3.5 Child Protection Enquiries – Section 47 Children Act 1989
SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER
This chapter provides the steps for how to undertake a strategy discussion / meeting and how to conduct Section 47 Enquires.
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’.
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 and Children’s social care) 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.
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:
- There is reasonable cause to suspect that a child is suffering or likely to suffer significant harm in the form of physical, sexual, emotional abuse or neglect;
- Following an EPO or the use of Police Powers of protection is initiated.
The threshold criteria for a Section 47 Enquiry may be identified during an early assessment or it may become apparent at the point of referral, during multi-agency checks or in the course of a multi agency assessment.
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 (see Norfolk Local Assessment Protocol) 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.
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. See also Achieving Best Evidence policy.
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:
- Identify the cause for concern, its seriousness, any recurring events and the vulnerability and resilience of the child;
- Evaluate the strengths, including the protective factors, and weaknesses of the family;
- Evaluate the risks and dangers to the child/ren and the context in which they are living;
- Consider the child’s needs for protection; from whom and how;
- Consider the capacity of the parents and wider family and social networks to safeguard and promote the child’s welfare – this must include both parents, any other carers, such as grandparents, and the partners of the parents;
- Risk factors that may suggest a higher level of vulnerability in the family and risk of significant harm such as parental mental health difficulties, parental substance misuse, and domestic violence or combinations of these);
- Determine the level of intervention required to improve the outcome for the child to be safeguarded in the immediate, interim and longer term;
- Consider risks around contextual safeguarding where young people may experience significant harm beyond their families.
Multi agency information sharing
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. For cases involving physical harm the strategy discussions/meetings should include the relevant clinician where and when the child is to be seen or in urgent cases the duty paediatric team. For sexual assault cases the strategy discussions/meetings should include a paediatrician (for cases under 13 years) or a Forensic Nurse Examiner (13 years and over).
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 Designated Officer  (formerly known as the LADO) in specific cases where there are allegations against people working ,in a paid or voluntary capacity, with children.
At the strategy discussion/meeting the police officers should share current and historical information with other services where it is necessary to do so to ensure the protection of a child. Working Together to Safeguard Children 2018 states that: The police should 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.
 Working Together to Safeguarding Children 2018 Chapter 2, Section 11 of the Children Act 2004 para 5.6.7.
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:
- The child’s first language is not English;
- The child appears to have a degree of psychological and/or psychiatric disturbance but is deemed competent;
- The child has a physical/sensory/learning disability;
- Interviewers do not have adequate knowledge and understanding of the child’s ethnic, faith and cultural background;
- Unusual abuse is suspected, including the use of photography or filming. ( in which case the method of interviewing the child might need to be revised);
- See also Achieving Best Evidence policy.
It may be necessary to provide information to the child in stages and this must be taken into account in planning the Section 47 Enquiries.
Explanations given to the child must be brought up to date as the assessment and the enquiry progresses. In no circumstances should the child be left wondering what is happening and why.
If the whereabouts of a child subject to Section 47 Enquiries are unknown and cannot be ascertained by the social worker, the following action must be taken within 24 hours:
- A strategy discussion/meeting with the police;
- Agreement reached with the Children’s social care manager responsible as to what further action is required to locate and see the child and carry out the enquiry.
If access to a child is refused or obstructed, the social worker, in consultation with their manager, should co-ordinate a strategy discussion/meeting including legal representation, to develop a plan to locate or access the child/ren and progress the Section 47 Enquiry.
The parents and other significant family members
In most cases, parents should be enabled to participate fully in the assessment and enquiry process, which must be explained to them. If a parent has a specific communication difficulty appropriate communication support should be considered and accessed or where 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/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:
- Secure forensic evidence;
- Obtain medical documentation;
- Provide reassurance for the child and parent;
- Inform treatment follow-up and review for the child (any injury, infection, new symptoms including psychological).
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 to examine a child or young person (under 16) must be obtained prior to undertaking a medical examination. You must be satisfied and the person giving consent is fully informed. It is the responsibility of the examining Doctor to ensure that consent for the examination has been obtained. (See GMC guidance, RCPCH Child Protection Companion).
This consent may be given:
- By a young person over 16 years of age;
- By a young person who is under 16 years of age but of sufficient maturity and understanding to make the decision (assessed as Gillick Competent);
- By a parent or carer who holds parental responsibility;
- By the Local Authority if they have joint parental responsibility. It is good practice to inform the parent if it is safe to do so;
- By the High Court if the child is a ward of Court;
- By the 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 (LAC) under Section 20, their parent will have given general consent authorising medical treatment but it would be important to obtain consent for any non-routine assessment. Young people and children assessed as competent can consent themselves.
Consent for an examination cannot be given by an accompanying adult who does not hold parental responsibility e.g. step-parent, grandparent or foster carer. Parental responsibility is a legal term and is defined by the Children Act 1989 and 2002 which relates to the powers, duties and responsibilities that an adult may hold over a child.
The Children Act states ‘the interests of the child are paramount’ thus if the medical team feel that the child or young person is in need of urgent medical attention this may override the requirement to obtain immediate consent.
A separate consent is required for any photo evidence obtained and would be given by a parent or carer at the time of the examination.
A person with parental responsibility should attend any medical assessment with the child or young person unless there are exceptional circumstances and these should be discussed with the clinician undertaking the examination.
