Child Protection Enquiries - Section 47 Children Act 1989
SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER
This chapter provides the steps for how to undertake a strategy discussion / meeting and how to conduct Section 47 Enquires.
RELEVANT GUIDANCEDoncaster Children's Services Trust - Child Protection Conference Screening Form, Signs and Indicators of Abuse for Need, Harm and Risk Identification and Decision Making
1. Duty to Conduct Section 47 Enquiries
When the Children's Services Trust receives a referral or information has been gathered during an assessment (which may have been very brief), which suggests that a child maybe suffering, or likely to suffer, significant harm, the Trust is required by Section 47 of the Children Act 1989 to make enquiries. The purpose of this multi agency enquiry and assessment is to enable the agencies to decide whether any action should be taken to safeguard and promote the welfare of the child. Any decision to initiate an enquiry under Section 47 must be taken following a Strategy Meeting/Discussion.Responsibility for undertaking Section 47 enquiries lies with the local authority Children's Social Care / Children's Services Trust in whose area the child lives or is found. 'Found' means the physical location where the child suffers the incident of harm or neglect (or is identified as likely to suffer harm or neglect), e.g. nursery or school, boarding school, hospital, one-off event, such as a festival, holiday home or outing or where a privately fostered or Child in Care is living with their carers. For the purposes of these procedures the Children's Social Care area in which the child lives, is called the 'home authority' and the Children's Social Care in which the child is found is the child's 'host authority'.
Multi Agency Information Checks
The social worker together with their manager must decide at what point and whether to seek parental permission to undertake multi-agency checks. If the manager decides not to seek permission, they must record the reasons why, for example it may:
- Be prejudicial to the child's welfare;
- Have serious concern about the behaviours of the adult;
- Have serious concern that the child would be exposed to immediate risk of harm.
Where permission is sought from parents and carers and denied, the manager must determine whether to proceed, and record the reasons for the decision they make.
Each agency has a duty to assist and provide information to the Children's Services Trust in support of child protection enquiries. When requested to do so practitioners from other parts of the local authority such as housing, schools and those in health organisations have a duty to cooperate under Section 27 of the Children Act 1989 by assisting the Children's Services Trust in carrying out its Children's Social Care functions. The social worker must contact the other agencies involved with the child to inform them that a Section 47 Enquiry has been initiated and to seek their views. The checks should be undertaken directly with involved practitioners and not through messages with intermediaries. The relevant agency should be informed of the reason for the enquiry, whether or not parental consent has been obtained and asked for their assessment of the child in the light of information presented.
2. Immediate Protection
Where there is a risk to the life of a child or the possibility of serious immediate harm, an agency with statutory child protection powers (the Police, Children's Services Trust or the NSPCC) should act quickly to secure the immediate safety of the child.
When considering whether emergency action is required, an agency should always consider whether action is also required to safeguard and promote the welfare of other children in the same household (e.g. siblings), the household of an alleged perpetrator, or elsewhere.
Planned emergency action will normally take place following an immediate Strategy Discussion/Meeting between Police, the Children's Services Trust, health practitioners and other agencies as appropriate.
If it is necessary to remove a child from their home, a local authority / Children's Services Trust must, wherever possible and unless a child's safety is otherwise at immediate risk, apply for an Emergency Protection Order (EPO).Police Powers of Protection should only be used in exceptional circumstances where there is insufficient time to seek an EPO or for reasons relating to the immediate safety of the child.
3. Section 47 Thresholds and the Multi Agency Assessment
A Section 47 Enquiry must always be commenced immediately following a Strategy Discussion/Meeting when:
- There is reasonable cause to suspect that a child is suffering or likely to suffer significant harm in the form of physical, sexual, emotional abuse or neglect;
- Following an EPO or the use of Police Powers of protection is initiated.
The threshold criteria for a Section 47 Enquiry may be identified during an early assessment or it may become apparent at the point of referral, during multi-agency checks or in the course of a multi agency assessment.
