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1.1.7 Investigating Child Protection Concerns

SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER

This chapter provides the steps for how to undertake a strategy discussion and / or/ meeting and how to conduct Section 47 Enquires (Children Act 1989) (an investigation of child protection concerns).


Contents

  1. Duty to Conduct Section 47 Enquiries
  2. Immediate Protection
  3. Strategy Discussion / Meeting
  4. Section 47 Thresholds and the Multi-Agency Assessment
  5. Timescales for Section 47 Enquiries
  6. The Section 47 Enquiry
  7. Joint Investigations of Section 47 Enquiries
  8. Single Agency Investigations
  9. Involving Children, Parents and Other Significant Family Members
  10. Medical Assessments
  11. Achieving Best Evidence Interviews
  12. The Outcome of Section 47 Enquiries
  13. Recording

    Further Information

    Amendments to this Chapter


1. Duty to Conduct Section 47 Enquiries

Where a child is suspected to be suffering, or 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.

Responsibility for undertaking Section 47 enquiries lies with the 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 to be at risk of 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 Children's social care in which the child is found is the child's 'host authority'.

Each agency has a duty to assist and provide information in support of Section 47 enquiries. When requested to do so by Children's social care, practitioners from other services such as police, health, education and other Local Authority Services have a duty to cooperate under Section 27 of the Children Act 1989 by assisting the Children’s Social Care in carrying out its functions.

Whenever Children’s Social Care  encounter concerns about a child’s welfare that constitutes, or may constitute, a criminal offence against a child, they must discuss the case with their local police Child Abuse Investigation Team (CAIT). 

The Local Authority children’s 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. 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.


2. Immediate Protection

When Children’s Social Care receive a referral that indicates that there is risk to the life of a child or a likelihood of serious immediate harm, they must initiate a strategy discussion with Police immediately or as soon as possible to discuss planned emergency action.

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.

Police powers of protection should only be used in exceptional circumstances where there is insufficient time to seek an Emergency Protection Order (EPO) or for reasons relating to the immediate safety of the child.


3. Strategy Discussion / Meeting

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. The strategy discussion might take the form of a multi-agency meeting or phone calls and more than one discussion may be necessary. A strategy discussion can take place following a referral or at any other time, including during the assessment process.

The strategy discussion should be co-ordinated by a Children's social care team manager.

The strategy discussion should involve Children's social care, the police safeguarding referral unit SRU and health practitioners –as well as other agencies as appropriate; for example, children's centre/school and, in particular, any referring agency. In the case of a pre-birth Strategy discussion this should involve the midwifery services, which may include hospital as well as community based services. When a medical examination is being considered the doctor likely to conduct that examination should be included in the strategy discussion(s), by telephone if necessary.

Practitioners participating in strategy discussions must have all their agency's information relating to the child and adults available to be able to contribute to the discussion, and must be sufficiently senior to make decisions on behalf of their agencies.

Some examples of circumstances where a strategy discussion should be considered:

  • Any new referrals in respect of a child, or unborn baby, where there are concerns that  a child may be suffering, or is likely to suffer, significant harm;
  • When new information comes to light on a current case in Children’s Social Care which indicates that a child is at risk of significant harm;
  • When the death of a child in a family, in which abuse or neglect is suspected, is confirmed and there are other children in the household;
  • When a child lives in, or is born to, a household where another child, who is currently the subject of a Child Protection Plan, also resides.

(This is not an exhaustive list).

Where a situation arises outside usual working hours, a strategy discussion will take place between Children’s Social Care Out of Hours service and the Police to discuss immediate protective action. The outcome of this strategy discussion and any action taken will then be passed to the appropriate staff in Children’s Social Care  and the Police the next working day.

