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1.5.2 Section 47 Enquiries


Contents

1. Introduction
2. Role and Responsibilities
3. Undertaking Section 47 Child Protection Enquiries
4. Contact with Parents/Carers
5. Lack of Involvement, Co-operation or Consent from Parents/Carers During the Section 47 Enquiries
6. Child Assessment Orders
7. Seeing and Interviewing Children
8. Action Following Child Protection Enquiries
  8.1 Concerns are not substantiated
  8.2 Concerns are substantiated but the child is not judged to be at continuing risk of significant harm
  8.3 Concerns are substantiated and the child is judged to be at continuing risk of significant harm
9. Feedback to Parents/Carers, Children, Referrer and Others Involved


1. Introduction

Children Social Care social workers have a statutory duty to lead assessments under section 47 of the Children Act 1989. The police, health practitioners, teachers and other relevant practitioners should help the local authority in undertaking its enquiries.

A Section 47 Enquiry is initiated if a child is taken into Police Protection, is the subject of an Emergency Protection Order or there are reasonable grounds to suspect that a child is suffering or is likely to suffer Significant Harm. This is to enable the local authority to decide whether they need to take any further action to safeguard and promote the welfare of a child who is suspected of, or likely to be, suffering Significant Harm. Section 47 Enquiries occur after a Strategy Discussion/Meeting – for more information see Strategy Discussions/Meetings Procedure.

A Section 47 Enquiry is carried out by undertaking or continuing with an assessment in accordance with the guidance set out in this procedure and following the principles and parameters of good assessment – see Children's Assessment Protocol and Framework for the Assessment of Children in Need and their Families.


2. Role and Responsibilities

Social workers with their managers should:

  • Lead the assessment in accordance with these procedures;
  • Carry out enquiries in a way that minimises distress for the child and family;
  • See the child who is the subject of concern to ascertain their wishes and feelings and assess their understanding of their situation;
  • Assess the relationships and circumstances of the child more broadly;
  • Interview parents and/or carers and determine their capacity to parent and the wider social and environmental factors that might impact on them and their child;
  • Systematically gather information about the child’s and family’s history;
  • Analyse the findings of the assessment and evidence about what interventions are likely to be most effective with other relevant practitioners to determine the child’s needs and the level of risk of harm faced by the child to inform what help should be provided and act to provide that help.

Where it has been agreed in a Strategy Discussion/Meeting that it is in the best interests of the child that a full criminal investigation be carried out, the police are responsible for that investigation, including any investigative interview (video-recorded or otherwise) with the child or young person. Follow the guidance set out in Practice Guidance: Achieving Best Evidence in Criminal Proceedings Guidance on interviewing victims and witnesses, and guidance on using special measures (March 2011).

The police should:

Health practitioners should:

  • Undertake appropriate medical tests, examinations or observations, to determine how the child’s health or development may be being impaired – see Paediatric Assessment for Section 47 Enquiry (Child Protection Medical);
  • Provide any of a range of specialist assessments. For example, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, speech and language therapists and child psychologists may be involved in specific assessments relating to the child’s developmental progress. The lead health practitioner (probably a consultant paediatrician, or possibly the child’s GP) may need to request and coordinate these assessments;
  • Ensure appropriate treatment and follow up health concerns.

All involved practitioners should:

  • Contribute to the assessment as required, providing information about the child and family;
  • Consider whether a joint enquiry/investigation team may need to speak to a child victim without the knowledge of the parent or carer.

During the course of the investigation where specialist assessments are ongoing, practitioners should agree what action is needed to safeguard the child.


3. Undertaking Section 47 Child Protection Enquiries

The Social Worker must check with all agencies that may have relevant information about the child and their family. This will include a request for information from the Police, Health and Education services, as well as services that are working with the parents, such as Probation or Drug & Alcohol Services.

The Child's Assessment is the means by which a Section 47 Enquiry is initiated and is conducted as a single assessment according to the Strengthening Families Framework. Child's Assessments must be led by a qualified and experienced Social Worker. For more information see Children's Assessment Protocol and Framework for the Assessment of Children in Need and their Families.