Social workers in the Children's Services Trust have a statutory duty to lead enquiries under Section 47 of the Children Act 1989. The Police, health practitioners, teachers and other relevant practitioners should support them in undertaking the enquiries.
A multi agency Children and Families Assessment is the means by which Section 47 Enquiries are carried out. The assessment will have commenced at the point of receipt of referral and it must continue whenever the criteria for Section 47 Enquiries are satisfied. The conclusions and recommendations of the Section 47 Enquiry should inform the assessment which must be completed within 45 working days of the date when the referral was received.
The enquiries and assessment should always involve separate interviews with the child and, in the majority of cases, the parents, and the observation of interaction between the parent and child. This will include interviews and observations of parents, any other carers and the partners of the parents.
4. Strategy Discussion / Meeting
Whenever there is reasonable cause to suspect that a child is suffering, or is likely to suffer, significant harm, there should be a Strategy Discussion/Meeting. The Strategy Discussion/Meeting should be co-ordinated and chaired by a manager from the Children's Services Trust.
The Strategy Discussion/Meeting should involve the Children's Services Trust and the Police, health practitioners involved with the child and/or named/designated nurse and/or named/designated doctor and other bodies as appropriate (for example, children's centre/school and, in particular, any referring agency). In the case of a Pre-birth Strategy Discussion/Meeting this should involve the midwifery services.
Participants in Strategy Discussions/Meetings must have all their agency's information relating to the child available to be able to contribute to the discussion/meeting, and must be sufficiently senior to make decisions on behalf of their agencies.In some circumstances Strategy Discussions by telephone may be adequate to plan an enquiry and must include the agencies directly involved with the child. For telephone Strategy Discussions, all agencies should make a record of the outcome of the telephone discussion and actions agreed at the time. The record of the notes and decisions authorised by a Manager from the Children's Services Trust should be circulated as soon as practicable to all parties to the discussion.
Some examples of circumstances where a Strategy Discussion/Meeting should be considered:
- Any new referrals in respect of a child where there are concerns that a child is suffering, or is likely to suffer, significant harm;
- When new information on an existing case open to the Children's Services Trust indicates that a child is likely to suffer significant harm;
- Any new information that a child may be likely to suffer, or has suffered significant harm through being sexually or criminally exploited; undergoing FGM or being exposed to radicalisation;
- When an adult or young person assessed as presenting a risk to children has moved into, or is about to move into, the child's household or such a person is regularly visiting or about to have sustained contact with the child;
- When the likelihood of significant harm to an unborn child may be such as to indicate the need to develop a Child Protection Plan before birth;
- When the death of a child in family, in which abuse or neglect is suspected, is confirmed and there are other children in the household;
- When a child lives in, or is born to, a household in which resides another child who is currently the subject of a Child Protection Plan;
- When a child who is currently the subject of a Child Protection Plan in another area moves into Doncaster unless the other authority is to retain responsibility for the case;
- When a child has sexually assaulted another child or there is a risk of such an assault occurring to another child in the same household or in regular contact with the household (in which circumstances a Child Protection Conference should be held in respect of both children).
(This is not an exhaustive list).
Doncaster Children's Services Trust workers must initiate a Strategy Discussion and always seek legal advice on the evidential implications of unexplained serious injuries (e.g. fractures) to either a pre-verbal child or child who cannot communicate at the earliest possible stage of their enquiries.
A face-to-face meeting should be considered under the following circumstances, where:
- There is thought to be organised or multiple abuse;
- There is alleged abuse by a professional, foster carer or volunteer;
- There is a suspicion of fabricated or induced illness;
- Concerns are related to complex types of abuse;
- A child has a disability, and a practitioner with expertise in relation to the child's disability, or with detailed knowledge of the child, should be invited to attend.
