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This chapter should be read in conjunction with the Peterborough Safeguarding Children Board’s Threshold Document.

Initial Decision Making – Procedures to be followed

Within one working day Children’s Social Care will:

  • Decide – on the basis of available evidence – whether there are concerns about either the child’s health and development or actual and/or potential harm, which justifies an Initial Assessment to establish whether this child is a Child in Need;
  • Record the referral on the Referral and Information Record including decisions taken as to what is to happen next;
  • Acknowledge a referral in writing.

This initial consideration of the case should be based on:

  • Discussion with a referring professional;
  • Consideration of information held on past records;
  • Discussion with any other professionals as appropriate. Where fabricated illness is a possibility the paediatrician responsible for the child’s health care must be consulted as part of the initial decision making process.

It is the responsibility of the referrer to:

  • Contact Children’s Social Care again if they have not received a written acknowledgement within 3 working days;
  • Record in their own agency records the decisions taken following referral.

Information Gathering and Sharing

When deciding whether it is necessary to approach other agencies for further information to assist initial decision making, consideration should be given to the advice on information sharing set out in Government guidance Information Sharing: Practitioners and Managers Guide.

Also see Making Referrals to Children’s Social Care Procedure.

Seeking consent from parents should be the first option when deciding whether to contact other agencies for information. However, in some circumstances, the proportional response at the initial decision making stage may be to seek information without contacting the parents. For example, in order to decide whether a referral is malicious, it may be that one phone call to another agency might prevent extreme distress to the parents/child. Whichever approach is taken the practitioner must record the reasons for their action on the Referral and Information Record.

If there is reasonable cause to suspect that a child may be suffering, or likely to suffer Significant Harm, parental permission to seek information should only be sought where such discussion and agreement – seeking will not place the child at increased likelihood of suffering Significant Harm, or lead to any interference with any potential investigation.

When responding to referrals from a member of the public, details about referrers, including identifying details, should only be disclosed to third parties (including subject families and other agencies) with the consent of the referrer.

Procedures to be Followed After the Initial Decision has Been Made

Where the decision is no further action:

  • Feedback should be given to the referrer, who should be told of the decision and reasons for it. In the case of public referrals, this should be done in a manner which is consistent with respecting the confidentiality of the child.

Where the decision is to conduct a Single Assessment of the child’s needs

  • The assessment should be led by a qualified and experienced social worker, supervised by a highly experienced and qualified social work manager, and the assessment carried out in line with the Assessments Procedure.

Where likelihood of Significant Harm has been identified

Where immediate action is needed to protect the child

  • The Team Manager in Children’s Social Care should ensure that a qualified and experienced duty social worker is made available and action is taken in line with Section 5, Immediate Protection of the Child.

Assessment of the Child’s Needs

An Assessment is a brief assessment of each child referred to Children’s Social Care to determine whether the child is a Child in Need and the nature of any services required. Where a Common Assessment Framework has been completed prior to referral, the Assessment should build on the assessments already undertaken.

Where a Lead Professional had previously been appointed for the child, Children’s Social Care should agree with the Lead Professional who should continue to co-ordinate services currently in place.

An Assessment will:

  • Be completed within 10 working days of referral;
  • Be led by a qualified and experienced social worker, supervised by a highly experienced and qualified social work manager;
  • Include the child being seen. The child should be seen by the Lead Social Worker without his or her carers when appropriate;
  • Be carefully planned with clarity about who is doing what, as well as what information is to be shared with the parents;
  • Be undertaken in collaboration with all those involved with the child and the family;
  • Take into account all relevant information (including information about the history and functioning of the family both currently and in the past, and adult problems such as domestic violence, substance misuse, mental illness and criminal behaviour/convictions);
  • Use the Framework for Assessment of Children in Need (DOH 2000). This includes consideration of the child’s developmental needs, parenting capacity and family and environmental factors. For full details visit the Department of Health website;
  • Use the Assessment Record to record information, analysis and judgement, including the date when the child was seen by the Lead Social Worker and whether the child was seen alone;
  • Ensure that where concerns regarding Significant Harm are identified, a Strategy Discussion is arranged immediately to decide whether to initiate a Section 47 Enquiry;
  • Ensure that where there are no concerns about harm, but the assessment confirms that the child is a Child in Need, a planning meeting is held with the child, family and relevant professional in order to agree the Child in Need Plan. The plan should be recorded and a copy given to the child, family and professionals who are involved in providing services as part of the plan. At this meeting consideration should be given as to whether a more detailed Assessment of the child’s needs is required.
  • An Assessment is deemed completed once the assessment has been discussed with the child and family and authorised by the manager.