Social Workers conducting Section 47 Enquiries regarding any individual child should always consider the need for protection of any other children in the home of the person suspected of causing harm to the child or their extended family, and work or community life.


4. Contact with Parents/Carers

Early and sensitive involvement of parents/carers promotes partnership and increases the likelihood of effective outcomes for children.

The consent of parents/carers or child if of sufficient age and understanding to consent in their own right, is not necessary if it is suspected that a child is suffering or at risk from suffering significant harm. If parents withhold consent, there must be an assessment regarding whether there are still significant concerns that warrant further investigation.

At an early stage those conducting the Section 47 Enquiries need to identify the resources that will enable them to communicate effectively with parents/carers. Consideration needs to be given to issues of religion, culture, language, hearing ability, disability, literacy skills etc. The use of interpreters is appropriate when parents/ carers are not confident speaking English. For more information see Working with Interpreters and Others with Special Communication Skills. The issues to be discussed are complex ones that sometimes involve the use of technical language which may not easily be interpreted. Stress may well result in parents/carers not understanding as much as they would normally do. Previous experiences of racism may also be a barrier to communication.

Parents may be unable to speak openly if an inappropriate interpreter is used. This is especially the case if a child is at risk of being subjected to illegal procedures, for example Safeguarding Girls and Young Women at Risk of Abuse through Female Genital Mutilation or Safeguarding Children and Young People from Forced Marriage or Safeguarding Children and Young People from Honour Based Violence.

All important decisions should be confirmed in writing in the parent’s/carer’s first language, and on audiotape if they do not possess literacy skills.

Parents/carers should be involved immediately unless:

The purpose of contacting the parents/carers initially is to:

  • Inform them about the concerns and explain any action already taken;
  • Interview them to ascertain their explanations and/or views about the concerns;
  • Gather factual information about the child and family;
  • Request consent to interview the child and any siblings where necessary;
  • Request consent for the child and any siblings to be medically examined and treated, where necessary;
  • Arrange for the social worker to see and communicate with the child alone and, if this is not possible the reason why must be recorded;
  • Arrange to see any other children where concerns exist for their welfare.


5. Lack of Involvement, Co-operation or Consent from Parents/Carers During the Section 47 Enquiries

There will be circumstances where there is lack of co-operation or consent from parents/carers. They may not allow a child to be seen, interviewed, medically examined or co-operate in order to ensure that the child is safe. Cultural issues may impact on a family’s willingness to engage in the child protection process.

In these cases, those conducting the Section 47 Enquiries must consult with their Line Manager to consider further action. Where cultural issues may be a factor, every effort should be made to facilitate communication to maximise co-operation. Whilst it is important that every effort is made to involve parents/carers, the welfare/safety of the child is the prime consideration.

During the course of the investigation where assessments are on-going, practitioners should agree what action is needed to safeguard the child.

Social Workers and all practitioners must ensure that any necessary emergency action to protect the referred child or any other child is taken immediately.

If concerns exist about the parents’/carers’ co-operation with the plan to ensure the child is safe, and there is risk of imminent significant harm, legal advice must be sought with a view to applying for an Emergency Protection Order (EPO) – for more information see Action Following Referral of Safeguarding Children Concerns Procedure, Immediate Protection. This allows the Court shared Parental Responsibility with the parents, and enables the Court to give permission for a medical examination – see Paediatric Assessment for Section 47 Enquiry (Child Protection Medical). Alternatively, a Police Officer can take immediate action to protect any child by placing them in Police Protection. However, this does not give parental responsibility to the Police or the local authority.

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

Non-co-operation is never a reason to close a case; rather, it informs the assessment.

For more information see Reluctant and Hostile Families.