The Strategy Discussion / Meeting should be used to:
- Share available information;
- Agree the conduct and timing of any criminal investigation;
- Decide whether an assessment under Section 47 of the Children Act 1989 (Section 47 Enquiries) should be initiated, or continued, if it has already been initiated following an earlier Strategy Discussion/Meeting;
- Consider the assessment and the key action points, if already in place;
- Plan how the Section 47 Enquiry should be undertaken (if one is to be initiated), including the need for any medical assessment, and who will carry out what actions, by when and for what purpose;
- Agree what action is required immediately to safeguard and promote the welfare of the child, and/or provide interim services and support. If the child is in hospital, decisions should also be made about how to secure the safe discharge of the child;
- Agree, in particular, when the child will be seen alone, if appropriate for the child, by the social worker during the course of these enquiries and agree the methods by which the child's wishes and feelings will be ascertained so that they can be taken into account when making decisions;
- In the light of the race, ethnicity, beliefs and culture of the child and family, consider how these should be taken into account and to establish whether an interpreter will be required; and
- Consider the needs of other children who may be affected (e.g. siblings and other children, such as those living in the same household, and/or in contact with alleged abusers);
- Determine what information from the Strategy Discussion/Meeting will be shared with the family, unless such information sharing may place a child at increased risk of significant harm or jeopardise police investigations into any alleged offence/s;
- Determine if legal action is required.
It is the responsibility of the chair of the Strategy Discussion/Meeting to ensure that the decisions and agreed actions are fully recorded using an appropriate form/ record. All agencies attending should take notes of the actions agreed at the time.
A copy of the record should be made available for all those who were invited or involved, as soon as practicable by Doncaster Children's Services Trust.Timescales:
- A Strategy Discussion / Meeting may take place following a referral or at any time (e.g. if concerns about significant harm emerge in respect of a child receiving support under Section 17 of the Children Act 1989);
- A Strategy Discussion / Meeting should take place within 48 hours and preferably within 24 hours of the initial referral or identification of concern, although the actual timing will be dependent upon the degree of perceived risk;
- Priority must be given by all agencies towards ensuring Strategy Discussions / Meetings are convened within the above timescales;
- Any unavoidable delay in undertaking a Strategy Discussion / Meeting must not delay the taking of appropriate action to safeguard the child's immediate welfare; and
- There should be no delay in sharing information that may impact upon the safety of a child.
The agreed plan of action made at the Strategy Discussion/Meeting should reflect the requirement to convene an Initial Child Protection Conference within 15 working days of the strategy discussion at which it was decided to initiate the Section 47 Enquiry. If the Children's Services Trust conclude that an Initial Child Protection Conference is not required but practitioners in other agencies remain seriously concerned about the safety of a child, they should seek further discussion with the social worker, their manager and/or the designated safeguarding professional lead. The concerns, discussion and any agreements made should be recorded in each agency's files. This should be actioned within a timescale commensurate with the need to safeguard the child and in accordance with the Resolving Professional Differences Protocol.
More than one Strategy Discussion may be needed, particularly where the child's circumstances are very complex and a number of discussions are required to consider whether, when and how to initiate Section 47 enquiries. If more than one Strategy Discussion / Meeting is held, the Initial Child Protection Conference should take place within 15 working days of the Strategy Discussion / Meeting at which Section 47 Enquiries were initiated. Any extension to timescales because of practical difficulties should be part of the formal decision making process and recorded. Such extensions should not place the child at further risk.If the conclusion of the Strategy Discussion/Meeting is that there is no cause to pursue the Section 47 Enquiry then consideration should be given to continuing the Children and Families Assessment to meet the needs of the child for any Early Help support services or to provide support to them as a Child in Need.
For information on electronic and digital recording of meetings see related guidance in the Child Protection Conferences Procedure, Membership of Child Protection Conference.
5. The Section 47 Enquiry
The Children's Services Trust is the lead agency for Section 47 Enquiries (Children Act 1989) and a manager in the Trust has responsibility for authorising a Section 47 Enquiry following a Strategy Discussion/Meeting.The Section 47 Enquiry and assessment must be led by a qualified social worker from the Children's Services Trust, who will be responsible for its coordination and completion. The social worker must consult with other agencies involved with the child and family to obtain a fuller picture of the circumstances of all children in the household, identifying parenting strengths and any risk factors. Enquiries may also need to cover children in other households with whom any alleged offender may have had contact. All agencies consulted are responsible for providing information to assist.
