Child Protection Investigation


This chapter provides the steps about how to undertake a Child Protection Investigation.


This chapter was updated in May 2018.

1. Duty to Investigate (Article 66)

If at any stage during an Initial Assessment there is reasonable cause to suspect that the child/young person is suffering or likely to suffer significant harm, inquiries under Article 66 of The Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995 must be initiated.

Where there is reasonable cause to suspect that a child/young person is suffering or is likely to suffer significant harm, a Child Protection Investigation under Article 66 should be completed within 15 working days from the day of referral.

Engagement with the PSNI should happen at the earliest stage of an Article 66 investigation or at any point considered necessary throughout the process of investigation. A decision to instigate the Protocol for Joint Investigation by Social Workers and Police Officers of Alleged and Suspected Cases of Child Abuse – Northern Ireland (Joint Protocol) at any point in the process of investigation is a matter of professional judgement and will require discussion and agreement by police and social services.

Section 4.29 of the Joint Protocol states that a joint investigation can begin where there is an allegation or reasonable suspicion that a child has suffered abuse in one of the following sets of circumstances:

  • Any sexual offence has been committed against a child;
  • Neglect or ill-treatment has occurred, which is actionable under Section 20 Children and Young Person's (NI) Act 1968;
  • Physical harm to/assault of a child has occurred;
  • When a child aged 10 and over is reported to be displaying sexually harmful behaviour. This should also be recognised as a possible indicator that they are, or have been, a victim of child abuse. In addition to Joint Protocol working, in such cases it is important to ensure that the information is communicated to the local statutory and voluntary agencies for support services;
  • A child has been subject to trafficking;
  • Also Appendix A: 'Harm in Specific Circumstances'.

The Article 66 Investigation must be led by a qualified social worker from children's social services, who will be responsible for its coordination and completion. The social worker must consult with other agencies/disciplines involved and with the family regarding the circumstances of the child/young person, and come to a conclusion as to whether any child/young person is suffering or are likely to suffer significant harm, identifying parenting strengths and any risk factors. Enquiries may also need to cover children/young people in other households if any identifiable risks have been established. Agencies (see Article 66 (11)), consulted are required to provide information to assist the investigation.

The investigation and assessment of risk will:

  • Identify the cause for concern, its seriousness, any recurring events and the vulnerability of the child/young person;
  • Evaluate the strengths and needs of the family;
  • Evaluate the risks to each child/young person and the context in which they are living;
  • Consider the child/young person's needs for protection;
  • Consider the capacity of the parents and wider family and social networks to safeguard and promote the child/young person's welfare;
  • Determine the level of intervention required.

The Health and Social Care Trust (HSC Trust) in whose area the child/young person is found has a duty to take appropriate protective action without delay. If the child/young person is “Looked After” by another HSC Trust or authority, or is on the Child Protection Register of another HSC Trust or Authority, the HSC Trust in whose area the child/young person is found should involve the HSC Trust or Authority responsible for the child/young person.

Any investigation, carried out under Article 66 or the Joint Protocol, should be undertaken respecting the rights of all parties. The informed consent of those with parental responsibility should be sought unless to do so would:

  1. Jeopardise the safety or welfare of a child/young person;
  2. Potentially undermine a police investigation.

2. Immediate Protection

Where a child/young person is deemed to be in need of immediate protection the appropriate action should be taken. Consideration should always be given to the least intrusive form of intervention ensuring that the child/young person is not left at risk of significant harm. For example, under the Family Homes and Domestic Violence (NI) Order 1998 consideration can be given to a parent applying for an Exclusion Order to exclude an adult who poses a risk to a child/young person from the family home, or a Non-Molestation Order to protect the child/young person from the person of concern assessed as posing a risk to the child/young person. Whilst these legal remedies obviate the need for the child/young person to leave the family home or to be separated from the rest of their family, such provisions should only be relied upon if the parent or person caring for the child/young person can comply with the terms of such court orders and ensure that the child is afforded an appropriate level of protection.

