Child Protection Procedures
Welcome to Darlington multi-agency safeguarding child protection procedures which have been developed by Darlington Safeguarding Partnership (DSP) the procedures are applicable to all those working in the Darlington locality, whether paid or unpaid in DSP agencies and in private or voluntary sector organisations with responsibility for children. These procedures set out how agencies and individuals should work together to safeguard and promote the welfare of children and young people and replace all previous procedure manuals, please destroy or archive any old copies as these are now out of date.
These procedures should be used in conjunction with your own organisational guidelines. If you are in any doubt about what you should do you need to consult with safeguarding specialists within your organisation.
You can access a wide range of additional information and guidance based on children in specific circumstances as well as signposting to National and Statutory guidance to support the Procedures. Click here [link] to access the additional practice guidance.
A glossary of terms for various child protection and legal processes is available to support practitioners. Child Protection Processes - Glossary of Terms [PDF Document]
Amendments to Child Protection Procedures - Log of amends [PDF Document]
- Organisational responsibilities under the Children Act 2004 (as amended by the Children and Social Work Act 2017)
- People in a position of trust-managing allegations
- Duty to notify the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS)
- Single agency case closure: inform other agencies involved with the child (or adult)
In accordance with S 11 Children Act 2004 (as amended by the Children and Social Work Act 2017) a range of individual organisations and agencies working with children and families have a specific statutory duties to promote the welfare of children and ensure they are protected from harm. The act places a duty on:
- local authorities
- NHS organisations and agencies and the independent sector. This includes NHS England and Clinical Commissioning Groups, NHS Trusts, NHS Foundation Trusts and General Practitioners
- the police including Police and Crime Commissioners and the Chief Officer of each police area
- the British Transport Police BTP
- the National Probation Service (NPS) and the Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs)
- Governors/Directors of Prisons and Young Offender Institutions (YOIs)
- Directors of Secure Training Centres (STCs)
Principals of Secure Colleges
- Youth Offending Teams (YOTs)
These organisations and agencies should have in place arrangements that reflect the importance of safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children including:
- a clear line of accountability for the commissioning/provision of services designed to safeguard and promote the welfare of children
- a senior partnership lead with the required knowledge, skills and expertise to take leadership responsibility for safeguarding arrangements
- clear whistleblowing procedures
- clear escalation policies
- clear information sharing protocols
designated practitioners for child safeguarding
- safe recruitment practices including polices on when to obtain a criminal record check
- appropriate supervision and support for staff
For details of additional responsibilities of individual organisations set out in separate statutes see Chapter 2 Working Together to Safeguard Children 2018.
Working Together to Safeguard Children 2018 has included sports clubs/organisations in the list of organisations with additional responsibilities under different statutes. Additional responsibilities have been added for other organisations which are listed as follows:
- schools, colleges and educational providers
- early years and child care
- health and designated health professionals
- Public Health England (PHE)
- Adult Social Care Services
- Housing Services
- British Transport Police (BTP)
- Prison Service
- Probation Services
- children’s homes
- secure establishments for children
- Youth Offending Teams (YOTs)
- UK Visas and Immigration, Immigration Enforcement and Border Force
- Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass)
- armed services
- Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements (MAPPA)
- voluntary, charity social enterprise (VCSE)
- faith based and private sector organisations
- sports clubs and organisations
People in a position of trust-managing allegations
Organisations and agencies should have working with children and families should have clear policies for dealing with allegations against people who work with children. Such policies should make a clear distinction between an allegation, a concern about the quality of care or practice for a complaint.
Employers, school governors, trustees and voluntary organisations should ensure they have clear policies in place setting out the process, including timescales for investigation. For further guidance on managing allegations and the responsibility of organisations to inform the Designated Officer see DSP Procedure and Practice Guidance for Managing Allegations against staff, carers or volunteers who work with children [PDF Document].
Duty to notify the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS)
Organisations and agencies are reminded that irrespective of whether a referral has been made to local authority Children’s Social Care and/or the Designated Officer, it is an offence to fail to make a referral to the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) without good reason if an individual (paid worker or volunteer) is removed from work in regulated activity such as looking after children (or would have been removed had they not resigned first). For further information see DSP Procedure for managing allegations and concerns against staff, carers or volunteers[PDF Document].
Single agency case closure: inform other agencies involved with the child (or adult)
When a single agency closes a case involving a child (or an adult with care and support needs who resides in the same household as a child) this information should be communicated to all other agencies involved with the family. This includes agencies across Children’s and Adult’s Services where a service user is a parent.
The Children Act 1989 introduced the concept of significant harm as the threshold which justifies compulsory intervention in family life in the best interests of children.
Section 47 of the Act places a duty on local authorities to make enquiries, or cause enquiries to be made, where it has reasonable cause to suspect that a child is suffering, or is likely to suffer significant harm. A court may only make a Care Order or Supervision Order in respect of a child if it is satisfied that:
- the child is suffering, or is likely to suffer significant harm and
- that the harm or likelihood of harm is attributable to a lack of adequate parental care or control (section 31)
Under Section 31(9) of the Children Act 1989, as amended by the Adoption and Children Act 2002:
Harm means ill-treatment or the impairment of health or development, including for example impairment suffered from seeing or hearing the ill-treatment of another.
Development means physical, intellectual, emotional, social or behavioural development.
Health means physical or mental health.
Ill-treatment includes sexual abuse and forms of ill-treatment that are not physical.
There are no absolute criteria on which to rely when judging what constitutes significant harm. Consideration of the severity of ill-treatment may include the degree and extent of physical harm, the duration and frequency of abuse and neglect, the extent of premeditation, the degree of threat, coercion, sadism, and bizarre or unusual elements in child sexual abuse. Each of these elements has been associated with more severe effects on the child and/ or relatively greater difficulty in helping the child overcome the adverse impact on the maltreatment.
Sometimes a single traumatic event may constitute significant harm e.g. a violent assault, suffocation or poisoning. More often, significant harm is a compilation of significant events, both acute and long-standing which interrupt, change or damage the child’s physical and psychological development. Some children live in family and social circumstances where their health and development are neglected. For them, it is the corrosiveness of long term emotional, physical or sexual abuse that causes impairment to the extent of constituting significant harm. In each case, it is necessary to consider any ill-treatment alongside the families’ strengths and supports.
To understand and establish significant harm, it is necessary to consider:
- the family context, including protective factors
- the child’s development within the context of his or her family and wider social and cultural environment
- any special needs, such as a medical condition, communication difficulty or disability that may affect the child’s development and care within the family
- the nature of harm, in terms of ill-treatment or failure to provide adequate care
- the impact of the child’s health and development and
- the adequacy of parental care
- Categories of abuse
- Types of abuse
Categories of Abuse
Abuse and neglect are forms of maltreatment of a child. Somebody may abuse or neglect a child by inflicting harm, or by failing to act to prevent harm. Children may be abused in a family or in an institution or community setting or by those known to them or, more rarely, by a stranger. They may be abused by an adult or adults or another child or children.
A form of abuse that may involve hitting, shaking, throwing, poisoning, burning or scalding, drowning, suffocating, or otherwise causing physical harm to a child. Physical harm may also be caused when a parent or carer fabricates the symptoms of or deliberately induces illness in a child (Working Together 2018).
The persistent emotional maltreatment of a child such as to cause severe and persistent adverse effects on the child’s emotional development. It may involve conveying to a child that they are worthless or unloved, inadequate, or valued only insofar as they meet the needs of another person. It may include not giving the child opportunities to express their views deliberately silencing them or 'making fun' of what they say or how they communicate. It may feature age or developmentally inappropriate expectations being imposed on children. These may include interactions that are beyond a child’s development capability, as well as overprotection and limitation of exploration and learning, or preventing the child participating in normal social interaction. It may involve seeing or hearing the ill-treatment of another. It may involve serious bullying (including cyber bullying), causing children frequently to feel frightened or in danger, or the exploitation or corruption of children. Some level of emotional abuse is involved in all types of maltreatment of a child, though it may occur alone (WT 2018).
Sexual abuse involves forcing or enticing a child or young person to take part in sexual activities, not necessarily involving a high level of violence, whether or not the child is aware of what is happening. The activities may involve physical contact, including assault by penetration (for example, rape or oral sex) or non-penetrative acts such as masturbation, kissing, rubbing and touching outside of clothing. They may also include non-contact activities, such as involving children in looking at, or in the production of, sexual images, watching sexual activities, encouraging children to behave in sexually inappropriate ways, or grooming a child in preparation for abuse (including via the internet). Sexual abuse is not solely perpetrated by adult males. Women can also commit acts of sexual abuse, as can other children (WT 2018).
In addition, sexual abuse includes abuse of children through sexual exploitation. Penetrative sex where one of the partners is under the age of 16 is illegal, although prosecution of similar age, consenting partners is not usual. However, where a child is under the age of 13 it is classified as rape under s5 Sexual Offences Act 2003.
Neglect is the persistent failure to meet a child’s basic physical and/or psychological needs, likely to result in the serious impairment of the child’s health or development. Neglect may occur during pregnancy as a result of maternal substance abuse. Once a child is born, neglect may involve a parent or carer failing to:
- Provide adequate food, clothing and shelter (including exclusion from home or abandonment)
- Protect a child from physical and emotional harm or danger
- Ensure adequate supervision (including the use of inadequate care-givers)
- Ensure access to appropriate medical care or treatment
It may also include neglect of, or unresponsiveness to, a child’s basic emotional needs (WT 2018).
Whilst childhood obesity is not necessarily a safeguarding issue, childhood obesity as a consequence of parental neglect may be a child protection concern. in many instances it is not appropriate to institute child protection proceedings in relation to parental neglect as being the cause of the obesity. However, practitioners working with obese children must be mindful of the possible role of abuse or neglect in contributing to the obesity. Darlington Safeguarding Partnership has developed a policy and practice guidance document to support practitioners who may have concerns that a child is obese and that neglect is considered to be a factor. The guidance can be viewed here: Darlington Safeguarding Partnership - Safeguarding Response to Childhood Obesity in the Context of Neglect [PDF document]
Additional definitions can be found on NSPCC website [External Link].
Neglect is the most common reason for Child Protection Plans in the United Kingdom. Analysis of Child safeguarding Practice Reviews has made the link between neglect and childhood fatalities. Neglect causes great distress to children and leads to poor outcomes in the short and long term. Consequences can include an array of health and mental health problems, difficulties in forming attachment and relationships, lower educational achievements, and increased risk of substance misuse, higher risk of experiencing abuse as well as difficulties in assuming parenting responsibilities later on in life. For further information and guidance see DSP Neglect Practice Guidance [PDF document] and the DSP Darlington Neglect Strategy 2017-2020.
Types of Abuse
Domestic Abuse incorporating Forced Marriage/Honour Based Violence and Female Genital Mutilation
Domestic abuse includes any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive or threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are or have been, intimate partners or family members regardless of gender or sexuality. It also includes so called 'honour’ based violence, female genital mutilation and forced marriage. Domestic abuse occurs across society irrespective of age, gender, race, sexuality, wealth and geography.
Domestic abuse can affect both men and women over the age of 16 regardless of gender or sexuality within the context of intimate or familial relationships. Children living in a household where domestic abuse occurs are affected both directly and indirectly and there is a strong correlation between domestic abuse and child abuse.
