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1.3.4 Section 47 Enquiries


  1. Duty to Undertake a Section 47 Enquiry
  2. Purpose of a Section 47 Enquiry
  3. Decision to Undertake a Section 47 Enquiry
  4. Emergency Protective Action
  5. Obligations and Responsibilities of All Agencies
  6. Section 47 Enquiries Assessment
  7. Single Agency or Joint Enquiry/Investigation 
  8. Seeing and Interviewing the Child
  9. Parental Involvement and Consent
  10. Outcome of the Section 47 Enquiry
  11. Recording the Section 47 Enquiry
  12. Feedback on Outcome of Section 47 Enquiry
  13. Resolving Practitioner Disagreements

    Appendix 1: Body Maps

Also see:

1. Duty to Undertake a Section 47 Enquiry

Local authority social workers have a statutory duty to lead assessments under section 47 of the Children Act 1989. The Police, health professionals, teachers and other relevant professionals should help the local authority in undertaking its enquiries.

Children’s Social Care Services have a statutory duty to carry out a Section 47 Enquiry in any of the following circumstances:

A section 47 enquiry is carried out within five working days of the strategy discussion and is completed by undertaking or continuing with an assessment in accordance with the guidance set out in this chapter and following the principles and parameters of a good assessment as outlined in Assessment Protocol.

The responsibility for undertaking Section 47 Enquiries lies with the local authority for the area in which the child lives or is found, even though the child is ordinarily resident in another local authorities area.

Where a Section 47 Enquiry is to be conducted in relation to a child who is ordinarily resident in the area of another local authority, her/his home authority should be informed as soon as possible, and be involved as appropriate in the Strategy Discussion. In certain cases, it may be agreed that the home authority should undertake the Section 47 Enquiry (for example where the child is Looked After) and in all cases, the home authority should take responsibility for any further support of the child or family identified as necessary. 

See also Children Moving Across Boundaries Procedure.

2. Purpose of a Section 47 Enquiry

The purpose of the Section 47 Enquiry is to determine whether any further action is required to safeguard and promote the welfare of the child or children who is/are the subject of the Enquiry. 

If a decision is made that a Section 47 Enquiry is necessary, it will be led by a Children’s Social Care Services team in parallel with the Police investigation - see Section 7, Single Agency or Joint Enquiry/Investigation.

The decision and plan to carry out the Section 47 Enquiry will be determined at a Strategy Discussion.

3. Decision to Undertake a Section 47 Enquiry

Children’s Social Care Services Managers/authorised persons have the responsibility, based on available information, to authorise Section 47 Enquiries.

The decision to initiate a Section 47 Enquiry must be taken following a Strategy Discussion. See Strategy Discussions Procedure for more information. This may occur whenever the criteria set out in Section 2, Purpose of the Section 47 Enquiry are met, for example:

  • At the point of a Referral;
  • During the early consideration of a Referral;
  • During an assessment such as Early Help Assessment or Child in Need; or
  • At any time in an open case when a change in circumstances, new information, an incident or accumulation of concern information indicates that there is there new and increased risk emerging.

During strategy discussions/meetings the justification for a Section 47 Enquiry, the manager/authorised persons must consider the following factors:

  • The seriousness of the concern/s;
  • The repetition or duration of concern/s;
  • The vulnerability of the child (through age, developmental stage, Disability or other predisposing factor e.g. whether they are Looked After);
  • The source of the concern/s;
  • The accumulation of sufficient information;
  • The context in which the child is living - e.g. whether there is a child in the household already who is the subject of a Child Protection Plan;
  • Any predisposing factors in the family that may suggest a higher level of risk e.g. mental health difficulties, substance misuse by parent/carer or domestic violence.

The Section 47 Enquiry may be undertaken in parallel with the Police investigation - see Section 7, Single Agency or Joint Enquiry/Investigation.

Any decision made after a Strategy Discussion that further child protection action by Children's Social Care Services and/or the Police is not necessary as there is insufficient evidence of suffering or likely to suffer significant harm to the child may only be made providing it is agreed by the Manager in the Children's Social Care Services team and the Officer in Charge of the Police Child Protection Unit or authorised deputies and the reasons recorded.