Arranging the medical assessment
In the course of Section 47 Enquiries, appropriately trained and experienced practitioners must undertake all medical assessments in accordance with the NSCB 3.13 Medical Examinations Protocol.
A report should be provided by the named/designated doctor to the social worker, the GP and where appropriate, the police. The timing of a letter to parents should be determined in consultation with Children’s social care and the police.
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. general presentation, squint, learning or speech problems etc);
- Assessment including a comprehensive history of child’s medical, social and developmental needs including confirmation of the child’s developmental progress which is 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.
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 DVD 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:
- Evidence gathering for criminal proceedings;
- Examination in chief of a child witness.
Relevant information from this process can also be used to inform Section 47 Enquiries, subsequent civil childcare proceedings or disciplinary proceedings against adults, where allegations have been made. See also Achieving Best Evidence policy.
At the point the police or the CPS conclude that no further action (NFA) will be taken with regard to a criminal prosecution the procedure set out below should be followed.
- The police officer will update the social worker and will provide a succinct written summary of the NFA decision to include the reasoning behind it. Both parties will ensure that their respective internal records are updated with this summary to ensure consistency.
- Both parties will agree any further work that needs to be completed from a safeguarding perspective at this stage. This includes agreement as to how other parties are to be updated so that they also understand the reasoning behind the decision and are left in no doubt as to what action to take should further child protection concerns come to light.
- Depending upon the particular circumstances of the case this discussion may need to be held between supervisory staff from the police and CSC.
- Depending upon the particular circumstances of the case consideration should be given to holding a strategy meeting at this stage.
- Depending upon the particular circumstances of the case consideration should be given to seeking legal advice at this stage and/or to holding a legal strategy meeting.
- If agencies do not agree at this stage as to further safeguarding action the Resolving Professional Disagreements process should be followed.
- All of the above considerations and agreements should be recorded on police and CSC records and these records should not be finalised until signed off by a supervisor.
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:
- Not substantiated; although consideration should be given to whether the child may need services as a child in need;
- Substantiated and the child is judged to be suffering, or likely to suffer, significant harm and an initial child protection conference should be called.
Concerns are not substantiated
Social workers with their managers should:
- Discuss the case with the child, parents and other professionals;
- Determine whether support from any services may be helpful and help secure it; and
- Consider whether the child’s health and development should be re-assessed regularly against specific objectives and decide who has responsibility for doing this.
All involved professionals should:
- Participate in further discussions as necessary;
- Contribute to the development of any plan as appropriate;
- Provide services as specified in the plan for the child; and
- Review the impact of services delivered as agreed in the plan.
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.
Concerns of significant harm are substantiated and the child is judged to be suffering, or likely to suffer, significant harm
Social workers with their managers should:
- Convene an initial child protection conference. The timing of this conference should depend on the urgency of the case and respond to the needs of the child and the nature and severity of the harm they may be facing. The initial child protection conference should take place within 15 working days of a strategy discussion, or the strategy discussion at which Section 47 enquiries were initiated if more than one has been held;
- Consider whether any professionals with specialist knowledge should be invited to participate;
- Ensure that the child and their parents understand the purpose of the conference and who will attend; and
- Help prepare the child if he or she is attending or making representations through a third party to the conference. Give information about advocacy agencies and explain that the family may bring an advocate, friend or supporter.
All involved professionals should:
- Write a report setting out the nature of the agency’s involvement with the child and family;
- Ensue the report is shared with the appointed conference Chair and parents ahead of the conference;
- Attend the conference and take part in decision making when invited;
- Suitable multi-agency arrangements must be put in place to safeguard the child until such time as the initial child protection conference has taken place. The social worker and their manager will coordinate and review such arrangements.
Feedback from Section 47 Enquiries
The 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, or if professionals disagree about any aspect of the enquiry at any other time, 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. 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 NSCP Resolution of Professional Disagreements and Escalation Policy should be used.
Strategy discussions/meetings should be convened as soon as possible bearing in mind the needs of the child and must take place within 1 working day of child protection concerns being identified, except in the following circumstances:
- For allegations/concerns indicating immediate risk of harm to the child (e.g. serious physical injury or serious neglect) the strategy discussion/meeting should be held on the same day as the receipt of the referral;
- For allegations of penetrative sexual abuse, the strategy discussion/meeting should be held on the same day as the receipt of the referral, if it is required to ensure forensic evidence;
- Where the concerns are particularly complex (e.g. fabricated/induced illness/ organised abuse/ child sexual exploitation or allegations against staff) the strategy discussion/meeting must be held within a maximum of 5 working days, but sooner if there is a need to provide immediate protection to a child.
The multi-agency assessment taking place along with the Section 47 Enquiries must be completed within a maximum of 45 days of the original referral date with progress being reviewed by a Children’s social care manager regularly to avoid any unnecessary delay and to ensure that the safety of the child is reviewed effectively.
The maximum period of an enquiry from the strategy discussion/ meeting to the date of the initial child protection conference is 15 working days. 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:
- Agency checks;
- Content of contact cross-referenced with any specific forms used;
- Strategy discussion/meeting notes;
- Details of the enquiry;
- Body maps (where applicable);
- Assessment including identification of risks and how they may be managed;
- Decision making processes;
- Outcome/further action planned.
All agencies involved should ensure that records have been concluded and countersigned in line with agency policies and recording procedures.
All records should be checked for the correct spelling of names and any alias as well as correct dates of birth.