Section 47 of the Children Act 1989 places a duty on LAs to investigate and make inquiries into the circumstances of children considered to be at risk of ‘significant harm’ and, where these inquiries indicate the need, to decide what action, if any, it may need to take to safeguard and promote the child’s welfare. The investigation will form a core assessment, which is an in-depth assessment of the nature of the child’s needs and the capacity of his or her parents to meet those needs within the wider family and community context.
Duties to make inquiries under Section 47 arise in the following circumstances: -
The LA must then make, or cause to be made, such inquiries as it considers necessary to enable it to decide whether it should take any action to safeguard or promote the child’s welfare.
Where the LA is informed of a child contravening a curfew notice it must initiate its investigation as soon as is practicable and, in any event, within 48 hours of receiving the information.
Emergency proceedings may be required to protect the child at any stage where it becomes apparent that the child is at immediate risk of serious harm, and normally it is expected that there will be a ‘strategy discussion’ between Children’s Services, the police and other agencies involved before action is taken. Where the immediate removal of a child is needed, Working Together indicates that the LA should rely on an application for an EPO and not Police Protection powers.
The outcome of the investigation should be recorded in writing and a copy given to the parents and any professionals and agencies involved in advance of any Child Protection Conference that is convened. In exceptional cases, the police can interview a child without informing his or her parents. This is likely where a child does not yet wish his or her parents know about the allegations or there is a risk that the parents will threaten the child or otherwise coerce the child into silence.
The child’s welfare must remain paramount in the minds of those undertaking the investigation and consideration of the child’s short and long term best interests will govern all decisions and actions.
It is vital that all frontline professionals working with vulnerable children and families have easy access to good quality, reliable legal information and advice. The Child Protection Project's remit extends to looked after children and this is an exciting new resource for independent reviewing officers.
Amanda Checkley Chair, London IRO Practitioners' Group