In such circumstances consideration should be given to whether any other service is appropriate for the child under the local Early Help Assessment.

4. Emergency Protective Action

Where there is a risk to the life of a child or the likelihood of serious immediate harm, the Police officer and/or social worker must act quickly to secure the immediate safety of the child.

The agency taking protective action must always consider whether action is also required to safeguard other children in the same household or in the household of an alleged perpetrator or elsewhere e.g. a work place involving children.

Emergency action may be necessary as soon as the referral is received or at any point during involvement with children, parents or carers, where there is evidence that the risk to the child is sufficiently acute. The need for emergency action may become apparent only after time as more is learned about the circumstances of a child or children. Neglect, as well as abuse, can pose such a likelihood of suffering significant harm to a child that urgent protective action is needed.

Responsibility for immediate action rests with Children’s Social Care Services for the area where the child is found, but should be in consultation with the local authority where the child is ordinarily resident, if different.

Immediate protection may be achieved by:

  • An alleged abuser agreeing to leave the home;
  • The removal of the alleged abuser;
  • Voluntary agreement for the child or children to move to a safer place with or without a protective person;
  • Application for an Emergency Protection Order (EPO);
  • Removal of the child or children under Police powers of Police Protection;
  • Gaining entry to the household under Police powers;
  • Parental use of Children Act 1989 private law provision e.g. Prohibited Steps Orders.

Planned immediate protection will normally take place following an immediate Strategy Discussion between Police, Children’s Social Care Services and other agencies as appropriate. Where a single agency has to act immediately to protect a child, a Strategy Discussion should take place as soon as possible after such action to plan next steps.

The social worker should obtain legal advice before initiating legal action and seek the agreement of her/his Manager before an Emergency Protection Order is applied for.

Children’s Social Care Services should only seek the assistance of the Police to use their powers of Police Protection in exceptional circumstances where there is insufficient time to seek an Emergency Protection Order or other reasons relating to the child’s immediate safety.

5. Obligations and Responsibilities of All Agencies

All agencies have a duty to assist and provide information in support of Section 47 Enquiries.

Any checks made by Children's Social Care Services and/or the Police with other agencies, where possible, should be made directly with the professionals already involved with the child and / or their family.

The relevant agencies should be informed of the reasons for the Section 47 Enquiry, whether parents have been informed and asked for their assessment of the child in the light of the information presented.

5.1 Children’s Social Care

Social workers with their managers should:

  • Lead the assessment in accordance with this guidance and the Assessment Protocol;
  • Carry out enquiries in a way that minimises distress for the child and family;
  • See the child who is the subject of concern to ascertain their wishes and feelings; assess their understanding of their situation; assess their relationships and circumstances more broadly; for more information see Section 8, Seeing and Interviewing the Child;
  • Interview parents and/or caregivers including absent parents and wider network of family and determine the wider social and environmental factors that might impact on them and their child; for more information see Section 9, Parental Involvement and Consent;
  • Systematically gather information about the child's and family's history including the chronology;
  • Analyse the findings of the assessment and evidence about what interventions are likely to be most effective with other relevant professionals to determine the child's needs and the level of risk of harm faced by the child to inform what help should be provided and act to provide that help; and
  • Follow the guidance set out in Achieving Best Evidence in Criminal Proceedings, where a decision has been made to undertake a joint interview of the child as part of any criminal investigation.

5.2 The Police

The Police should: 

  • Help other agencies understand the reasons for concerns about the child's safety and welfare;
  • Decide whether or not Police investigations reveal grounds for instigating criminal proceedings;
  • Make available to other professionals any evidence gathered to inform discussions about the child's welfare; and
  • Follow the guidance set out in Achieving Best Evidence in Criminal Proceedings, where a decision has been made to undertake a joint interview of the child as part of any criminal investigation.

