8.8 Strategy Discussions and Section 47 Enquiries

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AMENDMENT

This chapter was updated in June 2022. 

Contents

1. Strategy Discussions

In the case of a pre-birth Strategy Meeting (see Pre-Birth Child Protection Procedure), this should involve the Midwifery Service.

If the child is in a hospital setting (in-patient or out-patient) or receiving services from a child development team and/or there is or is suspected perplexing presentation or fabricated or induced illness, the Paediatric Consultant responsible for the child's health should be involved, as should the senior ward nurse where the child is an in-patient. When a medical examination may be necessary, or has taken place, a senior doctor from those providing services must also be involved.

When a child appears to be subject to sexual exploitation, including involvement in internet child abuse images, consideration may need to be given to the need to seek advice from or invite a professional with expertise in the particular type of suspected Significant Harm. Where parents or adults in the household are experiencing problems such as domestic abuse, substance misuse or mental illness, it will also be important to consider involving the relevant Adult Services professionals.

Where a Strategy Discussion is being convened in relation to a child who is ordinarily resident in another Local Authority, her/his home authority must be informed as soon as possible, and be involved as appropriate in the Strategy Discussion.

The Strategy Discussion should be convened by Surrey Children's Social Care (who as lead professionals have the final decision) and those participating should be sufficiently senior and able to contribute to the discussion of available information, and to make decisions on behalf of their agencies. Unless otherwise specified in a procedure, Strategy Discussions will be chaired by a Team Manager. Refer to The Surrey FaST Resolution Process for any professional disagreements.

A Strategy Discussion may take place following a referral, or at any other time (for example, if concerns about Significant Harm emerge in respect of a child already in receipt of services).

The purpose of this meeting is to decide whether a Section 47 enquiry under the Children Act 1989 (CA 1989) is required and if so, to develop a plan of action for the Section 47 Enquiry.

Further details of the meeting format and requirements are available in the Strategy discussion crib sheet.

A Strategy Discussion should be considered:

  • When new information on an existing case indicates that a child has suffered, or is likely to suffer, Significant Harm;
  • When a child returns to the care of, or resumes direct contact with, an adult who may have previously caused Significant Harm to this or another child;
  • When an adult or young person assessed as presenting a risk to children has moved into or is about to move into the child's household, or such a person is regularly visiting or about to have sustained contact with the child;
  • When the risks to an unborn child may be such as to indicate the need to develop a Child Protection Plan before birth;
  • When the death of a child in family, in which abuse or neglect is suspected, is confirmed and there are other children in the household;
  • When a child lives in, or is born to, a household in which resides another child who is currently the subject of a Child Protection Plan;
  • When a child who is currently the subject of a Child Protection Plan in another area moves into Surrey, unless the other authority is to retain responsibility for the case;
  • When a child has sexually assaulted another child or there is a risk of such an assault occurring to another child in the same household, or in regular contact with the household (in which circumstances a Child Protection Conference should be held on both children).

The Strategy /Discussion should be used, as an absolute minimum, to:

  • Share info available;
  • Agree the conduct and timing of any criminal investigation;
  • Decide whether enquiries under s47 of the CA 1989 must be undertaken;
  • Agree responsibility for the enquiries, including whether single or joint agency investigation;
  • Agree what information will be shared with whom and when, considering whether information sharing may place a child at increased risk of harm or jeopardise any criminal investigation. If urgent action is necessary, a decision will need to be taken about informing or consulting parents and child(ren), obtaining consents, taking legal action, accompanying the child and notifying parents - see Section 12, Seeing and Interviewing the Child and Section 14, Parental Involvement and Consent;
  • Agree the arrangements for obtaining consents to interview and carry out child assessments (see Section 12, Seeing and Interviewing the Child and Section 14, Parental Involvement and Consent); if the assessment is to take place during the course of Court proceedings, the Court's prior consent must be obtained, and any action necessary if parental consent for a medical assessment and/or interview is not given;
  • In cases where information indicates a history of violence and threatening behaviour by the parents towards professionals, consider the risks to the child(ren) and to staff, determine a strategy for managing the risk and agree joint action as appropriate;
  • Any decisions about taking immediate action should be kept under constant review.