At the same time, where there is a joint investigation, the Police will have to establish the facts about any offence that may have been committed against a child and collect evidence as they lead the criminal investigation.
The Section 47 Enquiry should begin by focusing on the information identified during the referral/assessment and Strategy Discussion / Meeting, which appears most important in relation to the risk of significant harm.
The assessment of risk will:
- Identify the cause for concern, its seriousness, any recurring events and the vulnerability and resilience of the child;
- Evaluate the strengths, including the protective factors, and weaknesses of the family;
- Evaluate the risks to the child/ren and the context in which they are living;
- Consider the child's needs for protection; from whom and how;
- Consider the capacity of the parents and wider family and social networks to safeguard and promote the child's welfare - this must include both parents, any other carers, such as grandparents, and the partners of the parents;
- Risk factors that may suggest a higher level of vulnerability in the family and risk of significant harm such as parental mental health difficulties, parental substance misuse, and domestic abuse or combinations of these);
- Determine the level of intervention required to improve the outcome for the child to be safeguarded in the immediate, interim and longer term.
Multi Agency Information Checks
The social worker must contact the other agencies involved with the child to inform them that a Section 47 Enquiry has been initiated and to seek their views. The checks should be undertaken directly with involved practitioners and not through messages with intermediaries.
The relevant agency should be informed of the reason for the enquiry, as well as whether or not parental consent has been obtained, and asked for their assessment of the child in the light of information presented.
Social workers should be aware that making background checks with "health" is a complex process. The health community in Doncaster is diverse with a number of different providers and commissioners. It should not be assumed that a universal health professional such as a Health Visitor or School Nurse is in possession of all available health information. All efforts should be made to ensure all relevant health information is collated, including GP records, hospital records (via the Named Nurse Safeguarding team on 01302 642437) and adult services for information that is held. Unless this is done, the Section 47 Enquiry may miss crucial information relating to the child or family's contact with different parts of the health community.
Similarly the social worker conducting the Section 47 Enquiry will need to know whether the family are known to Early Help provision, The Early Help Hub may be able to assist by provision of information relating to any structure or coordinated early help that has been provided to the family. The Early Help Hub Duty Worker will ensure that they record this check and the provision of information on the Early Help Module to ensure that there is a permanent record of what information has been shared.
Agency checks should include accessing any relevant information that may be held in other parts of the United Kingdom or in any other country. See also: Cross-border Child Protection Cases: The 1996 Hague Convention.
6. Single Agency and Joint Agency Section 47 Enquiries
South Yorkshire Police and the Children's Services Trust co-ordinate their activities to ensure the parallel process of a Section 47 Enquiry and a criminal investigation is undertaken in the best interests of the child. This should primarily be achieved through joint activity and planning at Strategy Discussions/Meetings.
The primary responsibility of police officers is to undertake criminal investigations of suspected or actual crime and to inform the Children's Services Trust when they are undertaking such investigations, and where appropriate to notify the Local Authority Designated Officer (LADO) in specific cases where there are allegations against people working, in a paid or voluntary capacity, with children.
At the Strategy Discussion/Meeting the police officers should share current and historical information with other services where it is necessary to do so to ensure the protection of a child. Working Together to Safeguard Children requires that: the police will assist other agencies to carry out their responsibilities where there are concerns about the child's welfare, whether or not a crime has been committed. If a crime has been committed, the police should be informed by the local authority children's social care.
7. Involving Children, Parents and Other Significant Family Members
Children who are the subject of Section 47 Enquiries should always be seen and communicated with alone by the social worker. In addition, all children within the household must be directly communicated with during Section 47 Enquiries by either the Police or the Children's Services Trust (or both) so as to enable an assessment of their safety to be made.
The children, who are the focus of concern, must be seen alone, subject to their age and willingness, preferably with parental permission.