6. Child Assessment Orders

Practitioners should make all reasonable efforts to persuade parents/ carers to co-operate with Section 47 Enquiries. However, if despite these efforts the parents/carers continue to cooperate or refuse access to a child for the purpose of establishing basic facts about the child’s condition but concerns are not so urgent as to require an Emergency Protection Order, a local authority may apply to the Court for a Child Assessment Order. In these circumstances, the Court may direct the parents/ carers to co-operate with an assessment of the child, the details of which should be specified. The order does not take away the child’s own right to refuse to participate in an assessment, for example, a medical examination, if he or she is of sufficient age and understanding.

In all cases, parents/carers must be fully informed of the concerns and any action taken or proposed unless it places the child at increased risk of significant harm.

For more information see Children's Assessment Protocol.


7. Seeing and Interviewing Children

See also: Practice Guidance: Achieving Best Evidence in Criminal Proceedings Guidance on interviewing victims and witnesses, and guidance on using special measures (March 2011).

Any child who is the subject of Section 47 Enquiries must be seen by those conducting the enquiries. Every child must be seen separately from parents/carers and other children, including non-verbal children and babies. Observations of the interaction between the child and his/her parents/carers should be noted. Workers should ensure that the physical environment of the child, for example, hygiene, sleeping arrangements, the child’s bedroom, food and warmth are adequate to support the child’s wellbeing and development.

Workers should include their observations of adults or carers who are present in the child’s living environment. This includes ascertaining the identity and relationship of any person in the household or present at the visit and recording this information - i.e. their name/s and address. Also record whether the information was not provided and / or whether the person(s) providing it seemed vague / evasive or unsure about it. Where the child is living in a domestic abuse refuge or any other form of supported accommodation, the accommodation workers’ observations should be considered as part of the assessment.

If the parents are separated, the views of the non-resident parent should be obtained to inform the assessment. Parents/carers living in the household include step-parents or the partner of the resident parent. Other adults such as lodgers or extended family who live in the household should be included in the assessment to determine any risks.

Children’s wishes and feelings should be ascertained. Those conducting the enquiries should interview the child separately. Interviews should be conducted in a manner that prevents any adult trying to either influence or corrupt the child’s story. When children are first approached, the nature and extent of any harm suffered by them may not be clear. It is important that even initial discussions with children are conducted in a way which minimises any distress caused to them and maximises the likelihood that they will provide accurate and complete information.

Leading or suggestive communication should always be avoided. Children may need time, and more than one opportunity, in order to develop sufficient trust to communicate any concerns they may have, especially if they have communication difficulties, are very young, or are experiencing mental ill health problems. Additional specialist help may be needed if the child’s preferred language is not English, or s/he has communication difficulties.

For more information see Working with Interpreters and Others with Special Communication Skills.

The purpose of the interview should be to gather information, in an open-minded way, which will inform further action. It is an opportunity for the child to express their own views, wishes and feelings. The interviewer should explain what is happening, what may happen next and give reassurance where it is reasonable to do so. Any choices offered to the child must be realistic, and false promises should not be made.

Siblings and children living in the same household as a child for whom there are Child Protection concerns should always be seen and interviewed. Consideration should also be given to interviewing any child who has witnessed the abuse of another.

Those conducting the enquiries should always seek consent from someone with Parental Responsibilityy to enable them to interview a child. In the majority of cases, consent should be sought from and given by the parents. However, there may be exceptional cases where the enquiry team need to speak to a child without the knowledge of a parent/carer.

Relevant circumstances include:

  • The possibility that a child would be threatened or otherwise coerced into silence;
  • A strong likelihood that important evidence would be destroyed, or the investigation otherwise impeded; and
  • That the child in question did not wish the parent to be involved at that stage, and is competent to take that decision.

Social Workers should consider seeking legal advice in the above circumstances.

If those conducting the enquiries decide that the interview needs to be video recorded, and may be used in criminal proceedings, the guidance in Practice Guidance: Achieving Best Evidence in Criminal Proceedings Guidance on interviewing victims and witnesses, and guidance on using special measures (March 2011) must be used.

Those conducting enquires should take account of the child’s need for support during this process and how to access this support. This remains relevant regardless of the outcome of the enquiry.

