residents and colleagues to drive positive change.