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1.3.4 Section 47 Enquiries

SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER

This chapter is concerned with cases where Significant Harm is suspected and therefore it should be read in conjunction with the Hull Safeguarding Children Board Guidelines and Procedures Manual, specifically the procedure relating to carrying out Child Protection Enquiries under Section 47 of the Children Act 1989.

This chapter briefly describes the process of strategy discussions and meetings which is covered in more detail in the Hull Safeguarding Children Board procedures. It also provides guidance on Children’s Social Care Assessments undertaken for a Section 47 enquiry.

Children’s Social Care Assessments should be led by qualified and experienced social workers. All staff involved in undertaking Children’s Social Care Assessments must be familiar with the contents of this chapter.

N.B. the level of management for decision making is included in this guidance, however this should be read in conjunction with the Scheme of Delegations Procedure.

Note: Where it is noted that Team Manager / Consultant Social Worker are authorised to make decisions, this applies to Emergency Duty Team staff and other social work staff where this has been mutually agreed and recorded within PPD/supervision.

RELATED CHAPTERS

Hull Safeguarding Children Board Guidelines and Procedures Manual, Assessment - Hull Children's Social Care Assessment Protocol.

Hull Safeguarding Children Board Guidelines and Procedures Manual, Child Protection Enquiries - Section 47 Children Act 1989 Procedure.


Contents

1. Strategy Discussion/Meeting
2. Definition of Children’s Social Care Assessment
3. Timescale
4. Conducting Section 47 Enquiries
  4.1 Involving the Child
  4.2 Involving the or Parent or Carers
  4.3 Involving other Agencies
5. Outcomes of a Section 47 Enquiry
6. Recording Children's Social Care Assessments and Section 47 Enquiries


1. Strategy Discussion/Meeting

When a referral is made about suspected Significant Harm the following steps are taken.

The duty social worker should open a referral form on Liquidlogic. The social worker communicates verbally and messages the Team Manager / Consultant Social Worker who completes and authorises the referral (see Initial Contacts and Referrals Procedure).

If, at the point of referral there are clear indications that the child is suffering or likely to suffer significant harm, a Strategy Discussion and Section 47 / Children’s Social Care Assessment should follow the referral. The decision on the next course of action following a referral should take place within one working day.

Strategy discussion/meeting

Whenever there is reasonable cause to suspect that a child is suffering or likely to suffer significant harm there should be a Strategy Discussion / Meeting. A Strategy Discussion may take place following a referral or at any other time. The timing of the Strategy Discussion will depend on the nature and urgency of the referral but should take place as soon as possible after receipt of the referral/decision that there is reasonable cause to suspect Significant Harm.

The initial Strategy Discussion takes place between the designated co-decision makers. In Children's Social Care this is the Team Manager / Consultant Social Worker (or above) and in the Police this is the Police Public Protection Unit Detective Inspector or Detective Sergeant. Other agencies may also be involved as appropriate.

The initial Strategy Discussion is recorded on the Child Protection Strategy Discussion Record by the Team Manager / Consultant Social Worker.

More than one Strategy Discussion or Meeting may be required. In complex cases a Strategy Meeting is likely to be the most effective way of discussing the child's welfare and planning future action where other professionals are needed to contribute. Sometimes a series of meetings and discussions are required.

All subsequent Strategy Discussions/Meetings are recorded on the Child Protection Strategy Discussion/Meeting - Review Record by the Team Manager / Consultant Social Worker or by the Chair of the Strategy Meeting. Strategy Meetings are chaired by a Team Manager / Consultant Social Worker or an Independent Conference and Reviewing Officer (ICRO) and are always minuted. A record of a Strategy Meeting, including the decisions and recommendations made, should be circulated by the Chair within one working day to all parties to the discussion. More detailed minutes are circulated later and a copy placed on the child's file.

If a Strategy Meeting involves an allegation against a professional, carer or volunteer the Record of Strategy Meeting - Professionals/Carers/Volunteers Record is used (see also Hull Safeguarding Children Board Guidelines and Procedures Manual, Allegations of Harm Made Against People who Work with Children).

