When the local authority social worker receives a referral and information has been gathered during an assessment (which may have been very brief), in the course of which a concern arises that a child maybe suffering, or likely to suffer, significant harm, the local authority 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 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 looked after child 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 Local Authority Children's social care in which the child is found is the child's 'host authority'.
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:
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 in support of child protection enquiries. When requested to do so by Children's social care, professionals 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 local authority 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 child protection enquiry has been initiated and to seek their views. 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.
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) 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, children's social care, health professionals and other agencies as appropriate.
Immediate protection may be achieved by:
If it is necessary to remove a child from their home, a local authority 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.
A Section 47 Enquiry must always be commenced immediately following a Strategy Discussion/Meeting when:
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.
Local authority social workers have a statutory duty to lead enquiries under Section 47 of the Children Act 1989. The police, health professionals, teachers and other relevant professionals should support them in undertaking the enquiries.
A multi agency assessment, known as a Single Assessment (see Assessment Procedure) 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.
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 Children's social care manager.
The strategy discussion/meeting should involve Children's social care and the police, health professionals 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.
Professionals participating 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 the Children's social care manager 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:
(This is not an exhaustive list).
A strategy discussion/ meeting should be used to:
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 had been invited or involved, as soon as practicable by Children's social care.
Strategy discussions/meetings should be convened as soon as possible bearing in mind the needs of the child, however locally determined timescales will be established to dictate how soon after child protection concerns have been identified the discussion/meeting will occur, except in the following circumstances:
The plan 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. When 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 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 Conflict Resolution Policy.
In exceptional circumstances, enquiries may be more complicated and may require more than one strategy discussion/meeting. If the strategy discussion / meeting concludes that a further strategy discussion / meeting is required, then a clear timescale should be set and be subject to regular review by the social work manager bearing in mind the safety of the child at all times. Where there is more than one Strategy Meeting it should be noted that any Initial Child Protection Conference should be held within 15 working days of the Strategy Meeting, which initiated the Child Protection Enquiry.
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 a multi- agency assessment to meet the needs of the child for any early help support services or to provide family support services 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.
Children's social care is the lead agency for Section 47 Enquiries (Children Act 1989) and the Children's social care manager 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 Children's social care, 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 the 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, which appears most important in relation to the risk of significant harm.
The assessment of risk will:
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 professionals 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.
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 Working with Foreign Authorities: Child Protection Cases and Care Orders Departmental advice for local authorities, social workers, service managers and children's services lawyers July 2014.
The Police and Children's social care must 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 Children's social care when they are undertaking such investigations, and where appropriate to notify the Local Authority Designated Officer 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.
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 Children's social care or both agencies, 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.
Children's social care 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:
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:
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.
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 by providing the local information leaflets. 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.
Strategy discussions/meetings must consider, in consultation with the named Doctor/ duty Paediatrician (if not part of the strategy discussion/meeting), the need for and the timing of a medical assessment. Medical assessments should always be considered necessary where there has been a disclosure or there is a suspicion of any form of abuse to a child.
A medical assessment should demonstrate a holistic approach to the child and assess the child's well-being, including mental health, development and cognitive ability.
A medical assessment is necessary to:
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.
The following may give consent to a medical assessment:
A child of any age who has sufficient understanding (generally to be assessed by the doctor with advice from others as required) to make a fully informed decision can provide lawful consent to all or part of a medical assessment or emergency treatment.
A young person aged 16 or 17 has an explicit right (Section 8 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 medical 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 medical 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:
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 manager must consider whether it is in the child's best interests to seek a court order.
In the course of Section 47 Enquiries, appropriately trained and experienced paediatricians must undertake all medical assessments.
Practitioners should refer to their local area arrangements in relation to the process for arranging a medical assessment.A report should be provided by the named/designated doctor to the social worker, the GP and where appropriate, the police.
The report should include:
All reports and diagrams should be signed and dated by the doctor undertaking the examination.
Visually 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 (Home Office 2011). All events up to the time of the video interview must be fully recorded. Consideration of the use of video recorded evidence should take in to account situations where the child has been subject to abuse using recording equipment.
Visually recorded interviews serve two primary purposes:
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.
In accordance with Achieving Best Evidence, all joint interviews with children should be conducted by those with specialist training and experience in interviewing children. Specialist/expert help may be needed if:
Children's social care 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, Children's social care 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:
Social workers with their managers should:
All involved professionals should:
The Children's social care manager 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.
Social workers with their managers should:
All involved professionals should:
Feedback from Section 47 Enquiries:
The Children's 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 the Children's social care 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 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 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 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 professional should discuss with a designated/named/lead person or senior manager in their agency and 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 the matter remains unresolved the Conflict Resolution Policy should be used.
From when Children's social care receive a referral or identify a concern of risk of significant harm to a child:
The maximum period of an enquiry from the strategy discussion/ meeting to the date of the initial child protection conference is 15 working days. In exceptional circumstances, where more than one strategy discussion / meeting takes place, the timescale remains as 15 working days from the strategy discussion / meeting which initiated the Section 47 Enquiries.
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 social care 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 social care recording of enquiries should include:
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.
Only valid for 48hrs