1.3 Child Protection Section 47 Enquiries: Procedure
- Initiating Section 47 Enquiries
- Purpose of Section 47 Enquiries
- Conducting section 47 enquiries
- Outcomes of a Section 47 Enquiry
- Recording of Section 47 Enquiries
- Dispute Resolution
- Joint working protocol for minimum standards in inter agency working in relation to section 47 enquiries
- Single and Joint Agency Investigation: Police and Children's Social Care
- Related Policies, Procedures and Guidance
Initiating Section 47 Enquiries
Where information gathered during a referral or an assessment (which may be very brief) results in the social worker suspecting that the child is suffering or likely to suffer Significant Harm, a Strategy Discussion/Meeting should be held. This is usually held within 24 hours, unless a carefully planned response is needed, in which case it should take place within 15 working days, depending on the seriousness of the case in order. The purpose of the strategy meeting is to decide whether to initiate enquiries under Section 47 of the Children Act 1989. Where such a decision is made the Section 47 Enquiry must be completed within 15 working days.
A multi-agency assessment is the means by which Section 47 Enquiries are carried out. The assessment will have commenced at the point of referral and must continue whenever the criteria for Section 47 Enquiries are satisfied. While the timescale within which the assessment must be completed is 45 working days the outcome of enquiries under Section 47 must be available in time for an Initial Child Protection Conference which (if required) must be held within 15 working days of the Strategy Discussion/Meeting where the enquiries were initiated.
A Section 47 Enquiry is carried out by undertaking or continuing with an Assessment in accordance with the guidance set out in this chapter and following the principles and parameters of a good assessment as set out in the Assessments Procedure. There will need to be a particular emphasis on the issues of concern and the analysis of risk.
Local authority social workers have a statutory duty to lead Section 47 Enquiries. The police, health professionals, teachers and other relevant professionals should support the local authority in undertaking its enquiries. The Children’s Social Care Manager has responsibility for authorising a Section 47 Enquiry following a Strategy Discussion.
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.
Purpose of Section 47 Enquiries
A Section 47 Enquiry is initiated to decide whether and what type of action is required to safeguard and promote the welfare of a child who is suspected of, or likely to be, suffering significant harm. The enquiry is carried out by undertaking or continuing with an assessment in accordance with the guidelines set out in this chapter and following the principles and parameters of a good assessment (see Assessment Procedure for further details).
Conducting section 47 enquiries
Social workers with their managers should:
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 which professionals should be involved in a Section 47 Enquiry, consideration could include who are the family most likely to cooperate with. 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 or assistance if appropriate, about how to reduce the risks before any visits take place.
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 Strategy Discussion Meeting will plan any interview with the child. The Record of Section 47 Enquiry and Reports to Child Protection Conferences should include the date(s) when the child was seen alone by the Lead Social Worker and, if not seen alone, who was present and the reasons for their presence.
Before a child is seen or interviewed parental permission must be gained unless there are exceptional circumstances that demonstrate that it would not be in the child’s interests and to do so may jeopardise the child's safety and welfare. Relevant exceptional circumstances would include:
In such circumstances, the social worker must take legal advice about how to proceed and whether legal action may be required, for example through an application for an Emergency Protection Order or a Child Assessment Order.
The police should:
Health professionals should:
All involved professionals should:
Outcomes of a Section 47 Enquiry
Local authority social workers are responsible for deciding what action to take and how to proceed following Section 47 Enquiries. The outcome of a Section 47 Enquiry must be endorsed by the team manager.
A Section 47 Enquiry may conclude that the original concerns are:
Concerns not substantiated
Social workers with their managers should:
All involved professionals should:
Outcomes may be:
Where services are to be provided under Section 17 of the Children Act 1989, the social worker or their team manager should convene a Child in Need Planning Meeting within 7 working days to agree a Child in Need Plan.
Concerns of significant harm are substantiated and the child is judged to be suffering, or likely to suffer, significant harm (N.B. Where immediate protective action is required, the advice of Legal Services should be sought)
Social workers with their managers should:
All involved professionals should:
Recording of Section 47 Enquiries
The social worker should record the information gathered and actions during the course of the enquiry and its outcomes on a Record of Section 47 Enquiries, which should be approved by the team manager.
If the local authority decides not to proceed with a Child Protection Conference then other professionals involved with the child and family have the right to request that a conference be convened, if they have serious concerns that a child's welfare may not be adequately safeguarded. In the event of a continued difference of opinion, the Buckinghamshire Safeguarding Children Partnership’s Escalation, Challenge and Conflict Resolution Procedure should be followed.
Joint working protocol for minimum standards in inter agency working in relation to section 47 enquiries
The primary focus of this protocol is to ensure that referrals in respect of children who are suffering or who are likely to suffer significant harm are seen as paramount and that agencies work together with a co-ordinated approach to ensure the safety and well- being of the child.