The purpose of Strategy Discussions / Meetings is to:

  • Share available information;
  • Agree the conduct and timing of any criminal investigation;
  • Decide whether Section 47 enquiries should be initiated and therefore a Children’s Social Care Assessment should be undertaken;
  • Agree plan for how the Section 47 should be undertaken including need for medical treatment and who will carry out what actions, by when and for what purpose;
  • Agree how the Children’s Social Care Assessment should be completed, what further information is required and how it should be obtained and recorded;
  • Agree what action is required immediately to safeguard and promote the welfare of the child and provide interim services and support;
  • Determine what information will be shared with the family / what consent will be sought;
  • Determine if legal action is required.

Full details of Strategy Discussions/Meetings, including the purpose and the people usually involved, are included in the Hull Safeguarding Children Board Guidelines and Procedures.

Possible outcome(s) of a Strategy Discussion / Meeting are:

  • No further action;
  • Referral to another agency;
  • Child in Need Case (in which case provision or services under Section 17 or Children’s Social Care Assessment for Child in Need);
  • Section 47 enquiries including Children's Social Care Assessment;
  • Police Investigation(s);
  • Further Strategy Discussion/Meeting.

Reasons for decisions and details of any actions (such as whether an achieving best evidence interview is required) any further actions should also be recorded.

If it is decided to initiate Section 47 enquiries, then the Team Manager / Consultant Social Worker should create the following records:

  • Section 47 Enquiry Record: In order to establish from the My Client screen on a child / young person's record on Liquidlogic that a Section 47 Enquiry is currently being undertaken, this brief form has been created. It shows that whilst it is open there is an ongoing Section 47 enquiry. It should be completed and closed when the Section 47 enquiry is finished;
  • The Children’s Social Care Assessment Record: At the top of the form there is a question asking the category of Children’s Social Care Assessment, please tick Children’s Social Care Assessment for Section 47 Enquiry.


2. Definition of Children’s Social Care Assessment

See Hull Safeguarding Children's Board Guidelines and Procedures Manual, Assessment - Hull Children's Social Care Assessment Protocol.


3. Timescale

The decision to complete a Children’s Social Care Assessment (in conjunction with a Section 47 enquiry) should be made by the responsible Team Manager / Consultant Social Worker see note above) when any Strategy Discussion/Meeting concludes that a Section 47 enquiry is required. The Children’s Social Care Assessment should be completed within 45 working days of the date of referral.

Where a Section 47 enquiry is being conducted as part of the Children’s Social Care Assessment and the parents or child withdraw their cooperation or move away, the assessment cannot be considered to have been completed unless the Team Manager is satisfied that arrangements are in place to safeguard the child concerned. The response may include:


4. Conducting Section 47 Enquiries

Where it is suspected that a child is suffering or is likely to suffer significant harm the local authority is required by Section 47 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. A Section 47 enquiry should be carried out through completion of a Children’s Social Care assessment.

Children's Social Care has the lead responsibility for completion of the assessment under Section 47 of the Children Act 1989. When joint enquiries take place the Police have the lead for the criminal investigation.

In the course of a Section 47 enquiry, the Children’s Social Care Assessment should focus primarily on information identified as being of most importance or seriousness when considering whether the child is suffering or likely to suffer Significant Harm. The assessment form includes a specific heading requiring the social worker to address risk factors / safety issues It should however cover all relevant dimensions of the Assessment Framework Diagram (Working Together 2015) before its completion.

The social worker, when conducting a Section 47 enquiry, must assess the potential needs and safety of any other child in the household of the child in question. In addition, Section 47 enquiries may be required concerning any children in other households with whom the alleged abuser may have contact.

In determining who should be involved in a Section 47 enquiry, consideration should include with whom the family is most likely to cooperate, and whether there are any risks. In all cases where there is a known propensity to violence within the family household, consideration should be given to the strategy to be adopted, with Police advice/assistance if appropriate, about how to reduce the risks before any visits take place.

4.1 Involving the Child

Children are key sources of information about what has happened to them. Accurate and complete information is essential for taking action to safeguard and promote the welfare of the child, as well as for any criminal proceedings that may be instigated concerning an alleged perpetrator of abuse. When children are first approached the nature and extent of any harm suffered by them may not be clear, nor whether a criminal offence has been committed. It is important that even initial discussions with children are conducted in a way that minimises distress and maximises the likelihood that they will provide accurate and complete information.