2. Timescales of Strategy Discussion

Strategy Discussions must be held within a maximum of 3 working days of the decision being made that a Strategy discussion is required. The timeliness of the Strategy Discussion within those 3 days will be made in accordance with the child’s level of need and risk.  For allegations /concerns indicating a serious risk to the child e.g., serious physical injury or serious neglect), the Strategy Discussion must be held within 3 hours.

  • During this time, the allocated team, or Assessment Service if not open to Children’s Services, must decide on any immediate action to be taken to protect the child in conjunction with the Police Child Abuse Team;
  • The child must be seen and spoken to (observed for non-verbal children), within 24 hours of the Strategy Discussion;
  • For allegations of sexual abuse, the Strategy Discussion with SARC (Sexual assault Referral Centre) must be held on the day the Referral is received if this is required to ensure forensic evidence;
  • When emergency action is or has been taken by the Police or Surrey Children's Social Care, the Strategy Discussion must be held within 1 working day;
  • If the child is in a hospital setting and there are child protection concerns a Strategy Discussion must take place within that setting before the child leaves it;
  • When the concerns are particularly complex e.g. organised abuse, please refer to Ch 5.8 of the Procedures Manual - Complex (Organised or Multiple) Abuse.  
  • See Ch 5.13 of the Procedures Manual where concerns relate to Fabricated and Induced Illnesses and Perplexing presentations

3. When a Face-to-Face Meeting is required

A Strategy Discussion may take place at a meeting (face to face or virtual). In complex types of maltreatment a meeting is likely to be the most effective way of discussing the child's welfare and planning future action.

Face-to-face meetings must be held when there:

4. Recording of a Strategy Discussion

Agreed actions, the persons responsible and the agreed timescale must be recorded.

It is the responsibility of the Chair of the Strategy Meeting to ensure minutes are taken using the Record of Strategy Discussion and must include information sharing and decisions. The minutes should be brief and will outline the risk factors clearly, the reasons for decisions made and the agreed actions and timescales. All minutes will be shared with all participants within 72 hours, unless the Chair specifically agrees to an extension.

5. Duty and Decision to Undertake Section 47 Enquiries

Surrey Children's Social Care has a statutory duty to undertake Section 47 Enquiries in any of the following circumstances:

  • When for a child who lives or is found in its area, there is 'reasonable cause to suspect that a child has suffered or is likely to suffer Significant Harm’.
  • When a child is subject to an Emergency Protection Order;
  • When a child is subject to Police Protection;
  • When a person who has been convicted of or cautioned for an offence against a child and is considered to pose a risk to children moves into the household or has regular contact with a child.

Please also see guidance on Police Protection and Emergency Protection Orders, which can be accessed via the ‘SSCP website’ button on the left-hand side of the screen.

Responsibility for undertaking Section 47 Enquiries lies with Surrey Children's Social Care for children who live in or are found in Surrey, even if the child is ordinarily resident in another local authority’s area.

6. Conducting Section 47 enquiries

Social workers with their managers should:

  • Lead the enquiries in accordance with this guidance;
  • 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, assess their understanding of their situation, and assess their relationships and circumstances more broadly;
  • Interview parents and/or caregivers and determine 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 enquiry and evidence about what interventions are likely to be most effective with other relevant professionals. This is 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; and
  • Follow the guidance set out in Achieving Best Evidence in Criminal Proceedings: Guidance on interviewing victims and witnesses, and guidance on using special measures, where a decision has been made to undertake a joint interview of the child as part of any criminal investigation.

