3.5 Section 47 Enquiry and Core Assessment
This chapter is under review as a result of Working Together 2013
- Duty to Undertake a Section 47 Enquiry
- Purpose of a Section 47 Enquiry and Timescale
- Decision to Undertake a Section 47 Enquiry
- Obligations and Responsibilities of all Agencies
- Integration with Core Assessment
- Single Agency or Joint Enquiry/Investigation
- Seeing and Interviewing the Child
- Parental Involvement and Consent
- Medical Assessments
- Outcome of the Section 47 Enquiry
- Discontinuing the Section 47 Enquiry
- Recording the Section 47 Enquiry
- Feedback on Outcome of the Section 47 Enquiry
- Resolving Professional Differences
The local authority, through its Children and Young People’s Services, has a statutory duty to carry out a Section 47 Enquiry in any of the following circumstances:
- Where there is information to indicate that a child has suffered or is likely to suffer Significant Harm;
- Where a child is subject to an Emergency Protection Order;
- Where a child is subject to Police Protection;
- Where a child under 10 is in breach of a Curfew Order.
The responsibility for undertaking Section 47 Enquiries lies with the local authority for the area in which the child lives or is found, even though the child is ordinarily resident in another local authority’s area.
Where a Section 47 Enquiry is to be conducted in relation to a child who is ordinarily resident in the area of another local authority, her/his home authority should be informed as soon as possible, and be involved as appropriate in the Strategy Discussion/Meeting. In certain cases, it may be agreed that the home authority should undertake the Section 47 Enquiry (for example where the child is Looked After) and in all cases, the home authority should take responsibility for any further support of the child or family identified as necessary.
The purpose of the Section 47 enquiry is to determine whether the child has suffered Significant Harm, or is likely to suffer Significant Harm, and any action is required to safeguard and promote the welfare of the child or children who is/are the subject of the Enquiry.If a decision is made that a Section 47 Enquiry is necessary, it will be conducted by Children and Young People's Services alone or jointly with the Police see Section 6.
The decision and plan to carry out the Section 47 enquiry will be determined at a Strategy Discussion/Meeting.
NB If during the course of a Section 47 Enquiry, allegations arise of a different type from that being investigated, a Strategy Discussion/Meeting should be held and decisions recorded to ensure that the new allegation is properly addressed.
Children and Young People’s Services managers have the responsibility, based on available information, to authorise Section 47 enquiries.
The decision to initiate a Section 47 enquiry is usually taken at a Strategy Discussion/Meeting. However, the manager may authorise a Section 47 enquiry at any time whenever the criteria set out in Section 1 are met, for example:
- At the point of a Referral;
- During the early consideration of a Referral;
- During an Initial Assessment or Core Assessment; or
- At any time in an open case when the criteria are satisfied.
In reaching her/his conclusion as to the justification for a Section 47 Enquiry, the manager must consider the following variables:
- The seriousness of the concern/s;
- The history of concern/s;
- The vulnerability of the child (through age, developmental stage, disability or other pre-disposing factor e.g. whether they are Looked After);
- The source of the Referral;
- The information currently available to support the concerns;
- The context in which the child is living - e.g. whether there is a child in the household who is subject of a Child Protection Plan;
- Any predisposing factors in the family that may suggest a higher level of risk e.g. mental health difficulties, substance misuse of parent/carer or domestic abuse.
The Section 47 Enquiry may be undertaken jointly with the Police - see Section 6.
Any decision to discontinue a Section 47 Enquiry must be confirmed by a Children and Young People’s Services manager, in consultation with other agencies, and the reasons recorded.
All statutory agencies and other agencies working on behalf of statutory agencies have a legal duty to assist and provide information in support of Section 47 enquiries. It is good practice for all agencies which come into contact with or offer services to children to assist with Section 47 Enquiries.
Any checks made by Children and Young People's Services and/or the Police with other agencies should be undertaken directly with involved professionals and not through messages with intermediaries.
The relevant agencies should be informed of the reasons for the Section 47 Enquiry, whether or not parental consent has been obtained and asked for their assessment of the child and the family's circumstances in the light of the information presented. See Information Sharing and Confidentiality Procedure.
5. Integration with Core Assessment and the Framework for Assessment of Children in Need and Their Families
The Core Assessment is the means by which a Section 47 Enquiry is carried out. The Core Assessment must be completed within 35 working days of the Strategy Discussion/Meeting where it is decided that a Section 47 enquiry should begin.
