When joint enquiries take place, the police have the responsibility for the criminal investigation and local authority has the lead for the s47 enquiries and the child’s well-being.
It is essential that the child, subject to age and understanding, is consulted and informed about what is taking place and helped to understand the process, the action being taken, its implications and possible consequences.
All staff undertaking joint enquiries should be conversant with the guidance provided by local protocols and guidance from Regional Safeguarding Board.
The child should always be kept informed of the process and outcome of the child protection enquiries and criminal investigation, subject to their age and level of understanding.
As the Police lead all criminal investigations it will be their responsibility to inform the child/ren, where appropriate about criminal investigations.
As part of a police investigation it may be necessary to interview the child. The Home Office guidance Achieving Best Evidence in Criminal Proceedings: Guidance for Vulnerable or Intimidated Witnesses including Children should be followed for all investigative interviews of children for criminal proceedings and conducted by specifically trained and experienced staff.
Social workers and police officers interviewing children should have received specialist training and in addition have knowledge and understanding of child development. They should be able to assess the child’s competence as a witness and have the skills to plan and conduct interviews with children.
Those interviewing the child should determine:
the context of the allegation, and associated criteria for a formal interview;
relevant background factors relating to the child and family;
consideration about the gender of interviewers particularly in cases of alleged sexual abuse;
consideration of any communication needs for the child;
who should be involved in planning the interview;
who should lead the interview;
technical and organisational oversight for the interview.
The interview is crucial for informing multi-agency decision-making and will form the basis of any subsequent criminal proceedings.
A child must never be interviewed in the presence of an alleged or suspected perpetrator of abuse, or somebody who may be colluding with a perpetrator, including a parent.
Where a child is of sufficient age and understanding to consent, their consent should be recorded on the video at the start of the interview.
In cases where the child is at school at the time of concern, the head teacher can consent to school premises being used for the interview.
In all cases which involve a criminal investigation, the decision about when to inform the parent will have a bearing on the conduct of Police investigations and the strategy meeting should decide on the most appropriate timing of parental participation.
In most circumstances, a parent or caregiver with parental responsibility should be consulted before the interview with the child, and their views listened to. If there is no one with parental responsibility, another permanent caregiver should be consulted, and legal advice sought. In cases where a video interview is to be undertaken, the investigating officer should give a pro-forma/information sheet to the parent/caregiver.
In certain circumstances it may be considered in the child’s interests to undertake a full or video interview without first consulting with a parent/caregiver. In such cases, except where the child is 16 years or over, legal advice should be sought by social services. In exceptional circumstances, where seeking such advice will cause a delay in the enquiry, the police reserve the right to proceed with the investigation on their own.
Where a decision is made not to seek parental consent relevant circumstances for this decision must be recorded and could include:
the possibility that the child would be put at further risk;
a strong likelihood that a child would be threatened or otherwise coerced into silence;
important evidence would be destroyed/lost;
the parent is identified as the alleged abuser;
the child in question did not wish the parent to be involved at that stage and is competent to take that decision.
Practitioners should refer to guidance on Achieving Best Evidence in Criminal Proceedings: Guidance on interviewing victims and witnesses and guidance on using special measures (March 2011) for further information. Failing to follow this guidance may result in the criminal and family courts finding the child’s evidence unreliable.