5.3 Health Professionals

Health professionals should:

  • Undertake appropriate medical tests, examinations or observations, to determine how the child's health or development may be being impaired;
  • Provide any of a range of specialist assessments. For example, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, speech and language therapists and child psychologists may be involved in specific assessments relating to the child's developmental progress. The lead health practitioner (probably a consultant paediatrician, or possibly the child's GP) may need to request and coordinate these assessments; and
  • Ensure appropriate treatment and follow up health concerns.

5.4 All Involved Professionals

All professionals who are involved should: 

  • Contribute to the assessment as required, providing information about the child and family; and
  • Consider whether a joint enquiry/investigation team may need to speak to a child victim without the knowledge of the parent or caregiver;
  • Provide services as specified in the plan for the child; and
  • Review the impact of services delivered as agreed in the plan.

6. Section 47 Enquiries Assessment

See the Assessment Protocol.

The Section 47 Enquiry should begin by focusing primarily on the safeguarding concerns raised and discussed in the strategy discussion. The child should be seen and usually seen alone within 24 hours of the Section 47 starting or as agreed within the strategy discussion.

Immediate safety planning should usually be agreed in an urgent timescale in response to identified risk to the child and usually within 5 working days or as set out in locally agreed practice standards.

The maximum timeframe for the assessment which supports the section 47 enquiry to conclude, such that it is possible to reach a decision on next steps, should be no longer than 45 working days from the point of referral and any reason for this timescale not being met should be clearly recorded and endorsed by a social care manager.

7. Single Agency or Joint Enquiry/Investigation

The Strategy Discussion will decide how the Section 47 Enquiry and Police investigation are to be carried out.

Single Agency Enquiry

Situations where Children's Social Care Services is the lead in a single agency enquiry may include:

  • Suspected minor non-accidental injury on an older child and there are no significant concerns of previous abuse;
  • Minor neglect or emotional abuse;
  • Information concerning sexual abuse or behaviour, not amounting to an allegation but giving rise to child protection concerns;
  • Abuse committed by a child who is under the age of criminal responsibility.

Situations where the Police are the lead in a single agency enquiry may include:

  • Persons aged 18 years or over making historical allegations;
  • Where the perpetrator is not a relative, carer or professionally involved with the child;
  • Where the perpetrator is not known to the child.

If during the course of the criminal investigation it emerges that parental difficulties in the care of a child have significantly contributed to the alleged abuse the process will develop into a joint enquiry. Additionally, if risk to other children is identified in the course of a Police single agency investigation then the need for a joint enquiry should be discussed with Children's Social Care Services.

Joint Enquiries

Joint enquiries between Children's Social Care Services and the Police will normally take place where initial information indicates that the situation falls into one of the following categories:

There will be occasions when one of the two agencies is unable to provide a timely resource for a joint investigation. There may have to be agreement that if there is a need for an urgent or speedy response then an Assessment is undertaken by one of the agencies. This should, however, only occur when this has been agreed in a strategy discussion and documented.

For further information please see Joint Enquiries/Investigations between Children's Social Care and the Police Procedure.

8. Seeing and Interviewing the Child

8.1 Seeing the Child

All children within the household must be directly communicated with during a Section 47 Enquiry by the Police and Children’s Social Care Services, to enable an assessment of their safety to be made. They should be seen in line with the plan agreed within the strategy meeting and usually within 24 hours of the initial referral. any reason for delaying contact with the child should be carefully recorded and endorsed within the strategy meeting record.

The children who are the focus of concern should be seen alone, by the Lead Social Worker (and Police if a joint enquiry), subject to their age and willingness, preferably with parental permission (see Section 9, Parental Involvement and Consent).

Children of an appropriate age and understanding should be told what is to happen and given any written information, such as leaflets, as appropriate. 

Their agreement to the process should be sought and any non-agreement on their part should be respected. 

It may be necessary to provide information to the child in stages and this must be taken into account in planning the Section 47 Enquiry. 

Explanations given to the child should be brought up to date as the Section 47 Enquiry progresses. In no circumstances should the child be left wondering what is happening and why. 