If the child is the subject of ongoing court proceedings, legal advice must be sought about obtaining permission from the court to see the child.The Children's Services Trust and the Police should ensure that appropriate arrangements are in place to support the child through the Section 47 Enquiry. Specialist help may be needed if:
- The child's first language is not English;
- The child appears to have a degree of psychological and/or psychiatric disturbance but is deemed competent;
- The child has a physical/sensory/learning disability;
- Interviewers do not have adequate knowledge and understanding of the child's ethnic, faith and cultural background;
- The alleged abuse involves photography or filming (in which case the method of interviewing the child might need to be revised).
It may be necessary to provide information to the child in stages and this must be taken into account in planning the Section 47 Enquiries.
Explanations given to the child must be brought up to date as the assessment and the enquiry progresses. In no circumstances should the child be left wondering what is happening and why.
If the whereabouts of a child subject to Section 47 Enquiries are unknown and cannot be ascertained by the social worker, the following action must be taken within 24 hours:
- A Strategy Discussion / Meeting with the Police;
- Agreement reached with the Children's Services Trust as to what further action is required to locate and see the child and carry out the enquiry.
If access to a child is refused or obstructed, the social worker, in consultation with their manager, should co-ordinate a Strategy Discussion/Meeting including legal representation, to develop a plan to locate or access the child/ren and progress the Section 47 Enquiry.
The Parents and Other Significant Family Members
In most cases, parents should be enabled to participate fully in the assessment and enquiry process, which must be explained to them verbally and also in writing. If a parent has a specific communication difficulty or English is not their first language, an interpreter should be provided.
The social worker has the main responsibility to engage with parents and other family members to ascertain the facts of the situation causing concern and to assess the capacity of the family to safeguard the child.
Parents must be involved at the earliest opportunity unless to do so would prejudice the safety of the child. The needs and safety of the child will be paramount when determining at what point parents or carers are given information. Parents must be kept informed throughout about the enquiry, its outcome and any subsequent action unless this would jeopardise the welfare of the child.
The assessment must include both parents, any other carers such as grandparents and the partners of the parents.
Where a parent lives elsewhere but has contact with the child arrangements should be made for their involvement in the assessment process.
Appropriate, checks should be completed on a parent, who assumes the care of a child during a Section 47 Enquiry.
An explanation of their rights as parents including the need for support and guidance from an advocate whom they trust should be provided, including advice about the right to seek legal advice.Any objections or complaints expressed by parents during a Section 47 Enquiry, and the response to these objections or complaints, must be clearly recorded.
8. Medical Assessments
Remember if workers are have immediate worries about the extent of a child's injury, they should take urgent action, consulting with others should not cause a delay where a child has suffered a trauma or a potentially life threatening condition.
In planning the Section 47 Enquiry, social workers, their manager and the Police must consider the need for a medical examination in all children for whom concerns exist. In the first instance the social worker and the Children Protection Coordinator should discuss the request for a child protection medical booking. During this discussion consideration should be given to whether or not the injuries to the child can wait until the next available CP medical slot. However, if the course of action cannot be agreed this should then be discussed between the Children's Services Trust Team Manager and the on call Paediatrician in order that a joint decision can be made of where the child's medical needs will be appropriately met. These discussions should always form part of the Strategy Discussion / Meeting.
Decisions required are as follows:
- The need for a medical examination;
- Its purpose and therefore who should conduct it, e.g. Paediatrician and/or forensic medical examiner ('Guidance on Paediatric Forensic Examination in relation to Possible Child Sexual Abuse';
- Timing, taking into account any need for urgent forensic examination to find evidence of recent injury or to secure other forensic evidence.
The purpose of any medical examination is to:
- Establish the need for and provide any medical treatment required;
- Provide a Medical Assessment of possible causes of injuries, illness or suspected abuse;
- Provide a record of any injuries, illness or evidence of abuse together with a medical assessment of whether these are consistent with any account of their cause;
- Establish the need for, and arrange, any further investigation;
- Consider the need to obtain forensic samples;
- Assess and record levels of development, functioning and general condition of the child;
- Give an opinion on whether the findings are consistent with any history;
- Assess the need for treatment, counselling or monitoring;
- Provide reassurance to the child and parent, if they are concerned that abuse may have physically damaged the child;
- Enable the Paediatrician to take a proper role in Child Protection Conferences;
- Provide paediatric reports and opinions which should be made available as appropriate to those conducting Child Protection enquires, including the Police, to any subsequent Child Protection Conference and to any Court hearing. A brief interim report should be provided to inform the Police investigation, outlining the findings and provisional medical opinion as to the possible cause of the findings. Should the Court request a report, this should provide a fuller and more considered opinion.