If the enquiries under an Article 66 investigation, at any stage, indicate that a child/young person's risk of suffering significant harm cannot be managed by voluntary measures in co-operation with the family, the HSC Trust should secure the immediate safety of the child/young person by applying to the court for an Emergency Protection Order or Interim Care Order (either of which can include a provision to exclude contact between a child/young person and a specified adult) and ensuring the child/young person is in a safe place.

Legal advice should be sought where necessary before taking action to remove a child/young person from his/her family. The Trust Director of Children's Services (or nominee), Senior Social Work Manager or Out-of-Hours Co-ordinator must authorise any immediate protective action necessary to protect the child/young person that is taken without legal advice. The reasons for these actions must be recorded on the child/young person's file and signed by the manager making the decision.

In exceptional circumstances, the PSNI can take immediate action to secure police protection where the child/young person cannot be protected by any other means (Article 65).

When taking emergency action to ensure the protection of a child/young person, the need to safeguard other children/young people should always be considered.

Planned emergency action will normally take place following a strategy discussion under the Joint Protocol. Where a single agency has had to act immediately to protect a child/young person, a strategy discussion under the Joint Protocol should take place within 24 hours.

In some cases it may be possible to secure a child/young person's safety by:

  • A parent taking action to remove the person of concern;
  • The person of concern agreeing to leave the home rather than enforcing the emergency action outlined above;
  • Preventing a person of concern from returning to the home.

There should be no delay in ensuring that appropriate emergency action is taken.

3. Involving Children, Parents and Other Significant Family Members

The Child/Young Person

Children/young people who are the subject of an Article 66 Investigation must be seen and directly communicated with within 24 hours of the commencement of the investigation by children's social services to enable an assessment of their safety to be made.

If the whereabouts of a child/young person subject to the Article 66 Investigation is unknown and/or if access to a child/young person is refused or obstructed by the parent/carer, action must be taken immediately in accordance with Article 66(6). This requires the social worker to apply for a Child Assessment Order (CAO) or Emergency Protection Order (EPO), Care Order or Supervision Order unless children's social services are satisfied that the child/young person's welfare can be satisfactorily safeguarded without doing so. Legal advice should be sought in these circumstances.

In addition, all other children/young people within the household should also be directly communicated with during the investigation to enable an assessment of any risks to their safety to be made.

The children/young people who are the focus of concern should be seen alone, subject to their age and willingness, preferably with parental permission.

Children's social services should ensure that appropriate arrangements are in place to support the child/young person through the Article 66 Investigation. Specialist help may be needed if:

  • The child/young person has a physical/communication/sensory/learning disability;
  • The child/young person's first language is not English;
  • The child/young person uses any other means of communication as their first or preferred language/means of communication;
  • The child/young person appears to have a degree of psychological and/or psychiatric disturbance but is appropriately deemed to be competent;
  • Interviewers do not have adequate knowledge and understanding of the child/young person's language, racial, religious and cultural background, sexual orientation or gender identity;
  • New and emerging concerns are suspected.

It may be necessary to provide information to the child/young person in stages and this must be taken into account in planning the Article 66 Investigation. This should not in any way compromise the immediacy of the Article 66 investigation.

Appropriate explanations must be given to the child/young person as the investigation progresses. In no circumstances should the child/young person be left wondering what is happening and why.

The Parents and Other Significant Family Members

In most cases, parents/carers should be enabled to participate fully in the investigation process, unless to do so would place the child/young person at risk of harm or undermine a police investigation. The reason for undertaking the investigation must be explained to parents. The communication/language needs of the parents/carers should be established. At all times, appropriate communication methods must be used to ensure that the parents/carers of the child/young person fully understand the reason for the investigation and the process that is being followed.

Additional guidance on the use of translation services is available in the Business Services Organisation's Guidelines on Working with Interpreters for HSC Staff and Practitioners.

The social worker is responsible for engaging with parents/carers and other family members to ascertain the facts of the situation which indicate that the child/young person is suffering or is likely to suffer significant harm. They must also assess the capacity of the child/young people's carers to protect and safeguard the child/young person.

