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3.5 Practice Resolution Protocol: Resolving Professional Differences of Opinion in Multi-Agency working with Children and their Families


  1. Introduction
  2. Principles of Resolving Professional Differences in Practice
  3. Process for Resolving Professional Differences in Practice
  4. Challenging Practice Issues that Arise in Child Protection Conferences

1. Introduction

Working together effectively to safeguard and promote the welfare and well-being of children and their families is essential to achieving good outcomes for the children and young people of Rotherham.

On occasion, there will inevitably be some areas of disagreement or concern between professionals or organisations in relation to responsibilities, opinions, decisions, responses and actions and how these are impacting on progress and positive outcomes for individual children and their families. In order to promote and maintain effective multi agency working, it is vital that these concerns and disagreements are discussed in a timely, open and transparent manner and that appropriate challenges are made.

Providing or receiving challenge from another professional can sometimes be difficult for those parties involved but if it is undertaken appropriately and is always in the best interest of the child, it will provide positive opportunities to reflect, review and revise opinions, approaches and decisions in the work with a child and their family; as well as supporting the development of professional confidence and competence.

Resolving professional differences about practice should be seen as an opportunity to learn and develop both from each other as individuals and as organisations; it is about improving outcomes and providing accountability to children.

Wherever possible, all efforts should be made to resolve these issues at the lowest possible level within and between organisations or agencies, as it is at this level that the child and their family's circumstances and needs are known.

This Practice Resolution Protocol does not replace existing reporting and accountability mechanisms or processes that already exist and are in operation within and between organisations.

It can be used in any relevant practice area that relates to:

  • Notifications, Contacts, Referrals (including the use of threshold criteria);
  • Assessments of Need and Risk and Care Planning;
  • Service Provision (including visits and direct work with the family);
  • Reviewing Care Plans for Looked After Children;
  • Decisions made at Multi Agency Meetings, including Child Protection Conferences and Core Groups – see Section 4, Challenging Practice Issues that Arise in Child Protection Conferences.

2. Principles of Resolving Professional Differences in Practice

The following principles apply when resolving professional differences of opinion:

The safety and wellbeing of individual children and young people is the paramount consideration in any professional disagreement. Professional differences of opinion, disagreements, or disputes that obscure the focus on the child or young person, or delay to services being provided must be avoided.

The aim should be to resolve any difficulties at the practitioner level or between agencies as simply and as quickly as possible. And in doing so be proportionate to the issues giving cause for concern as it is at this level that the child and their family's circumstances are known best.

Children, young people and their families should not become involved in differences of professional opinion unless it is deemed appropriate to seek some level of agreed clarification or their views, wishes and feelings are required to assist with a way forward.

The views of all those involved with the child and family should have their views and opinions valued and respected and any challenge should be in relation to practice and not the individual professional.

It is important to remember that multi-agency working with children and their families requires both individual and collective professional judgements to be made and these directly influence practice and decision making. Differences of opinion over professional judgements will not necessarily signify that there are practice issues. However, it is expected that any significant decision influenced by professional judgements have sound rationale supporting them which is transparent, evidenced, clearly recorded and where appropriate, communicated to all those involved in providing multi-agency services to the family.

Professionals have a duty to appropriately challenge one another when they believe that poor practice - judgement, decision making or delay may impact negatively on positive outcomes for the child; this includes where statutory requirements or local procedures are not being adhered to and includes where there is a lack of consideration of the child's wishes and feelings.

The number of Professional differences/disputes is reduced when there is clarity and understanding relating to the respective duties, roles and responsibilities of individual professionals and agencies and a genuine belief in partnership working.

Effective working together depends on transparency and accountability within and between organisations, and an open and honest approach between professionals.

It should be acknowledged that differences in organisational or professional status and or experience may affect the confidence of some professionals to challenge practice. This should not be a reason for this not to happen and appropriate support should be in place and provided within each organisation to enable and support its professionals / workforce to do so.

3. Process for Resolving Professional Differences in Practice

The following processes and stages are likely to be involved:

Identification or recognition that there is or may be a practice issue

If a professional identifies that there is or may be a practice issue, it is incumbent on them to work in partnership with colleagues in their own and other organisations to clarify the issue. Early identification and resolution is key to maintaining the focus on outcomes for the child and prevent an escalation of any issues at a later stage.

Recognition of a Practice issue may be as result of something a professional has observed, read, discussed, heard or been notified of (including from the child or family) and / or arise from knowledge about Legislation, Procedures, Protocols and Pathways or Best Practice Guidance.