A strategy discussion/ meeting should be used to:

  • Share available information;
  • Agree the conduct and timing of any criminal investigation;
  • Agree what action is required immediately to safeguard and promote the welfare of the child, and/or provide interim services and support. If the child is in hospital, decisions should also be made about how to secure the safe discharge of the child;
  • Decide whether an assessment under Section 47 of the Children Act 1989 (Section 47 Enquiries) should be initiated, or continued if it has already begun;
  • Consider the assessment and the key action points, if already in place;
  • Plan how the Section 47 Enquiry should be undertaken (if one is to be initiated), including the need for any medical assessment, and who will carry out what actions, by when and for what purpose;
  • Agree, in particular, when the child will be seen alone, if appropriate for the child, by the social worker during the course of these enquiries;
  • Agree the methods by which the child's wishes and feelings will be ascertained so that they can be taken into account when making decisions;
  • Consider how disability, ethnicity, the language spoken by the child and family, should be taken into account and  establish whether particular arrangements will be needed, such as an interpreter;
  • Consider the needs of other children who may be affected (e.g. siblings and other children, such as those living in the same household, and/or in contact with alleged abusers);
  • Determine what information from the strategy discussion/meeting will be shared with the family (and any other adult involved in the concern), unless such information sharing may place a child at increased risk of significant harm or jeopardise police investigations into any alleged offence/s;
  • Determine if legal action is required.

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.

Timescales:

Strategy discussions/meetings should be convened as soon as practicable bearing in mind the needs of the child and the child protection concerns being identified. Some particular timeframes are in place for the following situations:

For allegations/concerns indicating a serious risk of harm to the child (e.g. serious physical injury or serious neglect) the strategy discussion should be held on the same day as the receipt of the referral

  • Where the information suggests that the child has been physically abused or subject to serious neglect, this may require an immediate or same day response. A judgement must be made about the urgency of the intervention, which in any event should include seeing the child within 24 hours of the strategy discussion;
  • For allegations of penetrative sexual abuse, the strategy discussion/meeting should be held on the same day as the receipt of the referral if this is required to secure forensic evidence;
  • Where immediate action was required by either agency, the strategy discussion/meeting must be held within one working day;
  • Where the concerns are particularly complex (e.g. fabricated/induced illness/ organised abuse/allegations against staff) the strategy discussion/meeting must be held within a maximum of five working days, but sooner if there is a need to provide immediate protection to a child.

Outcomes:

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 enquiries (if there was more than one strategy discussion/meeting).

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.

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.

Where there are unresolved differences of opinion about the decisions and actions planned in a strategy discussion, these should be resolved by senior operational managers of the respective agencies in liaison with each other. This should be actioned within a timescale commensurate with the need to safeguard the child or other children but does not override an individual agency’s responsibilities to act in accordance with these procedures and/or their own agency procedures. See Escalation Policy.


4. Section 47 Thresholds and the Multi-Agency Assessment

Enquiries must always be commenced immediately 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 Emergency Protection Order or the use of Police Powers of Protection in respect of a child.

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 to Children’s Social Care, during multi-agency checks or in the course of a multi- agency assessment.

A multi- agency assessment (see Assessment Procedure) is the means by which Section 47 Enquiries are carried out. 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, with the parents, and  observations of interaction between the parent and child. This will include interviews and observations of parents, any other carers, including grandparents, and the partners of the parents. In addition in some cases adults outside of the family will be interviewed.


5. Timescales for Section 47 Enquiries

From when Children's social care receive a referral or identify a concern of risk of significant harm to a child:

  • The initial strategy discussion meeting which instigates the Section 47 Enquiry must take place as soon as practicable (see section above);
  • The maximum period from the strategy discussion of an enquiry 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.

The multi-agency assessment taking place along with the Section 47 Enquiries must be completed within a maximum of 45 days from the point of the original referral  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.