Although children should not undergo unnecessary medical examinations, an examination should be carried out if there are indications that a child is injured, or has delays in development and growth thought to be a result of Neglect, or there is reason to believe that forensic evidence may exist. In a child who is thought to have been sexually abused, both child and parent may have unspoken concerns about the child's future sexual and emotional health. The medical examination can be reassuring and contribute to the future wellbeing of the child.
Where there is uncertainty about the need for a medical examination, advice should be sought from the local Designated Paediatrician, or his/her representative. Legal advice may also be needed.
Where Physical Abuse or Neglect is alleged or suspected, a Designated Paediatrician at a hospital will normally examine a child. The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) have developed an online evidence-based resource for clinicians to help inform clinical practice and address key questions about the recognition and investigation of children with suspected physical abuse and neglect.
Where Sexual Abuse is alleged or suspected, Police and Doncaster Children's Services Trust, in discussion with the Designated Paediatrician or his/her representative, will decide whether a child is to be examined by a Paediatrician, forensic medical examiner, or jointly by both.
There will be cases where the child should be interviewed before a decision is made about a medical examination.
Consideration should be given regarding examination of any siblings or other children in the household.
8.2 Timing of Medical Examination
Remember if you have any immediate worries about the extent of a child's injury, you should take urgent action, consulting with others should not cause a delay where a child has suffered a trauma or a potentially life threatening condition.
General guidelines for the timing of the examination are:
Physical injuries, particularly to infants, should be seen by the Paediatrician or forensic medical examiner preferably the same day and certainly within 24 hours of the referral being received by Children's Services Trust and/or the Police. This particularly includes minor injuries to infants. Physical injuries can change with time and should be seen quickly to allow the Doctor a timely assessment of the injury.
Suspected sexual abuse: should be seen within 24 hours of the referral being received by Doncaster Children's Services Trust and/or Police.
A child suffering chronic abuse or neglect, but who does not need medical attention urgently, should be seen at the next available opportunity, usually within a week, bearing in mind the need to ensure that any initial Child Protection Conference must take place within 15 working days of the Strategy Discussion / Meeting at which Section 47 Enquiries were initiated. Follow-up may be required to monitor growth or changes in behaviour, development and health, or to give the child and family results from investigations.
It is good practice to medically follow up a child where there are concerns about neglect. Physical signs may change over time and the child may have on-going needs.
8.3 Involvement and Consent of Parents/Caregivers and Children
Those conducting the Section 47 Enquiry must always seek informed consent for the child to be medically examined, investigated, treated or photographed and to have forensic tests done. If the child is the subject of a Care Order, the local authority can give consent.
A parent/caregiver's refusal to allow medical examination should not be allowed to cause unnecessary delay. In such circumstances consideration should be given to seeking urgent legal advice.
Young people (including those under 16 years who are Gillick Competent) may be able to give their own consent to be medically examined, treated or photographed. If they refuse consent, then this should be respected. It is good practice to involve parents unless this would jeopardise the child's welfare or is against their wishes.
The Designated Paediatrician may assess some children, under the age of 16 years to be competent to give informed consent to be medically examined, treated or photographed.
Children must not be medically examined against their wishes unless the examining Doctor believes there is a need for emergency medical management/assessment.
Parents/caregivers must be informed about the implications of the medical examination and should be encouraged to be involved in it. They should be informed of the results of the examination unless there are good reasons to act otherwise.
