If you are concerned that a child may be abused or seriously neglected then you can contact your local Children’s Services Department, the NSPCC, the police, or a health professional or teacher can make a referral to social services on your behalf.
Please note this information is referring to section 47 of the Children Act 1989, which has relevance to England and Wales. However, legislation, procedure and terminology vary between all UK nations and you can find out more information about the UK’s child protection systems on the NSPCC website.
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What is a social services Section 47 enquiry?
If there are serious concerns about the safety or welfare of a child or children, children’s services may decide that a child protection investigation is needed and they will conduct what is called a Section 47 enquiry. This means they will carry out a full investigation because there is reasonable cause to believe that a child or children living in that home has been abused or neglected or is likely to be abused or neglected in the future unless steps are taken to safeguard the child’s welfare. (The legal term they will use is ‘significant harm’).
If you have heard that they are going to carry out a Section 47 enquiry, please do not panic. This is to determine the child’s needs are being met. They will also use this enquiry to decide whether further action may be needed to safeguard and promote the child’s welfare. It is important to note that if it is decided child protection enquiries are needed, you do not get a choice in this, as your local authority have a legal duty to ensure children are safe.
You will be interviewed by a social worker, and, if there is an allegation that a child has been abused or seriously neglected, a specialist police officer may be involved. The child will also be seen to ensure their views are considered and, according to government guidance, this should be done without you present but it is likely they will ask for your consent. Depending on the concerns, they may require a medical examination by the GP or at the hospital and, again, they should seek your consent for this. However, even if you don’t give your consent they might consider the concerns are serious enough to continue with their enquiries. They have powers to use emergency options to remove your child/children from your care, if they feel they are in need of immediate protection. Child Law Advice offer information to understand what options are available to them in this type of situation.
Social services must seek your views and consider the child’s wishes and feelings when deciding what action should be taken in the Section 47 enquiry. Other information might be gathered from schools, GPs, or other professionals who know you and your child well. If there is someone you think they should talk to, to get a better understanding of your family, you should tell them.
Once the child protection enquiry has been carried out, social services will be in touch about the outcome. If they decide that there has been no cause for concern then no further action will be taken, although they should check with you whether the family still needs help. If they consider the child has probably been abused or neglected or is likely to be unless changes are made, then a child protection case conference will be arranged. This may be because they think you or someone else in your family has done something to harm the child, or because of something you haven’t done, such as getting necessary medical treatment, or making sure your child is properly supervised. Family Rights Group offer further information about the child protection process.
About the child protection conference
The child protection conference is a meeting to help everyone involved in this investigation to assess all the information and plan how to safeguard the child and promote their welfare. In most cases, parents and carers are encouraged to attend and are entitled to take someone for support or have a legal representative to accompany them too. To find out if you are eligible for legal aid, see Child Law Advice.
Social workers and other professionals who know the child well will give a report at the conference, and they should show you their report beforehand and check that it is accurate. If you disagree, the meeting chairperson should make sure you have a chance to put your point of view. At this meeting, it will be decided whether or not the child has suffered or is likely to suffer significant harm and whether there should be a formal child protection plan (CP Plan) put in place. If it is the case that a formal child protection plan is necessary, a record of the meeting and a detailed statement of the protection services to be provided will be given to the parents and the professionals. If it is decided that a formal protection plan is not necessary, but there are concerns about a child’s wellbeing, there may be agreement between the parents, children and professionals that a ‘family support plan’ (sometimes called a ‘child in need’ plan) should be in place to provide the support and services needed.
It is natural to worry that your children may be taken into care when there is a Child Protection Conference, but the aim of this meeting is to see how everyone can work together to address the concerns raised. Unless you voluntarily agree, only a court can order that a child should no longer live with their parents and this would only be in very harmful situations. If the members of the conference consider that a court order may be needed to protect your child the local authority will start a ‘pre-proceedings’ process and at that point you have a right to consult a solicitor and you are automatically eligible for legal aid. It is really important that you take legal advice if this happens.