6. The Section 47 Enquiry

Children’s Social Care is the lead agency for Section 47 Enquiries and the Children’s Social Care team manager has the responsibility for authorising the start of 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 the 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:

  • Identify the cause for concern, its seriousness, any recurring events and the vulnerability of the child;
  • Evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the family;
  • Evaluate the risks to the child/ren and the context in which they are living;
  • Consider the child's needs for protection;
  • 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 risk of significant harm (e.g. parental mental health difficulties, parental substance misuse, and domestic violence or social isolation);
  • Determine the level of intervention required both in the immediate and longer term to manage risks.

Multi- agency information checks:

The social worker must contact the other agencies involved with the child and the adults involved to inform them that a Section 47 Enquiry has been initiated and to seek their views. The checks should be undertaken directly with involved practitioners 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 countries.


7. Joint Investigations of Section 47 Enquiries

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 (LADO) in specific cases. (see Allegations Against Staff and Volunteers Procedure).

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. The Joint Police and Children’s Social Care flowchart helps to clarify how these runs alongside each other and link.

At the strategy discussion 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.

All children about whom there are concerns regarding significant harm should be seen and spoken to providing their age or cognitive ability does not prohibit this. A child should never be interviewed in the presence of an alleged or suspected perpetrator of abuse or somebody who may be colluding with the perpetrator.

Circumstances when a joint investigation is likely to be necessary are:

  • Allegations/reasonable suspicions that sexual abuse of a child has been committed by a person known to a child;
  • Allegations/reasonable suspicions of physical injury of a child by a person known to the child;
  • Allegations/reasonable suspicions of cruelty or neglect which may be actionable under Section 1 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933. (This section of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933 includes offences of assaulting, ill-treating or abandoning the child, or causes or procures or exposes the child to any of these so that the child suffers unnecessarily or his/her health is damaged);
  • Allegations/reasonable suspicions which involve unusual circumstances e.g. organised or institutional abuse or concerns about Fabricated or Induced Illness (FII);
  • Allegations / reasonable suspicions that a child is being enticed or co-erced into exploitative situations;
  • Person against whom the allegations/concerns exist also works with children in a paid or unpaid capacity.  

Additionally, there may be other circumstances where a joint investigation is necessary, outside of the criteria above e.g. where it is evident that input from the Police will enable Children’s Social Care to protect and secure the best outcome for the child.


8. Single Agency Investigations

Children’s Services

This section relates to circumstances when a strategy discussion has concluded that s47 enquiries should be initiated, or continued but that a criminal investigation is not indicated.

The following are circumstances where the strategy discussion/meeting is likely to indicate an initial response by Children’s Social Care alone:

  • Allegations/reasonable suspicions of physical abuse where no injuries are apparent or the injuries are very minor;
  • Allegations/reasonable suspicions of child sexual abuse which are indirect or anonymous and there is no other evidence available to substantiate concern; or the child is exhibiting sexually inappropriate behaviour;
  • Allegations or reasonable suspicions of inadequate supervision, lack of parental care, unless there is evidence that Police can use to pursue a criminal case of neglect;
  • Allegations/reasonable suspicions of emotional abuse unless there are additional circumstances.

If, following initial enquiries by Children’s Social Care, further information gained suggests that a criminal offence may have been committed against a child, the Police should be informed as soon as possible and a further strategy discussion held. 

NB There may be occasions when Children’s Social Care practitioners request police involvement other than to conduct a joint investigation, for example in potentially violent situations. In these circumstances the reason for the request should be made specific, with the call for assistance normally being to the Police Control Room.

Police

There may be occasions when the Police will liaise with Children’s Social Care concerning vulnerable witnesses.  This will occur where the Police identify historical or current child welfare concerns and may lead to a strategy discussion.    

The decision for a single or joint approach

The above criteria for the joint or single agency response cannot be prescriptive or exhaustive and practitioner judgement will need to be exercised in individual circumstances.

A flexible approach is required. Concerns about significant harm may cause a Children’s Social Care  single agency enquiry to commence, but this may then need to change to a joint agency response because the initial enquiries find that the parent or child/young person wants this, or there are additional factors which identify the need for this, and/or it is apparent further enquiries need to be made about a potential criminal offence.