8.4 Arranging the Medical Assessment
During office hours (9am-5pm, Monday – Friday) the social worker should ring The Child Protection Medical Coordinators / Secretaries on 01302 642300 or 01302 642297 to request a Child Protection Medical. Following this phone call the social worker should always email the 'Social Work Referral for Paediatric Medical' form to email@example.com.
Out of Hours (5pm-9am, Weekends and Bank Holidays): Please contact the on call Paediatrician via the Doncaster Royal Infirmary Switch board on 01302 366666 for advice.
8.5 The Medical Assessment
The medical assessment is part of the Section 47 Enquiry, co-ordinated with Police and Doncaster Children's Services Trust involvement. It occurs in the context of the 'whole child examination', i.e. health, growth, emotional and social development. The social worker who is attending hospital to provide as much background information as possible about the child and family. If the child is not already known to the social worker, they should access the child's electronic records prior to presentation at the hospital.
The child/young person should be allowed some control of the situation, and their wishes should be respected. They should be able to choose who accompanies them. The process of the assessment should be explained to the child/young person.Cultural factors should be taken into consideration. The gender of the Doctor may be important, particularly to an older child, and every effort should be made to accommodate a preference.
9. Achieving Best Evidence Interviews
Digitally recorded interviews must be planned and conducted jointly by trained police officers and social workers in accordance with the Achieving Best Evidence in Criminal Proceedings: Guidance on interviewing victims and witnesses, and guidance on using special measures (Ministry of Justice). All events up to the time of the video interview must be fully recorded. Consideration of the use of digitally recorded evidence should take in to account situations where the child has been subject to abuse using recording equipment.
Digitally recorded interviews serve two primary purposes:
- Evidence gathering for criminal proceedings;
- Examination in chief of a child witness.
Relevant information from this process can also be used to inform Section 47 Enquiries, subsequent civil childcare proceedings or disciplinary proceedings against adults, where allegations have been made.
10. The Outcome of Section 47 Enquiries
The Children's Services Trust is responsible for deciding how to proceed with the enquiries and risk assessment based on the Strategy Discussion/Meeting and taking into account the views of the child, their parents and other relevant parties (e.g. a foster carer). It is important that they ensure that both immediate risk assessment and long term risk assessment are considered. Where the child's circumstances are about to change, the risk assessment must include an assessment of the safety of the new environment (e.g. where a child is to be discharged from hospital to home the assessment must have established the safety of the home environment and implemented any support plan required to meet the child's needs).
At the completion of the Section 47 Enquiry, the Children's Services Trust must evaluate and analyse all the information gathered to determine if the threshold for significant harm has been reached.
The outcome of the Section 47 Enquiries may reflect that the original concerns are:
- Not substantiated; although consideration should be given to whether the child may need services as a Child in Need;
- Substantiated and the child is judged to be suffering, or likely to suffer, significant harm and an initial child protection conference should be called. Please note in those cases where the risk of harm to the child is external to the family, the child should be referred to the Child Exploitation Team for Triage and discussion at the Child Criminal Exploitation Operational Panel. The Child Criminal Exploitation Operational Panel may make recommendations that should then be fed into an updated Child in Need or Child Care Plan.
Concerns are Not Substantiated
Social workers with their managers should:
- Discuss the case with the child, parents and other practitioners;
- Determine whether support from any services may be helpful and help secure it; and
- Consider whether the child's health and development should be re-assessed regularly against specific objectives and decide who has responsibility for doing this.
All involved practitioners should:
- Participate in further discussions as necessary;
- Contribute to the development of any plan as appropriate;
- Provide services as specified in the plan for the child; and
- Review the impact of services delivered as agreed in the plan.
A manager from the Children's Services Trust must authorise the decision that no further action is necessary, having ensured that the child, any other children in the household and the child's carers have been seen and spoken with.
Arrangements should be noted for future referrals, if appropriate.