Definition of domestic abuse -The cross-government definition of domestic abuse is:
‘any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive, threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are or have been intimate partners or family members regardless of gender or sexuality. The abuse can encompass but is not limited to:
Controlling behaviour is a range of acts designed to make a person subordinate and/or dependent by isolating them for sources of support, exploiting their resources and capacities for personal gain, depriving them of the means needed for independence, resistance and escape and regulating their everyday behaviour.
Coercive behaviour is a continuing act or a pattern of acts of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, frighten or punish the victim.’
This definition, which is not a legal definition includes so called ‘Honour Based Violence’, Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and Forced Marriage. The definition makes it clear that victims are not confined to one gender of ethnic group; domestic abuse occurs within all age ranges, ethnic backgrounds irrespective of gender identity or sexuality and economic and educational levels.
There is a strong evidence based link between domestic abuse and child abuse. Children who witness domestic abuse suffer emotional abuse and exposure to domestic abuse is always abusive to children. Research suggests that 62% of children who are exposed to domestic abuse are also harmed as a result of physical and emotional abuse or neglect. There is also increasing recognition of the damaging psychological impact that witnessing domestic abuse has on children.
Section 120 of the Adoption and Children Act 2002 extended the definition of significant harm (outlined in the Children Act 1989) as ‘any impairment of the child’s health or development as a result of witnessing the ill treatment of another person, such as domestic violence’.
Domestic abuse can impact on the safety and welfare of children in a number of ways including:
- children being physically assaulted or injured during an episode of domestic abuse
- children suffering emotional and psychological harm by witnessing the physical and emotional abuse of a parent or another adult within the household
- the safety of an unborn child may be compromised when a pregnant woman is subject to abuse
- the experience of domestic abuse will have a negative impact of the ability of an adult victim to care for a child.
The impact of domestic abuse on a child is exacerbated when:
- the child is drawn into the abuse, for example by trying to protect the parent who is being physically harmed
- a child directly witnesses the abuse
- a child is pressurised into concealing the abuse
- domestic abuse is combined with substance abuse and parental mental health issues.
A child’s exposure to parental conflict can lead to serious anxiety and distress and may result in behavioural problems, impaired cognitive functioning and in some cases may lead to long term development problems.
Multi-agency working is central to safeguarding children affected by domestic abuse and intervention should be in accordance with these Multi-Agency Child Protection Procedures.
Practitioners should refer to the DSP multi-agency threshold tool to establish the level of support and intervention required and consideration should be given to Early Help Assessment. [External Link]
For further guidance on Domestic Abuse including Forced Marriage/Honour Based Violence and Female Genital Mutilation see Domestic Abuse Procedure and Practice Guidance- Safeguarding Children and Adults with Care and Support Needs [PDF Document]
Child/Adolescent to parent violence and abuse (CAPVA)-There is currently no legal definition of child/adolescent parent violence and abuse (CAPVA). However, it is increasingly recognised as a form of domestic violence and abuse and depending upon the age of the child may fall under the government’s official definition of DVA. For further guidance see Domestic Abuse-Darlington Multi-Agency Child/Adolescent to Parent/Carer Violence and Abuse (CAPVA) Procedural Flow Chart-Child Adult and Family [PDF Document]
Fabricated and Induced Illness (FII)
Fabricated or Induced Illness (FII) perpetrated by parents or carers can cause significant harm to children. FII involves a well-child being presented by a parent or carer as unwell or disabled, or an ill or disabled child being presented with a more serious problem than he or she has in reality, and is likely to be suffering harm as a consequence. There are particular challenges for professionals in terms of managing an FII case. For further information see DSP Fabricated and Induced Illness Practice Guidance [insert link].
Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE)
Definition of Child Sexual Exploitation- child sexual exploitation is a form of child sexual abuse. It occurs where an individual or group takes advantage of an imbalance of power to coerce, manipulate or deceive a child or young person under the age of 18 into sexual activity (a) in exchange for something the victim needs or wants, and/or (b) for the financial advantage or increased status of the perpetrator or facilitator. “The victim may have been sexually exploited even if the sexual activity appears consensual. Child Sexual Exploitation does not always involve physical contact; it can also occur through the use of technology”.
Evidence has shown that parents/carers/relatives and those professionals (such as teachers, family workers, health professionals, social workers, GPs, Police Officers and the voluntary sector) who have regular contact with children and young people are well placed to notice changes in behaviour and physical signs, which may indicate involvement in sexual exploitation.
The earlier that sexual exploitation, or likelihood of it, can be identified, the more opportunities there are to prevent or minimise the harm suffered by a child or young person.
In order to identify children at risk of sexual exploitation or experiencing sexual exploitation and follow a clear plan of effective inter-agency action, practitioners should consider ALL of the 14 risk indicators as outlined within the Child Sexual Exploitation Risk Assessment Information Form which will assist in determining the level of risk for the child or young person after considering the risk indicators. Practitioners must then refer concerns to the Children' s Initial Advice Team, telephone 01325 406252.
For further guidance on CSE, the 14 risk indicators and the process for making a referral see DSP Child Sexual Exploitation Procedure and Practice Guidance [PDF document] and the Child Exploitation Risk Assessment Information Form [Word document].
Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking
The term ‘Modern Slavery’ encompasses a wide range of criminal offences involving exploitation; it is an illicit trade in which human beings are turned into commodities to be bought, sold and exploited for vast profits. The Modern Slavery Act 2015 places a duty on specified public authorities to report details of suspected cases of modern slavery to the National Crime Agency. This is achieved through the National Referral Mechanism (NRM).
Modern Slavery is a complex crime and may involve multiple forms of exploitation. Victims may not be aware that they are being trafficked or exploited and may have consented to elements of their exploitation or accepted their situation. For this reason victims of modern slavery are often ‘held in plain sight’.
In all instances where a child is suspected of being a victim of modern slavery/human trafficking must be referred to the Police and to Children’s Services.
In some circumstances a rapid response is required to ensure the safety of the child. In the first instance contact Durham Constabulary on 101 or if the child is at risk of immediate harm or in a situation where a child may be imminently moved to a different location contact Durham Constabulary on 999.
A referral must also be made to Children’s Services . Contact the Children's Initial Advice Team on telephone 01325 406252. Out of hours, the Emergency Duty Team (EDT) can be contacted on 01642 524552.
Assessments: Prompt decisions are needed when the concerns relate to a child who may be trafficked to avoid the risk of the child being moved again. Where a child has been trafficked the assessment should be carried out immediately as the opportunity to intervene is very narrow. Children may not self identify as a victim and may be loyal to their ‘carers’. They are likely to be distrustful of the authorities. Many trafficked children go missing from care, often within the first 48 hours. Provision may need to be made for the child to be in a safe place before an assessment takes place and for the possibility that they may not be able to disclose full information about their circumstances immediately. Specific action during the assessment of a child who is possibly trafficked should include:
- considering the need for an urgent Strategy Discussion/Meeting
- seeing and speaking with the child and family members as appropriate - the adult purporting to be the child's parent, sponsor or carer should not be present at interviews with the child, or at meetings to discuss future action. Interpreters must be from an approved list and must not be connected to the child
- liaison with the police
- checking all documentation held by child, the family, the referrer and other agencies. Copies of all relevant documentation should be taken and together with a photograph of the child be included in the social worker's file. It is necessary to liaise with the police in respect of documentation as original documents may need to be secured for evidential purposes.
- checking with the local authority for children missing from education
For further detailed guidance on Modern Slavery, the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) and how to make a referral to Children’s Social Care and to the NRM see DSP Multi-Agency Procedure and Practice Guidance- Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking [PDF document].
Abuse by children and young people: peer abuse
Children, particularly those living away from home, are also vulnerable to physical, sexual and emotional bullying and abuse by their peers. Such abuse should always be taken as seriously as abuse perpetrated by an adult. It should be subject to the same safeguarding children procedures as apply in respect of any child who is suffering, or at risk of suffering significant harm from an adverse source. A significant proportion of sexual offences are committed by teenagers, and, on occasion, such offences are committed by younger children. Staff and carers of children living away from home need clear guidance and training to identify the difference between consenting and abuse, appropriate or exploitative peer relationships. Staff should not dismiss some abusive sexual behaviour as ‘normal’ between young people and should not develop high thresholds before taking action.
Work with children and young people who abuse others, including those who sexually abuse/offend, should recognise that such children are likely to have considerable needs themselves, and also that they may pose a significant risk of harm to other children. Evidence suggests that children who abuse others may have suffered considerable disruption in their lives, been exposed to violence within the family, may have witnessed or been subject to physical or sexual abuse, have problems in their educational development, are likely to be children in need, and some will in addition be suffering or at risk of significant harm, and may themselves be in need of protection. Children and young people who abuse others would be held responsible for their abusive behaviour, whilst being identified and responded to in a way which meets their needs as well as protecting others.
Three key principles should guide work with children and young people who abuse others:
- there should be a co-ordinated approach on the part of youth justice, children’s social care, education (including educational psychology) and health (including child and adolescent mental health) agencies
- the needs of children and young people who abuse others should be considered separately from the needs of their victims and
- an assessment should be carried out in each case, appreciating that these children may have considerable unmet developmental needs, as well as specific needs arising from their behaviour.
The following factors should be taken into account when assessing risks to a child. This is not an exhaustive list.
- an unexplained delay in seeking treatment that is obviously needed
- an unawareness or denial of any injury, pain or loss of function
- incompatible explanations offered or several different explanations given for a child’s illness or injury
- a child reacting in a way that is inappropriate to his/her age or development
- reluctance to give information or failure to mention previous known injuries
- frequent attendances at Accident and Emergency Departments or use of different doctors and Accident and Emergency Departments
- frequent presentation of minor injuries (which if ignored could lead to a more serious injury)
- unrealistic expectations/constant complaints about the child
- alcohol misuse or other substance misuse
- a parent’s request to remove a child from home or indication of difficulties in coping with the child
- Domestic Abuse
- parental mental ill health
- the age of the child and the pressures of caring for a number of children in one household.
Indicators of possible child abuse
Children may present with both physical and psychological symptoms and signs that constitute alerting features of one or more types of maltreatment, and maltreatment may be observed in parent or carer – child interactions.
There is strong evidence of the harmful short and long term effects of child maltreatment. All aspects of the child's health, development and wellbeing can be affected. The effects of child maltreatment can last throughout adulthood and include anxiety, depression, substance misuse, and self-destructive, oppositional or antisocial behaviours. In adulthood, there may be difficulties in forming or sustaining close relationships, sustaining employment and parenting capacity. Physical abuse may result in lifelong disability or physical scarring and harmful psychological consequences, and may even be fatal. The National Service Framework (NSF) for Children, Young People and Maternity Services for England [External Link] states 'The high cost of abuse and neglect both to individuals (and to society) underpins the duty on all agencies to be proactive in safeguarding children.' Further details are available within the NICE Guidance [External Link].
Abuse and neglect are forms of maltreatment – a person may abuse or neglect a child by inflicting harm, or by failing to act to prevent harm.
Child welfare concerns may arise in many different contexts, and can vary greatly in terms of their nature and seriousness. Children may be abused in a family or in an institutional or community setting, by those known to them or by a stranger, including, via the internet. In the case of female genital mutilation, children may be taken out of the country to be abused. They may be abused by an adult or adults, or another child or children. An abused child will often experience more than one type of abuse, as well as other difficulties in their lives. Abuse and neglect can happen over a period of time, but can also be a one-off event. Child abuse and neglect can have major long-term impacts on all aspects of a child's health, development and well-being.