Similarly, the Police may initially respond on their own to a situation and it may then become clear that there are unresolved child protection or welfare issues, in which case the Police Officer involved should ensure that the issues are communicated to the relevant Children’s Social Care practitioners.

If, following discussion between the Police and Children’s Social Care managers, disagreement remains over any matter such as the necessity for a joint investigation or a contentious decision by either party, the matter should be referred to the Detective Inspector, Child Abuse Investigation Team and relevant operational Senior Manager, Children’s Social Care in accordance with the Escalation Policy.

Whenever there is a single agency response in child protection cases, by either Children’s Social care  or the Police, the outcome should be shared in writing with the other agency.


9. Involving Children, Parents and Other Significant Family Members

The child:

Children who are the subject of Section 47 Enquiries should always be seen and communicated with alone subject to their age and willingness, preferably with parental permission, 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.

If the child is the subject of on-going 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 ethnicity and cultural background or faith;
  • Unusual abuse is suspected, including the use of photography or filming.

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. The child should not 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 with the police;
  • Agreement reached with the Children's social care team 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 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 verbally and in writing where leaflets are available. If a parent has a specific communication difficulty or English is not their first language, an interpreter should be provided. (see Working with Interpreters or Intermediaries Procedure).

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 should be provided, including advice about the right to seek legal advice. In some cases it will be appropriate to refer to an advocate at this stage for example if a parent has a Learning Difficulty.

Any objections or complaints expressed by parents during a Section 47 Enquiry, and the response to these objections or complaints, must be clearly recorded and responded to. Parents and young people will be informed of how they can use the complaints and representations processes in each Local Authority.


10. Medical Assessments

The conduct and timing of any criminal investigation will include a decision regarding the requirement and timing, where appropriate, of a medical examination / assessment of the child (ren). For the medical assessment to be most effective there should be a joint discussion between Children’s Services Social Care, the Consultant Paediatrician (or Paediatric registrar if out of hours) and the Detective Sergeant for the Child Abuse Investigation Team. In all cases this should be discussed but this is particularly important where there are cases of Child Sexual Abuse. Where it is anticipated that there may be recovery of forensic evidence from the child (ren) then the medical examination will usually be conducted jointly by a Forensic Medical Examiner or Sexual Offences Examiner (FME / SOE) and Paediatrician.

Police should also consider whether it is necessary to have photographs or a video taken as part of their enquiries. Where this involves recording injuries this should be arranged as sensitively, yet as soon, as possible. Gathering the best possible evidence may help to safeguard a child through other means even if a prosecution is ultimately not pursued. 

In instances where a criminal investigation is not being conducted, a medical examination/assessment of the child (ren) may be necessary as part of the s47 enquiries to ensure the child’s physical and/or emotional well-being. In order to facilitate such an examination/assessment the social worker should coordinate contact with the relevant health practitioner (which is usually a paediatrician).

It should be noted that there are a wide range of medical conditions that can cause perineal symptoms (around the genitalia and / or anus) in young children and not all children with perineal symptoms have been abused. It is anticipated that many children with common perineal problems will continue to present to GPs and paediatrician. It is not the role of the SARC to manage these cases. Health practitioners do, however, need to be familiar with the [NICE guidance on when to consider and when to suspect sexual abuse] and to refer to social care if they suspect that the child they are seeing may have been abused.

All professionals must be aware that many children who have been sexually abused have no abnormal physical signs on examination and a normal examination does not exclude abuse. The assessment must be multi-agency and not rely unduly on the medical examination.

The following documents can be referred to:

Guidance for Social Workers and Police re: referral of children for Medical Assessment in relation to Safeguarding.