The Children’s Social Care Services team and the Police must ensure that appropriate arrangements are in place to support the child through the joint enquiry/investigation. An adult - usually a parent, carer, relative or friend or teacher/nursery staff - should be identified to accompany and support the child through the process. The most suitable person for the role will be dependent on the circumstances taking into account the wishes and feelings of the child.

Specialist help may be needed if:

  • The child’s first language is not English;
  • The child appears to have a degree of psychological and/or psychiatric disturbance but is deemed competent;
  • The child has an physical/sensory/learning disability; for more information see Safeguarding Disabled Children Procedure;
  • Where those investigating do not have adequate knowledge and understanding of the child’s racial, religious and cultural background.

The objectives in seeing the child are to:

  • Record and evaluate her/his appearance, demeanour, mood state and behaviour; If there are physical injuries, use the Body Map to record;
  • Hear the child’s account of allegations or concerns;
  • Observe and record the interactions of the child and her/his carers;
  • See and record the circumstances in which the child is currently living and sleeping and, if different, her/his ordinary residence;
  • Evaluate the physical safety of the environment including the storage of hazardous substances e.g. bleach, drugs;
  • Ensure that any other children who need to be seen are identified;
  • Assess the degree of risk and possible need for protective action;
  • Meet the child’s needs for information and re-assurance.

The Strategy Discussion must decide where, when and how the child or children should be seen and if a video interview is required. 

In all cases where it is agreed to conduct a video recorded interview of a child, the Achieving Best Evidence Guidance must be followed and staff conducting the interview must have had appropriate training, unless the need to depart from the guidance has been agreed by the investigating officers and their managers. Any such decisions must be recorded with reasons.

The aim of any such video interview is to obtain a truthful account from the child in a way which is fair, in the child’s interests and acceptable to the Courts.

Where a video interview is to take place, in order to avoid undermining any subsequent criminal case, any contact with a child prior to the interview must also be conducted under Achieving Best Evidence guidance and staff must:

  • Listen to the child rather than directly questioning her/him;
  • Never stop the child freely recounting significant events;
  • Fully record the discussion including timing, setting, presence of others as well as what was said.

8.2 Inability to access the child

If efforts to see and communicate with the child or children within the timescales agreed at the Strategy Discussion are unsuccessful, then the social worker and, where relevant, the Police officer should:

  • Inform the relevant manager, and seek legal advice as appropriate; and
  • In consultation with her/his manager, carry out the contingency plan agreed at the Strategy Discussion; or
  • Arrange a further Strategy Discussion to agree what further action is required, including action to trace the whereabouts of the child (if unknown);
  • See the child and carry out the Section 47 Enquiry.

See also Children and Families who go Missing Procedure.

9. Parental Involvement and Consent

9.1 Parental Involvement

The Children’s Social Care Services have the prime responsibility to engage with parents and other family members to ascertain the facts of the situation causing concern and to assess the capacity of the family to safeguard the child. When criminal investigations are being undertaken the Police will take a lead role in interviewing parents in line with the plan agreed in the strategy discussion.

In most cases, parents should be enabled to participate fully in the assessment and enquiry process, which should be explained to them verbally and also in writing. Relevant leaflets should always be provided to parents and carers. Where a parent has additional needs e.g. where they are disabled or have additional learning needs, they should be offered support to participate in the assessment. If English is not their first language, an interpreter must be provided and leaflets should be available in a range of languages.

Consideration should be given to the capacity of the parents to understand the information shared in a situation of anxiety and stress.

The parents should be involved at the earliest opportunity unless to do so would prejudice the safety of the child. Any reason to exclude the parents from any aspect of the investigation must be evaluated and recorded within the strategy meeting record – including the need if it is agreed to dispense with their consent to see the child.

The needs and safety of the child will be paramount when determining at what point parents or carers are given information. Parents should be kept informed throughout about the enquiry, its outcome and any subsequent action unless this would jeopardise the safety and welfare of the child. The strategy discussion / meeting should decide what should be said to parents / carers, and by whom. The strategy discussion / meeting should decide what should be said to parents / carers, and by whom.