The Section 47 Enquiry should begin by focusing primarily on the information identified during the Referral and Initial Assessment, which appears most important in relation to the risk of Significant Harm.
The assessment of risk will:
- Identify the cause for concern;
- Evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the family;
- Take account of the child’s ethnicity, culture and religion;
- Seek to establish and understand the role of male partners, and/or fathers, in the lives of the child or children concerned;
- Evaluate the risks to the child or children, including unborn children;
- Evaluate the ability of the parents and wider family and social networks to safeguard and promote the child’s welfare;
- Determine the level of intervention required both in the immediate and longer term.
This will inform the Core Assessment, which should cover all relevant dimensions in the Framework for the Assessment of Children in Need and their Families and be alert to the potential needs and safety of siblings or other children in the household or with whom the alleged offender may have had contact.
The Section 47 Enquiry/Core Assessment should be led by a qualified and experienced social worker from Children and Young People’s Services, who will be responsible for its coordination and completion. The social worker must consult with other agencies involved with the child and family in order to obtain a fuller picture of the circumstances of all children in the household, identifying parenting strengths and any risk factors. All agencies consulted are responsible for providing information to assist with the assessment process.
At the same time, where there is a joint enquiry/investigation, the Police will have to establish the facts about any offence that may have been committed against a child and collect evidence - see Section 6.
Sometimes, in the course of an enquiry, consideration may be given to undertaking “directed surveillance”. For example, it may be important to know whether two people are involved in a relationship or are co-habiting, and it may be judged necessary to employ a private investigator or take steps which go beyond making enquiries of the type which social workers would routinely make. In these circumstances, the legal situation is complex and the provisions set out in the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 may apply. This legislation sets out the procedure to be followed. In every case, legal advice must be taken when directed surveillance is considered and where necessary under the Act, the appropriate authorisation must be obtained.
See Protocol between West Mercia Constabulary and Children and Young People’s Services regarding Section 47 Enquiries and Criminal Investigations for the criteria on which single or joint enquiries/investigations are held.
All contact with the child during Section 47 Enquiries must be conducted under Achieving Best Evidence guidance and staff must:
- Listen to the child rather than directly questioning her/him;
- Never stop the child freely recounting significant events;
- Fully record the discussion including timing, setting, presence of others as well as what was said.
Seeing the Child
There is a legal duty to ascertain the child's wishes and feelings regarding the enquiry and give due consideration to those wishes and feelings having regard to the child's age and understanding.
All children within the household or other children who may be affected by the matter under investigation must be seen and spoken to during a Section 47 Enquiry to make an assessment of their welfare and safety.
The children who are the focus of concern should be seen and spoken to alone by the Lead Social Worker (unless inappropriate for the child to do so - this will take account of the child's age, understanding and willingness). Consideration should be given to seeking parental permission (see Section 8).
Children of an appropriate age and understanding should be offered an explanation of what is likely to happen to them and given any written information as appropriate.
The child should be kept informed of developments.
Children and Young People’s Services and the Police must ensure that appropriate arrangements are in place to support the child through the joint enquiry/investigation. An adult usually a parent, carer, relative or friend - should be identified to accompany and support the child through the process. The most suitable person for the role will be dependent on the circumstances, taking into account the wishes and feelings of the child. An adult who is suspected to have had involvement in the allegation under investigation must not accompany the child.
Specialist help may be needed if:
The objective in seeing and speaking to the child is to assess the degree of risk and possible need for protective action by evaluating the following:
NB It is important to record the child's views and wishes.
For further detailed guidance, see the Framework for the Assessment of Children in Need and Their Families.
Inability to access the child
If efforts to see and communicate with the child or children as agreed at the Strategy Discussion/Meeting are unsuccessful, then the social worker and, where relevant, the Police officer should, in consultation with his/her manager:
Children and Young People’s Services have the prime 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.
In most cases, parents should be enabled to participate fully in the assessment and enquiry process, which should be explained to them verbally and also in writing. Where parents have additional needs e.g. through disability and/or mental ill health, they should be offered support to participate in the assessment and given advice about the services of an advocate. If English is not their first language, an interpreter must be provided. Information should also be given about seeking legal advice.
The parents should 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 should be kept informed throughout about the enquiry, its outcome and any subsequent action unless this would jeopardise the welfare of the child.