Parents and children at the child protection conference
As a parent, you should be consulted at all stages of the process and kept informed about the decision to hold a child protection conference. Parents will usually be encouraged to attend a child protection conference. If there has been domestic abuse within the family home, parents may be invited to attend separately. Parents can bring a friend, supporter, solicitor or advocate to a child protection conference but you should check if they will be able to speak on your behalf. If you're a parent with a disability, the local authority has an obligation to make sure you can fully participate. The professionals at the meeting have also got to take into account race, religion and language barriers and take steps to ensure the parent is able to be involved whether it be access to an interpreter or other support. There are some cases where the Chair may say a parent cannot attend, this is in cases such as:
- If there is a suspicion that you have seriously injured or assaulted your child and criminal proceedings are being considered
- You have a history of violence or could be violent to someone at the meeting or after
- Parent has severe mental health issues
- If you arrive under the influence of alcohol or drugs
If you have been told not to come to a meeting and you feel it is without merit, you can speak to your legal representative and hopefully address this in writing. You could also ask that your views are expressed at the conference if you are not able to attend in person. You do have the right to make a formal complaint and may be able to seek a ‘judicial review’ of the decision to exclude you. However, it is important to seek legal advice about this.
At times, children are invited to come to the meeting but this depends on their level of understanding, their emotional health and their age. Social workers will only allow this to happen if they feel it is beneficial to the child or they have expressed a wish to attend. They will be given support before the meeting so they know what to expect. They may bring an advocate or supporter with them. If they do not attend, their views should still be expressed within the meeting.
Social Services Child Protection Plan
The aim of a Child Protection Plan is to ensure the child is well cared for and safe from harm, and to promote their health and development as they grow-up. It also considers how best the family around the child can be supported, for the benefit of the child’s welfare.
The Child Protection Plan is a written record for parents, carers and professionals. An outline plan will be agreed at the child protection conference and, within 10 days, a core group meeting will be held to develop a detailed plan. This group will include relevant professionals, parents/carers and the child/children, if appropriate. It will set out the following:
- What type/s of abuse or neglect have occurred or are thought likely to occur if the protection plan is not successful
- Whether the local authority should consider making a court application for a care or supervision order and call a ‘pre-proceedings meeting’ to which parents and their solicitor will be invited
- Who is the key worker for the child/parent (sometimes there will be a different key worker for the parents)
- Who are the members of the Core Group
- What work needs to be done by the parents and professionals to reduce the concern and safeguard the child
- What needs does the child have and how will they be met
- What are the parents’ needs and what support and services are to be made available to them
- When the work should happen and the date that the plan will be reviewed to see if it is still necessary, or there can be a less formal family support plan to provide the help needed instead
- Who is responsible for each part of the plan
You may have heard the term ‘Child Protection Register’ but this no longer exists in England, although it is continued to be used in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. It has been replaced by the recording of plans in order to emphasise that the process is about providing services to protect the child. The public cannot access information about whether there is a formal protection plan for a particular child and only the professionals involved with the child, or who may need to know if a child they are working with is the subject of a protection plan, have access to this information. It is worth asking your key worker or social worker to tell you who does know about it.
The core group takes responsibility to ensure the plan is followed and successful. It does this by undertaking regular reviews, which includes hearing the views of everyone involved in the plan, to get a good understanding of whether the plan is helping or needs to be changed. To know how often the core group meets, you will need to check your local authority’s child protection procedures or ask your social worker. It is difficult to say exactly how long a formal protection plan will be needed and, again, this is something that the key worker or social worker can talk to you about.
It may help to chat to other parents on our forums to find out how they are dealing with this issue within their family life. You can also talk to us online via our live chat service, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call us on our helpline on 0808 800 2222 to speak to trained family support worker.
Other organisations that can help
If social services are involved with your family, we recognise it may feel very distressing, worrying and stressful. Seeking support so that you feel confident about your rights and options is important. Other organisations that offer specialist support are: