The purpose of s47 enquiries is to establish whether a child is suffering or is likely to suffer significant harm and requires intervention to safeguard and promote their well-being.
S47 enquiries are intended to:
gather enough information to determine:
what is in the best interests of the child to protect them from actual or likely [significant harm] and promote their well-being;
inform any subsequent care and support protection plan.
consider the potential needs and safety of any siblings, children or adults at risk in the household of the child in question or in contact with an alleged abuser;
inform decisions taken by both the police and social services about legal proceedings, whether criminal, civil or both.
To achieve the aims, practitioners should consider:
What do we need to know? Who is in contact with the child and their family? What relevant information might they hold?
How will the child and family be involved in the assessment process? Are we taking sufficient account of race, faith, ethnicity, disabilities, mental or physical illnesses?
What methods will be used to gather information? Are any in-depth assessments required?
Social services have lead responsibility for the enquiries. The social worker who leads the enquiries must be qualified and have completed the relevant training. They should also receive appropriate supervision.
The overall remit for the social worker is to focus on the well-being and safety of the child and to identify actual and potential risk of significant harm.
The social worker is responsible for:
taking the lead for and managing the s47 enquiry ensuring it is completed within the agreed timescales and in accordance with local protocols;
ensuring participating agencies and, where appropriate, the reporter is kept informed of progress and outcomes;
seeing the child/ren and, if the child is developmentally able, establishing their lived experience, wishes, feelings and desired outcomes;
ensuring communication reflects the specific needs and developmental age of the child/ren;
meeting with family members (separately and together depending on the situation) to gather sufficient information about the child/ren and their family to establish whether the child/ren are suffering or likely to suffer significant harm. Methods of communication should be used that take into account the individual needs of the family members. For example, use of interpreters to promote language of choice.
all adults living in the household and any significant others are identified and police checks completed;
checks with relevant agencies are completed and relevant information is obtained from these agencies;
an analysis is completed to identify whether the child has safety, care and support needs.
To keep the focus on the child and their care and support protection needs, it is important to:
try to keep an open mind, despite holding an initial opinion;
gather information from a range of sources;
confirm that practitioners asked for information are aware of the concern, that s47 enquires are being undertaken and possible actions resulting from this;
ensure information-gathering is proportionate to the task and that those who contribute to the enquiries and assessment appreciate what is being asked of them;
use a variety of tools – e.g. chronologies, genograms – to try to understand the family and their situation;
chronologies have been updated;
take a critical and analytical approach throughout.
It is all too easy for busy practitioners, working to tight timescales, to spring into action and begin to gather information without spending time planning the s47 enquiries in detail. This response can result in selective information-gathering that is not child-centred.
Table multi-agency planning for s47 enquiries: who does what? is designed to provide an overview of the tasks and actions that should be considered at the initial strategy discussion/meeting.
To make an informed analysis and professional judgement, about the needs of the child and the risk of significant harm, practitioners, led by the identified social worker from social services, should gather information that includes:
the incident or concerns that brought the child and their family to the attention of agencies;
the daily lived experience of the child(ren) and their main carer(s), as well as their wishes and feelings about their lives and desired outcomes;
family members’ perceptions of the incident and /or concerns, their needs, worries and strengths;
knowledge of the family, past and present, from professionals in contact with family members;
family structure, network and past family history;
the quality of attachments between child/ren and carers;
the strengths of the family;
the risks to the child(ren);
the child's need for protection;
the ability of parents and wider family and social networks to safeguard and promote the child's welfare.
Information-gathering is a process and is likely to be child-centred if practitioners who are engaged in the process are clear about the task and their specific roles and responsibilities.
S47 enquiries require practitioners to establish whether the child/ren are at risk of significant harm because of the parenting capacity of their parent/s or carer/s and why this might be the case.
To establish this, practitioners should consider:
The daily lived experience of each carer and how this impacts on their capacity to meet the needs of the child. It is important to recognise both met and unmet needs;
The carer’s attitude towards the child and their safety and any care and support needs;
Their ability and motivation to meet the needs of the child;
Whether adult-oriented issues are affecting parenting capacity;
Economic factors impacting on parenting capacity;
The part played by extended family, ex and current partners in family life and any support networks.
The voice of the child is central to understanding the abuse, neglect or harm the child has or is experiencing. It is important, therefore, that their lived experience, wishes and feelings are given due consideration.
The social worker leading the assessment will normally see the child/ren who are the focus of the s47 enquiries. They should be seen alone. If they are not seen alone, who was present and the reasons for their presence should be recorded. The social worker should be sufficiently competent to engage the child, assess the situation and take any immediate action needed to protect the child.
Consideration should be given to the gender of the social worker and consideration of the use of an advocate. This is particularly important in cases of suspected sexual abuse.