Concerns of Significant Harm are Substantiated and the Child is Judged to be Suffering, or Likely to Suffer, Significant Harm
Social workers with their managers should:
- Convene an Initial Child Protection Conference. The timing of this conference should depend on the urgency of the case and respond to the needs of the child and the nature and severity of the harm they may be facing. The Initial Child Protection Conference should take place within 15 working days of the Strategy Discussion / Meeting, or the Strategy Discussion / Meeting at which Section 47 enquiries were initiated if more than one has been held;
- Consider whether any practitioners with specialist knowledge should be invited to participate;
- Ensure that the child and their parents understand the purpose of the conference and who will attend; and
- Help prepare the child if they are attending or making representations through a third party to the conference. Give information about advocacy agencies and explain that the family may bring an advocate, friend or supporter.
All involved practitioners should:
- Contribute to the information their agency provides ahead of the conference, setting out the nature of the agency's involvement with the child and family;
- Consider, in conjunction with the Police and the appointed conference Chair, whether the report can and should be shared with the parents and if so when; and
- Attend the conference and take part in decision making when invited;
- Suitable multi-agency arrangements must be put in place to safeguard the child until such time as the Initial Child Protection Conference has taken place. The social worker and their manager will coordinate and review such arrangements.
Feedback from Section 47 Enquiries:
The social worker is responsible for recording the outcome of the Section 47 Enquiries consistent with the requirements of the recording system. The outcome should be put on the child's electronic record with a clear record of the discussions, authorised by a manager.
Notification, verbal or written, of the outcome of the enquiries, including an evaluation of the outcome for the child, should be given to all the agencies who have been significantly involved for their information and records.
The parents and children of sufficient age and appropriate level of understanding should be given feedback of the outcome, in particular in advance of any Initial Child Protection Conference that is convened. This information should be conveyed in an appropriate format for younger children and those people whose preferred language is not English. If there are ongoing criminal investigations, the content of the social worker's feedback should be agreed with the Police.
Feedback about outcomes should be provided to non-professional referrers in a manner that respects the confidentiality and welfare of the child.
Where the child concerned is living in a residential establishment which is subject to inspection, the relevant inspectorate should be informed.
Where the decision about the outcome of the Section 47 Enquiry is disputed:
Where the Children's Services Trust concludes that an Initial Child Protection Conference is not required but practitioners in other agencies remain seriously concerned about the safety of a child, they should seek further discussion with the social worker, their manager and/or the nominated safeguarding children adviser. The concerns, discussion and any agreements made should be recorded in each agency's files.
If concerns remain, the practitioner should discuss with a designated/named/lead person or senior manager in their agency and the agency may formally request that the Children's Services Trust convene an Initial Child Protection Conference. The Children's Services Trust should convene a conference where one or more professionals, supported by a senior manager/named or designated professional requests one.
If the matter remains unresolved the Resolving Professional Differences Protocol should be used.
11. Timescales for Section 47 Enquiries
The multi-agency assessment taking place along with the Section 47 Enquiries must be completed within a maximum of 45 days of the original referral date with progress being reviewed regularly by a Manager from the Children's Services Trust to avoid any unnecessary delay and to ensure that the safety of the child is reviewed effectively.The maximum period of an enquiry from the Strategy Discussion/ Meeting to the date of the Initial Child Protection Conference is 15 working days.
A full written record must be completed by each agency involved in a Section 47 Enquiry, using the required agency proforma, authorised and dated by the staff.
The responsible manager must countersign/authorise Children's Services Trust Section 47 recording and forms.
Practitioners should, wherever possible, retain rough notes in line with local retention of record procedures until the completion of anticipated legal proceedings.
At the completion of the enquiry, the social work manager should ensure that the concerns and outcome have been entered in the recording system including on the child's chronology and that other agencies have been informed.
Children's Services Trust recording of enquiries should include:
- Agency checks;
- Content of contact cross-referenced with any specific forms used;
- Strategy Discussion/Meeting notes;
- Details of the enquiry;
- Body maps (where applicable);
- Assessment including identification of risks and how they may be managed;
- Decision making processes;
- Outcome/further action planned.
All agencies involved should ensure that records have been concluded and countersigned in line with agency policies and recording procedures.
All records should be checked for the correct spelling of names and any alias as well as correct dates of birth.