Information on warning signs and symptoms of child abuse can be found on What to do if you're worried a child is being abused (2015) [PDF Document].
There are four main categories of abuse and neglect: physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse and neglect. Each has its own specific warning indicators. (See full descriptions under Categories of Abuse)
See DSP Bruising in non-mobile children Protocol [PDF Document] for the assessment of bruising and other possible injuries in “Non-Mobile” Children.
Information leaflet for parents and carers about 'bruising in non-mobile children'.
Further guidance is also available from DSP Fabricated or Induced Illness Practice Guidance Document [PDF Document].
Additional information on signs, symptoms and effects of child abuse or neglect is available on the NSPCC website [External Link].
Providing early help is more effective in promoting the welfare of children than reacting later. Early help means providing support as soon as the problem emerges at any point in a child’s life.
Working Together to Safeguard Children (2018) [PDF Document] emphasises the importance of having clear thresholds for action which are understood by all practitioners and applied consistently. By ensuring a shared understanding of local thresholds for intervention, children and young people should receive the right help at the right time. Local authorities should have a comprehensive range of effective, evidence based services in place to assess needs at an early stage and should work with organisations and agencies to develop joined-up early help services based on a clear understanding of local needs.
The Early Help Assessment is the single assessment used by multi-agency partnerships which includes; Schools, Colleges, Health, Childcare settings, voluntary sector and across all Children’s Social Care teams. The Early Help Assessment provides a standard and coordinated approach for practitioners across agencies and services and is designed to ensure that children, young people and their families receive the right support at an early stage to reduce the chance of escalation to a specialist services
Early help assessments should be evidence based, be clear about the action to be taken and services should be provided with a focus on improving outcomes.
Local Safeguarding Partnerships are required to publish a threshold document that includes the process for the Early Help Assessment [external link] and the type and level of early help services to be provided.
Darlington Safeguarding Partnership Multi-Agency Threshold Tool [PDF Document] sets out local definitions of the levels of need. The threshold tool is the criteria used for taking action and providing help across the full continuum.
A lead practitioner should undertake the assessment, provide help to the child and family, act as an advocate on their behalf and co-ordinate the delivery of support services. A GP, family support worker, school nurse, teacher, health visitor or special educational needs co-ordinator can undertake the lead practitioner role.
For an early help assessment to be effective:
- it should be undertaken with the agreement of the child and parents or carers, involving the child and family as well as the practitioners who are working with them. It should take into account the child’s wishes and feelings where possible.
- practitioners should discuss concerns they may have about a child or family with a social worker in the local authority.
Details of how to submit a referral for Early Help is available on the Darlington Borough Council Website.
For further guidance see Darlington Early Help Strategy 2017-2020 [PDF document]
Social Worker’s role in assessment
Social workers should have the relevant knowledge and skills and should have time to complete assessments and have access to high quality practice supervision.
Social workers and practice supervisors should always reflect the latest research on the impact of abuse and neglect and relevant findings from Child Safeguarding Practice Reviews when analysing the risk to the child and the level of need.
High quality assessments:
- are child centred and where there is a conflict of interest decisions should be made in the child’s best interests
- are rooted in child development, age appropriate and informed by evidence
- are focussed on actions and outcomes for children
- are holistic in approach, addressing child’s needs within their family and ant risks the child faces within their community
- ensure equality of opportunity
- involve children ensuring that their voice is heard and provide appropriate support to enable this where the child has specific communication needs
- involve families
- build on strengths as well as identifying difficulties
- are integrated in approach
- are multi-agency and multi-disciplinary
- are a continuing process
- lead to action including the provision of services
- are transparent and open to challenge
All professionals have a responsibility to report concerns for a child to Children's Initial Advice Team (CIAT) if you believe the child is suffering significant harm or is likely to do so.
If you are concerned about a child, but are unclear if this is an immediate risk you must discuss with your manager or the designated person responsible for child protection within your organisation (refer to own agency safeguarding policy) for further guidance and support. However if you are concerned about a child or believe a child is at immediate risk you should make contact with Children's Initial Advice Team.
Telephone 01325 406252
You must seek consent from families before ringing, unless doing so would place a child at risk of significant harm.
Children's Initial Advice Team (CIAT)
The Children's Initial Advice Team is based in Children's Services and is part of Darlington Borough Council's 'Front Door'. The team is made up of social workers, a team manager along with two advanced practitioners. The team are trained and skilled in analysing information to decide the best way forward to support the child and family.
For calls raising concerns about a child the CIAT will ask the following:
- all of the details known to you/your agency about the child
- the family composition, including siblings and where possible extended family members and anyone important in the child's life
- the nature of the concern and how immediate it is
- any and what kind of work/support you have provided to the child or family to date
- where the child is now and whether you have informed parents/carers of your concern
Once all the information is gained from the call, the social worker in the CIAT will gather any further information deemed necessary for a recommendation to be made and the contact enquiry will be completed. The social worker will provide the professional with a summary of the discussion and outcome within 24 hours of the contact enquiry, this will be sent electronically via email to the referrer.
The CIAT is open during the following hours:
Monday - Thursday: 8:30 am - 5:00 pm
Friday: 8:30 am - 4:30 pm
If you need to get in touch out of office hours, contact the Emergency Duty team by telephone: 01642 524552.
Remember that if you suspect a child or young person is at immediate risk of harm then phone the police on 999.
If you are a professional submitting any of the following types of contact, please email them to: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Out of hours emergency services
- early help requests/assessments
- school attendance/legal work requests
- Educational Health Care Plan requests
- Occupational Therapy assessment requests
- Max card requests
- Other Local Authority placement notifications/Other Local Authority Child Protection plans residing in Darlington
The safety and welfare of the child overrides all other considerations including the following:
- The gathering of evidence
- Commitment or loyalty to relatives, friends or colleagues
For further information see DSP Information Sharing Protocol
The overriding consideration must be the protection of the child - for this reason, absolute confidentiality cannot and should not be promised to anyone.
If suspicions or allegations are about relatives, friends or colleagues, professional or otherwise, the concerns must not be discussed with them before making the referral.
Individual members of the public who make a referral may prefer not to give their name or alternatively they may disclose their identity, but not wish for it to be revealed to the parents/carers of the child concerned.
Wherever possible, when the CIAT receives referrals from members of the public, they should respect the referrer’s request for anonymity. However, referrers should not be given any guarantees of confidentiality, as there are certain limited circumstances in which the identity of a referrer may have to be given e.g. the Criminal or Family Court arena. The referrer’s request for anonymity must be recorded.
A professional/agency making a referral should not choose/expect anonymity, however, there may be exceptional circumstances which include:
- Where disclosure to third parties could endanger the referrer, managers should assess risk and if necessary, agree anonymity at this juncture.
- where a referral is the result of something they have seen, heard or been told in their private life, it is important they are able to remain anonymous in order to ensure the safety of themselves
If either of the above apply the referrer’s request for anonymity must be recorded.
Additional supporting information is available below:
How to report a concern leaflet [PDF Document]
What to do if you need to make a call to CIAT [PDF Document]
Flowchart [PDF document]
Frequently Asked Questions [PDF Document]
The Continuum of Need Indicators sets out the local criteria for action. Continuum of Need Indicators (Threshold Tool) [PDF Document]
Self-harm Pathway [PDF document]
Early Help Assessment [external link]
If any allegation of abuse is made against a person who works with children and young people, including those who work is a voluntary capacity then you should follow the procedures as set out in Procedure for managing allegations and concerns against staff, carers or volunteers [PDF Document].
You should also consider DSP Child Safeguarding Practice Review and Serious Incident Notification Procedures [PDF Document] if you believe or suspect there may have been circumstances where the threshold for holding a Child Safeguarding Practice Review (CSPR) is met. Working Together to Safeguard Children 2018 states, the criteria for a Child Safeguarding Practice Review (CSPR) is where abuse or neglect is known or suspected and either:
- a child dies or
- a child is seriously harmed and there are concerns about how organisations or practitioners worked together to safeguard the child.
Effective sharing of information between practitioners and local organisations and agencies is essential for the early identification of need, assessment and service provision to keep children safe. Child Safeguarding Practice Reviews have highlighted that missed opportunities to record, understand the significance of and share information in a timely manner can have serious consequences for the safety and welfare of children. Assessments and information relating to safeguarding of children needs to be available to share across agencies to aid decision making.
To ensure effective safeguarding arrangements:
- all organisations and agencies should have arrangements in place that set out clearly the processes and principles for sharing information. The arrangement should cover how information will be shared within their own agency/organisation and with other agencies/organisations which may be involved with the child
- practitioners should not assume that someone else will pass on information that may be critical to keeping a child safe. If a practitioner has concerns about a child’s welfare and considers that they may be a child in need or that the child has suffered or is likely to suffer significant harm then this information must be shared with the local authority/children’s social care or the police. All practitioners should be particularly alert to the importance of sharing information when a child moves from one local authority area to another.
Information sharing and Consent
Practitioners should aim to obtain consent to share information but should be mindful of situations where to do so would place a child at increased risk of harm. Information may be shared without consent if a practitioner has reason to believe that there are good reason to do so and that the sharing of the information will enhance the safeguarding of the child in a timely manner. When decisions are made to share or withhold information practitioners should record the rationale for the decision and with whom the information has been shared and the reasons why.
General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR)
Practitioners must have due regard for the relevant data protection principles which allow the sharing of personal information in accordance with the Data Protection Act 2018 [external link] and the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) [External Link].
To share information effectively:
- practitioners should be confident of the processing conditions under the Data Protection Act 2018 and the GDPR which allow the storage and sharing of information for safeguarding purposes including information which is sensitive and personal and should be treated as ‘special category personal data’
- where practitioners need to share special category data they should be aware that the Data Protection Act 2018 contains ‘safeguarding of children and individuals at risk’ as a processing condition which allows practitioners to share information. This includes allowing practitioners to share information without consent if it is not possible to obtain consent, it cannot be reasonably expected that a practitioner gains consent or to gain consent would place a child at risk.
Fears about sharing information must not be allowed to stand in the way of the need to promote the welfare and protect the safety of children which must always be the paramount concern. There are some common misconceptions which may hinder effective information sharing. Here are the facts:
- the Data Protection Act 2018 and GDPR do not prohibit the collection and sharing of personal information but rather provide a framework to ensure that personal information is shared appropriately.
- consent is not necessarily required to share personal information. Wherever possible you should be open and honest and seek consent about why, what, how and with whom information will be shared. When you gain consent to share information the consent should be explicit and freely given. However, there may be circumstances where it is not appropriate to seek consent such as gaining consent would put a child at risk or an individual cannot give consent or to obtain consent is not reasonable.
- personal information can be shared between organisations provided that the purpose for which the information would be used is compatible with the purpose for which it was originally collected. In the case of children in need or children at risk of significant harm it is highly improbable that the legislation would be a barrier to sharing information with other practitioners
- the Common Law Duty of Confidence and the Human Rights Act 1998 do not prevent the sharing of personal information.
- IT systems can be useful tools to share information; shared data enables practitioners to make informed decisions about safeguarding children.
Practitioners should be proactive in sharing information as soon as possible. It is essential for the identification of patterns of behaviour when a child has gone missing, when multiple children appear to be associated with the same location of risk or within the same context or in relation to children in secure estate where there may be multiple local authorities involved in a child’s care.