The social worker, when conducting a Section 47 Enquiry, must assess the potential needs and safety of any other child in the household of the child in question. In addition, Section 47 Enquiries may be required concerning any children in other households with whom the alleged abuser may have contact.

In determining which professionals should be involved in a Section 47 Enquiry, consideration could include who are the family most likely to cooperate with. In all cases where there is a known propensity to violence within the family household, consideration should be given to the strategy to be adopted, with Police advice or assistance if appropriate, about how to reduce the risks before any visits take place.

The child must always be seen and communicated with alone during a Section 47 Enquiry by the Lead Social Worker, unless it is contrary to his or her interests to do so. The Strategy Discussion Meeting will plan any interview with the child. The Record of Section 47 Enquiry and Reports to Child Protection Conferences 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.

Before a child is seen or interviewed, parental permission must be gained unless there are exceptional circumstances that demonstrate it would not be in the child's interests, and to do so may jeopardise the child's safety and welfare. Relevant exceptional circumstances would include:

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

In such circumstances, the social worker must take legal advice about how to proceed and whether legal action may be required, for example through an application for an emergency protection order or a child assessment order.

The police should:

Health professionals should:

  • Undertake appropriate medical tests, examinations or observations, to determine how the child's health or development may be being impaired;
  • Provide any of a range of specialist assessments, for example: physiotherapists, occupational therapists, speech and language therapists and child psychologists who may be involved in specific assessments relating to the child's developmental progress. The lead health practitioner (likely to be a consultant paediatrician, or possibly the child's GP) may need to request and coordinate these assessments; and
  • Ensure appropriate treatment and follow up health concerns.

All involved professionals should:

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

7. Integration with an Assessment

A Record of Outcome form (ROO) is the means by which Section 47 Enquiries are carried out and must be commenced whenever the criteria for Section 47 Enquiries are satisfied. The ROO must be completed within 5 working days from the point of strategy discussion.  A subsequent Child and Family Assessment may be required, which should not exceed 45 days from being initiated. 

Section 47 Enquiries should begin by focusing primarily on the information identified during the Strategy Discussion, which appears most important in relation to the risk of Significant Harm. This should be recorded on the ROO.

The Record of Outcome will:

  • Identify the cause for concern;
  • Evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the family;
  • Evaluate the risks to the child or children;
  • Consider the child's needs for protection;
  • Consider the ability of the parents and wider family and social networks to safeguard and promote the child's welfare – this must include both parents, any other carers and any partners of the parents;
  • Determine the level of intervention required both in the immediate and longer term.

The ROO will subsequently  inform the Assessment, which must cover all relevant dimensions in the Assessment Framework triangle 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.

Section 47 Enquiries and Assessments must be led by a qualified Social Worker from Surrey Children's Social Care, who will be responsible for its coordination and completion. The Social Worker must consult with other agencies involved with the child and family to obtain a fuller picture of the circumstances of all children in the household, identifying parenting strengths and any risk factors. Enquiries may also need to cover children in other households with whom the alleged offender may have had contact. All agencies consulted are responsible for providing information to assist, about any relevant persons in the household

At the same time, where there is a joint 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 8, Single Agency or Joint Enquiry/Investigation.

Enquiries and assessment should always involve separate interviews with the child and, in most cases, the parents, and the observation of interaction between the parent and child. This will include interviews and observations of both parents, any other carers and the partners of the parents. Any discussions with children should be conducted in a way that minimises distress; leading or suggestive communication must be avoided and interviews during the process of a criminal investigation must follow the Achieving Best Evidence Guidance (see also Section 12, Seeing and Interviewing the Child and Section 14, Parental Involvement and Consent).

If the child is too young to be interviewed or communication is difficult for any reason, alternative means of understanding the child's wishes and feelings should be used including the use of intermediaries.

8. Single Agency or Joint Enquiry/Investigation

See also the Section 47 Protocol between Surrey Children's Services and Surrey Police (which can be accessed by clicking on the 'guidance and protocols' button in the menu at the left hand side of the screen).