In explaining the process of a Section 47 Enquiry to parents, the following points should be covered:

  • An explanation of the reason for concern and where appropriate the source of information;
  • The procedures to be followed; this must include an explanation of the need for the child to be seen, interviewed and/or medically assessed, consultation about the gender of the medical practitioner where time allows and seeking parental agreement for these aspects of the enquiry (see Section 9.2, Parental Consent);
  • An explanation of the issue of consent and their rights as parents including the need for support and guidance from an advocate whom they trust (advice should be given about the right to seek legal advice);
  • An explanation of the role of the various agencies involved in the enquiry and explanation of the wish to work in partnership with them to secure the welfare of their child;
  • The need to gather initial information on the history and structure of the family, the child and other relevant information to enable an assessment of the injuries and/or allegations and the continuing risk to the child to be made;
  • In situations of domestic violence, the possibility of working with the parents separately;
  • The provision of an opportunity for parents to be able to ask questions and receive support and guidance.

9.2 Parental Consent

The social worker must consult her/his manager so that s/he can decide on the basis of available information, whether to seek parental consent to undertake inter-agency checks. This will usually have already been discussed during the Referral stage and at the Strategy Discussion

In addition, the social worker must consult his/her manager about whether parental consent should not be sought for an interview with the child including when a police investigation is being undertaken with clear record of any reason why consent is not in place.

The paediatrician will require consent from the person with Parental Responsibility, or a court order (see Paediatric Safeguarding Medicals Procedure) to undertaken medical examination as part of the Section 47 process.

The strategy should be used to explore and agree all aspects of consent for the Section 47 process and should record the decision and rationale where parental consent is not to be sought.

If a decision is made not to seek parental consent, the reasons must be recorded and this may include:

  • Concern that the child would be at risk of further significant harm;
  • Serious concern about the likely behaviour of the adult, for example that the child may be coerced into silence or vital evidence may be destroyed;
  • The views of the child who does not want his/her parent to be informed and is competent to make that decision.

When it is decided to interview and/or arrange a paediatric medical assessment of the child without seeking the consent of the parents, the decision must be endorsed by the social workers line manager and legal advice must be sought.

Where permission is sought but refused, the social workers manager must determine whether to proceed, and if so, record the reasons. Where there are reasonable grounds to believe that a child is suffering, or is likely to suffer, Significant Harm, and access is refused, the Children’s Social Care Services have a duty to apply for:

unless it is satisfied that the child’s welfare can be safeguarded without doing so.

10. Outcome of the Section 47 Enquiry

Local authority social workers are responsible for deciding what action to take and how to proceed following section 47 enquiries.

The Section 47 Enquiry is concluded at the point when an informed decision is made taking account of all information available as to whether the child is at increased likelihood of suffering Significant Harm or not. 

The outcome of the s47 enquiries may reflect that the original concerns are:

  • Not substantiated; although consideration should be given to whether the  child may need services as a Child in Need or Early Help Assessment;
  • Child protection concerns are substantiated but the child is not judged to be likely to suffer significant harm. Consideration should be given to the child’s wider needs and how these can be met including as a Child in Need or Early Help Assessment;
  • Child protection concerns are substantiated and the child(ren) is (are) considered to be likely to suffer significant harm, in which case an Initial Child Protection Conference will be convened.

10.1 Child Protection Concerns are Substantiated

Where concerns of significant harm are substantiated and the child is judged to be suffering, or likely to suffer, significant harm the following action should be taken:

Social workers with their managers should:

  • Convene an Initial Child Protection Conference (see Initial Child Protection Conferences Procedure). The timing of this conference should depend on the urgency of the case and respond to the needs of the child and the nature and severity of the harm they may be facing. The initial child protection conference should take place within 15 working days of a strategy discussion, or the strategy discussion at which section 47 enquiries were initiated if more than one has been held;

For details of the procedure for setting up the conference, see Initial Child Protection Conferences Procedure. In the meantime, interim protection arrangements must be prepared and implemented giving due consideration to the following:

  1. Can the child be protected at home?
  2. If so, can the plan be agreed with the parents?
  3. Should the alleged abuser be asked to leave the family home?
  4. If not, can the child be placed with relatives with parental consent?
  5. If not, can the child be Accommodated with parental consent?
  6. If so, is a voluntary agreement appropriate and sufficient in the circumstances?
  7. Should legal action be considered?
  8. Whether the Assessment has been completed or what further work is required before it is completed.

