1.4 Child Protection Section 47 Enquiries Procedure
- Initiating Section 47 Enquiries
- Children and Families Moving Across Local Authority Boundaries
- Multi-agency assessment
- Outcomes of section 47 enquiries
- Child Protection Medical Assessments
- Achieving Best Evidence Interviews
Initiating Section 47 Enquiries
A section 47 enquiry is carried out by undertaking or continuing with an assessment and following the principles and parameters of a good assessment. Local authority social workers should lead assessments under section 47 of the Children Act 1989. The police, health practitioners, teachers and school staff and other relevant practitioners should help the local authority in undertaking its enquiries.
Children and Families Moving Across Local Authority Boundaries
Where a child moves during the course of a Section 47 enquiry, the investigation should be completed by the authority that commenced the enquiries. In some instances, it may be necessary for the receiving authority to ensure the safety of the child in such circumstances the receiving authority’s information and assessment (where appropriate) should inform the transferring authority’s Section 47 enquiry.
See the Protocol for protecting children who move across local authority borders for more information.
A multi-agency assessment is the means by which Section 47 Enquiries are carried out. The assessment will have commenced at the point of receipt of referral and it must continue whenever the criteria for Section 47 Enquiries are satisfied. 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 (see below for timescales from strategy discussion to Initial Child Protection Conference).
The enquiries and assessment should always involve separate interviews with the child and, in the majority of cases, the parents, and the observation of interaction between the parent and child. This will include interviews and observations of parents, any other carers, the partners of the parents and assessment of any other adults identified to be living in or frequently in the child's home.
Southampton, Hampshire and Isle of Wight
Initial strategy discussions for Southampton, Hampshire and the Isle of Wight are held in MASH on the same day the referral is made and for open cases held within one working day and ideally on the same day. The triage through MASH determines the type of case and decides if a strategy is needed.
In Portsmouth, the initial Strategy Discussion will be held in the MASH on the day of referral which is followed by a full Strategy Meeting within four working days except in the following circumstances:
- For allegations/concerns indicating immediate risk of harm to the child (e.g. serious physical injury or serious neglect) the strategy discussion/meeting should be held on the same day as the receipt of the referral.
- For allegations of penetrative sexual abuse, the strategy discussion/meeting should be held on the same day as the receipt of the referral, if it is required to ensure 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/ child sexual exploitation or allegations against staff) the strategy discussion/meeting must be held within a maximum of 5 working days, but sooner if there is a need to provide immediate protection to a child.
Outcomes of section 47 enquiries
Local authority social workers are responsible for deciding what action to take and how to proceed following section 47 enquiries. If local authority children’s social care decides not to proceed with a child protection conference then other practitioners involved with the child and family have the right to request that local authority children’s social care convene a conference if they have serious concerns that a child’s welfare may not be adequately safeguarded. This should be actioned according to the Escalation policy for the resolution of professional disagreement.
Where concerns of significant harm are not substantiated, the case should be discussed with the child, parents and other practitioners; it should be determined whether support from any services may be helpful and help secure it; and consideration should be given to whether the child’s health and development should be reassessed regularly against specific objectives and decide who has responsibility for doing this.
Where concerns of significant harm are substantiated and the child is judged to be suffering or likely to suffer significant harm, an initial child protection conference should be convened. 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. The initial child protection conference 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.
Child Protection Medical Assessments
When there is a suspicion or disclosure of child abuse and/or neglect involving injury, suspected sexual abuse or serious neglect, the child should be referred to children’s services (MASH). If the child appears in need of urgent medical attention, they should be taken to the nearest accident and emergency department to be assessed and treated.
Following the MASH referral, a strategy discussion/meeting should be held. This will decide whether a medical assessment is needed and when it will take place. The medical assessment should be undertaken by an appropriate doctor with paediatric experience. This would normally take place within 24 hours, unless there are circumstances that are impacted by others policies, e.g. non-mobile infant bruising or forensic medicals for possible child sexual abuse.
The referring social worker and/or police officer should be present at the medical assessment. The referral must indicate who will attend the examination with the child. This will normally be a person with parental responsibility (unless the child is over 16 years old).
If a child who is in hospital is suspected to have suffered, or is likely to suffer, serious harm, a Section 47 referral should be made to MASH and a strategy meeting arranged before the child is discharged from hospital.
The purpose of a medical assessment is to:
- provide advice regarding investigations, treatment or interventions required, and arrange future medical follow-up where relevant
- assess the health and wellbeing of the child
- establish and document whether there is any medical evidence of abuse or neglect.
A written report giving a summary of the examination findings and preliminary opinion must be provided at the time of the examination using the Preliminary Paediatric Opinion Form. A more detailed report will be made available to children's services department and the police (as appropriate) by the paediatrician within an agreed timeframe.
Also see the HIPS Preliminary Paediatric Opinion Form.
- A child who understands what is being proposed (Gillick/Fraser competent) can consent to the assessment. It is up to the doctor to decide whether the child has the maturity and intelligence to give fully informed consent for the assessment to go ahead.
- Young people aged 16 or 17 can give consent, providing there are no grounds to doubt their capacity.
- Children under 16 who are not Gillick competent and very young children cannot give or withhold consent. Those with parental responsibility must give consent on their behalf.
- If a child is the subject of a care order, the local authority can give consent, with the parents being informed. If the child is accommodated under Section 20 of the Children Act 1989, the local authority can provide consent.
- If a child is a ward of court, the High Court can give consent.
- If there is an emergency protection order, an interim care order or a child assessment order, a family proceedings court can give consent.
Achieving Best Evidence Interviews
Any video-recorded interview serves two primary purposes. These are:
- Evidence gathering for use in the investigation and in criminal proceedings; and
- The evidence-in-chief of the witness.
In addition, any relevant information gained during the interview can also be used to inform enquiries regarding significant harm under Section 47 of the Children Act 1989 and any subsequent actions to safeguard and promote the child’s welfare, and in some cases, the welfare of other children.