For further details refer to the DSP Information Sharing Protocol [PDF document]
Child focussed work and ‘the voice of the child’ is central to good safeguarding practice. Children and young people must be continually involved in the safeguarding process and be given the opportunity to describe things from their point of view and there should always be evidence that their voice has influenced decisions made by practitioners. The meaningful involvement of children and young people in decision making, evaluation, planning and delivery leads to services that are effective in meeting their needs. The ‘voice of the child’ means more than seeking their views, it involves them being continually involved in any assessment and plan by all agencies involved, not just CSC. Professionals should be able to evidence that the child’s voice has influenced the decisions that have been made. Practitioners should seek to understand the child’s lived experience, including their view of their situation.
When working with children and young people it is essential to gain a clear picture of their thoughts, wishes and feelings. This not only refers to what children say directly, but to many other aspects of their presentation. It means seeing their experiences from their point of view. It is good practice to ask the child or young person which practitioner they would like to gather this information from them. The right of a child to be heard is included in the UN Convention of Rights and the Children’s Act 2004 (as amended by the Children and Social Work Act 2017) emphasises the importance of speaking to a child as part of any assessment. The importance of speaking to a child or young person and gathering their views has been consistently highlighted in lessons learned from Child Safeguarding Practice Reviews. Child focussed work means that children feel listened to, plans are more successful when they are involved and prompt decisions are made about safeguarding when necessary.
- Introduction and background
- The framework for a single assessment
Introduction and background
Working Together to Safeguard Children 2018 communicates a clear aim of the revised framework for assessment, which brought in the expectation for Darlington Borough Council to develop a Single Assessment.
The focus of the Single Assessment is to draw on the professional judgement to analyse and reflect on information gathered regarding that child or young person, and focus the assessment on the specific needs identified, leading to a high quality assessment that is child focused.
The Single Assessment will provide an opportunity for social workers to focus on the specific needs of children, young people and their families and allow appropriate time within the assessment for reflection and direct work with the child/young person to ensure a robust and analytical assessment.
An assessment is a fluid process that considers emerging needs and sustainability of any change for the family.
Working Together to Safeguard Children is clear that Single Assessments should be undertaken within a maximum of 45 working days from the point of referral (see Working Together to Safeguard Children 2018 Flow chart 3 page 38) [PDF Document].
The timeliness of an assessment is a critical element of the quality of that assessment and the outcomes for the child. The speed with which an assessment is carried out after a child’s case has been referred into local authority Children’s Social Care should be determined by the needs of the individual child and the nature and level of any risk of harm faced by the child. This will require judgement to be made by the social worker each individual case. Adult assessments, for example parent carer or non-parent carer assessments, should also be carried out in a timely manner, consistent with the needs of the child.
The purpose of the assessment is to determine if there is identifiable evidence of risk or identifiable significant harm to the child or whether they are unlikely to achieve or maintain a reasonable standard of health or development or they have a disability.
The assessment is intended to be used proportionately to gather the most significant and relevant information according to the circumstances of particular children and will determine the range and type of detail of the assessment.
Darlington Borough Council will undertake assessments of the needs of individual children to determine which services to provide and what action to take.
The assessment will determine whether the child is a child in need (Section 17) or a child in need of protection (Section 47). The assessment will describe how those needs will be addressed through a plan, including whether they would benefit from input from other relevant services.
Once the assessment has been completed it is necessary to communicate the outcome to the child, family and all key practitioners involved.
Should the analysis of the case lead to closure – clear rationale must be recorded and made in respect of this decision and based on transparent and evidence based information.
The framework of the single assessment
The focus of the Single Assessment will follow the domains of the Regional Framework for Assessment Diamond as illustrated in the diagram [Word Document].
Please refer to the Regional Assessment Framework [PDF Document] which is a tool to provide an agreed range of assessment domains whether the assessment is an 'early help assessment' or a 'statutory assessment' undertaken under statutory guidance. It is intended to provide the practitioner with an understanding of what factors need to be understood within the assessment and practice pointers when considering the domains of the assessment.
The practitioner who made the initial contact and any practitioners who have been involved in the single assessment process should be informed of the outcome and any next steps. Where this has not been done this should be followed up with the relevant Children’s Services contact. Should any practitioner disagree, they should consider to instigate the Professional Challenge Procedure [PDF Document].
Whenever there is reasonable cause to suspect that a child is suffering, or is likely to suffer, significant harm there should be a strategy discussion involving local authority Children’s Social Care (including the fostering service, if the child is looked after), the police, health and other bodies such as the referring agency. This might take the form of a multi-agency meeting or phone calls and more than one discussion may be necessary. A strategy discussion can take place following a referral or at any other time, including during the assessment process. See Flow Chart 4, Working Together to Safeguard Children 2018 (page 42) [external link].
Local authority Children’s Social Care should convene a strategy discussion to determine the child’s welfare and plan rapid future action if there is reasonable cause to suspect the child is suffering, or is likely to suffer, significant harm.
Where there are suspicions of organised or multiple abuse – see Darlington Safeguarding Partnership Organised or Multiple Abuse Procedure and Practice Guidance [PDF Document].
Where concerns relate to fabricated or induced illness – Darlington Safeguarding Partnership Fabricated or Induced Illness Practice Guidance [PDF Document].
Additional guidance on children in specific circumstances can be found on the Darlington Safeguarding Partnership website [link].
A local authority social worker, health practitioner and a police representative should, as a minimum, be involved in the strategy discussion. Other relevant practitioners will depend on the nature of the individual case but may include:
- the practitioner or agency which made the referral
- the child's school or nursery
- Health representatives from all those involved (e.g. midwife, health visitor, school nurse, GP, mental health)
- Specialists as and when required (e.g. medical consultant)
All attendees should be sufficiently senior to make decisions on behalf of their agencies.
The discussion should be used to:
- share available information
- agree the conduct and timing of any criminal investigation and
- decide whether enquiries under section 47 of the Children Act 1989 should be undertaken.
Where there are grounds to initiate an enquiry under section 47 of the Children Act 1989, decisions should be made as to:
- what further information is needed if an assessment is already underway and how it will be obtained and recorded
- what immediate and short term action is required to support the child, and who will do what by when
- whether legal action is required
The timescale for the assessment to reach a decision on next steps should be based upon the needs of the individual child and no longer than 45 working days from the point of referral into children's services.
Children's social care should convene the strategy discussion and make sure it:
- considers the child's welfare and safety, and identifies the level of risk faced by the child
- decides what information should be shared with the child and family (on the basis that information is not shared if this may jeopardise a police investigation or place the child at risk of significant harm)
- establish if an interpreter is required when English is not the first language
- agrees what further action is required, and who will do what by when, where an Emergency Protection Order is in place or the child is the subject of police powers of protection
- records agreed decisions in accordance with local recording procedures
- follows up actions to make sure what was agreed gets done
Health practitioners should:
- advise about the appropriateness or otherwise of medical assessment, and explain the benefits that arise from assessing previously unmanaged health matters that may be further evidence of neglect or maltreatment
- provide and co-ordinate any specific information from relevant practitioners regarding family health, maternity, health, school health, mental health, domestic abuse and violence and substance misuse to assist strategy and decision making
- secure additional expert advice and support from named and/or designated professionals for more complex cases following preliminary strategy discussions
- undertake appropriate examinations and observations, and further investigations or tests, to determine how the child's health or development may be impaired
The police should:
- discuss the basis for any criminal investigation and any relevant processes that other organisations and agencies might need to know about, including the timing and methods of evidence gathering
- lead the criminal investigation where joint enquiries take place
- Initiating Section 47 enquiries
- Outcomes of section 47 enquiries
- When concerns of significant harm are not substantiated
- Where concerns of significant harm are substantiated
Where there are grounds to initiate an enquiry under section 47 of the Children Act 1989, decisions should be made as to:
- what further information is needed if an assessment is already underway and how it will be obtained and recorded
- what immediate and short term action is required to support the child, and who will do what by when and
- whether legal action is required e.g. Legal Gateway Panel.
The timescale for the assessment to reach a decision on next steps should be based upon the needs of the individual child, consistent with the local protocol and certainly no longer than 45 working days from the point of referral into local authority Children's Social Care.
The principles and parameters for the assessment of children in need in Chapter 1 Working Together 2018 should be followed for assessments undertaken under section 47 of the Children Act 1989.
High quality assessments:
- are child centred. Where there is a conflict of interest, decisions should be made in the child’s best interests
- are rooted in child development and informed by evidence
- are focused on action and outcomes for children
- are holistic in approach, addressing the child’s needs within their family and wider community
- ensure equality of opportunity
- involve children and families
- build on strengths as well as identifying difficulties
- are integrated in approach
- are a continuing process not an event
- lead to action, including the provision of services
- review services provided on an ongoing basis and
- are transparent and open to challenge.
Initiating Section 47 enquiries
A section 47 enquiry is carried out by undertaking or continuing with an assessment in accordance with the guidance set out in WT 2018 and following the principles and parameters of a good assessment as identified above. Local authority social workers have a statutory duty to lead assessments under section 47 of the Children Act 1989. The police, health practitioners, teachers and other relevant practitioners should help the local authority in undertaking its enquiries.
A section 47 enquiry is initiated to decide whether and what type of action is required to safeguard and promote the welfare of a child who is suspected of, or likely to be, suffering significant harm.
Social workers should:
- lead the assessment in accordance with these procedures
- 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 and assess their understanding of their situation and assess their relationships and circumstances more broadly
- interview parents and/or caregivers and determine the wider social and environmental factors that might impact on them and their child
- Where the families first language is not English an interpreter must be provided. A family member, including children must not be used as an interpreter
- systematically gather information about the child’s and family’s history
- analyse the findings of the assessment and evidence about what interventions are likely to be most effective with other relevant practitioners 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: Guidance on interviewing victims and witnesses, and guidance on using special measures (March 2011) [PDF Document], where a decision has been made to undertake a joint interview of the child as part of any criminal investigation.
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 practitioners any evidence gathered to inform discussions about the child’s welfare and
- follow the guidance set out in Achieving Best Evidence in Criminal Proceedings: Guidance on interviewing victims and witnesses, and guidance on using special measures (March 2011) [PDF Document], where a decision has been made to undertake a joint interview of the child as part of the criminal investigations.
Health Practitioners 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.
All involved practitioners 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.
Should a practitioner require additional involvement of a paediatrician, or need to obtain further information following a medical examination, the practitioner should contact the Consultant who saw the child at the original examination either directly via the hospital switchboard or through their secretary. If this is not possible, the practitioner should ask to speak to the Consultant Paediatrician acting as Paediatrician of the Week (POW).
Outcomes of a Section 47
Section 47 Enquiries may conclude that the original concerns are:
- not substantiated, although consideration should be given to whether the child may need services as Child in Need or at an Early Help level
- substantiated and the child is judged to be suffering, or likely to suffer significant harm and an Initial Child Protection Conference should be called.
Where concerns of significant harm are not substantiated
Social workers should:
- Discuss the case with the child, parents and other practitioners
- Determine whether support from any services may be helpful and help secure it and
- Consider whether the child’s health and development should be reassessed regularly against specific objectives and decide who has responsibility for doing this.
All involved practitioners should:
- Participate in further discussions as necessary
- Contribute to the development of a Child in Need Plan
- Provide services as specified in the Child in Need Plan for the child and
- Review the impact of services delivered as agreed in the Child in Need Plan.