Parents/carers must be kept informed throughout the investigation about its progress unless this would jeopardise the welfare of the child/young person or potentially undermine a police investigation.

Discussions with parents/carers should include checking what other services/agencies are involved with the child/young person and his/her family and their agreement sought to contact these services. Informed consent of the parent/carer and those who also have parental responsibility is not required when undertaking an Article 66 investigation in the following circumstances:

  • If the safety of child/young person would be jeopardised;
  • If it would potentially undermine a police investigation or any future judicial proceedings; or
  • Any other due process would be negatively impacted.

Appropriate checks by children's social services should be completed in respect of a person in whose care a child/young person is placed during an Article 66 Investigation.

Parents/carers should be provided with an explanation of their rights including the right to support and guidance from an advocate whom they trust and advice about the right to seek legal advice.

Any objections or complaints expressed by parents/carers during an Article 66 Investigation, and the response to these objections or complaints, must be clearly recorded and dealt with through established processes.

[1] Article 17 of The Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995 defines family, for the purposes of the article, as “any person who has parental responsibility for a child and any person with whom he has been living.”

4. Medical Assessments

Appropriate medical advice where necessary should be sought as part of the investigative process of alleged or suspected child abuse and medical assessment undertaken as required.

Purpose of Medical Assessment

The general purpose of a medical assessment is threefold:

  • To assist with the interagency assessment as to whether abuse has occurred;
  • To ensure that any available medical evidence is collected and presented;
  • To ensure that the wider healthcare needs of the child/young person are fully identified and arrangements made to meet these needs.

See Medical Assessment of Alleged or Suspected Child Abuse.

5. The Outcome of an Article 66 Investigation

Upon completion of the Article 66 Investigation, children's social services must evaluate and analyse all the information gathered to determine if the threshold for significant harm or its likelihood has been reached.

The outcome of the Article 66 Investigation may reflect that the concerns on the conclusion of the investigation are:

  • Not substantiated, although consideration should be given to whether or not the child/young person may need family support services or services as a 'Child in Need';
  • Substantiated and the child/young person is assessed to have suffered significant harm but there is no on-going risk of or likelihood of significant harm. In these circumstances the child/young person may need family support services or services as a 'Child in Need';
  • Substantiated and the child/young person is assessed to be suffering, or likely to suffer, significant harm and a Child Protection Case Conference/LAC Review is required.

The children's social services manager must agree the outcome of the Article 66 Investigation in writing, having ensured that the child/young person, any other children/young people in the household and the child/young person's carers have been seen and spoken with.

The outcome should be put on the child/young person's electronic/paper record with a clear record of all actions and discussions and should be authorised by the children's social services manager.

Verbal or written notification, as appropriate, of the outcome of the enquiries, including an evaluation of the outcome for the child/young person, should be given to agencies on a 'need-to-know' basis. If there are on-going criminal investigations, the information provided by the social worker to agencies should be agreed with the police.

The parents/carers and children/young people should be given information, as appropriate, on the outcome of the Article 66 Investigation. This information should be conveyed in an appropriate format for younger children and those people whose preferred language is not English, have communication difficulties or have difficulty understanding due to for example a learning disability. The method of communicating therefore needs to be appropriate to the age and capacity of the child/young person and the parents/carers to understand.

Assurance that appropriate action has been taken should be provided to non-professional referrers, on a 'need-to-know' basis, in a manner that respects the confidentiality, protection and welfare of the child/young person.

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

6. Recording

Records must be completed by each agency involved, using their own recording documents in accordance with each agency's policies and procedures.

Upon completion of the enquiry, the Social Work Manager should ensure that the concerns and outcome have been entered in the recording system.

Children's social services recording of enquiries should include:

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

All agencies involved should ensure that records have been concluded and authorised in line with agency policies and recording procedures.

All records should be checked for the correct spelling of names and any aliases as well as correct dates of birth.