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3.4 Section 47 Enquiry

RELATED CHAPTER

Assessment Procedure

AMENDMENTS

In April 2014, this chapter was updated in line with the single assessment framework. References to Core Assessment  were replaced throughout with Social Work Assessment.

In section 1, Duty to Undertake a Section 47 Enquiry, the reference to the duty to conduct a Section 47 Enquiry where a child under 10 is in breach of a Curfew Order, was removed, as that legislation has been repealed.


Contents

  1. Duty to Undertake a Section 47 Enquiry  
  2. Purpose of a Section 47 Enquiry and Timescale  
  3. Decision to Undertake a Section 47 Enquiry  
  4. Obligations and Responsibilities of all Agencies 
  5. Single Agency or Joint Enquiry/Investigation
  6. Seeing and Interviewing the Child 
  7. Parental Involvement and Consent 
  8. Medical Assessments 
  9. Outcome of the Section 47 Enquiry  
  10. Discontinuing the Section 47 Enquiry  
  11. Recording the Section 47 Enquiry  
  12. Feedback on Outcome of the Section 47 Enquiry  
  13. Resolving Professional Differences


1. Duty to Undertake a Section 47 Enquiry

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:

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. 

See also Children Moving Across Local Authority Boundaries Procedure.


2. Purpose of the Section 47 Enquiry and Timescale

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.


3. Decision to Undertake a Section 47 Enquiry

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 a Social Work 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.


4. Obligations and Responsibilities of All Agencies

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. Single Agency or Joint Enquiry/Investigation

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.


6. Seeing and Interviewing the Child

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.
6.1

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 child’s first language is not English;
  • There are concerns about the child’s emotional or psychological wellbeing;
  • The child is disabled;
  • Those investigating do not have adequate knowledge and understanding of the child’s racial, religious and cultural background;
  • Complex abuse is suspected.

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:

  • The child’s appearance, demeanour, mood, overall development and behaviour;
  • The child’s view and account of allegations or concerns;
  • What the child would like to happen and why;
  • The interactions of the child and her/his carers;
  • The circumstances in which the child is currently living and sleeping;
  • The physical safety of the environment;
  • Whether any other children need to be included in the enquiry.

NB It is important to record the child's views and wishes.

6.2

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:

  • Carry out the contingency plan agreed at the Strategy Discussion/Meeting; or
  • Arrange a further Strategy Discussion/Meeting to agree what further action is required, including action to trace the whereabouts of the child (if unknown).

See also Children and Families who go Missing Procedure.


7. Parental Involvement and Consent

7.1

Parental Involvement

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:

  • An explanation of the reason for concern and, where appropriate, the source of information;
  • The procedures to be followed; this must include an explanation of the need for the child to be seen, interviewed and/or medically assessed, consultation about the gender of the medical practitioner where time allows and seeking parental agreement for these aspects of the enquiry – (see 9.3);
  • An explanation of the role of the various agencies involved in the enquiry and explanation of the wish to work in partnership with them to secure the welfare of their child;
  • The need to gather initial information on the history and structure of the family, the child and other relevant information to enable an assessment of the injuries and/or allegations and the continuing risk to the child to be made;
  • In situations of domestic violence and abuse, the possibility of working with the parents separately;
  • The provision of an opportunity for parents to be able to ask questions and receive support and guidance.
7.2

Parental Consent

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: 

  • There is evidence that the child would be at risk of further significant harm;
  • There is serious concern about the likely behaviour of the adult, for example that the child may be coerced into silence or vital evidence may be destroyed;
  • The child does not want his/her parent to be informed and is competent to make that decision;
  • Contacting a parent would undermine a criminal investigation;
  • The situation is urgent and no parent or carer can be found.

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.


8. Medical Assessments 

See also Protocol between West Mercia Constabulary and Children and Young People’s Services regarding Section 47 Enquiries and Criminal Investigations.

8.1

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:

  • Secure evidence;
  • Obtain medical opinion as to the likely cause of any injuries, health concerns or delayed development;
  • Initiate any treatment required.

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.