9. Surrey Children's Services – Single Agency Enquiry

Following a strategy discussion, a decision will be made as to whether there is going to be a single or joint agency enquiry. This may involve any of the following referrals:

  • Purely Emotional Abuse without any apparent physical indicators;
  • Physical Abuse resulting in minimal or no injury (except pre-mobile babies);
  • Minor or periodic Neglect insufficient to justify prosecution;
  • Indirect suspicions of Sexual Abuse;
  • Inappropriate sexualised behaviour of a child;
  • Where an offender who poses a Risk to a Child moves into a household but with no allegations made.
  • Where initial concerns of perplexing presentation and/or fabricated and induced illness have been raised, which do not warrant a police response (see Ch 5.13 of the Procedures Manual where concerns relate to Fabricated and Induced Illnesses and Perplexing presentations).

During the initial Strategy Discussion between agencies when a decision has been taken to pursue Section 47 Enquiries on a single agency basis, the arrangements for each agency to feed back to each other must be clarified at the outset.

If, at any point, during the Single agency S47 enquiries it becomes apparent that the joint investigation criteria are met, contact should be made with the Police and a joint investigation commenced.

Social Workers will therefore need to be aware of the need to:

  • Keep accurate and contemporaneous notes of any interviews;
  • Assess the child's willingness and ability to pursue a criminal complaint.

10. Police Single Agency Investigations

Police single agency investigations will  usually be appropriate for a variety of reasons. Two main examples, of this are:

  • They relate to the historical allegation of an adult who experienced abuse as a child; or
  • The alleged offender is not known to the child or the child's family (i.e. stranger abuse); in these situations, Surrey Children's Social Care must always be made aware and serious consideration must be given to assessing the child victim's needs.

When Police undertake a single agency criminal investigation, officers are responsible for all the associated investigative activities, e.g. conducting interviews of witnesses and suspects, visiting crime scenes and, in conjunction with the Social Worker, arranging medical assessments.

During a Police investigation the investigating officer must assess the risks posed by the alleged offender, consider the ongoing needs of any child victim and her/his family, and make a Referral to Surrey Children's Social Care as appropriate, and referrals for any other appropriate supportive and therapeutic services (e.g. outreach, ISVA etc).

If, during a Police investigation, it emerges that parental deficiencies in the care of a child have significantly contributed to the alleged offence, Surrey Children's Social Care must be contacted, a Strategy Discussion held and a joint enquiry / investigation commenced if appropriate.

If, during a Police investigation, a risk to other children is identified, a Strategy Discussion must be held and the need for a joint enquiry / investigation must be considered.

When there has been an initial Strategy Discussion and a decision has been taken to pursue a Police single agency investigation, the arrangements for the agencies to feed back to each other must be clarified at the outset.

On occasions, in urgent criminal cases (critical incidents), the Police may conduct a single agency investigation out of hours because of their duty to respond and take initial action to protect either a child or criminal evidence.

If this occurs, Surrey Children's Social Care must be informed as soon as possible and a Strategy Discussion held to consider the need for a joint investigation if appropriate.

11. Joint Investigation

Joint investigations are conducted by Surrey Children's Social Care and the Police. A joint investigation must always commence when there is an allegation or reasonable suspicion that one of the criminal offences described below has been committed:

  • Any suspected sexual offence committed against a child aged up to and including age 17;
  • Serious neglect or ill-treatment or emotional harm actionable under Section 1 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933;
  • Serious physical injury to a child, aged up to and including 17, any assault involving actual or grievous bodily harm, repeated assaults involving minor injury (this includes bruising and/or mental trauma although if the injury is mental trauma, there must be medically recognisable signs before a prosecution can be contemplated);
  • Offences involving organised or institutionalised abuse, including allegations against teachers, Local Authority staff, health professionals, foster carers, prospective adopters and volunteers - see Child Protection Plan or a Looked After child.  The LADO must be contacted to ensure appropriate organisational oversight. Contact details here;
  • Injury to a pre-mobile child. Actual or Suspected bruising in Infants who are Not Independently Mobile.
  • Perplexing Presentations or Fabricated or Induced Illness with evidence of significant harm and the possible need for police to secure any potential evidence - See Ch 5.13 of the Procedures Manual where concerns relate to presentations.