In order to aid joint working there should be a discussion with the Consultant Paediatrician (or on call paediatric registrar if out of hours). To meet the best interests of the child it is important that the referrer communicates clearly to the doctor a) The specific concerns b) the child’s details c) a description of the injury/ suspected injury and d) what it is hoped the assessment will achieve. This will then ensure that the child is seen by the most appropriate clinician.

  1. Physical Injury

    This is most likely to represent bruising / suspected bruising but may include other suspected injury such as a swelling/broken bones etc; It is expected that referrals will usually be to paediatrics (at registrar, associate specialist or consultant level). In some situations and less commonly the referral may be to the child’s GP e.g. the child already has a child protection plan and documentation only of a new minor injury rather than a full assessment and opinion is required and the GP is willing to provide this service;

    Special care must be taken when injuries are sustained by children who are not independently mobile (See Bruising, Burns and Injuries in Non Mobile Children Protocol).
  2. Concerns re: Emotional Abuse or Neglect

    Referrals should be made to the Paediatricians and there should be discussion about the scope of the medical and required outcomes before the assessment.
  3. Concerns re: Sexual abuse 

    Strategy discussions/meetings must consider, in consultation with the named Doctor/ Paediatrician (if they are not part of the strategy discussion), 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.

    The following links will assist practitioners on referral routes:

    See SARC pathways.
    1. Flowchart for SARC referrals;
    2. Victims of Sexual Assault < 16 :Pathway for victims presenting at GP, Contraceptive services (CASH) and Rape Crisis;
    3. Victims of Sexual Assault 16 years and over: Referral Pathway for victims presenting at GP, Contraceptive services and Rape Crisis.

Single examinations should only be undertaken if the Doctor has the requisite skills and equipment. For further guidance for paediatricians and forensic medical examiners (see the Guidelines on Paediatric Forensic Examinations in Relation to Possible Child Sexual Abuse (The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health. October 2012)).

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 or specialist nurses may physically examine the whole child. Non-health professionals should only note any visible marks or injuries and record, date and sign details in the child's file.

Medical Consent:

Wherever possible the permission of a parent should be sought for children under sixteen prior to any medical assessment and/or other medical treatment.

The following may give consent to a medical assessment:

  • A child of sufficient age and understanding (Fraser guidelines). 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 (s8 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. In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, refusal of treatment by competent young people under the age of 18 is not necessarily binding upon doctors since the courts have ruled that consent from people with parental responsibility, or a court, still allows doctors to provide treatment;
  • Any person with parental responsibility, providing they have the capacity to do so;
  • The local authority when the child is the subject of a full care order (though the parent should be informed);
  • The local authority when the child is accommodated under s20 of the Children Act 1989, and the parent/s have abandoned the child or are assessed as lacking capacity to give such authority;
  • The High Court when the child is a ward of court;
  • A family proceedings court as part of a direction attached to an emergency protection order, an interim care order or a child assessment order.

Where circumstances do not allow permission to be obtained and the child needs emergency medical treatment, the medical practitioner may:

  • Regard the child to be of an age and level of understanding to give their own consent;
  • Decide to proceed without consent.

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.

The report of the medical assessment:

A report should be provided by the doctor or forensic nurse examiner performing the medical assessment to the social worker, the GP and where appropriate, the police. The parents/carers (and the child if of an appropriate age) will also be sent a copy of the medical report unless it is deemed not to be in the child’s best interests following liaison with Police and Children’s Social Care.

The report should include:

  • Date, time and place of examination;
  • Those present;
  • Who gave consent and how (child / parent, written / verbal);
  • 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;
  • Other findings relevant to the child (e.g. squint, learning or speech problems etc);
  • Confirmation of the child's developmental progress (especially important in cases of neglect);
  • The time the examination ended.

All reports and diagrams should be signed and dated by the doctor or forensic nurse examiner undertaking the examination.

Where the Paediatrician cannot provide evidence of the cause of an injury other assessments should continue until professionals are satisfied with the diagnosis or accept that an explanation cannot be found.


