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Section 6: Child Protection Enquiries

6.1 Duty to conduct Section 47 (s47) Enquiries

Where there is reasonable cause to suspect that a child is suffering, or likely to suffer, significant harm, the local authority is required under s47 of the Children Act 1989 to make enquiries, to enable it to decide whether it should take any action to safeguard and promote the welfare of the child.

Responsibility for undertaking s47 enquiries lies with the local authority 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 to be at risk of harm or neglect), e.g. day nursery or school, boarding school, hospital, one-off event such as a fairground, holiday home or outing or where a privately fostered or looked after child is living with their carers.

Whenever a child is harmed or concerns are raised that a child may be at risk of harm or neglect, the authority where the incident occurred is responsible for informing the child's home authority immediately and inviting them to participate in the strategy meeting / discussion to plan action to protect the child. Only once agreement is reached about who will take responsibility is the host authority relieved of the responsibility to take emergency and on-going action. Such acceptance should occur as soon as possible and should be confirmed in writing.

Responsibilities of all agencies

Children's Social Care as noted above has the statutory duty to make, or cause to be made, enquiries when the circumstances defined in Section 47 of the Children Act 1989 exist.

The Police's primary responsibility is to undertake criminal investigations of suspected or actual crime. Where both Children's Social Care and the police have responsibilities with respect to the child, they must coordinate to ensure the parallel process of a section 47 enquiry and a criminal investigation is undertaken in the best interests of the child.

The Children Act 1989 places a statutory duty on health, education and other services to help the local authority carry out its social services functions under Part 3 of the Children Act 1989 and section 47 enquiries. All agencies then have a duty to assist and provide information in support of child protection enquiries.

6.2 Criteria for Section 47 Enquiries

A s47 enquiry must always be commenced immediately when:

  • There is reasonable cause to suspect that a child is suspected to be suffering, or likely to suffer, significant harm, for example a child is suffering or likely to suffer significant harm in the form of physical, sexual, emotional abuse or neglect;
  • An Emergency Protection Order or use of police powers of protection have been used (Refer Appendix 6, Legal Matters).

The threshold criteria for a s47 enquiry may be identified during an assessment, but may also be apparent at the point of referral, during the interagency checks and information gathering stage, or at any other point in the assessment.

Practice note for social workers:

If a Section 47 enquiry is initiated it can only be done as an outcome of a Strategy Meeting/ Discussion.

Planned emergency action will normally take place following an immediate strategy discussion. Social workers, the police or NSPCC should:

  • Initiate a strategy discussion to discuss planned emergency action. Where a single agency has to act immediately, a strategy discussion should take place as soon as possible after action has been taken;
  • See the child (this should be done by a practitioner from the agency taking the emergency action) to decide how best to protect them and whether to seek an EPO; and
  • Wherever possible, obtain legal advice before initiating legal action, in particular when an EPO is being sought.

If not already in progress, an assessment must be commenced whenever a s47 enquiry is initiated. The assessment framework will be the means of gathering and analysing information for the enquiry (see Section 5: Referral and Assessment). The conclusions and recommendations of the enquiry should inform the assessment.

The s47 enquiry and the assessment should begin by focusing primarily on the information identified at point of referral, during inter-agency checks and information gathering or during the assessment, which appears most important in relation to the risk of significant harm to the child.

6.3 Threshold Response Table

The table provides a non-exhaustive list of examples of evidence which would suggest a referral met the threshold for an immediate S47 investigation or whether staff should proceed with a S17 assessment of a child in need.

This guidance should be read alongside the more detailed "vulnerability checklist" and "statement of service entitlement, part1"

Criteria for strategy meeting

Section 17 Assessment

Any allegation of abuse or neglect or any
suspicious injury in a pre/non mobile child.

Two or more minor injuries in pre-mobile or non-verbal babies or young children (including disabled children).

Allegation of physical assault with no visible or only minor injury (other than to a pre- or non-mobile child)

Allegations or suspicions about a serious injury/
sexual abuse to a child

Any incident / injury triggering concern e.g. a series of apparently accidental injuries or a minor non-accidental injury

Repeated allegations or reasonable suspicions
of non-accidental injury.

Repeated expressed minor concerns from one or more sources

The child has been traumatised, injured or neglected as a
result of domestic violence.

Repeated allegations involving serious verbal
threats and / or emotional abuse

Level 3 Domestic Abuse ( Refer LSCB Practice Guidance/ Domestic Abuse Matrix for assessments of risk)

Allegation concerning serious verbal threats

Allegations of emotional abuse including that caused by minor domestic violence

Allegations / reasonable suspicions of serious neglect.

Allegations of periodic neglect including insufficient supervision; poor hygiene; clothing or nutrition; failure to seek/attend treatment or appointments; young carers undertaking intimate personal care.

Medical referral of non-organic failure to thrive
in under fives

 

Direct allegation of sexual abuse made by child
or abuser's confession to such abuse

Any allegation suggesting connections between sexually abused children in different families or more than one abuser.

Suspicions of sexual abuse (e.g., sexualised behaviour, medical concerns or referral by concerned relative, neighbour, carer).

An individual (adult or child) posing a risk to children.

 

Any suspicious injury or allegation involving a child already subject to a child protection plan or looked after by a local authority.

 

No available parent / carer and child is left vulnerable to significant harm e.g. an abandoned baby

No available parent, child in need of accommodation and no specific risk if this need is met.

Suspicion that a child has suffered or is at risk of significant harm due to fabricated / induced illness.

 

Children subject of parental delusions.

 

An unborn baby who is considered at risk of significant harm.

A child at risk of sexual exploitation (matrix included in the LSCB CSE Protocol) or trafficking.

Registered sex offender or convicted violent subject of MAPPA moving into a household with under 18 year olds.