Where concerns of significant harm are Substantiated and the child is judged to be suffering, or likely to suffer significant harm social workers should:
- Convene an Initial Child Protection Conference. 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. It should take place within 15 working days of the Strategy Discussion, where more than one Strategy Discussion took place, of the Strategy Discussion at which section 47 enquiry was initiated. Any delay must have written agreement from the Children's Social care team manager
- Consider whether any practitioners with specialist knowledge should be invited to participate
- Ensure that the child and their parents understand the purpose of the conference and who will attend and
- Help prepare the child if he or she is attending or making representations through a third party to the conference. Give information about advocacy agencies and explain that the family may bring an advocate, friend or supporter.
All Involved Practitioners Should:
- Contribute to the information their agency provides ahead of the conference, setting out the nature of the agency’s involvement with the child and family
- careful preparation for conference, including the provision of reports
- Consider, in conjunction with the police and the appointed conference Chair, whether the report can and should be shared with the parents and if so when and
- Attend the conference and take part in decision-making when invited
- Deliver on actions that are planned to safeguard the child(ren).
Medical Assessment of child/young person for all suspected abuse
A Medical assessment should always be considered when there is an allegation, a suspicion or a disclosure of child abuse involving a suspicious injury, suspected sexual abuse or serious neglect. It is important that practitioners understand that injuries are not always visible. Children, in particular infants, can have very little external signs but considerable internal injuries including fractures which can only be identifed through the medical assessment process.
A medical assessment involves a holistic approach to the child and considers the child’s well-being including an assessment of the child’s development and a broad understanding of their cognitive ability.
Where the child appears in urgent need of medical attention e.g. suspected fracture, bleeding, loss of consciousness, severe burns, he/she should be taken to the nearest A&E department as for any other seriously ill or injured child. An urgent assessment is an assessment of child’s immediate health needs and not a Child Protection Medical Assessment’. In the event of there being any suspicion and or consideration of child abuse, the doctor should confer with their senior clinician and refer to Children’s Social Care (CSC). Doctors should inform and involve Paediatric Doctors as early as possible but should not wait for paediatric opinion before referring to CSC.
Child Protection Medical Assessment
Where NAI (non-accidental injury) is suspected by a health professional and a referral is made, a Strategy discussion must always take place with Police, CSC, and the referring Health professional. This may not result in a Section 47, enquiry but supervision arrangements should be considered during this discussion. This discussion will also determine the need and timing of a child protection medical assessment if one is deemed necessary.
Response to requests for a medical assessment should be prompt, appropriate and proportionate to the child’s needs. However, this should never result in a delay where there is a need to secure evidence particularly when police protection has been undertaken.
Requests for child protection medicals must only be made by the Social Worker or a Police Officer to the local paediatric service in accordance with the Trust’s local protocol. Most examinations will be done in a paediatric out-patients / day unit on a date and time mutually agreed by the examining doctor with the practitioner who requested of the assessment.
If a child protection medical assessment is required out of hours, then the child will be admitted to the ward if clinically needed or a place of safety cannot be found.
During the strategy discussion all relevant information will be shared and a decision made re the most appropriate person to attend the hospital with the child.
The child should not be brought to the Emergency Department for child protection assessments without the agreement of the Senior Paediatric Doctor, unless they are in need of urgent medical treatment.
The Paediatrician may arrange to examine the child or arrange for the child to be seen by a member of the paediatric team in the hospital or community who is appropriately trained and experienced in undertaking such assessments. Priority should be given to the assessment to avoid any delay for the child and family and to obtain evidence in a timely fashion. The time of the assessment will be agreed by the Paediatrician and the Social Worker. If available, a copy of the Safer Referral should be given to the examining paediatrician at the time of the assessment.
Medical assessments cannot be arranged without a strategy discussion having taken place.
When planning the examination, the Social Worker, the Police and relevant Paediatrician must consider whether it might be necessary to take photographic evidence for use in care or criminal proceedings.
Acute Child Sexual Abuse Medical Assessment
Where acute child sexual abuse is suspected, (acute meaning within the preceding seven days) the children will be seen at the Paediatric Forensic Network (PNF) at Newcastle Royal Victoria Infirmary (RVI).
The Social Worker or Police will directly contact the Unit above and arrange for the child to be examined there. The child should not be taken to the Emergency Department or local paediatric ward.
In cases of CSE consideration should be given to a referral to the PFN even if the child or young person states that sex was consensual.
Where a child presents to a doctor with a genital injury / problem it may be more appropriate for the child to be seen locally first. This should be discussed with the local Consultant paediatrician on call and Consultant Forensic paediatrician on call for the PFN. Consideration should be given as to whether a Safer Referral is required at this time.
Where a child has presented to a doctor with genitourinary symptoms or concerning medical history but there is no disclosure or consideration of abuse and they would like a second opinion then a referral should be made to the Dandelion clinic where it will be triaged appropriately. Any second opinions on genital issues can be discussed with the PFN or the local paediatrician who specialises in historic sexual abuse. With the majority of genital issues where there are no concerns about sexual abuse, a local general paediatrician can see and assess the child accordingly in a non-urgent appointment.
Historic Child Sexual Abuse Medical Assessment
If the sexual abuse concern predates seven days, then it would be defined as historic sexual abuse. Such cases of historic sexual abuse (more than 7 days) will be seen at the Dandelion clinic by a specialist paediatrician. Referrals should be made through Dr Cleghorn’s secretary on 0191 387 6355 and the referral must come from either Childrens Services or Police.
In such cases there should be a Child Safeguarding Concern submitted, followed by a strategy meeting or discussion by CSC with the Dr Cleghorn via their secretary, which will determine the need and timing of the paediatric assessment.
Neglect Medical Assessment (When subject to a Protection Plan)
Where a child becomes subject to a Child Protection Plan under the category of Neglect and there are outstanding unmet health needs identified, such as growth or developmental delay which cannot be addressed by universal services, for example GP, Health Visitor or School Nurse, a discussion will be held by the conference members at the Initial Child Protection Conference (ICPC) as to whether a neglect medical assessment is required.
Health Professionals attending the ICPC will provide advice and guidance based on their knowledge and consideration of the aforementioned issues. The rationale and outcome of this decision will be clearly documented in the ICPC minutes. Where it is agreed that a neglect medical assessment is required this should be an integral part of the Child Protection Plan.
In cases where it is unclear at the Initial Child Protection Conference whether there are outstanding health needs, an assessment will be undertaken by the Health Visitor or School Nurse and the outcome shared at the first Core Group meeting. Where there are identified health needs which cannot be addressed by universal services a referral for a neglect medical assessment will be made by the Social Worker to the paediatrician on call for safeguarding to discuss appropriate timing of the assessment.
Parents / Carers will be informed at either the Initial Child Protection Conference or the first Core Group that the child is required to have a neglect medical assessment as part of the Protection Plan.
The child’s Social Worker, as the key worker, will contact the paediatrician on call for safeguarding assessments. The expectation is that children will be seen within 2 weeks, but the timing is dependent on whether there are more urgent health needs. There should be discussion between the referring social worker and the paediatrician as to the most appropriate timing. Parental consent must be sought and recorded (see ‘Consent for Medical Assessments’).
Where an interpreter is requested by the Social Worker the hospital provider trust will arrange this at the time of arranging the child’s appointment. Family members or friends should not provide interpretation.
The paediatrician who is to carry out the neglect medical assessment will obtain any records on the child, which are held by the hospital trust including any Emergency Department notes.
Wherever possible sibling groups will be seen at the same appointment but will undergo separate medicals.
The Social Worker, with the support of the health professionals involved in the Core Group will make every effort to support the child and family to attend the neglect medical assessment as part of the Child Protection Plan.
The worker with the most appropriate information about the child and family, (this could be the Social Worker, Health Visitor, School Nurse, Family Support Worker) should accompany the child for the Paediatric appointment so that the examining Paediatrician has the relevant information in respect of the child. The paediatrician should document in the medical records the name and job title of the practitioner in attendance.
Following the paediatric assessment, the Paediatrician will complete a report, using the appropriate pro forma, showing the outcome of the neglect medical assessment and the plan in relation to any findings. This will be sent to the Social Worker, GP and Health Visitor / School Nurse within 2 weeks of the assessment taking place. The report must be available for the Review Child Protection Conference (RCPC).
The Paediatrician will also send an appropriate report / letter to the parents / carers. If the Child is over the age of 12 years, the Social Worker will be responsible for sharing the report with the child and capturing their views for feedback to the Core Group and RCPC. If this is not to be shared with the child, the Social Worker will record the reasons why not.
The Paediatrician will, as necessary, refer the child for additional services or liaise with the child’s GP and this will be facilitated in accordance with the hospital provider Trust’s policy. The Paediatrician will inform the Social Worker where a child is not bought for assessment and a further appointment will be offered.
Consent for Medical Assessments
Wherever possible the permission of a parent / carer with parental responsibility should be sought for children under 16 prior to any medical assessment and/or other medical treatment taking place, which may include photographic evidence.
The following may give consent to a paediatric assessment:
Any person with parental responsibility;
A child of sufficient age and understanding to make a fully informed decision can provide lawful consent to all or part of a medical assessment or emergency treatment; generally the Doctor will assess whether the child has sufficient understanding with advice from other professionals. A child who is of sufficient age and understanding may refuse some or all of the medical assessment though a court can potentially override refusal;
The Local Authority when the child is the subject of a Care Order, or an Interim Care Order. If appropriate, parents should also be informed.
The High Court when the child is a Ward of Court;
A Family Proceedings Court as part of a direction attached to an Emergency Protection Order, an Interim Care Order or a Child Assessment Order;
A young person aged 16 or 17 has an explicit right (Section 8 Family Reform Act 1969) to provide or deny consent to surgical, medical or dental treatment and unless grounds exist for doubting her/his mental capacity, no further consent is required.
When a child is looked after under Section 20 and a parent/carer with parental responsibility has given general consent authorising medical treatment for the child, a separate consent must be obtained for a child protection medical assessment, If consent is refused legal advice must be sought by the Provider Trust and CSC.
Where English is not the first language for either the parent or the child an interpreter will be required. It is the responsibility of the Provider Trust to provide an appropriate service. Under no circumstances should family or friends be used as interpreters.
Considerations Regarding Consent
Prior to seeking parent / carer consent for a Neglect medical assessment, professionals must consider whether the child is mature enough to give consent i.e. following Gillick Competency and Fraser Guidelines and whether the child wishes for parents/carers to be informed or not. If the child declines consent the implications of this will be explored by the Core Group and appropriate action taken where necessary.
Where a parent fails to present a child for a neglect medical assessment on two or more occasions and the Social Worker, supported by the health professionals within the Core Group, are unable to facilitate the child’s attendance; the Local Authority will consider what action to take to safeguard the child’s welfare. This may require the Local Authority to seek legal advice.
Where abuse is suspected and the parent / carer are identified as possible perpetrators, arrangements need to be put in place for the contact between the parent/carer and child to be supervised. This will be arranged by Children’s Social Care and could be an approved family member or friend or an identified professional. If the child is to be admitted to the ward then these supervision arrangements need to be determined as part of the strategy discussion and clearly recorded on health records with this information available during transfer from the Emergency Department to the ward.
Hospital Transfer of a child
Where abuse is suspected and the child or young person needs to be transferred to another hospital, and the parent / carer is identified as a possible perpetrator, the same arrangements re supervision as discussed above will apply.
The Medical Assessment
The examining clinician should have information available from the child’s previous hospital attendances, wherever possible.
