If the initial checks, following a report, conclude that social services have reasonable cause to suspect that a child is at risk of significant harm as described in (The Children Act 1989) they should convene a strategy discussion/meeting to determine whether s47 enquiries should be initiated, and how these enquiries should be undertaken.
The purpose of the strategy discussion/meeting is to:
share and discuss, in detail, all information gathered to date, as well as the nature of the suspicion;
establish what, if any, immediate action is required to safeguard the child if they are at imminent risk of significant harm and/or what interim services and support should be provided;
consider the needs and safety of other children who may be affected, including siblings, adults at risk and other children in contact with the alleged abuser and whether to extend any enquiry to include any of these children and agree on any necessary action to keep them safe from harm;
determine if any immediate legal action is required;
draw on the information to determine if a care and support plan can be put into place.
A face to face strategy meeting may be more effective than a telephone conversation when:
the allegation concerns harmful sexual behaviours by one child towards another. separate strategy meetings should be held for each child;
the concerns centre on future risk of significant harm to an unborn child;
there are ongoing cumulative concerns amongst various agencies and a need to share these concerns to identify a course of action.
The discussion may take place at a meeting or by other means such as telephone or video-conference.
There is no specific Welsh Government guidance as to when a strategy discussion via telephone or face to face should take place. However, consideration should be given to the following questions:
How urgent is this discussion? If it is urgent it may not be possible to arrange for a face to face meeting
How many agencies need to be involved? If the strategy meeting involves just one or two agencies a telephone conversation is feasible. Telephone discussions do not lend themselves to the active engagement of several agency representatives.
Are the concerns of low or medium risk? The more complex and high risk the level of concerns the more valuable a face to face strategy meeting can be.
The strategy discussion initiate s47 enquiries – and should be held within one working day of decision to hold a discussion. For out of hours service/EDT these strategy discussions should be held immediately;
s47 enquiries need to be conducted within 10 working days of the strategy discussion/meeting, where the decision was made to initiate them;
if the outcome of the s47 enquiries and/or any subsequent strategy meeting/ discussion conclude that the case should proceed to initial child protection conference the conference should be held within 15 working days of that decision;
at any stage of the process sufficient information may be gathered that indicates the child is not suffering or at risk of suffering significant harm. If this is the case, the outcome should be recorded, and the family informed.
There may be exceptional circumstances when it is not in the child's interests to work to the above timescales. For example, complex cases such as fabricated and induced illness; suspected organised abuse. Any decision should be made by the senior manager with responsibility for safeguarding and recorded.
At a minimum, appropriate practitioners, with responsibility for child protection in police and social services, should be involved. Other practitioners should contribute as required:
community-based health practitioners can provide advice and guidance about any medical assessments that may be required and can co-ordinate the gathering of relevant information about the health of the child/ren and their family;
where a medical examination may be required a consultant paediatrician from the providing service should be involved;
the practitioner making the report should also participate;
practitioners from education should contribute if they have worked, or are working, with the child.
The engagement of other practitioners will depend on the individual nature of the case.
The practitioners participating in the strategy discussion should:
share all relevant and available information;
agree on any subsequent assessment process;
establish the way information about the strategy discussion is to be shared with the family and by whom. (practitioners should keep families fully informed unless such information sharing may place the child at risk of significant harm and/or jeopardise police investigations into any alleged offence(s);
identify the needs of other children and adults at risk who may be affected, such as siblings or those children in contact with alleged abusers.
The staff involved in the discussion must be authorised to make decisions on behalf of their agency.
The strategy discussion/meeting should be chaired by a social services practitioner who has the authority and expertise to chair these meetings, this will generally be determined by local arrangements.
The chair should:
ensure child-focused discussions that centre on the child’s well-being and safety and actual and potential risk of significant harm;
establish actions to be taken: who, why and when;
determine what information is shared with the child and family (if the police are involved in consultation with them);
record agreed actions and ensure actions are carried. if changes to these records are required the chair must agree these.
A record must be taken of the strategy discussion/meeting and saved within the case record of each child. This recording as a minimum should include:
a list of attendees and apologies received;
a record of the discussion and decisions taken;
a list of action points and their purpose;
agreed timescales for actions including assessments;
the persons responsible for carrying out identified actions;
the agreed mechanism and timescale for sharing the outcome of any designated actions and determining next steps;
agreed mechanisms to escalate concerns and timescales for the completion of agreed actions;
whether a child protection medical examination is required;
Any information shared, all decisions reached, and the basis for those decisions, must be clearly recorded and circulated within 1 working day to all parties relevant to the discussion. It is important that practitioners’ assigned tasks at the discussion/meeting are clear about those tasks and can initiate ascribed actions without waiting to receive the record.
More than one strategy meeting/discussion may be appropriate, depending on the circumstances of the case. Therefore, it is important Social services, and if a joint Enquiry the Police, decide whether to reconvene a strategy meeting/discussion to:
check on progress;
consider factors that may be impeding progress
gather more information;
assess new information;
If a practitioner disagrees with the strategy discussion/meeting decision, he/she should make representation to their own line manager. Consider use of Regional Safeguarding Boards Resolution Protocols.
When a report of possible abuse or neglect is received from/about a child not residing in their originating authority the initial strategy meeting/discussion must be convened by the authority where the child is found.
For example: a report is made whilst a child is on holiday or staying with a relative in the area. The local authority for that area is responsible for convening a strategy discussion/meeting.
The relevant social services managers should be informed about the report without delay, and the strategy meeting (or discussion where there are constraints such as distance) must be organised to allow for the participation of a representative of the originating authority, and the authority where the incident is alleged to have happened.
The strategy meeting will decide:
the authority that will have responsibility for carrying out the enquiries. this will normally be the authority in whose area the incident occurred;
what part should be played in the investigation by the other relevant Authorities.
The decision and reason for making it must be clearly recorded and made in the best interest of protecting the child.
During the initial strategy meeting/discussion the police and social services will decide whether the report requires a single or joint agency enquiry. There should never be separate or unrelated enquiries/investigations. These decisions should be guided by protocols agreed between the two services and approved by the Regional Safeguarding Board.
The reason for deciding that one agency alone will make enquiries must be carefully recorded. If at any point during a single agency enquiry, it becomes apparent that the criteria for a joint enquiry are met, immediate contact must be made with the other agency with a view to convening a further strategy discussion/meeting.
Example: Bethan 3 years old is an only child and has been the subject of a care and support plan for 3 months. Her mother died 12 months ago, and her lone parent father has found it difficult demonstrating any emotion towards Bethan since then. For example, he has never displayed physical emotion towards Bethan when he drops her off or collects her from nursery. Moreover, Bethan is frightened of engaging in any activities that might make her dirty as ‘daddy gets cross’.
Despite the care and support package, which focused on grief counselling and developing a bond between father and daughter, there appears to have been little progress. Indeed, both the social worker and nursery staff believe the situation has deteriorated. Bethan has indicated she eats meals on her own and is left to play in her room or on her tablet when she’s home with daddy. She has begun wetting and soiling herself and become resistant to leaving nursery at the end of each day, shouting that daddy hates her and she wants to stay with Mrs Grant, her nursery teacher.
Bethan’s father has told the social worker he cannot cope and he’s thinking about putting her up for adoption as he finds he resents her more and more.
The social worker, who manages the care and support plan, discusses this with the nursery and considers Bethan is suffering significant harm. She informs the father of her intention to request a strategy meeting to initiate s47 enquiries. Social services decide to hold a strategy meeting to consider or decide initiating s47 enquiries as evidence to date would indicate Bethan is experiencing significant harm. At this stage it does not appear that a criminal offence has been committed. A decision is taken that social services should proceed with the enquiries without police involvement. However, as information is gathered it transpires that Bethan’s father has been leaving her in the house alone for long periods in the evenings and at weekends. This constitutes wilful neglect and the police are contacted as to whether this should now be a joint enquiry.