Initiating Section 47 enquiries

A section 47 enquiry is initiated to decide whether and what type of action is required to safeguard and promote the welfare of a child who is suspected of or likely to be suffering significant harm.

Overview

A section 47 enquiry is carried out by undertaking or continuing with an assessment in accordance with the guidance set out and following the principles and parameters of a good assessment.

Local authority social workers have a statutory duty to lead assessments under section 47 of the Children Act 1989. The police, health professionals, teachers and other relevant professionals should help the local authority in undertaking its enquiries.

Purpose

A section 47 enquiry is initiated to decide whether and what type of action is required to safeguard and promote the welfare of a child who is suspected of or likely to be suffering significant harm.

Social workers with their managers

  • should lead the assessment in accordance with this guidance
  • should carry out enquiries in a way that minimizes distress for the child and family
  • should see the child who is the subject to concern to ascertain their wishes and feelings; assess their understanding of their situation; assess their relationships and circumstances more broadly
  • should interview parents and / or care givers and determine the wider social and environmental factors that might impact on them and their child
  • should systematically gather information about the child's and family's history
  • should analyse the findings of the assessment and evidence about what interventions are likely to be more effective with other relevant professionals 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
  • should 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 Police

Police Investigations

Section 47 enquiries may run concurrently with police investigations concerning possible associated crime(s). When a criminal offence may have been committed against a child, the timing and handling of interviews with victims, their families and witnesses can have important implications for the collection and preservation of evidence. Enquiries may, therefore, give rise to information that is relevant to decisions that will be taken by both local authority children's social care and the police and any important information gathered should be carefully and clearly recorded as obtaining strong clear evidence makes it less likely that a child victim will have to give evidence in a criminal court. When joint enquiries take place the police are the lead agency for the criminal investigation and children's social care the lead for the section 47 enquiries and the child's welfare.

The Police

  • should help other agencies understand the reasons for concerns about a child's safety and welfare
  • should decide whether or not police investigations reveal grounds for instigating criminal proceedings
  • should make available to other professionals any evidence gathered to inform discussions about the child's welfare and
  • should 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 the criminal investigations

Health Professionals

  • should undertake appropriate medical tests, examinations or observations to determine the child's health or development may be being impaired
  • should provide any of a range of specialist assessments. For example, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, speech and language therapists and child psychologists may be involved in specific assessments relating to the child's developmental progress. The lead health practitioner (probably a consultant paediatrician or possibly the child's GP) may need to request and coordinate these assessments and
  • should ensure appropriate treatment and follow up health concerns.

All involved professionals

  • should contribute to the assessment as required providing information about the child and family and
  • should consider whether a joint enquiry / investigation team may need to speak to a child victim without the knowledge of the parent or caregiver.

Seeing and interviewing children during enquiries

Section 47 enquiries should always involve interviews with the child who is the subject of a concern. The child should be seen by the lead social worker and communicated with alone when appropriate.

Children are sometimes the source of information about what has happened to them. Accurate and complete information is essential for taking action to safeguard and promote the welfare of the child, as well as for any criminal proceedings that may be instigated concerning an alleged perpetrator of abuse. When children are first approached, the nature and extent of any harm suffered by them may not be clear nor whether a criminal offence has been committed. It is crucial that even initial discussions with children are conducted in a way that minimizes any distress caused to them and maximizes he likelihood that they will provide accurate and complete information. Leading or suggestive communication should always be avoided. Children may need time and more than one opportunity to develop sufficient trust to communicate any concerns they may have.

In exceptional circumstances a joint enquiry/investigation team may need to speak to a suspected child victim without the knowledge of the parent or caregiver e.g. if there are fears that a child would be threatened or coerced into silence. It is important that a decision not to inform the parents is decided at a strategy discussion and that the reasons for it are carefully recorded by the chair. All joint interviews with children should be conducted by those with specialist training and experience in interviewing children and consideration should also be given to the gender of interviewers, particularly in cases of alleged sexual abuse (These issues are fully discussed in the practice guidance Achieving Best Evidence 2007).

Where a child or parent is disabled, it may be necessary to provide help with communication to enable the child or parent to express him/herself. Where a child's first language is not English an interpreter should be provided. If the child is unable to take part in an interview because of age or understanding, alternative means of communication should be used including observation where children are very young.

Non-cooperation of parents in s47 enquiries/Child Assessment Orders

The local authority should make all reasonable efforts to persuade parents to co-operate with section 47 enquiries. However, if the parents refuse access to a child - but concerns about the child's safety are not so urgent as to require an EPO (see immediate protection) - a local authority may apply to the court for a child assessment order. In these circumstances, the court may direct the parents/caregivers to cooperate with an assessment of the child, the details of which should be specified. The order does not take away that child's own right to refuse to participate in an assessment, for example, a medical examination, so long as he or she is of sufficient age and understanding. For further guidance on child assessment orders see page 5-55 of Volume 1 of the Children Act 1989 Guidance and Regulations, Court Orders.