In explaining the process of a Section 47 Enquiry to parents, the following points should be covered:
Parental consent will normally be necessary in several circumstances including consent for inter agency checks, consent to see and interview the child and consent for a medical assessment.
Within a Section 47 Enquiry, any outstanding inter agency checks will be undertaken without delay on the basis of the need for information to establish the degree of risk of harm to the child.
However, parental consent will not be sought in some circumstances, including where:
When it is decided to interview and/or arrange a medical assessment of the child without seeking the consent of the parents, the decision must be endorsed by the social worker’s line manager. Legal advice must be taken as to whether any legal action is required before an interview and/or medical assessment can take place, for example, an application for a Child Assessment Order or in more urgent cases, an Emergency Protection Order.
The parent or carer must be informed as soon as practicable and consistent with the best interests of the child.
Where permission is sought but refused or where the parent does not have the capacity to give informed consent, the social worker’s manager must determine whether to proceed, and if so, record the reasons. Where there are reasonable grounds to believe that a child is suffering, or is likely to suffer, Significant Harm, and access is refused, Children and Young People’s Services have a duty to apply for:
unless it is satisfied that the child’s welfare can be safeguarded without doing so.
When a Medical Assessment is necessary
Strategy Discussion/Meetings must consider, in consultation with the paediatrician (if not part of the discussion or meeting), the need for and timing of a medical assessment. Consideration must also be given as to whether there are any other children in the household who may also require 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.
Additional considerations are the need to:
In cases of suspected severe neglect, physical injury or sexual abuse, the medical assessment should be undertaken on the day of the referral, where compatible with the welfare of the child.
Only suitably qualified medical practitioners may physically examine the child for the purposes of a medical assessment. Other staff should note any visible marks or injuries on a body map and document details in their recording.
Purpose of Medical Assessment
The purpose of a medical assessment is:
The following may give consent to a medical assessment:
Where the child is the subject of ongoing Court proceedings, legal advice should be obtained about obtaining the Court’s permission to the medical assessment.
It is generally good practice to seek wherever possible the permission of a parent for children under 16 prior to any medical assessment and/or other medical treatment even if the child is judged to be of sufficient understanding to give consent in their own right. If this is not considered possible or appropriate, then the reasons should be clearly recorded.
A child who is of sufficient understanding may refuse some or all of the medical assessment.
In emergency situations where the child needs urgent medical treatment and there is insufficient time to obtain parental consent:
In these circumstances, parents must be informed as soon as possible and a full record must be made at the time.
Arranging the Medical Assessment
Medical assessments must take into account the need for both specialist paediatric expertise and evidential requirements in relation to the gathering of evidence.
There should be only one medical examination of the child which in exceptional circumstances may involve more than one doctor.
Consideration should be given to the gender of the examining doctor in consultation with the child and the parents.
Where child sexual abuse is suspected, usually two doctors with complementary skills will conduct a joint medical assessment. A single doctor may carry out the assessment where he or she has the necessary knowledge, skills and experience for the particular case. For further guidance, see Guidance on Paediatric Forensic Examinations in relation to possible child sexual abuse, September 2004, issued by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health and the Association of Forensic Physicians.
Referrals for medical assessments should be made by the social worker, who should contact the on call Consultant Paediatrician. The police will arrange attendance of a Police surgeon if required.
In planning the medical assessment, the social worker, the manager responsible, the Public Protection Unit and relevant doctor must consider whether it might be necessary to take photographic evidence for use in care or criminal proceedings. Where such arrangements are necessary, the child and parents must be informed and prepared and careful consideration given to the impact on the child.
Recording of Medical Assessment
At the conclusion of the medical assessment, the doctor must give a verbal report explaining his or her findings to the social worker/Police officer attending, followed by a written report within 72 hours.
Disclosure of the information contained in the report to the parent(s) of the child and/or the child should be agreed in consultation with Children and Young People’s Services and the Police.
The report should include:
All reports and diagrams should be signed and dated by the doctor undertaking the examination.
If criminal or family proceedings are instituted, the doctor’s written report will be filed and served as the doctor’s statement of evidence. The doctor’s attendance at subsequent Court hearings may also be required.
The Section 47 enquiry is concluded at the point when an informed decision is made taking account of all information available as to whether the child is suffering or at risk of Significant Harm.