See Practice Guidance – Actions to be taken following a referral to Children’s Social Care which will assist those carrying out Assessments.

Immediate Protection of the Child

Emergency action might be needed:

  • As soon as a referral is received;
  • At any point in involvement with children and their family.

Children in need of protective action may include not only the referred child but also

  • Other children in the household;
  • Children in the household of an alleged perpetrator or elsewhere.

It should be remembered that Neglect as well as Physical Abuse or Sexual Abuse can result in the child suffering or likely to suffer Significant Harm and that immediate protective action is needed.

It is the responsibility of the local authority where the child is found to take action to secure the immediate safety of the child. Where the child is Looked After or subject to a Child Protection Plan in another authority that authority should be consulted. Only when the other authority explicitly accepts responsibility (subsequently confirmed in writing) is the first authority relieved of the responsibility to take emergency action.

Where there is a risk to the life of a child or a likelihood of the child suffering immediate harm, Children’s Social Care or the police should act quickly to secure the immediate safety of the child. However, powers of Police Protection should only be used in exceptional circumstances where there is insufficient time to seek an Emergency Protection Order or for reasons relating to the immediate safety of the child.

Planned emergency action should normally take place following an immediate Strategy Discussion between police, Children’s Social Care, and other agencies involved with the child and their family. Legal advice should normally be obtained before initiating legal action, in particular when an Emergency Protection Order is sought.

Where a single agency has to act immediately a Strategy Discussion should take place within twenty four hours in order to plan next steps.

A Section 47 Enquiry should be immediately initiated following any emergency action in order to assess the needs and circumstances of the child and agree action to safeguard and promote the welfare of the child in the long term.

The child’s safety should be secured by either:

  • A parent/carer taking action to remove an alleged perpetrator;
  • The alleged perpetrator agreeing to leave the home;
  • The child remaining in a safe place or being removed to a safe place, either on a voluntary basis or by obtaining an Emergency Protection Order;
  • The police using their powers to place a child in Police Protection and remove a child, or keep a child in suitable accommodation.

Where the child is Looked After by the local authority, the child’s social worker and Independent Reviewing Officer should be informed of the action taken at the earliest opportunity.

Practice Guidance – Actions to be taken following a referral to Children’s Social Care

The Assessment Process

“The quality of the initial response and the subsequent Assessment is crucial, as it determines the whole course of work with that family”, Safeguarding Children: A Joint Chief Inspectors Report on Arrangements to Safeguard Children (2002).

Although the Assessment is a brief assessment of the needs of the child, it is important that it is a thorough piece of work. This will ensure that appropriate decisions can be made about whether or not the child is In Need and suffering or likely to suffer Significant Harm. The following should be used by practitioners and managers to check the quality of the assessment process.