Seeing the child means:
explaining to them why they are being seen and providing information they request;
listening to what they have to say about the cause for concern;
observing their behaviour, appearance and demeanour;
observing how they interact parent/s and with the practitioner;
establishing their lived experiences;
gaining insights into their wishes and feelings and what they would like to change;
re-assuring and allaying any fears without making promises that cannot be kept.
When seeing the child, practitioners should consider the child’s cognitive ability and developmental stage and adapt communication methods accordingly.
Consideration should also be given to any specialist assistance that is required to ensure meaningful communication.
For example, does the child have:
a learning or physical disability or mental health issue;
uses augmentative methods for communication other than speech;
another language than English or Welsh as their first language?
Practitioners should also:
see and record living and sleeping arrangements;
identify safety issues for example drug paraphernalia lying about;
ensure that any other children or adults at risk of the home are identified and seen.
It is important practitioners recognise that even very young children can be given a voice.
It may be appropriate to speak to a child without the knowledge of the parent or caregiver. The following are examples of when this may occur. They are not a definitive list.
contact with the parent or the person with parental responsibility or caregiver cannot be made. For example: all attempts to locate a person with parental responsibility fail and to delay would jeopardise the safety or welfare of the child;
it is in the child’s best interests to proceed without contacting a person with parental responsibility. The reasons for this decision must be justified and be carefully recorded and should only be made if:
there is a possibility that a child would be threatened or be coerced into silence;
it is likely that evidence would be destroyed;
the child did not wish the parent to be involved at this stage and is competent enough to make this decision.
s47 enquiries will include information gathering from those who are professionally involved with the child or the family. This will entail discussions with practitioners from other agencies to gather the relevant information systematically.
Practitioners asked to contribute to an assessment should provide:
further information about the child and their family’s current situation and any actions/services which would be of immediate benefit to ensuring the child’s safety, care and support needs are met;
a chronology outlining the agency’s relevant involvement with the family drawing on case records.
For example: a list of dates of a neglected child’s attendance at a GP’s means little. What is relevant is information about attendance in terms of medical conditions, parents’ responses, for example attendance at appointments, engagement in treatment regimes
information past and present about the health and development of the child/ren, parenting capacity, adult-orientated issues, socio-economic factors;
a summary of service involvement and the impact of this provision on the child and their family.
Any information provided for s47 enquiries should be:
Necessary and proportionate; This means taking account of the nature of the request and the purpose for which the information will be used.
For example, information about the child’s current behaviour that indicates or could refute concerns that the child is subject to abuse and neglect.
Relevant; This means providing information appropriate for the specific request.
For example, Social services need to know about past concerns an agency may have had about the abuse or neglect of a child.
Adequate; This means information provided is sufficient to ensure it can be understood and relied upon.
For example, specific information about the behaviour that indicates the child is being abused or neglected, such as they begin shaking when a particular carer enters the room. It also includes information that may potentially refute concerns.
Accurate; This means it is based on fact not assumptions.
For example, being specific as to what has been observed, by whom such as the child’s response to a carer has been observed by staff in a family centre or a health visitor. Details of staff who have observed the behaviour should be provided.
Secure; This means information shared is restricted to those with a legitimate need to know and is shared securely.
For example, checking that any information provided will be securely stored and who will can access it.
Timely; This means it is restricted to what is required for a situation at the time.
For example, if the information is required urgently, enabling social services and the police to act to provide immediate protection, it may not be possible to seek the consent of the parent before sharing information.
Recorded; This means recording in writing what has been shared and why.
For example, be clear what information has been shared, with whom and for what purpose in line with agency recording procedures.
Each practitioner is expected to take ownership of the information they have contributed to the s47 enquiry and should ensure both the parent/s and child/ren are aware of what has been included. This is to avoid inaccuracies and shocks for family members once they see reports prior to or in the conference room or other arenas.
Confidential information that cannot be shared with the family and/or particular family members should be kept to a minimum and there should be a very clear rationale for not sharing with the family and/or a family member.
Where a child is the subject of ongoing Child Protection s47 enquiries and moves locality, the social worker will immediately inform their line manager and will be responsible for notifying the new authority without delay. This must be followed up in writing and provide the relevant documentation within two working days. The social worker will also inform the relevant agencies in the area from which the family has moved.
If the move is known about in advance, the social worker will be responsible for informing the parents that a report will be made to the new authority.
If the family move before the commencement of the enquiries and the originating authority indicates that they were about to commence s47 enquiries, a strategy discussion/meeting involving both authorities should be held by the receiving authority to plan the enquiries. This discussion/meeting must be held within 48 hours of the report being made. It is the role of the receiving authority to carry out an S47 enquiries and to clarify with the originating authority whether any emergency protective action is required. Decisions should be clearly recorded on both authorities’ case files.
If the family move during the Child Protection s47 enquiries, a strategy discussion must take place, convened by the originating authority. It must include the receiving authority. The meeting will establish roles and responsibilities. This must be recorded and placed on the child’s records in both areas.