The Section 47 enquiry will result in one of four possible outcomes:
- Child protection concerns are substantiated and the child(ren) is (are) considered to suffering or at risk of Significant Harm, in which case an Initial Child Protection Conference will be convened. Consideration should be given by the date of the Initial Child Protection Conference to whether the Core Assessment has been completed or what further work is required before it is completed;
The Initial Child Protection Conference must take place within a maximum of 15 days of the last Strategy Discussion/Meeting where the decision to initiate the Section 47 Enquiry was made. Where necessary and appropriate, interim services and support must be provided to safeguard and promote the child’s welfare until the Child Protection Conference is held.
- Child protection concerns are substantiated but the child is not judged to be at continuing risk of Significant Harm, for example because the family circumstances have changed since the harm occurred and/or an alleged perpetrator has permanently left the household. This decision must be endorsed by a suitably experienced and qualified social work manager;
In these circumstances, the child may still be regarded as a Child in Need and a plan required for the provision of services and/or further assessment; any provisional arrangements for an Initial Child Protection Conference should be cancelled.
- Child protection concerns are not substantiated but the enquiries have revealed the child is a Child in Need for which services are required and/or further assessment;
- Child protection concerns are not substantiated and no further action is required.
In all cases, the outcome should be authorised by a Children and Young People’s Services Manager who should decide if the Core Assessment has been completed or should be continued.
Decisions and outcomes must be recorded and where an Initial Child Protection Conference is to be convened, the decisions and outcomes must be included in the conference report.
The outcome of any Enquiry and the reasons for the decisions must be recorded. Parents, the child (if appropriate) and the professionals involved should all be informed of the outcome in writing.
In relation to 2. and 3. above, a meeting of involved professionals and family members must be convened at the end of the Section 47 enquiry/Core Assessment to agree what actions should be undertaken by whom and with what outcomes for the child’s health and development. Whether a Child in Need Plan is needed for ensuring the child’s future safety and welfare should be addressed and kept under review.
Such a meeting is also important to inform parents about the nature of any on-going concerns.
Whatever process is used to plan future action, the resulting Child in Need Plan should be informed by the Section 47 Enquiry/Core Assessment findings and set out who will have responsibility for what action, including a timescale for review of progress against planned outcomes.
Any decision to discontinue a Section 47 Enquiry should be taken by a Manager in Children and Young People’s Services in consultation with the Police (and where appropriate other involved agencies and in particular the referring agency) after checks have been completed, and be taken in a flexible manner when it is clear that the criteria for Section 47 Enquiry are no longer satisfied, for example where the child moves abroad.
This decision should be authorised and recorded by the Children and Young People’s Services manager who should record the reasons and whether the Core Assessment should be completed.
Where any agency has concerns about a decision to discontinue, see Section 1, Resolution of Professional Disagreements.
A full written record must be completed by each agency involved in a Section 47 Enquiry, using the required agency documentation, signed and dated by staff.
The Children and Young People’s Services’ recording of enquiries 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;
- Agency checks;
- Contacts made 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;
- Recording of legal advice.
At the completion of the Section 47 Enquiry, the social worker’s manager should ensure that the concern and outcome have been entered on the child’s chronology.
Children and Young People’s Services should ensure that parents, children (depending on their level of understanding), professionals and other agencies which have involvement are notified in writing of the outcome of Section 47 Enquiries within 2 working days of the decision being made.
Feedback on the outcome of a Section 47 Enquiry should be provided to non-professional referrers in a manner that respects the confidentiality and welfare of the child and family
Information to parents and children should be relayed in an appropriate format and translated for those people whose first language is not English.
If there are ongoing criminal investigations, the content of the notification should be agreed with the Police.
Where there remain differences of views, for example about a decision that an Initial Child Protection Conference is not required, every effort should be made to resolve them through discussion and negotiation.
Those professionals and agencies who are most involved with the child and family, and those who have taken part in the Section 47 Enquiry, have the right to request that Children and Young People’s Services convene a Child Protection Conference if they have serious concerns that a child’s welfare may not otherwise be adequately safeguarded. Any such request that is supported by a senior manager, or a Designated Professional or Named Professional, should normally be agreed.
Where a disagreement on any issue cannot be resolved, the relevant staff should immediately notify their line managers. The line managers should ascertain the specific circumstances of the disagreement and contact should occur between agencies within 24 hours. The purpose of this contact is to review the available information and to resolve the concern. Where necessary this may involve a meeting between the managers. Any agreed plan arising from this contact should be fed back immediately to the operational staff involved, confirmed in writing between agencies and include a date for review see also Resolution of Professional Disagreements Procedure.