The child's wishes and feelings should be ascertained and regard given to their age and understanding when making decisions about what (if any) services to provide. The child must always be seen and communicated with alone in the course of a Section 47 enquiry by the lead social worker, unless it is contrary to his or her interests to do so. The Liquidlogic record for the child should set out the dates on which the child was seen by the Social Worker during the course of the enquiries, if they were seen alone, and if not, who was present and why.

The strategy discussion/meeting will include a plan for how the enquiry should be carried out including how the child and family will be interviewed and for what purposes and by whom. E.g. whether the child's interview will be recorded on DVD and by whom; and whether information supports the need for the child to be medically examined.

The consent of an adult with Parental Responsibility should always be sought prior to interviewing a child, only rarely should this consent be dispensed with, for example:

  • If the child is of sufficient age and understanding to give informed consent and does not wish the parent to know the interview is to take place;
  • If seeking the consent of the person(s) with parental responsibility would place the child at further risk of significant harm e.g. the child may be intimidated or threatened etc.; or
  • If the situation is of an emergency nature and no-one with parental responsibility can be located in time.

The decision not to seek parental consent should be taken only by the co-decision makers from Children's Social Care (Team Manager / Consultant Social Worker see note above) and Police and should be recorded, with reasons.

If parental consent is sought and refused, the social worker should inform his/her Team Manager / Consultant Social Worker immediately. The co-decision makers must discuss and review whether there is a need to apply to the Court for either an Emergency Protection Order or Child Assessment Order to continue the enquiries. The decision whether to apply for either of these orders is the made by the Group Manager.

Where appropriate, the child will be interviewed in accordance with the decisions of the strategy discussion/meeting and with the guidance of Achieving Best Evidence. The nominated interview team, comprising trained social workers and police officers, will plan the detail of the interview including time, method, venue, who will be present etc. A child should never be interviewed in the presence of an alleged or suspected perpetrator of abuse or someone who may be colluding with a perpetrator.

In accordance with the Achieving Best Evidence guidance, all such joint interviews with children should be conducted by those with specialist training and experience in interviewing children. The views of all parties at the strategy meeting should be sought to establish the capacity of a child undertake an interview. Interviewers may decide that the needs of the child and the needs of criminal justice are best served by an assessment of the child prior to the interview taking place, particularly if the child has not had previous or current involvement with the local children's services authority or other public services.

Dependent on the age and understanding of the child, the child should be provided with the information leaflet "Understanding child protection procedures - the enquiry - a child's or young person's guide" and the enquiry team should ensure that the child understands the contents and the processes involved. The child can also be offered an advocate.

Throughout the assessment the focus must remain on the child, it helps to think about these key questions:

  • What is likely to happen if nothing changes in the child's current situation?
  • What are the likely consequences for the child?

4.2 Involving the or Parent or Carers

In the great majority of cases, children remain with their families following Section 47 enquiries even where concerns about abuse or neglect are substantiated. As far as possible, Section 47 enquiries should be conducted in a way that allows for future constructive working relationships with families. The way in which a case is handled 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.

Parents / carers should be given the leaflet "Understanding child protection procedures - the enquiry” and the content discussed with them. These leaflets can be made available in the person's preferred language or Braille as required.

4.3 Involving other agencies

Children's Social Care are always the lead agency undertaking a Children’s Social Care Assessment but there is a statutory duty on health, education and other agencies to help the local authority in carrying out its social services functions under Part 3 of the Children Act 1989 and in undertaking Section 47 enquiries.


5. Outcomes of a Section 47 Enquiry

At the conclusion of the enquiry, the social worker should collate the following information for discussion with the Team Manager / Consultant Social Worker:

  • All information collated during the Children’s Social Care Assessment to date;
  • Detail of the allegation of harm/suspected harm;
  • Content of interview with the child;
  • Outcome of the medical examination of the child, if carried out;
  • Wishes and feelings of the child;
  • Content of any interview/meeting with the parents or carers;
  • Content of any interview with significant others e.g. other family members, other agencies;
  • Whereabouts of alleged perpetrator.