Pregnancy in a child under 13.

A child at risk of FGM, honour based violence or forced marriage.

 

 

6.4 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 Social Care and the NSPCC) must act quickly to secure the immediate safety of the child.

Emergency action may be necessary as soon as the referral is received. Alternatively, the need for emergency action may become apparent only over time as more is learned about a child or adult carer's circumstances. Neglect, as well as abuse, can pose such a risk of significant harm to a child that urgent protective action is needed.

When considering whether emergency action is required, an agency should always consider whether action is also needed to safeguard and promote the welfare of other children in the same household (e.g. siblings), the household of an alleged perpetrator, or elsewhere.

Responsibility for immediate action rests with the authority where the child is found but should be in consultation with any home authority.

Planned emergency action will normally take place following a strategy meeting / discussion between police, Children's Social Care, and other agencies as appropriate. Immediate protection may be achieved by:

  • A parent taking action to remove an alleged abuser;
  • An alleged abuser agreeing to leave the home;
  • The child not returning to the home;
  • The child being removed either on a voluntary basis or by obtaining an emergency protection order (EPO);
  • Removal of the child/ren or prevention of removal from a place of safety under police powers of protection;
  • Gaining entry to the household under police powers to assess the situation.

An emergency placement with extended family should only be made on a temporary basis and on the understanding that completion of a fuller assessment is necessary.

The social worker must seek the agreement of the relevant Children's Social Care Group Manager and obtain legal advice from the local authority legal service before initiating legal action.

Police powers of protection should only be used in exceptional circumstances where there is insufficient time to seek an Emergency Protection Order (EPO) or where there are other reasons relating to the immediate safety of the child. When police powers of protection are used, an independent police officer of at least inspector rank must act as the designated officer.

Emergency action addresses only the immediate circumstances of the child/ren. Where such action has been taken to protect a child, a strategy meeting should take place within 1 working day of the emergency action to plan the next steps.
It should be followed quickly by a s47 enquiry and an assessment of the needs and circumstances of the child and family. All findings must be recorded within the child/young person's case file within ICS by the social worker.

Where an EPO is granted, Children's Social Care will have to consider quickly whether to initiate care or other proceedings or to let the order lapse and the child/ren return home. Children's Social Care will in most cases hold a Strategy Meeting and consider convening an Initial Child Protection Conference. No Emergency Protection Order should be allowed to lapse without the permission of a Group Manager, in consultation with legal advice. The social worker must record all relevant information within the child/young person's case file within ICS.

Application under family law

Where an application is made by family members under private law proceedings about the residence of the child during or following s47 enquiries but before their completion, Children's Social Care will consult Legal Services so that the local authority can inform the court of the situation. This will allow any known, relevant information to be given to the court in order for them to make informed decisions.

6.5 Starting an enquiry

Children's Social Care is the lead agency for child protection enquiries and the relevant Assistant Team Manager has responsibility for authorising a s47 enquiry.

In deciding whether to call a strategy meeting, the Team Manager/ Assistant Team Manager must consider the:

  • Seriousness of the concern/s;
  • Repetition or duration of concern/s;
  • Vulnerability of child (through age, developmental stage, disability or other pre-disposing factor e.g. ‘looked after');
  • Source of concern/s;
  • Accumulation of sufficient information;
  • Context in which the child is living (e.g. a child in the household already subject of a current child protection plan);
  • Predisposing factors in the family that may suggest a higher level of risk of harm (e.g. mental health difficulties, parental substance misuse, domestic abuse or immigrant family issues, such as social isolation).

A s47 enquiry may run concurrently with police investigations. When a joint enquiry takes place, the police have the lead for the criminal investigation and Children's Social Care has the lead for the s47 enquiries and the child's welfare.

Multi agency checks

Whenever a s47 enquiry is started, the social worker must contact the other agencies involved with the child to inform them that a child protection enquiry has been initiated and to seek their views.

The social worker, together with their Assistant Team Manager, must decide whether to seek parental permission to undertake inter-agency checks.

If the manager decides not to seek permission, they must record the reasons, for example:

  • Prejudicial to the child's welfare;
  • Serious concern about the behaviours of the adult;
  • Concern that the child would be at risk of further significant harm.

Where permission is denied, the manager must proceed in line with Section 3: Information Sharing, Confidentiality and Consent.

The checks should be undertaken directly with involved professionals 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.

Agency checks should include accessing any relevant information that may be held in one or more other countries.

6.6 The Strategy Discussion

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 involving local authority children's social care, the police, health and other bodies such as the referring agency. This might take the form of a multi-agency meeting or phone calls and more than one discussion may be necessary. A strategy discussion can take place following a referral or at any other time, including during the assessment process. A strategy meeting discussion will make a decision regarding whether the case will proceed under section17 or section 47 of the Children Act 1989.

Where a strategy meeting is convened via a telephone discussion, it remains critical that relevant agencies remain involved in the meeting process and this should not become a forum for CSC and the police alone to make decisions.

The social worker and their manager, health professionals and a police representative should, as a minimum, be involved in the strategy discussion. Other relevant professionals will depend on the nature of the individual case but may include:

  • The professional or agency which made the referral;
  • The child's school or nursery; and
  • Any health services the child or family members are receiving.

All attendees should be sufficiently senior to make decisions on behalf of their agencies.

6.7 Strategy Meeting

Whenever there is reasonable cause to suspect that a child is suffering, or is likely to suffer, significant harm a strategy meeting must be held.

Purpose of the strategy meeting

A strategy meeting should be used to:

  • Share available information;
  • Agree the conduct and timing, if initiated, of any criminal investigation;

Decide whether a section 47 investigation should be initiated or whether support services should be offered under Section 17.  Where it is decided to initiate a section 47 enquiry decisions should be made as to:

  • Plan how the s47 enquiry should be undertaken (if one is to be initiated), including the need for medical treatment, an ABEG interview 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;
  • Determine what information from the strategy 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.