  • All relevant information, including information about the history and functioning of the family both currently and in the past, and adult problems such as domestic violence, substance misuse, mental illness and criminal behaviour/convictions, should be taken into account. This includes seeking information from relevant services if the child and family have spent time abroad;
  • Information should be obtained from family members as appropriate, professionals, and others in contact with the child and family;
  • The child should always be seen and spoken to (according to age and understanding) when necessary and appropriate on their own. All interviews should be undertaken in a way that minimises distress to them and maximises the likelihood that they will provide accurate or complete information. As it will not necessarily be clear whether a criminal offence has been committed, leading or suggestive questions should be avoided. (Where a criminal offence may have been committed the process set out in Achieving Best Evidence will be followed;
  • Where the child has communication differences due to impairment this should not be a reason for failing to obtain the child’s wishes and feelings. The plan for the assessment should include consideration of how to best communicate with the child, including the use of non-verbal communication methods;
  • Interviews should always be undertaken in the preferred language of the child and family. A commissioned interpreter should be used;
  • The assessment should not only gather information but should analyse this information using professional judgement. Professional judgement will be informed by, knowledge from research and the literature, expertise based on past experience, the perspective of the child and family and clarity about how values and attitudes and work context may be affecting the analysis;
  • Analysis of the information should lead to a judgement about the child’s needs and how far parents are able to meet these needs within their current social context.

Research has shown that there are common pitfalls in the process of conducting Assessments. These pitfalls, and how to avoid them are presented below in order to assist the assessment process (Cleaver H., Wattam C., Cawson P., & Gordon R. Children Living at Home: The Initial Child Protection Enquiry. Ten Pitfalls and How to Avoid Them In: Assessing Risk in Child Protection, London: NSPCC, 1998).

Assessment and Enquiries: Ten Pitfalls and How to Avoid Them

1. Not enough weight is given to information from family, friends and neighbours.

Ask yourself: Would I react differently if these reports had come from a different source? How can I check whether or not they have any substance? Even if they are not accurate, could they be a sign that the family are in need of some help or support?

2. Not enough attention is paid to what children say, how they look and how they behave

Ask yourself: Have I been given appropriate access to all the children in the family? If I have not been able to see any child, is there a very good reason, and have I made arrangements to see him/her as soon as possible, or made sure that another relevant professional sees him/her? How should I follow up any uneasiness about the child/ren’s health or well-being? If the child is old enough and has the communication skills, what is the child’s account of events? If the child uses a language other than English, or alternative non verbal communication, have I made every effort to enlist help in understanding him/her? What is the evidence to support or refute the young person’s account?

3. Attention is focused on the most visible or pressing problems and other warning signs are not appreciated.

Ask yourself: What is the most striking thing about this situation? If this feature were to be removed or changed, would I still have concerns?

4. Pressures from high status referrers or the press, with fears that a child may die, lead to over-precipitate action.

Ask yourself: Would I see this referral as a child protection matter if it came from another source?

5. Professionals think that when they have explained something as clearly as they can, the other person will have understood it.

Ask yourself: Have I double-checked with the family and the child/ren that they understand what will happen next?

6. Assumptions and pre-judgements about families lead to observations being ignored or misinterpreted.

Ask yourself: What were my assumptions about this family? What, if any, is the hard evidence which supports them? What, if any, is the hard evidence which refutes them?

7. Parents’ behaviour, whether co-operative or uncooperative, is often misinterpreted

Ask yourself: What were the reasons for the parents’ behaviour? Are there other possibilities besides the most obvious? Could their behaviour have been a reaction to something I did or said, rather than to do with the child?

8. When the initial enquiry shows that the child is not suffering or likely to suffer Significant Harm, families are seldom referred to other services which they need to prevent longer term problems.

Ask yourself: Is this family’s situation satisfactory for meeting the child/ren’s needs? Whether or not there is a child protection concern, does the family need support or practical help? How can I make sure they know about the services they are entitled to, and can access them if they wish?

9. When faced with an aggressive or frightening family, professionals are reluctant to discuss fears for their own safety and ask for help.

Ask yourself: Did I feel safe in this household? If not, why not? If I or another professional should go back there to ensure the child/ren’s safety, what support should I ask for? If necessary, put your concerns and requests in writing to your manager.

10. Information taken at the first enquiry is not adequately recorded, facts are not checked and reasons for decisions are not noted.

Ask yourself: Am I sure the information I have noted is 100% accurate? If I didn’t check my notes with the family during the interview, what steps should I take to verify them? Do my notes show clearly the difference between the information the family gave me, my own direct observations, and my interpretation or assessment of the situation? Do my notes record what action I have taken/will take? What actions all other relevant people have taken/will take?

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