The Protocol sets out the agreement between Buckinghamshire County Council Children’s Social Care (also covering Buckinghamshire County Council) and Thames Valley Police and Partner agencies. The document aims to clarify key practice expectations around good practice in Section 47 enquiries and is based on principles within 'Working Together to Safeguard Children'.
When a referral is received by Children’s Social Care indicating that a child has suffered or is likely to suffer significant harm partner agencies should be informed of this and their attendance at a strategy meeting requested. Children’s Social Care will decide on which agencies are invited to attend/contribute and will consider suggestions from other agencies.
Strategy Discussions / Meetings
A strategy meeting should be convened. For urgent referrals this should take place at the earliest possible point. Good practice indicates this is done within 4 hours from point of referral and no later than 24 hours, unless the referral is complex, i.e. Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE), Fabricated or induced illness (FII), and this should be done within 72 hours unless the risk is more imminent.
As a minimum, strategy meetings/discussions will involve a Children’s Social Care Manager, Police representative (normally a Sergeant) and an appropriate Health representative.
When strategy meetings are held in the MASH, representatives co-located in the MASH are responsible for identifying the appropriate person from their agency and informing them of the time of the strategy discussion/meeting.
Meetings in the MASH will be held in person and if this is not possible arrangements will be made for participants to contribute by tele-conferencing.
Where necessary a representative from the Thames Valley Police Child Abuse Investigation Unit (CAIU) and the receiving Assessment Team should either attend or contribute to the meeting by tele-conference.
CSC with Children's Social Care
A strategy meeting will be held using the principles above but will be chaired by a CSC Manager mirroring the above process. Police attendance will be either in person if possible or by tele-conference. Health are also required to contribute (as a minimum CSC/Health and Police must be present).
Process and recording
The record of the strategy discussion will be recorded on the Children’s Social Care system (LCS) at the time of the meeting by Children’s Social Care. A copy will be given to all attendees at the end of the meeting.
A record of the information provided by partner agencies either involved in the discussion or otherwise will be kept on LCS.
The strategy meeting should be the process for agreeing between the involved agencies that based on the referral information, there is reasonable cause to believe that a child is suffering or is likely to suffer significant harm.
In all cases the strategy meeting will include the sharing of all information within the knowledge of those agencies represented, relevant to the assessment of significant harm to the child/children concerned. Any gaps in information should be identified and arrangements on how to gain this information should be considered.
Information shared should include the age, understanding, cultural and communication needs of the child/children to be considered and addressed in the plan for the investigation.
Interviews and other evidence
The strategy meeting should consider, identify and record the decision in relation how any interview of the victim(s) and by whom and within what timescale.
Police and Children’s Social Care must follow the guidance set out in Achieving Best Evidence in Criminal Proceedings: Guidance on interviewing victims and witnesses, and guidance on using special measures, where a decision has been made to undertake a joint interview of the child as part of the criminal investigations.
There is an expectation that where children are to be interviewed in relation to reasonably suspected criminal offence, the approach to those children will be joint (Police and Social Worker) from the outset, unless there are exceptional circumstances which prevent this. Social Workers should as a minimum observe evidential interviews of children, and where their training and experience is to the required standard may be materially involved in the process of interviewing children alongside Police.
Any delay in interviewing any of the above (particularly a child who is suspected to be the victim of abuse) should be explained and recorded as being in the best interests of the child.
The extent to which supportive adults/parents will be involved in the process of investigating safeguarding issues should be addressed and agreed upon at the strategy meeting.
The police will arrange for the involvement of an Intermediary in cases of a particularly young child or one who has significant communication difficulties.
The strategy meeting should agree and record whether any specialist assessment (for example forensic or paediatric medical examination) will be required, within what timescales and by whom that will be arranged and facilitated.
Consideration should be given to concerns about any immediate safety issues for the child/children involved and plans for necessary protective action made and recorded. For Children's Social Care these should be clearly identified as an interim safety plan.
The aim is that decisions regarding the safety of children in line with section 47 Children Act 1989 are arrived at within 24 hours of the strategy discussion. However it is acknowledged that some investigations (according to the level of risk/type of evidence present) may be more urgent than others.
In all cases the strategy discussion/meeting should take place as soon as possible after the referral being received. Where child/children are likely to be at risk of immediate harm, the strategy meeting/discussion should take place immediately and agree a plan to safeguard the child/children during the process of investigation.
If, in exceptional circumstances, these timescales are not met the reasons for this must be clearly recorded, e.g. would further compromise the safety of the child.
The outcome of the investigation will be recorded on the relevant record on the LCS and emailed to those agencies involved in the strategy discussion/meeting. This record will reference all relevant information and evidence gathered during the process of the investigation by all agencies involved.