Following the discussion, the Team Manager / Consultant Social Worker will consult with the Police co-decision maker, to conclude the Section 47 enquiry and decide whether there is a need for any further action to be taken and the reason for that further action.

Further action may include:

  • Further action by Children's Social Care only;
  • Further action by another organisation only;
  • Further action by Police and Children's Social Care;
  • Further action by Police only;
  • No further action.

Reasons include:

  • Criminal investigation and child / young person in need;
  • Criminal investigation only;
  • Concerns not substantiated;
  • Concerns are substantiated and the child/young person is judged to be continuing to, or be likely to suffer significant harm.

The Team Manager should record this final discussion with the Police co-decision maker on Section 47 Enquiry Record. The outcome of the Section 47 enquiry is also logged in the Children’s Social Care Assessment (for Section 47 Enquiry) Record, which is then shared with the parents.

5.1 Unsubstantiated Concerns

In circumstances where child protection concerns are not substantiated, the social worker who has been part of the team undertaking the enquiry informs the family of this as soon as possible. This is usually done in a visit by the social worker to the family, though sometimes it is appropriate for the Team Manager / Consultant Social Worker to write to the family to confirm this. The family and child (given age and understanding) should be given a copy of the Children’s Social Care Assessment (for Section 47 enquiry) which includes the Outcome of Section 47 enquiry section at the end.

The feedback to families should acknowledge the distress which may have been caused but also explain the statutory duty on Children's Social Care to investigate allegations of harm to a child. Consideration should be given to the child and/or family's needs for further support or counselling and appropriate information given for sources of help.

Where concerns are not substantiated the child may be a child in need and further support and services may be offered under Section 17 of the Children Act 1989. In this case a child in need plan should be developed from the recommendations of the Children’s Social Care Assessment and the process for the planning and review for a child in need should be followed. See Child / Young Person's Plans Guidance and Core Group Working and Reviews Procedure.

If the enquiries have revealed that there are no causes for concern, then no further action will be taken and the family may be signposted to another agency if appropriate.

The person who made the referral should be informed of the outcome by the social worker or the Team Manager / Consultant Social Worker.

5.2 Concerns are Substantiated and the Child is Judged to be Continuing to, or be Likely to Suffer Significant Harm

Where agencies judge that a child may continue to suffer, or to be at risk of suffering, Significant Harm, Children's Social Care should convene a Child Protection Conference. The request to convene the conference must be decided by the Team Manager / Consultant Social Worker, and discussed with an Independent Conference and Reviewing Officer. Wherever possible, the Initial Child Protection Conference (ICPC) should take place within 15 working days of the Strategy Discussion, or the Strategy Discussion at which the Section 47 enquiries were initiated if more than one has been held. However, the timing of the ICPC should reflect the balance between allowing time for adequate identification of the child's needs and circumstances, ensuring that all relevant agencies are able to attend and at the same time avoiding drift. It is recognised that this is not always possible within 15 days in which case it should take place as soon as possible afterwards and the delay should be authorised by a Team Manager / Consultant Social Worker.

The aim of the conference is to enable those professionals most involved with the child and family, and the family themselves, to assess all relevant information and plan how to safeguard the child and promote his or her welfare.

See Hull Safeguarding Children's Board Guidelines and Procedures Manual, Child Protection Conferences.

If an ICPC is arranged, the social worker should send the Children’s Social Care Assessment report, as far as it is completed at that point. It should set out and analyse what is known about the child and family and the local authority’s recommendation. It may be that there is further work to be undertaken to complete the in-depth Children’s Social Care assessment which (given the 45 day timescale) may need to be completed after the ICPC.

Where immediate protective action is required, the advice of Legal Services should be sought.


6.Recording Children's Social Care Assessments and Section 47 Enquiries

The Children’s Social Care Assessment should be undertaken by the social worker. The Team Manager / Consultant Social Worker should authorise the assessment.

The Section 47 Enquiry Record is also completed and closed by the Team Manager / Consultant Social Worker at the end of the Section 47 enquiry.

End