In planning Child Protection enquiries and investigations, Social Workers and Police Officers must consider the need for a medical examination in all children for whom concerns exist. For more information see Practice Guidance: Significant Harm - The Impact of Abuse and Neglect.


8. Action Following Child Protection Enquiries

Social workers and their Manager are responsible for deciding what action to take and how to proceed following Section 47 Enquiries.

8.1 Concerns are not substantiated

Where concerns of significant harm are not substantiated social workers with their managers should:

All involved practitioners 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;
  • Review the impact of services delivered as agreed in the plan.

The consent of parents/carers or child if of sufficient age and understanding to consent in their own right, must be given for the Child's Assessment to continue if it is found there are no grounds to believe the child is suffering or at risk of suffering significant harm. 

If the social worker, in conjunction with their manager, decides not to proceed with a Child Protection Conference other practitioners involved with the child and family have the right to request that Children’s Social Care convene a conference if they have serious concerns that a child’s welfare may not be adequately safeguarded. Any such request made to a Social Care Team Manager that is supported by a Senior Manager or a named or designated professional should normally be agreed.

For more information see Practice Resolution Protocol: Resolving Professional Differences of Opinion in Multi-Agency Working with Children and their Families.

8.2 Concerns are substantiated but the child is not judged to be at continuing risk of significant harm

There may be circumstances where, although concerns about significant harm are substantiated, a protection plan is not required because there is no continuing risk to the child. This could be because, for example, the alleged perpetrator has permanently left the household and has no unsupervised contact with the child or the abuse was committed by a stranger/ unrelated person and the parents are able to protect the child in the future.

On the basis of all relevant information obtained during enquiries, and a competent assessment of the parent’s capacity to protect the child, there is sufficient evidence that a parent, carer or members of the child’s wider family are willing and able to co-operate with action to ensure the child’s future safety and wellbeing.

This judgment should be made bearing in mind the dangers of misplaced professional optimism.

This decision must be endorsed by a suitably experienced and qualified social work Manager.

A decision not to convene a conference is as important as the decision to convene one. Children’s Social Care staff should seek the agreement of all practitioners involved in the enquiries/investigations and those who are most involved with the child and family before making this decision. If there is agreement not to proceed to conference, this decision must be endorsed by a Children’s Service Manager.

However, other practitioners involved with the child and family have the right to request that Children’s Social Care convene a conference, if they have serious concerns that a child’s welfare may not be adequately safeguarded. Any such request made to a Social Care Team Manager that is supported by a Senior Manager or a named or designated professional should normally be agreed. Professional reasons for the final decision should be fully recorded on the child’s file.

For more information see Practice Resolution Protocol: Resolving Professional Differences of Opinion in Multi-Agency Working with Children and their Families.

Where a Child Protection Conference is not being convened consideration should be given to the need for further involvement. The Child's Assessment completed as part of the Section 47 Enquiries should contain recommendations to ensure the child’s needs will be met.

8.3 Concerns are substantiated and the child is judged to be at continuing risk of significant harm

Where concerns 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 (see Initial Child Protection Conferences Procedure). The Initial Child Protection Conference should take place within 15 working days of a Strategy Discussion/Meeting, or the strategy discussion at which Section 47 Enquiries were initiated if more than one has been held.


9. Feedback to Parents/Carers, Children, Referrer and Others Involved

The social worker conducting the Section 47 Enquiries should notify the following in writing of the outcome of the enquiries and details of any action taken/to be taken to protect the child if necessary:

  • Parents/carers;
  • The child, if s/he has sufficient understanding;
  • The referring agency;
  • Practitioners and agencies who have been significantly involved; and
  • Other practitioners who have a role in implementing the plan.

The amount of information given to the child, and the method of informing them should have regard to what is in their best interests.

If the initial referrer is a member of the public, they should be notified only that their referral was acted upon.

Social Workers should provide information to parents/carers and children about how advice, advocacy and support may be obtained from independent sources.

Parents/carers and children should be given information about how they can complain if they wish to do.

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