8.2

Purpose of Medical Assessment

The purpose of a medical assessment is:

  • To diagnose any injury or harm to the child and to initiate treatment as required;
  • To document the findings;
  • To provide a medical report on the findings, including an opinion as to the probable cause of any injury or other harm reported;
  • To assess the overall health and development of the child and to refer for treatment where necessary;
  • To provide reassurance for the child and parent;
  • To arrange for follow up and review of the child as required, noting new symptoms including psychological effects.
8.3

Consent for Medical Assessment

The following may give consent to a medical assessment:

  • A young person of 16 and over;
  • A child of under 16 where a doctor considers he or she is of sufficient age and understanding to give informed consent;
  • Any person with Parental Responsibility;
  • The local authority when the child is the subject of an Interim Care Order/Care Order (although the parent/carer should be informed);
  • The local authority when the child is Accommodated and the parent/carers have abandoned the child or are physically or mentally unable to give such authority;
  • The High Court when the child is a ward of court;
  • A Court as part of a direction attached to an Emergency Protection Order, an Interim Care Order or a Child Assessment Order.

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:

  • The suitably qualified medical practitioner may decide to proceed without consent; and/or
  • The suitably qualified medical practitioner may regard the child to be of an age and level of understanding to give her/his own consent.

In these circumstances, parents must be informed as soon as possible and a full record must be made at the time.

8.4

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.

8.5

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:

  • Date, time and place of examination;
  • Those present;
  • Who gave consent and how (child/parent, written, phone or in person);
  • 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;
  • Other findings relevant to the child e.g. squint, learning problems, speech problems etc.;
  • Confirmation of the child’s developmental progress (especially important in cases of neglect);
  • Time examination ended;
  • Medical opinion of the likely cause of injury or harm and where relevant, whether the harm/injury fits the explanation;
  • Any recommendations for follow-up.

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.


9. Outcome of the Section 47 Enquiry

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 may conclude that the original concerns are:

  • Not substantiated; although consideration should be given to whether the child may need services as a Child in Need, or
  • Substantiated and the child is judged to be suffering, or likely to suffer, Significant Harm and an Initial Child Protection Conference should be called.

9.1 Concerns not substantiated

Social workers with their managers should:

  • discuss the case with the child, parents and other professionals;
  • determine whether support from any services may be helpful and help secure it; and
  • consider whether the child's health and development should be re-assessed regularly against specific objectives and decide who has responsibility for doing this.

All involved professionals should:

  • participate in further discussions as necessary;
  • contribute to the development of a [Child in Need Plan];
  • provide services as specified in the Child in Need Plan for the child; and
  • review the impact of services delivered as agreed in the Child in Need Plan.

Outcomes may be:

  1. No Further Action
  2. Family Support to be provided

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.  Where services are to be provided under Section 17 of the Children Act 1989, a Child in Need planning meeting should be convened to agree a Child in Need plan. The resulting Child in Need Plan should be informed by the Section 47 Enquiry/Social Work Assessment findings and set out who will have responsibility for what action, including a timescale for review of progress against planned outcomes.

9.2 Concerns Of Significant Harm Are Substantiated And The Child Is Judged To Be Suffering, Or Likely To Suffer, Significant Harm

N.B. Where immediate protective action is required, the advice of Legal Services should be sought an Initial Child Protection Conference should  be convened.

Social workers with their managers should:

  • Convene an Initial Child Protection Conference. The timing of this conference should depend on the urgency of the case and respond to the needs of the child and the nature and severity of the harm they may be facing. It should take place within 15 working days of a Strategy Discussion, or the Strategy Discussion at which section 47 enquiries were initiated if more than one has been held.  The request to convene the conference must be supported by a team manager;
  • Consider whether any professionals with specialist knowledge should be invited to participate;
  • Ensure that the child and their parents understand the purpose of the conference and who will attend; and
  • Help prepare the child if he or she is attending or making representations through a third party to the conference. Give information about advocacy agencies and explain that the family may bring an Advocate, friend or supporter.

All involved professionals should:

  • Contribute to the information their agency provides ahead of the conference, setting out the nature of the agency's involvement with the child and family;
  • Consider, in conjunction with the police and the appointed conference Chair, whether the report can and should be shared with the parents and if so when; and
  • Attend the conference and take part in decision-making when invited.

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.


10. Discontinuing the Section 47 Enquiry

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 Social Work Assessment should be completed.

Where any agency has concerns about a decision to discontinue, see Section 1, Resolution of Professional Disagreements.


11. Recording the Section 47 Enquiry

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.


12. Feedback on Outcome of Section 47 Enquiry

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.


13. Resolving Professional Differences

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.

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