The timescale for the assessment to reach a decision on next steps should be based upon the needs of the individual child, consistent with the local protocol and certainly no longer than 45 working days from the point of referral into local authority children's social care.

Relevant matters include:

  • Agreeing a plan for how the assessment under s47 of the Children Act 1989 will be carried out – what further information is required about the child/ren and family and how it should be obtained and recorded;
  • Agreeing who should be interviewed, by whom, for what purpose and when. The way in which interviews are conducted can play a significant part in minimising any distress caused to children, and in increasing the likelihood of maintaining constructive working relationships with families. When a criminal offence may have been committed against a child, the timing and handling of interviews with victims, their families and witnesses can have important implications for the collection and preservation of evidence;
  • Consideration must be given to conducting an ABE interview of the child;
  • Agreeing, in particular, how the child's wishes and feelings will be ascertained so that they can be taken into account when making decisions under s47 of the Children Act 1989 in the light of the race and ethnicity of the child and family, considering how this should be taken into account, and establishing whether an interpreter is required;
  • Considering the needs of other children who may be affected (e.g. siblings and other children, such as those living in the same establishment, in contact with alleged abusers).

Good practice note: When to hold a Strategy Meeting

Strategy meetings which are face to face meetings are more effective and should always be convened where possible.  However, this should not delay a strategy meeting discussion taking place at the earliest opportunity  Where a strategy meeting is convened via a telephone discussion, it remains critical that relevant agencies remain involved in the meeting process and this should not become a forum for CSC and the police alone to make decisions.

Strategy meetings/discussions should be convened when;

There is concern that the child is suffering complex types of neglect or maltreatment;

  • There is an allegation of inter-familial sexual abuse;
  • An emergency order was taken to protect the child in circumstances where a strategy meeting could not be held;
  • There are allegation against staff, carers, volunteers or anyone professionally involved with the child;
  • Where fabricated/induced illness is suspected;
  • There is an allegation that a child has abused another child -separate strategy meetings should be held for both children;
  • There are ongoing, cumulative concerns about the child's welfare and a need to share concerns and agree a course of action;
  • There are concerns about the future risk of harm to an unborn child.

This list is not exhaustive and it is expected that most referrals will warrant Strategy Meetings.

The strategy meeting should be convened by Children's Social Care. In addition to Children's Social Care and the Police, the meeting will need to involve the other agencies (e.g. schools and health services) which hold information relevant to the concerns about the child.

Where it is decided that there are grounds to initiate a s47 enquiry, decisions should be made about:

  • Any further information that is required and how it should be obtained;
  • The scope of the enquiry, including siblings and other children at possible risk of harm;
  • The need and timing of a paediatric or specialist assessment;
  • How to meet the best interests of the child/ren in the enquiry, taking account of any additional needs such as that arising from a disability or a need for an interpreter, speech and language therapist;
  • How the child's wishes and feelings will be ascertained so that they can be taken into account;
  • When, how and who will undertake interviews with the child/ren and if a video interview will be used;
  • Any further action if consent is refused for interview or medical assessment;
  • The needs of other children in contact with the alleged abuser/s, including all children in the household;
  • Who other than the family should be interviewed, by whom, when, and for what purpose (e.g. the referrer);
  • Agree what other actions may be needed to protect the child or provide interim services and support, including securing the safe discharge of a child in hospital;
  • What information may be shared, with whom and when, taking into account the possibility of information sharing placing a child at risk of significant harm or jeopardising police investigations;
  • Any implications for disciplinary action, e.g. use of evidence statements;
  • Any legal action required;
  • Timescales, agency and individual responsibility for agreed actions, including the timing of police investigations and relevant methods of evidence gathering;
  • Any need to reconvene the strategy meeting during the enquiry if the circumstances are particularly complex or unknown;
  • Any need to reconvene the strategy meeting where enquiries have been delayed and an extension is required to the timeframe;
  • The mechanism and date for reviewing the completion of agreed actions (i.e. further strategy meetings in complex cases);
  • Whether an AIM2 Assessment should be commissioned where the child or young person is alleged to have sexually harmed someone ( Section 9.49);
  • The plan should reflect the requirement to convene an Initial Child Protection Conference within 15 working days.

This list is not exhaustive.

For sharing information between the local authority and criminal justice professionals, the Protocol on the Exchange of Information in the Investigation and Prosecution of Child Abuse Cases (2003), may be needed. The protocol was developed by CPS, ACPO, LGA, ADSS; endorsed by HO, DfES and Welsh Assembly, and can be found at www.cps.gov.uk.

6.8 Arranging the Strategy Meeting

The strategy meeting should be chaired by the Children's Social Care Team Manager or Assistant Team Manager unless it is an allegation against one of their members of staff.

The strategy meeting must involve Children's Social Care and the police. The referring agency and agencies closely involved with the child e.g., health, nursery and school, must be included. All other relevant agencies should be included.
Professionals participating in strategy meetings must have all of their agency's information relating to the child to be able to contribute it to the meeting, and must be sufficiently senior to make decisions on behalf of their agencies. Exceptionally circumstances may arise when a non-professional may usefully contribute.

Where issues have significant medical implications, or a paediatric examination has taken place or may be necessary, a paediatrician should always be included. If the child is receiving services from a hospital or child development team, the meeting should involve the responsible medical consultant and, in the case of in-patient treatment, a senior ward nurse.

A professional may need to be included in the strategy meeting who is not involved with the child, but who can contribute expertise relevant to the particular form of abuse or neglect in the case.