For other cases of minor injury, the following factors must be considered in determining seriousness of allegation or concerns and whether the threshold for joint investigation has been met:

  • Vulnerability of the child (including age, disability and special needs);
  • A previous history of minor injuries;
  • Intent of the assault e.g. strangulation may leave no marks and is very serious, or the perpetrator intended to cause more serious harm than actually achieved;
  • Use of weapons;
  • Previous concerns from another caring agency;
  • Consistency with and clarity or credibility of the child's accounts of the injuries;
  • Other predisposing factors about the alleged perpetrator e.g. criminal convictions, alcohol/drug.

Following a full assessment of the available facts, the Police and/or Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) may decide at any stage to terminate a criminal investigation and will inform the Social Worker of the decision.

Where there is a joint investigation, there should be a separate Surrey Children's Social Care record of all Section 47 Enquiries. A copy of the Police record alone is not sufficient.

12. Seeing and Interviewing the Child

Children who are the subject of Section 47 Enquiries should always be seen and communicated with alone by the Lead Social Worker. In addition, all children within the household must be seen and communicated with during Section 47 Enquiries by either the Police or Surrey Children's Social Care or both agencies, enabling an assessment of their safety to be made.

The children who are the focus of concern must be seen alone, subject to their age and willingness, preferably with parental permission (see Section 14, Parental Involvement and Consent).

The Strategy Discussion must decide where, when and how the child or children should be seen.

When the child is the subject of ongoing Court proceedings, legal advice must be sought about obtaining permission from the Court to see the child.

Surrey Children's Social Care and the Police should ensure that appropriate arrangements are in place to support the child through the enquiry / joint investigation. Specialist help may be needed if:

  • The child's first language is not English;
  • The child appears to have a degree of psychological and/or psychiatric need and is deemed competent;
  • The child has a physical/sensory/learning disability;
  • Interviewers do not have adequate knowledge and understanding of the child's racial, religious and cultural background;
  • Unusual or bizarre abuse is suspected.

It may be necessary to provide information to the child in stages and this must be considered in planning the Section 47 Enquiries.

Explanations given to the child must be brought up to date as the Section 47 Enquiry/joint investigation progresses. In no circumstances should the child be left wondering what is happening and why.

The objectives in seeing the child are to:

  • Record and evaluate her/his/their appearance, demeanour, mood state and behaviour;
  • Hear the child's account of allegations or concerns. All questions posed to a child must be recorded/noted verbatim along with their verbal and nonverbal responses. These can be recorded/noted verbatim by either the police officer and or social worker to ensure initial disclosures are recorded for any future family/criminal proceedings;
  • Observe and record the interactions of the child and her/his carers;
  • See and record the circumstances in which the child is currently living and sleeping and, if different, her/his ordinary residence;
  • Evaluate the physical safety of the environment including the storage of hazardous substances e.g. bleach, drugs;
  • Ensure that any other children who need to be seen are identified;
  • Assess the degree of risk and possible need for protective action;
  • Meet the child's needs for information and re-assurance.

Following this visit professionals should agree the next steps including whether the child needs to be further interviewed.

13. Inability to Access the Child

If efforts to see and communicate with the child or children within the timescales agreed at the Strategy Discussion are unsuccessful, the Social Worker  within 24 hours must undertake the following

  • Inform the relevant manger, and seek legal advice as appropriate;
  • In consultation with her/his/their manager, arrange a further Strategy Discussion.