The examining clinician should obtain a thorough and comprehensive history including any explanations given by parents/carers for the injury and perform a complete clinical examination of the child/young person including an assessment of development and a broad understanding of the child’s cognitive ability.
Any visible marks or injuries should be charted on a body map and documented in detail in case notes.
A skeletal survey needs to be considered when a child under the age of 2 years presents with a physical injury and abuse is suspected. (Royal College of Radiologists: The radiological investigations of suspected physical abuse in children - November 2018). There may be some rare situations when a skeletal survey is appropriate for an older child, but this is at the clinician’s discretion.
It is best practice to complete a second skeletal survey in infants less than 1 year and occasionally in those who are older., but the implications of repeated exposure to radiation need to be considered.
All medical examinations should follow their own Trust Guidelines on Radiology in Child Abuse
Attention should be paid to differential diagnoses, including non-accidental injury and fabricated or induced illness.
Providing / Sharing the Medical Assessment Report
The examining Doctor(s) should provide a report to the Social Worker and where requested to the Police within 72 hours of the examination as per national guidelines. The findings should be shared with parents/carers by the paediatrician at the time of assessment unless to do so would place the child at significant risk. The timing of any letters to parents should be determined in consultation with CSC and the Police. Consideration must be given to the language used and its anticipated audience. Reports with respect to concerns about sexual abuse will be provided within 2 weeks with an Interim findings report being given at the time of the assessment.
The report should follow Paediatric Medical Assessment report template and include:
Date, time and place of examination
Who gave consent and how (child/parent, written/verbal)
A verbatim record of the carer’s and child’s accounts of injuries and concerns, noting any discrepancies or changes of story
Listing of all marks/injuries indicating their site, size, shape and colour
Documentary findings in both words and diagram;
Follow up if indicated.
It is a statutory requirement under section 47 of the Children Act 1989, where a local authority has reasonable cause to suspect that a child (who lives or is found in their area) is suffering or is likely to suffer significant harm, it has a duty to make such enquiries as it considers necessary to decide whether to take any action to safeguard or promote the child’s welfare (Working Together to Safeguard Children, July 2018).
The social care area where the child lives is referred to as the ‘home authority’ and the social care area where the child is found is referred to as the ‘host authority’.
In situations where the child is found, staying in or receiving a service from a host authority it is not always clear who is responsible for protecting the child and conducting enquiries. For example:
- a child found in one authority but subject to a protection plan in another authority.
- a Looked After Child placed in another local authority.
- a child attending a boarding school in another area.
- a child receiving in-patient treatment in another area.
- a family currently receiving services from another local authority.
- a child staying temporarily in the area but whose family remains in the home authority.
- a family who have moved into the area, but where another authority retains case responsibility temporarily.
- a child suspected of being abused by a paedophile operating in the host authority.
Where more than one local authority is involved with the child then responsibility for the enquiries will depend on whether the allegations or concerns arise in relation to the child in the home or host authority and a determination of responsibility needs to be made.
The following should always be applied:
- immediate, full consultation and co-operation between both host and home authorities, with both authorities involved in the planning and undertaking of enquiries.
- case responsibility for the child rests with the home authority.
- any emergency action should be taken by the host authority unless agreement is reached between authorities for the home authority to take alternative action and this is effective in safeguarding the child.
- where concerns arise in relation to the child’s home circumstances, the home authority will be responsible.
- if concerns arise in relation to safe parenting (e.g. where parents are visiting a child in hospital, residential or boarding school) the home authority is responsible.
- where concerns arise in relation to the child’s circumstances within the host authority (e.g. abuse in school or placement) the host LA authority will lead the enquiry, liaising closely with the home authority and involving them in undertaking aspects of the enquiry as appropriate.
- where emergencies and enquiries are dealt with by the host authority, responsibility for the child will revert to the home authority immediately thereafter. The home authority will also be responsible for the provision of any form of foster or residential care, or other services to ensure the protection of a child found in a host authority. The welfare of the child will be the paramount consideration in this determination
- negotiations about responsibility must not cause delay in urgent situations.
There must be immediate contact between home and host authorities initiated by the authority which receives the referral. The authorities must agree: -
- any need for urgent action and enquiries and who will take responsibility for this in accordance with the above principles.
- responsibility and plans for strategy discussions/meetings.
- responsibility for liaison with other agencies.
Strategy meetings/discussions should take place within the timescales set generally and in accordance with local procedures.
Decisions and responsibilities for any action must be provided in writing to a named manager in both local authorities.
- Initial Child Protection Conference
- Unborn Child Protection Conference
- Transfer Child Protection Conference
- Child Protection Review Conference
- Involving children and family members in conference process
- Involving Parents and Carers
- Involving Children
- Criteria for the presence of children at a conference
- When child is not attending conference
- Direct involvement of child in a conference
- Exclusion of family members from a conference
- Split Child Protection Conferences
- Absence of parents and children at a conference
- Information for a conference
- Information from other agencies
- Chairing of conferences
- Actions and decisions of the conference
- Category of abuse
- If the child is made the subject of a child protection plan
- The child Protection Plan
- If a child does not require a Protection Plan
- Discontinuing the Child Protection Plan
- Looked After Children with a Child Protection Plan
- Children returning home
- Children with child protection plans who become looked after
- Avoiding ‘double protection’
- Administrative arrangements and Record Keeping
- Decision of conference
- Conference record
- Core Group
- Formulation of Child Protection Plan
- Lead social worker role
- Seeing the child
- Absence of the lead social worker
- Children’s Social Care first line manager role
- Children Subject to a Child Protection Plan who go Missing or are Absent
- Death of a Child Subject to a Child Protection Plan-CDOP procedures
- Children returning home
- Child Protection Conference Complaints
Child Protection Conference
A child protection conference brings together family members (and the child where appropriate), with the supporters, advocates and practitioners most involved with the child and family, to make decisions about the child’s future safety, health and development. If concerns relate to an unborn child, consideration should be given as to whether to hold a Child Protection Conference prior to the child’s birth.
Types of Conference:
Initial Child Protection Conference
The Initial Child Protection Conference (ICPC) brings together family members, the child where appropriate and those practitioners most involved with the child and family. Its purpose is:
- to bring together and analyse, in an inter-agency setting, the information which has been obtained about the child's developmental needs, and the parents' or carers' capacity to respond to these needs to ensure the child's safety and promote the child's health and development within the context of their wider family and environment
- to consider the evidence presented to the conference, make judgements about the likelihood of a child suffering significant harm in future and decide whether the child is at continuing risk of significant harm and
- to decide what future action is required to safeguard and promote the welfare of the child, including the child becoming the subject of a Child Protection Plan, what the best developmental outcomes are for the child and how best to intervene to achieve these.
The conference must consider all the children in the household, even if concerns are only being expressed about one child.
In some cases, it may be appropriate to develop a Child Protection Plan (CPP) for only one (or more) of the children within a household. If significant concerns arise subsequently about a sibling (or others in the household), a further ICPC must be held. It should be combined with the Child Protection Review Conference (CPRC) concerning the child who is already subject to a Child Protection Plan.
The ICPC should take place within 15 working days of the strategy discussion or, where more than one strategy discussion took place, of the strategy discussion at which the section 47 enquiry was initiated.
Any delay must have written agreement from the Children’s Social Care team manager (including reasons for the delay) and Children's Social Care must ensure risks to the child are monitored and action taken to safeguard the child.
Unborn Child Protection Conference
An unborn Child Protection Conference should be conducted as if it were an ICPC concerning an unborn child.
An unborn Child Protection Conference should be held where a:
- pre- birth assessment gives rise to concerns that an unborn child may be at risk of significant harm
- previous child has died or been removed from parent(s) as a result of significant harm
- a child is to be born into a family or household which already have children subject to a Child Protection Plan
- a person identified as a presenting a risk, or potential risk, to children resides in the household or is known to be a regular visitor.
Other risk factors to be considered are:
- the impact of parental risk factors such as mental ill-health, learning disabilities, substance misuse and domestic violence
- a mother under 16 for whom there are concerns regarding her ability to self-care and/or to care for the child.
All agencies involved with pregnant women who have concerns should consider the need for an early referral to Children's Social Care, so that assessments are undertaken, and family support services provided, as early as possible in the pregnancy.
The unborn Child Protection Conference should take place ideally at least 3 months before the due date of delivery, so as to allow as much time as possible for planning support for the pregnancy and the birth of the baby.
Where there is a known likelihood of a premature birth, the conference should be held earlier.
Those who normally attend an ICPC must be invited. In addition representatives of the midwifery and relevant neo-natal services should also be invited.
If a decision is made that the unborn child requires a Child Protection Plan, the main cause for concern must determine the category of concern and a protection plan be outlined to commence prior to the birth of the baby.
The Core Group must be established and is expected to meet prior to the birth, and ensure that the Child Protection Plan describes the birth plan and any additional support/monitoring that is required during the baby's return home after a hospital birth.
For further guidance see Safeguarding the Unborn Procedure and Practice Guidance [link].
Transfer Child Protection Conference
When Children's Social Care is notified that a child subject to a Child Protection Plan moves into the authority's area, the responsibility for the Child Protection Plan rests with the original authority until the conference has been held, Darlington staff should liaise with the lead social worker from the originating authority until the Transfer Child Protection Conference is held.
The originating Children's Social Care should send a written request and key documents to the receiving authority, in accordance with any locally agreed protocols, before a transfer conference is convened.
A transfer conference should be held within 15 working days of the agreement between the two authorities. This should be based on the principle that the child is now normally resident in the receiving area.
The lead social worker from the originating authority must be invited to the transfer conference and is expected to submit a report at least five working days before the conference having shared this with the child and the family.
The transfer conference should be treated as an initial child protection conference in the receiving authority. The discontinuing of the Child Protection Plan should only be agreed following a full risk assessment of the child and family in their new situation.
Child Protection Review Conference (CPRC)
The purpose of the Child Protection Review Conference is to:
- review the safety, health and development of the child against the planned outcomes set out in the Child Protection Plan
- ensure that the child continues to be safeguarded from harm.
Consider whether the Child Protection Plan should continue in place or should be changed.
If a child becomes the subject of a Child Protection Plan, the first review conference must be held within 3 months (91 days) of the initial conference.
Further reviews must be held at intervals of not more than 6 months (182 days), for as long as the child remains the subject of a Child Protection Plan.
Consideration should always be given to bringing the date of a conference forward:
- where child protection concerns relating to a new incident or allegation of abuse have been sustained
- when there are significant difficulties in carrying out the Child Protection Plan
- where a child is to be born into the household of a child who is subject to a Child Protection Plan
- where a person known to pose a risk to children is to join, or commences regular contact with, the household
- when there is a significant change in the circumstances of the child or family not anticipated at the previous conference and with implications for the safety of the child
- where a child subject to a Child Protection Plan is Looked After by a local authority and consideration is being given to returning her/him to the circumstances which required a Child Protection Plan (unless this step is anticipated in the existing protection plan)
- where the Core Group believes that the Child Protection Plan is no longer required.
Those attending conferences should be there because they may have a significant contribution to make, arising from professional expertise, knowledge of the child or family or both.