11. Achieving Best Evidence Interviews

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 vulnerable and intimidated witnesses (Home Office 2011). All events up to the time of the video interview must be fully recorded.

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.

Factors to Consider at the Planning Stage

Prior to any joint interview, whether to be video-recorded or not, the investigating police officer and social worker must plan how the interview will be conducted. This is a critical stage in safeguarding children effectively. Account should be taken of the child’s needs and a plan drawn up which details how these needs will be met. (For further guidance see Achieving Best Evidence in Criminal Proceedings Guidance on interviewing victims and witnesses, and guidance on using special measures).

“Achieving Best Evidence in Criminal Proceedings: Guidance for Vulnerable or Intimidated Witnesses Including Children”.  Chapter 2, paragraphs 2.47 – 2.54).  Factors to be considered include:

  • Child’s age;
  • Child’s gender and sexuality;
  • Child’s race, culture, ethnicity, religion;
  • Child’s first language and preferred name/mode of address;
  • The child’s use of language/ability to communicate and understanding of relevant concepts such as time and age. Does the child appear clear and in touch yet actually have confused and limited thinking?
  • Any apparent clinical or psychiatric problems (e.g. panic attacks, depression) which may impact upon the interview, and for which the child may require referral for a formal assessment;
  • The child’s cognitive, social and emotional development. Does the child appear ‘street-wise’ yet in reality have limited understanding?
  • Any special requirements the child may have. Does s/he suffer from separation anxiety or have an impairment?  Is s/he known to have suffered past abuse, or to have previously undergone an investigative interview?
  • Family members, carers and relationships;
  • Overall sexual education, knowledge and experience;
  • Routines;
  • An assessment of the child’s competency to give consent to interview and medical examination;
  • How and by whom the interview should be conducted and who should have lead if undertaken jointly.

Planning for the interview must be recorded on police form SUJ2. Where needs are identified that are likely to have an impact on any interview, this must be recorded on the SUJ2A.  This should detail how these needs will be addressed. Both the police officer and the social worker MUST sign the SUJ2 and a copy retained by both.

Assessment Prior to Interview

Interviewers may often 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 Children Services or other public services.

In any contact with the child before the videotaped interview, interviewers must be careful to balance the need to ensure the child is ready and informed about the interview process against the possibility of accusation at trial of coaching or collusion.

Interviewers should have clear objectives for assessment(s) prior to interview, and should apply this guidance on talking with children during such assessment. For example, they should avoid discussing substantive issues (in any detail) and must not lead the child on substantive matters.  Interviewers should never stop a child who is freely recalling significant events. Instead, the interviewers must make a full written record of the discussion, making a note of the timing and personnel present, as well as what was said and in what order using police form SUJ1. The interviewers should begin by explaining the objectives of the interview to the child; one possibility may be as follows:

“Tomorrow, we will talk about the things you are concerned about. Today, I want to get to know you a bit better and explain what will happen if we do a video interview”

The interviewer can also use the opportunity to answer any questions the child may have about the conduct of the interview and explain any transport arrangements. Some interviewers use this opportunity to introduce some of the ground rules to the child, while others do so exclusively on the videotape. If any of the ground rules are introduced at this stage, then they should be repeated in the formal interview to demonstrate that the necessary procedures have been completed.

The needs of the child may require that this assessment should take place in the child’s home or another setting and/or over a number of sessions. No inducements should be offered for complying with the investigative process.

It is likely that for some children, assessment (s) will indicate that their needs are not best met by proceeding with a full formal interview.

The assessment should be made jointly and should inform the planning process.  

Additional factors to be explored in the assessment prior to a video interview may include:

  • The child’s ability and willingness to talk within a formal interview setting to a police officer, social worker or other trained interviewer;
  • An explanation to the child of the reason for a video interview for criminal proceedings;
  • The ground rules for the interview;
  • The opportunity to practise answering open questions
  • Will the needs of the child and the needs of Criminal Justice best be met by use of a video record?