The strategy discussion discussion must consider the following:

  • Level of risk
  • Actions to be taken by each agency
  • Whether this is sufficient concerns to recommned Childrne’s Servcies circulate information nationally to all other agencies
  • Trace the whereabouts of the child (if unknown)
  • See the child and carry out the S47 enquiries.

14. Parental Involvement and Consent

The Social Worker has 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.

The assessment of the parents must include both parents, any other carers and partners of the parents.

Checks should be completed on a parent who assumes the care of a child during a Section 47 Enquiry.

In most cases, parents should be enabled to participate fully in the assessment and enquiry process, which must be explained to them verbally and in writing by providing the Surrey SCP booklet 'Families' Guide to Child Protection'. If a parent has a specific communication difficulty or English is not their first language, an interpreter should be provided. Copies of the booklet can be translated into the family's first language if needed.

Consideration should be given to the capacity of the parents to understand the information in a situation of anxiety and stress.

Parents must 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 must 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 Section 47 Enquiries to parents, the following points should be covered:

  • An explanation of the reason for concern and, when 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);
  • An explanation of their rights as parents including the need for support and guidance from an advocate whom they trust (advice should be given about the right to seek legal advice);
  • 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 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.

Any objections or reservations expressed by parents during a Section 47 Enquiry, and the response to these objections or reservations, must be clearly recorded.

15. When a Medical Assessment is necessary

Strategy Discussions must consider, and where possible in consultation with the Named Doctor/ Paediatrician (if not part of the Strategy Discussion), the need for and timing of a medical assessment.

See Child Protection Medical Guidance for Medical professionals, Children’s services and Police (Ch 4.16) for full details on how to arrange a CP medical (including referral for a child sexual abuse medical).

16. Outcome of the Section 47 Enquiries

Section 47 Enquiries are concluded at the point when an informed decision is made taking account of all information available as to whether the child has suffered or is likely to suffer Significant Harm or not.

When a joint investigation has been held, all professionals involved need to be updated of the outcome and if necessary, a further professional meeting can be arranged.

Section 47 Enquiries will result in one of 2 possible outcomes:

  • Child protection concerns are not substantiated.  Where the concerns are not substainted it may still important to complete an assessment and consider if further support is needed.

In all cases, the outcome must be authorised by a Surrey Children's Social Care manager who must decide if the Assessment should be, or has been, completed or should be continued.

Where the child has been judged to need further services a meeting of involved professionals and family members must be convened at the end of the  Assessment to agree what actions should be undertaken by whom and with clear idneitfed outcomes that are in line with the risk and needs of the child.

Discontinuing Section 47 Enquiries

If it is clear that the criteria for Section 47 Enquiries are not / no longer satisfied, any decision to cease Section 47 enquiries must be taken in consultation with the Police and other involved agencies, in particular the referring agency, after checks have been completed. This decision must be authorised by a Surrey Children's Social Care manager who must record whether the Assessment should be completed.

Recording Section 47 Enquiries

A full written record must be completed by each agency involved in Section 47 Enquiries, using any required agency pro-forma, signed and dated by the lead member of staff involved from that agency.

Any rough notes made by practitioners must be retained by them, until the completion of any anticipated legal proceedings.

Surrey Children's Services recording of enquiries must be carried out using the Record of Strategy Discussion and Record of Outcome of S47 enquiries as recording tools. Notes of all contacts, visits, etc. must be made and these notes must then be transcribed into case notes or used as the basis for the record on the case file. The Record of Outcome of Section 47 Enquiries must 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.

If, following consultation with the Police, during the investigation and planning stage, it appears that criminal or other legal proceedings are likely this must be recorded in the child’s record (Contemporaneous – normally made with 24 hours of contact.)

This page is correct as printed on Monday 26th of February 2024 06:10:13 PM please refer back to this website (http://surreyscb.procedures.org.uk) for updates.