What is a Section 47 Enquiry?
Before reading further it is important to understand the difference between the following terms and that this article is specifically for Section 47 Enquiries.
- Standards of Care.
- Section 47 Enquiry.
This Enquiry is usually initiated before a child is looked after however there are often cases where this happens while a child is looked after, potentially as a result of an Allegation.
It is important for Foster Carers to understand the enquiry process, and how to respond professionally. Equally, it is important to understand that it can often be an essential part of child protection, especially where an injury cannot be explained.
Section 47 refers to the Children Act 1989 and is specifically an investigation following a referral or assessment by a social worker who suspects a child is suffering or likely to suffer Significant Harm.
There are times that children, especially babies can give cause for concern and this will usually be from an unexplained injury or disclosure. There are also, sadly, times when a child will make an allegation that is unfounded and this can lead to a Section 47.
In the event that this happens, the process is swift and this can be extremely worrying for a Carer. Understanding your Role as a Professional will prepare you for this type of situation and will help you to understand the process and how to respond appropriately.
Initially, a Strategy Discussion Meeting will be held and this must take place within 24 hours of any child protection concern. A Children’s Social Care Manager will decide whether a multi-agency assessment is required. This assessment starts at the point of referral and finishes when the criteria for a S47 enquiry are satisfied. The assessment must be completed within 45 working days and before the Initial Child Protection Conference however, an Initial Child Protection Conference MUST be held within 15 working days of the Strategy Discussion Meeting.
The local authority has a statutory duty to lead S47 inquiries and a Qualified Social Worker will be expected to follow specific guidelines to complete the assessment. Police, health professionals, teachers, and other relevant professionals are expected to support the enquiries.
The purpose of S47 Enquiries is to establish whether and what action may be required to safeguard a child.
They should be conducted in line with guidance, within a timeframe to reduce stress for the child and family/carer, and take into account a child’s wishes and feelings and their understanding of the situation. Carers should be interviewed which can be daunting however it is necessary to ensure everyone is spoken to in order for the assessment to evidence what the level of risk is and possible intervention or potentially if a criminal investigation is required.
This inquiry will also consider the potential risk to other children in the household, including birth children. It is important to remember that while there may be no cause for concern for other children they will need to be considered in the assessment and this may have conditions while the assessment is carried out such as asking the person under investigation to live somewhere else and have no contact. This can be a frightening and isolating experience and at FosterWiki we understand how frustrating it can be when the process is taking time to assess what has happened.
All children involved in the assessment should be seen and communicated with alone during a S47 enquiry and if not this needs to be recorded by the Lead Social Worker as to who is present and why. Carers/ parents should be asked permission however there are reasons why this would not be sought such as evidence being destroyed, or a child being coerced, or threatened.
Other agencies involved in the assessment will have their own guidelines to follow such as:
- Health Professionals.
- Other professionals such as CAMHS.
The outcome of an S47 Enquiry is the responsibility of the local authority social worker and is agreed upon by a Team Manager.
Any enquiry or investigation carried out by the Police will be dealt with separately to establish if there is a criminal case.
It is important to remember that even if the Police have carried out an investigation that has No Further Action (NFA), the Local Authority are still duty-bound to complete their own S47 Enquiry with the decision from the assessment being:
- Not Substantiated.
In the event that an enquiry is substantiated the likely outcome will be returned to the panel at the earliest date and de-registration however this can also be the outcome for an unsubstantiated as outlined:
“As soon as possible after an investigation into a foster carer is concluded their approval as suitable to foster is reviewed…” NMS 22.8
It is crucial to work with your service provider throughout the process to ensure you understand the potential outcome and where possible continue in your caring role.
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