Strategy meeting record

It is the responsibility of the chair of the strategy meeting to ensure that the decisions and agreed actions are fully recorded using an appropriate form on ICS, (e.g. Strategy Discussion Record (DH 2002), Integrated Children's System). A copy should be made available to all participants within two working days at the latest.

Exceptionally for telephone discussions, decisions authorised by the Children's Social Care manager should be circulated within one working day to all parties to the discussion.

Timing of the strategy meeting

Strategy meetings should be convened within three working days of child protection concerns being identified, except in the following circumstances:

  • For allegations / concerns indicating a serious risk of harm to the child (e.g. serious physical injury or serious neglect) the strategy meeting should be held on the same day as the receipt of the referral;
  • For allegations of penetrative sexual abuse, the strategy meeting should be held on the same day as the receipt of the referral if this is required to secure forensic evidence;
  • Where immediate action was required by either agency, the strategy meeting must be held within one working day;
  • Where the concerns are particularly complex (e.g. organised abuse / allegations against staff) the strategy meeting must be held within a maximum of five working days, but sooner if there is a need to provide immediate protection to a child.

Actions identified at the meeting should reflect the requirement to convene an initial child protection conference within 15 working days of the Strategy Meeting that initiated the s47 enquiries.

Location of the strategy meeting

Strategy meetings should be held at a suitable venue, which is most likely to maximise attendance of those who are vital to share information (e.g. a hospital, school, police station, Children's Social Care office). If the child is an in-patient in hospital or if the case is one where hospital staff hold key information, the strategy meeting should be held at the hospital to maximise input from relevant staff.

Changes to the plan made at a strategy meeting

The strategy meeting is a multi-agency meeting and as such any significant change to the plan of action agreed should be reported back to a follow up meeting for agreement. This would include situations where the early decision to convene a child protection conference was stood down as the s47 enquiry progressed. This change to the plan would need to be endorsed by the original strategy meeting members when they next met.

Extending the timeframe of the S47 enquiries

All Initial Child Protection Conferences should take place within 15 working days of the Strategy Meeting, or the Strategy Meeting at which the S47 enquiries were initiated.

Where there is delay in completing actions agreed at the strategy meeting, a Children's Social Care Group Manager should be informed immediately and a discussion must take place between this Group Manager and IRO Manager as to the way forward.

Ending the Section 47 enquiries

Where an Initial Child Protection Conference is convened, this meeting will invite all those professionals from the strategy meeting and this will serve to review the progress of the enquiries and highlight any actions that require completion.

Where an Initial Child Protection Conference is not held a discussion should take place between the key agencies involved at the Strategy Meeting to determine future responses to the child and their family. Where the case is complex, where additional support is needed for the child or where there are differences in view between agencies, the expectation is that a further multi agency meeting will be held within five working days (of the decision to end the enquiry).

All decisions and information shared should be recorded within the child/young persons ICS case file by the Team Manager/Assistant Team Manager, Children's Social Care.

6.9 Protecting Vulnerable Persons Units (PVPU)

The primary responsibility of police PVPU officers is to undertake criminal investigations in respect of suspected or actual child abuse or neglect and to inform Children's Social Care when they are undertaking such investigations. The police and Children's Social Care must co-ordinate their activities to ensure the parallel process of a s47 enquiry and a criminal investigation is undertaken in the best interests of the child. This should primarily be achieved through planning at strategy meetings.

At the strategy meeting, the police PVPU officers should share current and historical information with other services where it is necessary to do so to ensure the protection of a child.

Referral to the police (PVPU)

All suspected, alleged or actual child abuse or neglect crime must be referred to the police PVPU or Force Control Room. Telephone referrals should be confirmed in writing, within 48 hours.

The police PVPU supervisor will make a decision, based on the available information and following checks and information sharing, on whether to initiate a criminal investigation.

The following matters will always be investigated by police:

  • All alleged sexual assaults;
  • Allegations of physical abuse amounting to offences of actual bodily harm (s47 Offences Against the Person Act 1861) and more serious assaults;
  • Allegations of serious neglect / cruelty;
  • Allegations and concerns involving minor offences where there are aggravating features.

Criminal investigation and strategy meeting

Where the police PVPU unit is undertaking a criminal investigation, the police are responsible for all the associated investigative activities and keeping social care informed (e.g. conducting interviews (video recorded or otherwise); visiting crime scenes and, in conjunction with Children's Social Care, arranging medical examinations).

At the strategy meeting, the police PVP should agree with the other agencies whether this is a single or joint investigation, and the timing and methods of evidence gathering which are likely to affect the s47 enquiry.

Where a joint investigation has been agreed, no contact will be made with the family unless this has been agreed by both the police and Children's Social Care and the purpose of the contact clearly defined and recorded.

Although most activities will be conducted jointly, there will be tasks agreed at the planning stage which will be conducted separately. Throughout the process, continual liaison must take place between the police and Children's Social Care.

In urgent criminal cases the police may need to act unilaterally. However the police will advise the appropriate agencies of the actions and outcomes as soon as possible.

Following a full assessment of the available facts, the police PVP may decide at any stage (e.g. during or following a strategy meeting), to terminate a criminal investigation and will inform Children's Social Care of the decision. Among other factors, the police decision will take account of the best interests of the child/ren.

Investigation of stranger abuse

Police officers investigating the abuse of a child by a stranger should seek advice from the PVPU. In each investigation the police should be alert to any concerns in relation to the child or that their family may be in need of additional services. The police will inform the PVPU who will decide where appropriate to notify Children's Social Care of the incident to record it as a contact. In these circumstances the parents consent to refer should be gained.

Where police discover that the child or family are known to the abuser or where the police believe the child may be at risk of significant harm, a referral should be made to Children's Social Care.

6.10 Involving parents, family members and children

Section 47 enquiries should always be carried out in such a way as to minimise distress to the child, and to ensure that families are treated sensitively and with respect. Children's Social Care should explain the purpose and outcome of s47 enquiries to the parents and child/ren (having regard to age and understanding) and be prepared to answer questions openly, unless to do so would affect the safety and welfare of the child or the process of a criminal investigation, where agreed with the police.

Children's Social Care should provide written information about the purpose, process and potential outcomes of s47 enquiries to the parents and child/ren (having regard to age and understanding). The information should be both general and specific to the particular circumstances under enquiry. It should include information about how advice, advocacy and support may be obtained from independent sources. Separate leaflets are available in North Yorkshire for both parents and young people about child protection enquiries and should be given to the family and the young person by the investigating social worker within the Useful Information Pack at the time of the first contact. The leaflets should be translated into the first language of the family where required.

In the majority of cases, children remain with their families following s47 enquiries, even where concerns about abuse or neglect are substantiated. As far as possible, s47 enquiries should be conducted in a way that allows for future constructive working relationships with families. The way in which a case is managed initially can affect the entire subsequent process. Where handled well and sensitively, there can be a positive effect on the eventual outcome for the child/ren.

Where a child is living in a residential establishment, consideration should be given to the possible impact on other children living in the same establishment.

Involving parents

The Children's Social Care social worker has the prime responsibility to engage with family members. Parents and those with parental responsibility should be informed at the earliest opportunity of concerns, unless to do so would place the child at risk of significant harm, or undermine a criminal investigation.

In planning intervention with parent/s, the following points must be covered:

  • The capacity of the parents to understand this information in a situation of significant anxiety and stress.
  • Those for whom English is not their first language or who may have a physical, sensory or learning disability and may need the services of an appropriate interpreter/ communication facilitator.

It may be necessary to provide the information in stages to parents and to repeat it; this must be taken into account in planning the enquiry. The information should cover:

  • An explanation of the reason for concern and where appropriate the source of information;
  • The procedures to be followed (this must include an explanation of the need for the child to be seen, interviewed and/or medically examined and seeking parental agreement for these aspects of the enquiry and/or investigation);
  • An explanation of their rights as parents including the need for support and guidance from an advocate whom they trust (advice should be given about the right to seek legal advice);
  • An explanation of the role of the various agencies involved in the enquiry and/or investigation and of the wish to work in partnership with them to secure the welfare of their child.

Planning intervention with parents should cover:

  • The need to gather initial information on the history and structure of the family and household, the child and other relevant information to enable an assessment of the current concerns and the risk of harm to the child to be made;
  • In situations of domestic violence and where parents live apart, opportunity should be made for the parents to be seen separately;
  • The risk of damaging evidence that may impact on a police investigation and recovery of evidence that may confirm or refute an allegation or suspicion of crime;
  • The provision of an opportunity for parents to be able to ask questions and receive support and guidance.

In the event of any conflict between the needs and wishes of the parents and those of the child, the child's welfare is the paramount consideration in any decision or action.

Parents should be provided with an early opportunity to explain their perception of the concerns, recognising that there may be alternative accounts and disparities.

In the course of an enquiry it may be necessary for statutory agencies to make decisions or initiate legal action to protect children, or require the parents to agree to such action. The social worker should inform relevant agencies without delay.

Involving children

All children within the household must be seen alone and directly communicated with (in their own first language) during an enquiry. The objectives in seeing the child are to:

  • Record and evaluate their appearance, demeanour, mood state and behaviour;
  • Hear the child's account of allegations or concerns;
  • Ascertain his/her wishes and feelings;
  • Observe and record the interactions of the child and their carers;
  • See and record the circumstances in which the child is currently living and sleeping and, if different, their ordinary residence;
  • Evaluate the physical safety of the environment, including seeing the child's bedroom;
  • Ensure that any other children who need to be seen are identified;
  • Assess the degree of risk of harm and possible need for protective action;
  • Meet the child's needs for information and re-assurance;
  • Observe and record any injury without removing the child's clothing.

A child for whom there are significant health concerns (e.g. serious physical injury, malnourishment, acute mental ill health etc.) should be seen and clinically examined on the same working day as the referral is received.

Exceptionally, a joint enquiry team may need to speak to a suspected child victim without the knowledge of the parent or carer:

  • When there is a concern that the child would be threatened;
  • Coerced into silence;
  • There is a strong likelihood that important evidence would be destroyed;
  • The child does not wish the parent to be involved, and is Gillick competent.

All interaction and communication with the child/ren must take account of:

  • The child/ren's developmental stage and cognitive ability;
  • Factors such as race, culture, religion, gender and sexuality together with issues arising from disability and health;
  • The gender of interviewers, particularly in cases of alleged sexual abuse. A child should not be interviewed by a single professional who is the same sex as the abuser.

In order to avoid undermining any subsequent criminal case, in any contact with a child prior to an interview, staff must:

  • Listen to the child rather than directly questioning them;
  • Never stop the child freely recounting significant events;
  • Record the discussion including timing, setting, presence of others as well as the salient points of the discussion.

Involving Others

Enquiries may also include:

  • Interviews with those who are personally and professionally connected with the child, e.g., wider family members.
  • Specific examinations or assessments of the child by other professionals ( for example, medical and developmental checks, assessment of emotional or psychological state), and
  • Interviews with those who are personally and professionally connected with the child's parents and/or carers.

6.11 Missing or inaccessible children

If the whereabouts of a child subject to s47 enquiries are unknown and cannot be ascertained by the Children's Social Care social worker, the following action must be taken within 24 hours:

  • A strategy meeting with the PVPU;
  • Agreement reached with the Assistant Team Manager responsible as to what further action is required to locate and see the child and carry out the enquiry. All the family contacts should be considered to locate the child.
  • The Assistant Director of Children's Social Care to be notified who will circulate the child's details around other local authority areas.
  • The social worker must inform the Emergency Duty Team.

If access to a child is refused or obstructed the social worker, in consultation with their manager, should co-ordinate a strategy meeting, including legal representation, to develop a plan to locate or access the child/ren and progress the s47 enquiry.

6.12 Visually recorded interviews

When Section 47 enquiries have been instigated and it has been agreed by the Police and Children's Social Care in a strategy meeting that a full criminal investigation will be carried out, subsequent visually recorded interviews of the victim should be planned and conducted jointly by Children's Social Care and the police PVPU in accordance with the Achieving Best Evidence in Criminal Proceedings: Guidance for Interviewing Victims and Witnesses, and Using Special Measures ( 2007) available at : http://www.cps.gov.uk/publications/docs/achieving best evidence final.pdf

The decision however as to whether to conduct a joint interview or joint visits should be determined by the strategy meeting.

Visually recorded interviews serve two primary purposes:

  • Evidence gathering for criminal proceedings; and
  • Examination in chief of a child witness.

Relevant information from this process can also be used to inform s47 enquiries, subsequent civil childcare proceedings or disciplinary proceedings against adult carers.

In accordance with Achieving Best Evidence, all joint interviews with children should be conducted by those with specialist training and experience in interviewing children. Additional specialist / expert help may be needed:

  • If the child's first language is not English;
  • They appear to have a degree of psychiatric disturbance but are deemed competent;
  • They have a physical / sensory / learning disability;
  • Where interviewers do not have adequate knowledge and understanding of the child's racial religious and cultural background.

Criteria for visually recorded interviews

Achieving Best Evidence covers all children under the age of 17 years who may be witnesses to any type of crime, both as victims or witnesses to crimes perpetrated on others. Interviewing in this way may not take place if the child objects and / or there are other difficulties (e.g. abuse of the child has involved the use of video).

The decision to interview a child in line with Achieving Best Evidence would normally be taken jointly by police and Children's Social Care at a strategy meeting. Exceptionally, there will be occasions when police will have the autonomy to carry out the interview (i.e. when Children's Social Care is not available or in urgent matters to assist in forensic retrieval).

In other cases of children giving evidence the decision on whether or not to video should take account of the:

  • Individual child's needs and circumstances;
  • Likelihood of maximising the quality of that particular child's evidence;
  • Type and severity of offence;
  • Circumstances of offence (e.g. relationship to alleged abuser);
  • Child's state of mind;
  • Perceived fears regarding intimidation and recrimination.

Consideration should be given to the:

  • Purpose and likely value of the specific video recorded interview;
  • Competency, compellability and availability of child for cross examination;
  • Child's ability and willingness to talk in a formal interview setting;
  • How comfortable the child will be with the interview being recorded via audio visual equipment - s/he may have been subject of abusive images.

6.13 Paediatric assessment

Where the child appears in urgent need of medical attention (e.g. suspected fractures, bleeding, loss of consciousness), they should be taken to the nearest accident and emergency department.

In other circumstances, the strategy meeting / discussion will determine, in consultation with the paediatrician, the need and timing for a paediatric assessment. Where a child is also to be interviewed by police and / or Children's Social Care, this interview should take place prior to a medical examination unless there are exceptional circumstances agreed with the police and social work service.

A paediatrician may refer on to other professionals, particularly if there are suspicions of sexual abuse.

A paediatric assessment is necessary to:

  • Secure forensic evidence;
  • Obtain medical documentation;
  • Provide re-assurance for the child, parent and Children's Social Care;
  • Inform treatment follow-up and review for the child (any injury, infection, new symptoms including psychological).

Consideration should be given to siblings of an injured/abused child having a paediatric medical examination even though there are no obvious signs of injury/abuse in that child.
Only doctors may physically examine the whole child. All other staff should only note any visible marks or injuries on a body map and record, date and sign details in the child's file.

Consent for paediatric assessments or medical treatment

The following may give consent to a paediatric assessment:

  • A child of sufficient age and understanding (Fraser competence);
  • Any person with parental responsibility, providing they have the capacity to do so;
  • The local authority when the child is the subject of a care order (although the parent should be informed) or interim care order. Where the child is subject to ongoing care proceedings the court's consent is normally required for an examination which is for the purpose of gathering evidence;
  • The local authority when the child is accommodated under s20 of the Children Act 1989, and the parent/s have abandoned the child or are physically or mentally unable to give such authority;
  • The High Court when the child is a ward of court;
  • A family proceedings court as part of a direction attached to an emergency protection order, an interim care order or a child assessment order;
  • When a child is looked after under s20 and a parent has given general consent authorising medical treatment for the child, legal advice must be taken about whether this provides consent for paediatric assessment for child protection purposes (the parent still has full parental responsibility for the child);
  • A child of any age who has sufficient understanding ( generally to be assessed by the doctor with advice from others) to make a fully informed decision can provide lawful consent to all or part of a paediatric assessment or emergency treatment;
  • A young person aged 16 or 17 has an explicit right (s8 Family Law Reform Act 1969) to provide consent to surgical, medical or dental treatment and unless grounds exist for doubting their mental health, no further consent is required.

A child who is of sufficient age and understanding may refuse some or all of the paediatric assessment, though refusal can potentially be overridden by a court.

Wherever possible the permission of a parent should be sought for children under sixteen prior to any paediatric assessment and / or other medical treatment.