In all cases, the outcome should be authorised by the Children’s Social Care Services Manager.

The outcome of any Enquiry including the evidence and the reasons for the decisions must be recorded on the relevant forms within five working days or any other locally agreed practice standard. The parents, the child (if appropriate) and the professionals involved should all be informed of the outcome.

Where an Initial Child Protection Conference is to be convened the decisions and outcomes must be included by the social worker in the conference report. 

10.2 Child Protection concerns are not substantiated

If the concerns about significant harm are not substantiated consideration should be given to whether the child may need services as a Child in Need or Early Help Assessment or whether to signpost the child or family to another service.

Social workers with their managers should:

  • Discuss the case with the child, parents and other professionals;
  • Determine whether support from any services may be helpful and help secure it; and
  • Consider whether the child's health and development should be re-assessed regularly against specific objectives and decide who has responsibility for doing this.

All involved professionals should:

  • Participate in further discussions as necessary;
  • Contribute to the development of any plan as appropriate;
  • Provide services as specified in the plan for the child; and
  • Review the impact of services delivered as agreed in the plan.

For more information see:

For information on electronic and digital recording of meetings see related guidance in the Child Protection Conferences Procedure, Attendance.

11. Recording the Section 47 Enquiry

A full written record must be completed by each agency involved in a Section 47 Enquiry, signed and dated by staff within five working days or as agreed in local practice standards.

All notes must be retained by practitioners until the completion of any anticipated legal proceedings.

Children’s Social Care Services recording of enquiries should include:

  • The date(s) when the child was seen alone by the Lead Social Worker and, if not seen alone, who was present and the reasons for their presence;
  • Agency checks;
  • Contacts made cross-referenced with any specific forms used;
  • Strategy Discussion record;
  • Details of the enquiries and actions taken in line with the strategy discussion plan;
  • Body maps (where applicable);
  • Assessment including identification of risks and how they may be managed;
  • Decision making processes and manager oversight to the process;
  • Outcome/further action planned.

At the completion of the Section 47 Enquiry the social workers manager should ensure that the concern and outcome have been entered on the child’s chronology.

12. Feedback on Outcome of Section 47 Enquiry

Feedback on the outcome of a Section 47 Enquiry should be provided to non-professional referrers in a manner that respects the confidentiality and welfare of the child and family.

Information to parents, children and young people should be relayed in an appropriate format and translated for those people whose first language is not English.

The Children’s Social Care Services should ensure that parents, children (depending on their level of understanding), professionals and other agencies which have been involved are notified in writing of the outcome of Section 47 Enquiries of the decision being made at the earliest possible opportunity.

If there are ongoing criminal investigations, the content of the notification should be agreed with the Police.

13. Resolving Practitioner Disagreements

Children’s Social Care Services should take carefully any decision not to proceed to a Child Protection Conference where it is known that a child has suffered Significant Harm.

Those professionals and agencies who are most involved with the child and family, and those who have taken part in the Section 47 Enquiry, have the right to request that Children’s Social Care Services convene a Child Protection Conference if they have serious concerns that a child’s welfare may not otherwise be adequately safeguarded. Any such request that is supported by a senior manager, or a Designated Senior Person or Named Professional, should normally be agreed. Where there remain differences of view over the necessity for a conference in a specific case, every effort should be made to resolve them through discussion and explanation.

See also Resolving Practitioner Disagreements and Escalation of Concerns Procedure.

Appendix 1: Body Maps

Click here to view Appendix 1: Body Maps.