When the local authority is called upon to carry out a child protection enquiry, that enquiry is based upon a social services risk assessment.
The initial enquiry is to assess the risk to the child of suffering significant harm. Section 47 of the Children Act 1989 cover the duty of social services to carry out such an enquiry and assessment, to determine whether or not action is called for to safeguard and promote the welfare of the child.
What is the Focus of a Risk Assessment?
As part of the initial child protection enquiry, the risk assessment must focus on the following:
- Identify the cause for concern;
- Evaluate the strengths of the family;
- Evaluate the vulnerability and resilience of all children in the family;
- Consider the protective factors and the child’s needs for protection;
- Detail and evaluate family history;
- Evaluate information from all sources and previous case records;
- Consider the ability of parents and wider family and social networks to safeguard and promote the child’s welfare;
- Consider how these risks can be managed.
The assessment must take into consideration both immediate risk to the child and long-term risk factors. An aspect of this is where there is an imminent change in the child’s circumstances. For instance, should a child currently be in hospital but is due to be discharged, the assessment must have established the safety of the home environment.
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. An interim care order should be drafted and issued to safeguard the child on an immediate basis. Waiting for a child protection conference to take place would be inappropriate as this may leave the child open to receipt of significant harm in the meantime.