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1.9 Child protection enquiries
For more detailed information on child protection enquiries, see the West Midlands Joint Protocol: Child Protection Enquiries and Related Criminal Investigations or West Mercia Police and Children Services Protocol - Section 47 Enquiries and Criminal Investigations (please note that this protocol will be reviewed and revised accordingly in 2024 following the publication of Working Together to Safeguard Children).
- Duty to conduct section 47 enquiries(Jump to)
- Initiating a child protection enquiry(Jump to)
- Conducting a section 47 enquiry(Jump to)
- Outcome of section 47 enquires(Jump to)
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 action to safeguard and promote the welfare of the child.
A section 47 enquiry must always be commenced immediately whenever 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.
Responsibility for undertaking section 47 enquiries lies with the local authority children's social care in whose area the child lives or is found. For these purposes, 'found' means the physical location where the child suffers, or is identified to be at risk of, harm or neglect.
Usually the area where the child is living is the same as the physical location where the child suffers, or is identified to be at risk, of harm and neglect. However, these may be different. For more information on which authority should lead in these cases, see the section on inter-authority arrangements for child protection enquiries.
Responsibilities of professionals
Professionals from local authorities, police and health have a duty to co-operate under section 27 of the Children Act 1989 and section 11 of the Children Act 2004
Other professionals will have similar duties and are expected to fully share information to support child protection enquiries in a timely way.
When a section 47 enquiry is initiated, even when there has been a recent assessment, local authority children's social care will normally inform the family of the cause for concern unless to so would place the child at risk of significant harm.
The social worker must contact the other agencies involved with the child to inform them that a child protection enquiry has been initiated.
The relevant agency should be informed of the reason for the enquiry, whether or not parental consent has been obtained, and asked for their assessment of the child in the light of the information presented.
The checks should be undertaken directly with involved professionals and not through messages with intermediaries.
A section 47 enquiry may run concurrently with police investigations. When a joint enquiry takes place, the police have the lead for the criminal investigation and local authority children's social care have the lead for the section 47 enquiries and the child's welfare.
The police and children's social care must co-ordinate their activities to ensure the parallel processes are undertaken in the best interests of the child. In many parts of the wider West Midlands this will be done through the Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hubs. This co-ordination may also be achieved through joint activity and planning at strategy meetings/discussions.
Involving the child, their parents and family members
Local authority children's social care should explain the purpose and outcome of section 47 enquiries to the parents and to the child (having regard to the child’s age and understanding). Social workers should be prepared to answer questions openly, unless to do so would affect the safety and welfare of the child.
For more information, see the section on involving the child, their parents and family.
Missing or inaccessible children
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 meeting/discussion with police
- agreement reached with the local authority children's social care 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 local authority children’s social care should co-ordinate a strategy meeting/discussion, including legal representation, to develop a plan to locate or access the child and progress the section 47 enquiry.
All section 47 enquiries should adhere to standards around:
At the completion of a section 47 enquiry, local authority children's social care must evaluate and analyse all the information gathered and 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.
- Substantiated but child is not judged to be at continuing risk of significant harm but may benefit from early help services.
If children's social care decides not to proceed, other professionals involved with the child and family have the right to request children's social care convene a conference if they have serious concerns that a child's welfare may not be adequately safeguarded.
If disagreement continues, local procedures for the resolution of conflicts/escalation policy should be followed.
Where concerns of significant harm are not substantiated:
Local authority children’s social care should:
- discuss the case with the child, parents and other professionals
- determine whether support from any services may be helpful and organise or ensure another professional organises this support, for example early help, where required
- consider whether the child's health and development should be re-assessed regularly against specific objectives and decide who has responsibility for doing this.
Other professionals 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.
Where concerns of significant harm are substantiated and the child is judged to be suffering, or likely to suffer, significant harm:
Local authority children’s social care should:
- Convene an initial child protection conference. The timing of this conference should depend on the urgency of the case, 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 the strategy meeting/discussion (or the strategy meeting/discussion at which section 47 enquiries were initiated if more than one has been held).
- 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.
- 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.
Other 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 in a formal report.
- Share the report with parents or, if this would be problematic, consult the appointed conference Chair to consider whether it would be justified to withhold some or all of the report from one or both of them (for example, in cases of domestic violence).
- Attend the conference and take part fully in decision making when invited.
Concerns substantiated, but child not judged to be at continuing risk of significant harm
In these cases social care and the agencies involved must agree a plan for ensuring the child’s future safety and welfare without a child protection conference. Multi-agency meetings may be needed to develop, implement and review this plan.