Video Taped Interview

All joint video interviews will be conducted using the PEACE model of investigative interviewing, as detailed in The Practical Guide to Investigative Interviewing.

As part of the planning for interview, the joint interviewing pair will need to consider how and by whom the video interview is conducted.  Where the interview is to be undertaken jointly, consideration should be given to who will take the lead based on the needs of the child.

Whilst Police and Children’s Social Care have distinct and separate roles in the investigation of concerns, both have a joint responsibility to assess risk and ensure appropriate safeguards are in place to protect the child. Thus at the conclusion of a joint interview, the conclusions arising from the interview, and any subsequent actions required will be discussed and agreed between the police officer and the social worker.

Consent

The decision about when to inform the parent or carer will have a bearing on the conduct of police investigations. The strategy discussion should therefore decide how and when parents/carers will be informed and their subsequent level of participation.

Interviewers are responsible for ensuring that, as far as possible, the child is freely participating in the interview, and not merely complying with a request from adult authority figures.

Permission to interview a child, whether video-recorded or not, will normally be sought from a person with parental responsibility for the child.

There may be occasions when the investigating team needs to interview a child without the knowledge of the parent or carer.  Relevant circumstances would include:

  • The possibility that a child might be threatened or otherwise coerced into silence;
  • A strong likelihood that evidence might be destroyed;
  • The child does not wish the parent to be involved at that stage, and is competent to make such a decision.

Proceeding with the interview without parental knowledge will need to be carefully managed and legal advice should normally be sought.

Recording 

Police and Children’s Services will each produce their own records in accordance with their own agency procedures.

However, Police forms SUJ1 (Contact with a vulnerable witness) and SUJ2/A (Planning for vulnerable witness) should be completed jointly in joint investigations, and a copy retained by the Police Officer and Social Worker.

When a joint interview is video-recorded, this will provide the main record – however, the conclusions arising from the interview and any subsequent action required will be discussed and the outcome agreed between the Police Officer and Social Worker. This will be recorded on SUJ1. Additionally, the social worker will need to record the details of the interview for the case record.

At the conclusion of the S47 enquiry, Children’s Social Care will complete a “Record of the outcome of S47 enquiries” form, in consultation with the Police (and other agencies where appropriate), and a copy will be retained on both Police and Children’s Social Care files.


12. The Outcome of Section 47 Enquiries

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 about child not substantiated but child is a child in need

Where the concerns are not substantiated, the Children's social care manager must authorise the decision that no child protection conference is necessary, having ensured that the child, any other children in the household and the child's carers have been seen and spoken with.

The social worker should discuss the case with the child, parents and other practitioners and determine whether support services may be helpful. They should consider whether the child's health and development should be re-assessed regularly against specific objectives and decide who has responsibility for doing this. Arrangements should be noted for future referrals, if appropriate.

Concerns substantiated, child likely to suffer significant harm

Where concerns are substantiated and the child is assessed to be at risk of significant harm, there must be a child protection conference 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. 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 children’s 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 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 protection 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 children's 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 practitioners in other agencies remain seriously concerned about the safety of a child, these practitioners should use the Escalation Policy to seek further discussion with the children's social worker, their manager and/or the agency safeguarding children lead nominated safeguarding children adviser. The concerns, discussion and any agreements made should be recorded in each agency's files.

If concerns remain, the practitioner 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 practitioners, supported by a senior manager/ safeguarding children lead  requests one.


13. Recording

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.

At the completion of the enquiry, the team 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.


Further Information

Referrals Procedure

Information Sharing Procedure

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Amendments to this Chapter

This chapter was reviewed and updated in February 2017. Section 10, Medical Assessments was substantially amended and a link to NICE Guidance was added. There was a significant number of minor amendments throughout the chapter which should be read in its entirety.

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