Those who have a relevant contribution to make may include:
- the child, (if of sufficient age and understanding: (as highlighted in Involving Children and Family Members section, Criteria for Presence of Child at Conference) or his or her representative
- family members (including the wider family)
- Children's Social Care staff who have led and been involved in an assessment of the child and family
- foster carers (current or former)
- residential care staff
- practitioners involved with the child (for example, health visitors, midwife, school nurse, Children's Guardian, paediatrician, school staff, early years staff, the GP, staff in the youth justice system including the secure estate)
- practitioners involved with the parents or other family members (for example, family support services, adult services (particularly those from mental health, substance misuse, domestic violence and learning disability), Probation, the GP
- practitioners with expertise in the particular type of harm suffered by the child or in the child's particular condition, for example, a disability or long term illness
- those involved in investigations (for example, the police)
- local authority legal services (child care) - Further details available in professional guidance as outlined by The Law Society [External Link] (which provides professional guidance on attendance by lawyers at Child Protection Conferences)
- NSPCC or other voluntary organisations involved
- a representative of the armed services, in cases where there is a Service connection.
The primary principle for determining quoracy at Child Protection conference is that there should be sufficient agencies or key disciplines present to enable safe decisions to be made in the individual circumstances. Normally, minimum representation is Children's Social Care and at least two other agencies or key disciplines that have had direct contact with the child and family. Where a conference is inquorate it should not ordinarily proceed and the chair must ensure that either:
- An interim protection plan is produced or
- The existing plan is reviewed with the practitioners and family members that do attend, so as to safeguard the welfare of the child(ren).
Another conference date, usually within a month, must be set immediately.
In the following circumstances the chair may decide to proceed with the conference despite lack of agency representation. This would be relevant where:
- Children's Social Care and one other agency are represented
- A child does not have relevant contact with 3 agencies
- There are local difficulties concerning agency attendance (this must also be reported to the senior child protection manager and the Safeguarding Partnership)
- Where sufficient information is available; and a delay will be detrimental to the child.
In these circumstances, consideration should be given to arranging an early Review Conference.
A Child Protection Plan should not be removed at the first review conference except in exceptional circumstances where it can be demonstrated that all risks have been eliminated.
Exceptional circumstances are defined as:
The perpetrator of the abuse is the subject of a significant custodial sentence that removes the risk of further significant harm, or the perpetrator is deceased.
Involving Children and Family Members
Involving Parents and Carers Parents and carers must be invited to conferences (unless exclusion is justified as described in Exclusion of Family Members from a Conference Procedure). Parents/others with Parental Responsibility who no longer live with the children should also be invited.
The social worker must facilitate their constructive involvement by ensuring in advance of the conference that they are given sufficient information and practical support to make a meaningful contribution. This includes:
- explaining to parents/carers the purpose of the meeting, who will attend, the way in which it will operate, the purpose and meaning of being made subject to a Child Protection Plan and the complaints process
- consideration of childcare arrangements to enable the attendance of parent(s)
- those for whom English is not a first language must be offered, an interpreter. A family member including children must not be used as an interpreter of spoken or signed language
- provision should be made to ensure that visually or hearing impaired or otherwise disabled parents / carers are enabled to participate
If parents / carers feel unable to attend the conference, alternative means should be provided for them to communicate with the chair of the conference.
Written information about conferences should be left with the family and include references to:
- the right to bring a friend, supporter or an advocate
- the fact that if the family is accompanied by a solicitor her /his role is limited to that of a supporter
- details of local advice and advocacy services and
- the conference complaints procedure.
The role of the supporter is to enable the parent/carer to put her/his point of view, not to take an adversarial position or cross-examine participants.
The child, subject to her/his level of understanding, needs to be given the opportunity to contribute meaningfully to the conference.
In practice, the appropriateness of including an individual child must be assessed in advance and relevant arrangements made to facilitate attendance at all or part of the conference.
Where it is assessed, in accordance with the criteria below, that it would be inappropriate for the child to attend, alternative arrangements should be made to ensure her/his wishes and feelings are made clear to all relevant parties - e.g. use of an advocate, written or taped comments.
Criteria for Presence of Child at Conference
The primary issues to be addressed are:
- the child's level of understanding of the process
- any expressed or implicit wish to be involved
- the parent/carer's views about the child's proposed presence
- whether inclusion is assessed to be of benefit to the child.
The test of 'sufficient understanding', is partly a function of age and partly the child's capacity to understand. Generally, a child of less than 12 years of age is unlikely to be able to be a direct and/or full participant in a conference. An older child is potentially able to contribute, but each should be considered individually in the light of maturity, and cognitive development.
In order to establish her/his wish with respect to attendance, the child must be first provided with a full and clear explanation of purpose, conduct, membership of the conference and potential provision of an advocate or support person.
Written information translated into the appropriate language should be provided to those able to read and an alternative medium e.g. tape, offered those who cannot read.
A declared wish not to attend a conference (having been given such an explanation) must be respected.
Consideration should be given to the views of and impact on parent(s) of their child's proposed attendance.
Consideration must be given to the impact of the conference on the child for example if they have a significant learning difficulty or where it will be impossible to ensure they are kept apart from a parent who may be hostile and/or attribute responsibility onto them.
In such cases, energy and resources should be directed toward ensuring by means of an advocate and/or preparatory work by a social worker, that the child's wishes and feelings are effectively represented.
Indirect Contributions When a Child is not attending
Indirect contributions from a child might include a pre-meeting with the conference chair.
Other indirect methods include written statements, emails, text messages and taped comments prepared alone or with independent support, and representation via an advocate.
Direct Involvement of a Child in a Conference
In advance of the conference, the chair and social worker should agree whether:
- the child attends for all or part of the conference, taking into account confidentiality of parents and/or siblings
- (s)he should be present with one or more of her/his parents
- the chair meets the child alone or with a parent / carer prior to the meeting.
If the child attends all or part of the conference, it is essential that (s)he is prepared by the social worker or independent advocate, who can help her/him prepare a report or rehearse any particular points that the child wishes to make.
Those for whom English is not their first language an interpreter must be offered. A family member including children must not be used as an interpreter.
Provision should be made to ensure that a child who has any form of disability is enabled to participate.
Consideration should be given to enabling the child to be accompanied by a supporter or an advocate.
Exclusion of Family Members from a Conference
Exceptionally it may be necessary to exclude one or more family members from part or all of a conference. These situations will be rare, and the conference chair must be notified by the social worker, or a worker from any agency, if they believe based on the criteria below, that a parent should be excluded. This representation must be made, as soon as possible and at least three working days in advance of the conference.
The worker concerned must indicate which of the grounds it believes are met and the information, or evidence, the request is based on. The chair must consider the representation carefully and may need legal advice.
The chair should make a decision in response to:
- indications that the presence of the parent might seriously prejudice the welfare of the child
- sufficient evidence that a parent / carer may behave in such a way as to interfere seriously with the work of the conference e.g. violence, threats of violence, racist, or other forms of discriminatory or oppressive behaviour or being in an unfit state perhaps through drug, alcohol consumption or acute mental health difficulty (but in their absence a friend or advocate may represent them at the conference)
- a child asking that a parent/ person with Parental Responsibility or carer are not present while (s)he is present
- the likelihood that the presence of parents would prevent a participant from making her/his proper contribution
- the need (agreed in advance with the conference chair) for members to receive or share confidential information that would otherwise be unavailable, such as legal advice or information about a criminal investigation
- potential conflicts between different family members indicating that they should attend at separate times e.g. in situations of domestic abuse
If when planning a conference, it becomes clear to the chair that there may be conflict of interests between the children and parents, the conference should be planned so that the welfare of the child can remain paramount. This may mean arranging for the child and parents to participate in separate parts of the conference and for separate waiting arrangements to be made. Any exclusion period should be for the minimum duration necessary and must be clearly recorded in the conference record. If this means that a split conference is necessary the guidance in the following section should be followed.
It may also become clear at the beginning or in the course of a conference, that its effectiveness will be seriously impaired by the presence of the parent(s). In these circumstances, the chair may ask them to leave.
Where a parent is on bail, or subject to an active police investigation, it is the responsibility of the chair to ensure that the police can fully present their information and views and also that the parents participate as fully as circumstances allow. This may involve the chair and police having a confidential meeting prior to the conference to agree a way of managing the process and the information.
The decision of the chair over matters of exclusion is final regarding both parents and the child(ren).
If the chair has decided, prior to the conference, to exclude a parent, this must be communicated to the parent prior to conference, ideally in writing. If this is not possible then the Chair must still confirm in writing the reasons for their decision. The social worker should have prepared the parent for the possibility that this may occur.
The parent must be informed about how to make their views known, how (s)he will be told the outcome of the conference and about the Complaints by Service Users Procedure. The parent should be advised on the possibility of preparing a contribution for the conference e.g. a letter, others attending on her/his behalf e.g. solicitors, advocate.
Those excluded should be provided with a copy of the social worker's report to the conference (three working days before an Initial Conference and five working days before a Review Conference) and be provided with the opportunity to have their views recorded and presented to the conference.
If a decision to exclude a parent is made, this must be fully recorded in the minutes. Exclusion from one conference is not reason enough in itself for exclusion from a further conference.
Split Child Protection Conferences
Sometimes it may be necessary to conduct a split Child Protection Conference.
Circumstances where this may be necessary include where:
- parents/ carers / young people have made a request,
- there is a potential for conflict,
- a legal order / bail conditions are in place,
- one party fears for their safety, or
- a decision has been taken by professionals that a split conference is appropriate
When a split conference is arranged, Social Workers and conference chairs should ensure that the following actions are carried out:
- Social Workers should write to parents or other attendees at least three working days before the conference to confirm arrangements:
- the date and time
- which entrance they should use and when they should arrive
- There should be at least a 30-minute break between each part of a conference to allow the previous attendees to disperse before the next attendees arrive.
- When the first part ends, either the Social Worker or conference chair should escort the attendees to the exit, where possible ensuring this is away from the entrance that will be used by the next attendees.
Absence of Parents and Children at a Conference
If parents and/or children do not wish to attend the conference they must be provided with full opportunities to contribute their views. The social worker must facilitate this by:
- exploring the use of an advocate or supporter to attend on behalf of the parent or child
- enabling the child or parent to write, or tape, or use drawings to represent their views
- agreeing that the social worker, or any other practitioner, expresses their views.
Information for a Conference
The Child Protection Conference report should include:
- a chronology of significant events, agency and practitioner contact
- information on the child's current and past state of developmental needs
- the dates when the child was seen by the Lead Social Worker during the Section 47 Enquiry or since last conference, if the child was seen alone and, if not, who was present and for what reason
- information on the capacity of the parents and other family members to ensure the child is kept safe from harm, and to respond to the child's developmental needs within their wider family and environmental context
- information on the family history and both the current and past family functioning
- the expressed views, wishes and feelings of the child, parents, and other family members
- an analysis of the information gathered and recorded using the Assessment Framework dimensions (See WT 2018) to reach a judgment on whether the child is suffering, or is likely to suffer Significant Harm and consider how best to meet his or her developmental needs. This analysis should address:
- how the child's strengths and difficulties are impacting on each other
- how the parenting strengths and difficulties are affecting each other
- how the family and environmental factors are affecting each other
- how the parenting that is provided for the child is affecting the child's health and development both in terms of resilience and protective factors, and vulnerability and risk factors and
- how the family and environmental factors are impacting on parenting and/or the child directly.
The report should be provided to parents and older children (to the extent that it is believed to be in their interests) at least two working days in advance of Initial Child Protection Conferences, and two working days before Review Child Protection Conferences, to enable any factual inaccuracies to be identified, amended, and areas of disagreement noted. Where necessary, the reports should be translated into the relevant language or medium.