Where circumstances do not allow permission to be obtained and the child needs emergency medical treatment, the medical practitioner may:

  • Regard the child to be of an age and level of understanding to give their own consent;
  • Decide to proceed without consent. Where the child's interests so require (often referred to as the "doctrine of necessity") treatment without consent should be confined to what is needed to deal with the emergency.

In these circumstances, parents must be informed by the medical practitioner as soon as possible and a full record must be made at the time.

In non-emergency situations, when parental permission is not obtained, the social worker and Assistant Team Manager must consider whether it is in the child's best interests to seek a court order.

Arranging the paediatric assessments

In the course of s47 enquiries, appropriately trained and experienced practitioners must undertake all paediatric assessments.

Referrals for child protection paediatric assessments from a social worker or a member of the police are made to the designated child protection paediatrician based in the child's relevant acute hospital. The paediatrician may arrange to examine the child themselves, or arrange for the child to be seen by a member of the paediatric team in the hospital or community.

In cases of suspected abuse, GPs must not perform an examination unless this is agreed by the police and Children's Social Care.

The assessment may be carried out jointly by a forensic medical examiner (FME) and a paediatrician and consideration should be given to the gender of the examining doctors. If a forensic medical examiner is not available, two paediatricians may carry out the assessment provided one has received forensic training. In these cases, a PVP officer should directly brief the doctors and take possession of evidential items. Single examinations should only be undertaken if the person has the requisite skills and equipment. For further guidance for paediatricians and forensic medical examiners (see the Royal College of Paediatrics and Association of Police Surgeons Child Health Guidelines [2002]).

In cases of severe neglect, physical injury or penetrative sexual abuse, the assessment should be undertaken on the day of referral, where compatible with the welfare of the child.

The need for a specialist assessment by a child psychiatrist or psychologist should be considered.

In planning the examination, the police PVP officer and relevant doctor must consider whether it might be necessary to take photographic evidence for use in care or criminal proceedings. Where such arrangements are necessary, the child and parents must be informed and prepared and careful consideration given to the impact on the child.

Following the paediatric assessment the examining doctor should be kept informed of the outcome of the enquiries.

It is recognised that there are particular difficulties in organising services in rural areas and in a county the size of North Yorkshire. All attempts however should be made for children to be seen at their nearest acute hospital but where this is not possible and a child has to travel out of their home town for a paediatric assessment, all care and consideration should be given to the child's comfort and nourishment during the journey.

The medical examination

If a paediatrician considers physical abuse to be a likely cause of injuries in a child under the age of two years, a skeletal survey should be undertaken. Similarly if an older child:

  • Presents with a fracture that suggests abuse;
  • Presents with a history of recent skeletal injury;
  • Dies in suspicious or unusual circumstances.

A repeat skeletal survey is indicated where an abnormality has been identified or thought likely to be present, but the implications of repeat exposure to radiation needs to be considered. Consideration should be given to obtaining photographic records where applicable.

A paediatric assessment depends on what information is given to the examiner. Where a doctor is seeing a child as part of s47 enquiries, they should be made aware of all concerns and relevant knowledge of the family by the social worker. If the social worker at the medical does not have this knowledge, then the doctor should be briefed over the telephone and by fax. It is the responsibility of the Deputy Service Manager to ensure that this happens.

Recording of the paediatric assessment

The examining paediatrician should supply a report to the social worker, GP and, where appropriate, the police. The timing of a letter to parents should be determined in consultation with Children's Social Care and police within five working days.

The report should include:

  • A verbatim record of the carer's and child's accounts of injuries and concerns noting any discrepancies or changes of story;
  • Documentary findings in both words and diagrams;
  • Site, size, shape and where possible age of any marks or injuries;
  • Opinion of whether injury is consistent with explanation;
  • Date, time and place of examination;
  • Those present;
  • Who gave consent and how (child / parent, written / verbal);
  • Other findings relevant to the child (e.g. squint, learning or speech problems etc.);
  • Confirmation of the child's developmental progress (especially important in cases of neglect);
  • The time the examination ended.

All reports and diagrams should be signed and dated by the doctor undertaking the examination.

All relevant information from health should also be recorded within the child/young persons ICS case file by the Team/ Assistant Team Manager in Children's Social Care.

6.14 Risk assessment

The scope and focus of the assessment process during the enquiry will be that of a risk assessment which:

  • Identifies the cause for concern;
  • Evaluates the strengths of the family;
  • Evaluates the vulnerability and resilience of all children in the family;
  • Considers the protective factors and the child's needs for protection;
  • Details and evaluates family history;
  • Evaluates information from all sources and previous case records;
  • Considers the ability of parents and wider family and social networks to safeguard and promote the child's welfare;
  • Considers how these risks can be managed.

It is important to 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).

The risk assessment must be documented under the Assessment Process on the CSC recording system.

6.15 Outcome of child protection enquiries

Children's Social Care is responsible for deciding how to proceed based on the strategy meeting / discussion and taking into account the views of the child, their parents and other relevant parties (e.g. a foster carer).

At the completion of a Section 47 enquiry, Children's Social Care may need to undertake a number of actions. For each child involved, one of the following outcomes is to apply:

  • Concerns are unfounded;
  • Concerns remain for workers but no real evidence to substantiate;
  • Concerns are substantiated but child not judged to be at continuing risk;
  • Child judged to be at continuing risk of significant harm.

Concerns are not substantiated

Where the concerns are unfounded, the Assistant Team Manager must authorise whether 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. In these circumstances, the assessment will have ended and services provided where needed to improve the welfare of the child.

Concerns remain but no real evidence

In some cases, there may remain concerns about the welfare of the child but the investigation cannot conclude that harm has definitely taken place to the child. In such situations a Section 17 multi-agency plan is required that will address the child's safety as well as welfare needs.