The outcome of a safeguarding investigation will be agreed between those agencies involved in the original strategy discussion and will be based on the evidence gathered during the investigation. Agreement should be reached about whether the risk of significant harm to the child/children is substantiated, the means of protecting the child and any ongoing assessment or other action required. This will usually be agreed at a review strategy meeting.
Single and Joint Agency Investigation: Police and Children's Social Care
The primary responsibility of Police Child Abuse Investigation Unit (CAIU) staff is to undertake criminal investigations of suspected, alleged or actual crime relating to child abuse.
Children’s Social Care has the statutory duty to make, or cause to be made, enquiries when circumstances defined in Section 47 Children Act 1989, exist.
Where a referral indicates a potential criminal offence, there is an expectation that a joint Police and Social Work investigation will take place. Police will have primacy with regard to the criminal investigation. Social Care will have primacy with regard to safeguarding of the child.
Deciding whether to carry out a single of joint investigation
The joint investigation will usually involve the Police and social worker conducting joint interviews and working as co-investigators for the duration of investigation. Though the investigating social worker and Police officer may not work together in undertaking every task during the investigation process, all information forthcoming should be shared between the agencies as soon as practically possible, in order to ensure that the understanding for each agency, views about risk and necessary actions are based on the same levels of understanding about evidence and assessment in the case.
There is a presumption that delay in progressing a safeguarding investigation will prejudice the welfare of the child
Should there be difference of opinion that cannot be resolved cases should be escalated through the normal escalation process.
A joint decision will be made regarding the appropriate level of intervention and of Police involvement throughout the process, depending on the individual circumstances and context of each case.
Where initial allegations are imprecise or concerns arise gradually, it is likely that agreement will be reached for further assessment to determine whether a child is at risk of significant harm.
If agencies agree a single agency enquiry or investigation is appropriate, there should still be an exchange of relevant information, possible involvement in strategy discussions and agreement reached as to the feedback required by the non-participating agency. A case may start with single agency status, but further assessment/information indicates a need for joint investigation.
Any decision to terminate enquiries or investigations must be communicated to the other agency for it to consider, and the rationale recorded by both agencies
The decision regarding single or joint agency investigations should be authorised and recorded by the designated line managers in both the Police (CAIU) and Children’s Social Care, noting which agency is going ahead.
Joint Agency Investigation
A joint investigation must always be initiated whenever there is an allegation or reasonable suspicion that one of the circumstances below applies, regardless of the likelihood of a prosecution:
Cases of minor injury should always be considered for a joint enquiry/investigation if the child is:
In other cases of minor injury, the circumstances surrounding the incident must be considered to determine the ‘seriousness’ of the alleged abuse. The following factors should be included in any consideration by the Police CAIU and Children’s Social Care:
There will be times that after discussion, or preliminary work, cases will be judged less serious and it will be agreed that the best interests of the child are served by a Children’s Social Care led intervention, rather than a joint investigation.
In all cases, the welfare of the child remains paramount and always takes precedence over the need to commence or conclude any criminal investigation.
Children's Social Care Single Agency
Where Children’s Social Care assess that the circumstances fall into one of the following criteria, it may progress single agency enquiries following discussion and agreement with the Police CAIU (and making relevant checks):
Where information is received indicating a person who has been identified as being a risk to children is living in, or has access to, a household where there are children, Children’s Social Care and Police CAIU must discuss the circumstances and agree the need for a single enquiry or joint investigation.
Where a minor crime, initially agreed by Police CAIU as inappropriate of further Police investigation, is subsequently discovered to be more serious, the case must be referred back to the Police CAIU.
Police Single Agency
Criteria for Police single agency investigations are those where:
Where the Police conduct a single agency investigation out of hours (in response to the duty to respond and take action to protect the child or obtain evidence), Children’s Social Care Emergency Duty Team must be informed immediately and, if appropriate, a joint investigation commenced.
In all cases where the alleged abuser has current contact with children, a referral should be made to Children’s Social Care for a strategy discussion to consider joint investigation and the protection of the child victim and other children.
In all cases where Police undertake a single agency investigation, details of any victim aged under 18 must be referred to Children’s Social Care, which is responsible for assessing if the investigation raises any child protection issues and if supportive or therapeutic services are appropriate.
Telephone referrals (sharing information that a child is, or is likely to be, suffering significant harm) must be confirmed in writing using agreed format (‘Record of Child Protection Discussion between the Police and Social Services Supervisors’ forms).
Children’s Social Care and the Police must inform each other of any allegations or suspicions of child abuse or neglect, including ‘stranger abuse’, in line with the BSCP Information Sharing Code of Practice. Line managers must be consulted in cases of uncertainty and advice recorded.