Clarification of the practice issue within and between agencies

Early clarification of the Practice issue is essential and will be informed by the status and circumstances of the child, the likely impact on them and the level and priority of concern potentially raised by the issue. Clarification could involve consulting an experienced colleague, Line Manager, or named safeguarding professional (this should not be a substitute for supervision within the guidelines of the professional's own organisation) and can help clarify thinking in the wider context of the case, checking procedures and other Practice documentation.

Seeking early clarification with colleagues in partner agencies involved with the family may be enough to provide reassurance that a Practice issue is not evident or that there are actions being taken or to be taken to address any adverse impact on the child.

Resolution of the Practice issue

In progressing to this stage the professional who has identified a Practice issue must adhere to all the principles set out in Section 2 of this protocol.

Stage 1 - The professional who has identified the Practice issue should normally discuss their views, opinions or concerns directly with their relevant colleagues (practitioners or first Line Managers where appropriate) in other organisations who are directly involved in providing services to the child and family; or who have made decisions about referrals, assessments or services affecting a child and their family. The method used is best suited to the particular circumstances of the case but could include a meeting, telephone conversation or correspondence.

In all cases, this should be documented on the child's respective case record by each of the professionals involved in the discussion, being careful to differentiate between fact and opinion, and to record the outcomes from the discussion.

In some circumstances where the immediate welfare of the child is a cause for concern, or where an organisations internal structure or mechanisms dictate, the initial discussion may need to be between practitioners, first Line Managers or named safeguarding leads in any combination, in order to achieve a timely but proportionate resolution to the Practice issue identified, and is in the best interests of this child.

Stage 2 - If Stage 1 has not resulted in a resolution to the satisfaction of the professional who identified the Practice issue, then this should be escalated, whether it has been raised with their Line Manager or named safeguarding lead or not. The Line Manager or named safeguarding lead should then advise on the next step forward, either in terms of the professional making further contact with other appropriate professionals/agencies or for them to do this on behalf of the professional. It is advisable, to evidence management oversight, that these discussions and decisions are also recorded on the child's record. All subsequent discussions, meetings or correspondence between agencies should be recorded on the respective child's case record.

Stage 3 - If Stage 2 does has not resulted in the satisfactory resolution to the Practice issue then this should be escalated to the next tier of management and named safeguarding leads for each organisation. All recording should be completed as in Stages 1 and 2.

Stage 4 - If Stage 3 has not resulted in a the satisfactory resolution to the Practice issue then, in this exceptional instance, this should be escalated to the relevant Director in each organisation and also the Rotherham Local Safeguarding Children Partnership in order to assist in the resolution process and to identify lessons for multi-agency working. All recording on children's case files should be completed as in Stages 1-3.

In the rare and unlikely circumstance that the issue cannot be resolved at Stage 4, there is provision for the matter to be referred to the Practice Review Group (see Section 4.5, Stage 4 (RLSCP Practice Review Group).

4. Challenging Practice Issues that Arise in Child Protection Conferences

4.1 Challenge Protocol

The Challenge Protocol is intended to ensure that all practitioners carry out their roles and responsibilities appropriately to safeguard and promote the welfare of children/young people who are subject of a Child Protection Conference. This Challenge Protocol does not replace existing reporting and accountability mechanisms or processes that already exist and are in operation within and between organisations.

This protocol is not intended to prevent or delay any action that is identified by any member of staff or manager as being needed to ensure the safety and protection of a child/young person, nor should it prevent dialogue between managers, practitioners and staff about the actions that are needed. Neither does it absolve any manager or practitioner of responsibility or accountability for their actions.

A formal challenge will be initiated when a practitioner (including a social worker) or agency fails to meet the expected requirements according to the procedures outlined in Initial Child Protection Conferences Procedure and Child Protection Review Conferences Procedure.

The Conference Chair will wherever possible, discuss their concerns directly with the practitioner informing them of their reasons for enacting the escalation process. Dependent upon the seriousness of concern the Conference Chair can, in consultation with their Line Manager, make a decision to move straight to Stage 2 or Stage 3 if the concerns are such that immediate and higher escalation of the issues is required.

The Conference Chair will ensure that families are aware of any challenge escalations raised at the meeting held with them prior to the start of the Child Protection Conference.

Each stage of the escalation process is detailed below with examples of issues.