It may be appropriate to put in place arrangements to monitor the child's welfare. Monitoring should never be used as a means of deferring or avoiding difficult decisions. The purpose of monitoring should always be clear, that is, what is being monitored and why, in what way and by whom. It will also be important to inform parents about the nature of any on-going concern. There should be a time set for reviewing the monitoring arrangements through the holding of a further meeting / discussion.

Concerns are substantiated but the child is not judged to be at continuing risk

There may be substantiated concerns that a child has suffered significant harm, but the agencies most involved may judge that a parent or members of the child's wider family will ensure the child's future safety and welfare and that the child is not at continuing risk of significant harm.

Other reasons which may or may not contribute to a judgement that the child is not at continuing risk of harm include that:

  • The family's circumstances have changed;
  • The person responsible for the harm is no longer in contact with the child;
  • The significant harm was incurred as the result of an isolated abusive incident e.g. abuse by a stranger.

In taking the decision that a family's co-operation is sufficient to ensure a child's future safety, Children's Social Care should take into account:

  • All relevant information obtained during a s47 enquiry;
  • A soundly based assessment of the likelihood of successful intervention;
  • Recently sought wishes and feelings of the child;
  • The need for clear evidence;
  • The dangers of misplaced professional optimism;
  • The pressure that can be felt by professionals not to challenge hostile and obstructive families.

Children's Social Care should take carefully any decision not to proceed to a Child Protection Conference where it is known a child has suffered significant harm.
A Group Manager in Children's Social Care should endorse this decision in writing. It is the responsibility of the Team Manager to ensure this endorsement is sought, normally within 8 working days of the decision to apply child protection procedures.

In a situation where a child has died through the actions of a parent, family member or carer, there is a presumption that the siblings of this child will be subject to a Child Protection Conference. The agreement of the Assistant Director, Children's Social Care and Chair of the LSCB is needed for any plan to not require a conference.

Where concerns are substantiated but the Group Manager/ Assistant Director agree there need not be a child protection conference, a plan must be still be made. The plan will set out:

  • Who is responsible for which actions;
  • The intended outcomes for the child's health and development;
  • The timescale for the actions;
  • How progress will be reviewed and by whom;
  • What course of action should be followed if the plan is not being successfully implemented.

A Child in Need Planning Meeting of professionals and family members should be considered to put the plan together and this meeting should take place without delay. Family Group Conferences may have a role to play in fulfilling these tasks but should be run in parallel with the Child in Need Planning and review processes.

Concerns are substantiated and the child is considered to be at continuing risk of significant harm

Where concerns are substantiated and the child is assessed to be at continuing risk of significant harm, there must be a child protection conference. In this situation, an interim plan should be put in place to safeguard the child, where possible agreed on an inter-agency basis. It is not sufficient to wait for the child protection conference to take place as that may leave the child vulnerable in the meantime.

6.16 Feedback from enquiries

The children's social worker is responsible for recording the outcome of the s47 enquiries consistent with the requirements of the integrated children's system. This should be put on the child's social care record within with a clear record of the discussions, authorised by the Assistant Team Manager.

A copy of the outcome of the Section 47 enquiries should be given to all the agencies who have been significantly involved, the parents and children of sufficient age and appropriate level of understanding, 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.

Feedback about outcomes should be provided to non-professional referrers in a manner that respects the confidentiality and welfare of the child.

If there are on-going criminal investigations, the content of the social worker's feedback should be agreed with the police.

Where the child concerned is living in a residential establishment which is subject to inspection, the relevant inspectorate should be informed.

Disputed decisions

Where Children's Social Care have concluded that an initial child protection conference is not required but professionals in other agencies remain seriously concerned about the safety of a child, these professionals should seek further discussion with the children's social worker and their Assistant Team Manager. The concerns, discussion and any agreements made should be recorded in each agency's files.

If concerns remain, the professional should discuss with a designated / named / lead person or senior manager in their agency. If concerns remain the agency may formally request that Children's Social Care convene an initial child protection conference. Children's Social Care should convene a conference where one or more professionals, supported by a senior manager / named or designated professional requests one.

If this approach fails to achieve agreement, the procedures for resolution of conflicts should be followed. See Section 18. LSCB Governance Arrangements, quality assurance and conflict resolution.

6.17 Timescales

From when Children's Social Care receives a referral or identifies a concern of risk of significant harm to a child:

  • The strategy meeting which instigates the s47 enquiry must take place within three days of child protection concerns being identified (for exceptions see Section 6.8) ;
  • The assessment must be completed within 45 working days from the point of referral;
  • The maximum period from the strategy meeting / discussion (at which the S47 enquiries were initiated) to the date of the initial child protection conference is 15 working days.
  • All requests for an extension to a child protection investigation should be approved by a senior manager within Children's Social Care.

6.18 Recording

A full written record must be completed by each agency involved in a s47 enquiry, using the required agency proformas, authorised and dated by the staff.

The responsible Assistant Team/ Team Manager must authorise Children's Social Care s47 recording.

Practitioners should, wherever possible, retain rough notes in line with their agencies retention of record procedures until the completion of anticipated legal proceedings.

Children's Social Care recording of enquiries should be consistent with the integrated children's system:

  • Strategy meeting / record of invitees and attendance;
  • Details of the enquiry;
  • Body maps (where applicable);
  • Agency checks;
  • Content of contact cross referenced with any specific forms used;
  • Assessment including identification of risks and how they may be managed;
  • Decision making processes;
  • Outcome / further action planned.

At the completion of the enquiry, the Assistant Team Manager should ensure that the concern and outcome have been recorded on ICS and other agencies informed.

All decisions and information should be recorded within the child/young persons ICS case file by the Team Manager/Assistant Team Manager.

Last Updated:  26/03/2014
Next Scheduled Review:  26/03/2015

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