Family Welfare Conferences
The function of a family welfare conference is to decide on an informed and inclusive basis, whether or not the child in question is in need of special care or protection.
The Family Welfare Conference has been described by the HSE as:
“…a structured, family-led, decision making meeting, where as wide a range of family members as possible come together to formulate a safe family plan in the best interests of the child. Essentially it is a method of family intervention that enables families to provide their own solutions to the difficulties they face.”
It allows for early intervention and seeks to include all affected persons, including the child, family, and relevant professionals.
Barnardos have helpfully explained the nature and purpose of the Family Welfare Conference.
Who Can Attend a Family Welfare Conference?
The conference is brought about following a request by the Child and Family Agency, or at the Court’s direction; and is convened and chaired by the person appointed by the Child and Family Agency.
The governing laws provide a list of those persons who are entitled to attend the conference:
(a) The child in respect of whom the conference is being convened,
(b) The parents or guardian of the child,
(c) Any guardian ad litem appointed for the child,
(d) Such other relatives of the child as may be determined by the coordinator, after consultation with the child and the child’s parents or guardian,
(e) An officer or officers of the HSE,
(f) Any other person who in the opinion of the coordinator, after consultation with the child and his or her parents or guardian, would make a positive contribution to the conference because of the person’s knowledge of the child or the child’s family or because of his or her particular expertise.
The Rights and Responsibilities of the Parents
- The parents should be told why there is a Family Welfare Conference being held and should be afforded the opportunity to respond.
- All concerns about the child should be explained to the parent.
- The Child and Family Agency’s duty, role and powers should also be explained.
- The child and parent’s legal rights should be explained.
- Parents’ views should be sought in order to ensure the child’s welfare.
- Parents will be expected to co-operate and seek clarification about recommendations that the Child and Family Agency make about their children.
- If the family situation needs to change as a result of the assessment, parents should be told about how those changes are in the best interests of their child.
- Parents have a right to reply to any concerns put to them by the Child and Family Agency staff.
- Parents have a right to have their views noted/recorded at a child protection conference.
- Parents have a right to appeal any Care Order made for their child.
- Parents have a right to request information in writing.