4.2 Stage 1 (Practitioners and First Line Managers)


  • Parents not being given a copy of the practitioners report;
  • Where a practitioner has not submitted a report to conference within the procedural timescale and as a result has led to the conference being “stood down / delayed”;
  • Where a report to conference falls below an acceptable standard and is not informed by a comprehensive assessment that identifies risks and recognises strengths;
  • A practitioner has not visited the child/ren within the expected timescales as defined by the Child Protection Plan/core group;
  • Core Group meetings have not taken place within the prescribed timescales or if practitioner/agency fails to attend (on more than one occasion);
  • Care planning activity is not evidenced, including the lack of sufficiently detailed plans, inability to follow an evidenced based route for decisions being taken, lack of expected management oversight in the case, drift or delay in progressing the Child Protection Plan;
  • In the event of a decision being made at conference that a Child Protection Plan is no longer required, and it is agreed there will be ‘step down’ to Child In Need (CiN) planning the Conference Chair will, six weeks post conference, monitor the child’s case file to check an appropriate multi-agency CiN meeting has taken place and a relevant CiN Plan is in place. If such is not evidenced, this process to be invoked at Stage 1.

Where the Conference Chair has identified a significant issue of concern or failure to comply with procedures, they will initiate a timely discussion with the relevant practitioner regarding those concerns. The Conference Chair will complete the Stage 1 Form within three working days and send it to the responsible practitioner and Line Manager for resolution.

The Line Manager has the lead responsibility for responding by completing the response section of the Stage 1 Form within 10 working days and submitting the written report to the Safeguarding Unit. In the event that no response is received within this time frame or the Conference Chair considers the response to be unsatisfactory, the Conference Chair should escalate the matter using the Stage 2 or Stage 3 challenge escalation process outlined below.

4.3 Stage 2 (First Line Manager and Middle/Senior Manager)

The issues and concerns may be similar to those raised at Stage 1 but are of greater concern or significance for the child or have not been satisfactorily resolved by agencies when originally identified by the Conference Chair. This is when it is felt that practice is significantly failing to meet the minimum statutory standards and RLSCP requirements or there is a safeguarding concern that can be attributed to the agency/practitioner failing in their responsibilities to the child and their family.

If the Conference Chair considers that the issues need escalating straight to Stage 2 of the procedure they should in the first instance discuss their concerns with the Safeguarding Unit Manager.

The Conference Chair will complete the Stage 2 Form within two working days and send it to the responsible Line Manager and agency equivalent for middle/Senior Manager for resolution.

The manager has lead responsibility for responding by completing the response section of the Stage 2 Form within 5 working days and submitting the written report to the Safeguarding Unit.

If the Conference Chair believes the response will provide timely resolution of the identified issues or concern they will continue to monitor for actions being undertaken. If the response fails to provide resolution the Conference Chair will progress the issues/concerns to Stage 3.

4.4 Stage 3 (Middle/Senior Manager and Head of Service or Agency Equivalent)

Stage three measures will be initiated when there are significant concerns in relation to assessment, care planning or resources that are not being allocated or provided. The child/young person’s fundamental needs and human rights are not being met. This is when it is felt that practice is significantly and persistently failing to meet the minimum statutory standards and/or RLSCP requirements.

At the implementation of a Stage 3 challenge, the Director of Safeguarding, Children and Families is notified by the Safeguarding Unit Manager within one working day of the concern being raised. The Safeguarding Unit Manager will complete the Stage 3 challenge form within one working day and send to the agency equivalent for middle/Senior Manager and head of service or agency equivalent.

The head of service or equivalent has lead responsibility for responding by completing the response section of the Stage 3 Form within 4 working days and submitting the written report to the Safeguarding Unit.

The Safeguarding Unit will notify the RLSCP Business Unit that a Stage 3 challenge escalation has been raised.

All documents and actions within all three stages of the Challenge Procedure will be recorded on the child’s Social Care record within the electronic CSC file.

4.5 Stage 4 (RLSCP Practice Review Group)

Stage 4 will have required the Conference Chair to have exhausted Stages 1-3 and will involve notification to the “Practice Review Group” of the Rotherham Local Safeguarding Children Partnership.

The Practice Review Group is multi-agency meeting which is independently chaired, formally minuted and will involve senior representatives from the key partner agencies. The outcome and findings of this meeting, including recommendations and actions will be sent to all senior agency representatives and the Safeguarding Unit who will then monitor progress and outcomes.

The number of Stage 4 Challenges will be monitored through the RLSCP Performance Management Framework.

Click here to view Practice Resolution Protocol Flow Diagram.