Where a child is suspected to be suffering, or likely to suffer, significant harm, the local authority is required by s47 of the Children Act 1989 to make enquiries, to enable it to decide whether it should take any action to safeguard and promote the welfare of the child.
Responsibility for undertaking s47 enquiries lies with local authority children’s in whose area the child lives or is found.
Child Protection Enquiries will result in one of the following outcomes:
- Concerns are unfounded;
- Concerns remain but no real evidence to substantiate;
- Concerns are substantiated but child not judged to be at continuing risk;
- Child judged to be at continuing risk of significant harm.
Where the concerns prove to be unfounded, the decision must be made that that no further action is necessary. Before this conclusion may be drawn, the child, any other children in the household and the child’s carers must all have been seen and spoken to. This outcome would represent the end of the core assessment.
Where there is no real evidence that harm has been caused to the child, but social services maintain concerns over the welfare of the child, a Section 17 multi-agency plan will be drawn up to address the child’s safety as well as welfare needs. Part of this may include the establishing of arrangements to monitor the child’s welfare.
In certain circumstances, it may be established that the child has indeed suffered significant harm, but evidence is that there is no continuing risk of harm to the child.
Such circumstances would include:
- The family’s circumstances have changed;
- The person responsible for the harm is no longer in contact with the child;
- The significant harm was incurred as the result of an isolated abusive incident e.g. abuse by a stranger.
Where concerns are substantiated, but it is agreed that a child protection conference is unnecessary, a plan must be still be drawn up to set out:
- Who is responsible for which actions;
- The intended outcomes for the child’s health and development;
- The timescale for the actions;
- How progress will be reviewed and by whom;
- What course of action should be followed if the plan is not being successfully implemented.
Should it occur that the risk assessment finds that the child is at continuing risk of significant harm, a child protection conference must immediately be convened.
The children’s social worker is responsible for recording the outcome of the s47 enquiries consistent with the requirements of the relevant recording system. The outcome should be put on the child’s electronic record with a clear record of the discussions.
Notification, verbal or written, of the outcome of the enquiries, including an evaluation of the outcome for the child, should be given to all the agencies who have been significantly involved, the parents and children of sufficient age and appropriate level of understanding, in particular in advance of any initial child conference that is convened.