The report should be provided to the chair at least three working days prior to the Initial Child Protection Conference and three working days in advance of the Review Child Protection Conference.
All reports must make it clear which children are the subjects of the Child Protection Conference (previously decided by the social worker. Even if not the subject of the conference, all children in the household need to be considered at the Initial Child Protection Conference and information must be provided on each of them in the record.
The report will be sent out after the child protection conference (with the conference record) to those invited but who did not attend the child protection conference.
Information from Other Agencies
It is the responsibility of all the agencies who have participated in the Section 47 Enquiry, or who have relevant information, to make this available to the conference through a written report. Contributors should, wherever possible, provide in advance a written report to the conference that should be made available to those attending.
Where any agency representatives are unable to attend the conference they must ensure that their written report is made available to the conference, through the chair and, if possible, that a well-briefed colleague attend in their place.
For agencies in contact with the family, the reports should be shared with the child and parents before the conference, (two working days) and where necessary, should be translated into the appropriate language or medium.
All written reports will be attached to the chair's report for circulation or incorporated into the conference record.
Chairing of Conferences
The Chair of a Child Protection Conference will be an Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO). (S)he must not have operational or line management responsibility for the case. The Conference Chair is accountable to the Director of Children and Adult Services.
The chair must meet with the family, child and social worker prior to the conference to ensure they understand the purpose of the conference and how it will be conducted.
Where necessary, interpreters, etc. must be made available to facilitate family participation. A family member including children, must not be used as an interpreter.
At the start of the conference the chair will:
- set out the purpose of the conference
- confirm the agenda
- emphasise the need for confidentiality
- address equal opportunities issues e.g. specifying that racist, homophobic, religious hatred and threatening behaviour will not be tolerated
- clarify the contributions of those present, including supporters of the family.
During the conference the chair will ensure that:
- the conference maintains a focus on the welfare of the child(ren)
- consideration is given to all the children in the household
- all those present, including the parents and child(ren) if present, make a full contribution and that full consideration is given to the information they present. This must include the use of interpreters if English is not the first language of family members. A family member including children must not be used as an interpreter
- reports of those not present are made known to parties
- the wishes and feelings of the child(ren) are clearly outlined
- issues of race, religion, language, class, gender, sexuality and disability are fully taken into account in the work of the conference
- appropriate arrangements are made to receive third party confidential information
- all concerned are advised/reminded of the complaints procedure
- arrangements are made with the social worker for absent parents or carers to be informed of the decisions of conferences
- a decision is made as to whether the child should become, remain or cease to be the subject of a Child Protection Plan.
Actions and decisions of the Conference
As described in Working Together to Safeguard Children 2018 (Flowchart 4 page 42) [external link] action following a strategy discussion the conference should consider the following questions when determining whether the child should be the subject of a Child Protection Plan:
- The child is likely to suffer Significant Harm or
- The child is not likely to suffer Significant Harm.
The test for likelihood of suffering harm in the future should be that either:
- the child can be shown to have suffered ill-treatment or impairment of health or development as a result of Physical, Emotional, or Sexual Abuse or Neglect, and professional judgement is that further ill-treatment or impairment is likely or
- professional judgement, substantiated by the findings of enquiries in this individual case or by research evidence, is that the child is likely to suffer ill-treatment or the impairment of health and development as a result of Physical, Emotional or Sexual Abuse or Neglect.
If the child is at continuing risk of Significant Harm, (s)he will require inter-agency help and intervention delivered through a formal Child Protection Plan.
The decision making process will normally take place with parents / carers present.
The chair must make a decision about the need for a Child Protection Plan based on the views of all agencies represented at the conference and also take into account any written contributions that have been made.
The chair of a conference is responsible for the conference decision. (S)he will consult conference members, aim for a consensus as to the need for a plan or not, but ultimately will make the decision and note any dissenting views.
Category of Abuse
If the decision is that the child is in need of a Child Protection Plan the chair should determine under which category of abuse the child has suffered or likely to suffer.
The categories used (Physical, Emotional Abuse, Sexual Abuse or Neglect) will indicate to those consulting the child's social care record the primary presenting concern at the time the child became subject to a Child Protection Plan.
Multiple categories should not be used to cover all eventualities, and 'other significant concerns' recorded instead.
The need for a Child Protection Plan should be considered separately in respect of each child in the family or household.
If a Child is made the subject of a Child Protection Plan
Where a child is made the subject of a Child Protection Plan, it is the role of the conference to consider and make decisions on how agencies, practitioners and the family should work together to ensure that the child will be safeguarded from harm in the future. This should enable both practitioners and the family, to understand exactly what is expected of them and what can they expect of others.
The chair must ensure that the following tasks are completed:
- clarify the different purpose and remit of the Initial Child Protection Conference, the Core Group, and the Child Protection Review Conference
- that a Lead Social Worker is identified, and if this is not possible that a first line manager from Children's Social Care is identified to act in that role in the interim
- identify the membership of the Core Group
- establish how the child, parents (including all those with Parental Responsibility) and wider family members should be involved in the ongoing assessment, planning and implementation process, and the support, advice and advocacy available to them
- establish timescales for meetings of the Core Group, production of a Child Protection Plan, and for child protection review meetings
- outline the Child Protection Plan, in as much detail as possible, especially, identifying what needs to change in order to achieve the planned outcomes to safeguard and promote the welfare of the child
- ensure a contingency plan is in place if agreed actions are not completed and/or circumstances change; for example, if a caregiver fails to achieve what has been agreed, a court application is not successful or a parent removes the child from a place of safety
- agreeing a date for the first Child Protection Review Conference, and under what circumstances it might be necessary to convene the conference before that date.
Where a child has suffered, or is likely to suffer, Significant Harm in the future, it is the local authority's duty to consider the evidence and decide what, if any, legal action to take. The information presented to the Child Protection Conference should inform that decision-making process but it is for the local authority to consider whether it should initiate for example, Care Proceedings. Where a child who is the subject of a Child Protection Plan becomes Looked After, the Child Protection Plan should form part of the child's Care Plan.
Outline Child Protection Plan
The Outline Child Protection Plan should be outcome focussed and:
- identify factors associated with the likelihood of the child suffering Significant Harm and ways in which the child can be protected through an inter-agency plan based on the current findings from the assessment and information held from any previous involvement with the child and family
- establish short-term and longer-term aims and objectives that are clearly linked to reducing the likelihood of harm to the child and promoting the child's welfare, including contact with family members
- be clear about who will have responsibility for what actions - including actions by family members - within what specified timescales
- Outline ways of monitoring and evaluating progress against the planned outcomes set out in the plan and
- be clear about which practitioner is responsible for checking that the required changes have taken place, and what action will be taken, and by whom, when they have not.
If a Child does not require a Protection Plan
If it is decided that the child is not at risk of continuing Significant Harm, but the child is in need of support to promote her/his health or development, the conference must ensure that recommendations are made to this effect.
Subject to the family's views and consent, it may be appropriate to:
- make recommendations about support and help, including through the Early Help Plan process
- establish commitment to inter-agency working, particularly where the child's needs are complex (this should involve a regularly reviewed child's plan).
The decision must be put in writing to the parent(s), and where appropriate the child, as well as communicated to them verbally.
Discontinuing the Child Protection Plan
As indicated in Working Together to Safeguard Children 2018 Flow Chart 5 page 52 [external link ]. A child should no longer be the subject of a Child Protection Plan if:
- it is judged that the child is no longer continuing to, or is likely to, suffer significant harm and therefore no longer requires safeguarding by means of a Child Protection Plan.
- the child and family have moved permanently to another local authority area. In such cases, the receiving local authority should convene a Child Protection Conference within 15 working days of being notified of the move. Only after this event may the original local authority discontinue its Child Protection Plan or
- the child has reached 18 years of age (to end the Child Protection Plan, the local authority should have a review around the child's birthday and this should be planned in advance), has died or has permanently left the United Kingdom.
When a child is no longer the subject of a Child Protection Plan, notification should be sent, as minimum, to all those agency representatives who were invited to attend the initial Child Protection Conference that led to the plan.
Where one or more agencies currently working with a child are not present at the conference deciding on whether to discontinue the Child Protection Plan, the chair may decide to seek their views first. This should be done in writing within 10 working days and written responses provided within 10 working days.
The discontinuation of the Child Protection Plan should not lead to the automatic withdrawal of help. The Lead Social Worker must discuss with parents and child(ren) what services are wanted and needed, based on the re-assessment of the child and family. The Core Group should also consider what continuing support should be offered and, where the discontinuation of the Child Protection Plan is recommended, they should also submit a plan for the provision of the proposed continuing support, including the identification of a Lead Practitioner and which multi agency practitioners will continue their involvement.
Consideration should be given to holding a multi-agency meeting 10 days following the discontinuing of the Child Protection Plan to develop a detailed child's plan and 3 months afterwards to provide a first review to the child's plan. Subsequently the child’s plan should be reviewed at least every 6 months.
Looked after children with Child Protection Plans
Children, who are already looked after, will not usually be the subject of Child Protection Conferences, though they may be the subject of a section 47 enquiry. The circumstances in which a child, who is looked after, may be considered for a Child Protection Conference or be subject to a Child Protection Plan are likely to be a rare occurrence. The Care Plan and Placement Plan for a child who is looked after (whether there are proceedings pending an outcome, an interim Care order or a Care order in place) should provide the means to safeguard the child. The Care Plan and Placement Plan should be reviewed and updated regularly and in response to new information or concerns about the welfare of the child.
Children returning home
If it is proposed that a child subject to a Care order should be returned to their birth family / returned home, the members of the statutory looked after child case review (The Children Act 1989 Guidance and Regulations Volume 2: Care Planning, Placement and Case Review (2015)) [external link ] when considering the proposal for rehabilitation must decide and record whether an Initial Child Protection Conference should be convened prior to the change. If the decision of the Review is that an initial child protection conference should be convened, the child's social worker must request it to take place within 15 days of the case review decision.
A child looked after under section 20 of the Children Act 1989, who has been or is about to be returned to a parent's care, about whom there are concerns about risk of significant harm may be subject of a s47 enquiry and a child protection conference.
See The Children Act 1989 Guidance and Regulations Volume 2: Care Planning, Placement and Case Review (2015) [external link] and the Practice Guidance for the Use of Section 20 Provision in the Children Act 1989 in England.
If a parent removes or proposes to remove a child looked after under section 20 from the care of the local authority and there are serious concerns about that parent's capacity to provide for the child's needs and protect them from significant harm, the social worker will make a decision about whether a child protection enquiry should be initiated. If a section 47 child protection enquiry is initiated, the reasons for this must be clearly recorded on the child's record and may lead to an initial child protection conference.
Any plan should be based on the child's welfare needs and avoid delay. In these circumstances, the local authority Children's Social Care social worker should consider whether legal proceedings are required to protect the child in line with the Public Law Outline LINK.
Children with Child Protection Plans who become looked after
If a child subject of a Child Protection Plan becomes looked after under section 20, their legal situation is not permanently secure and the next Child Protection Review Conference should consider the child's safety in the light of the possibility that the parent can simply request their removal from the local authority's care. The Child Protection Review Conference must be sure that the looked after Care Plan and Placement Plan provide adequate security for the child and sufficiently reduces or eliminates the risk of significant harm identified by the initial child protection conference.
If a child ceases to be subject of a Child Protection Plan as a result of a decision at a child protection review conference, and the parent then unexpectedly requests the return of the child from the local authority's care, the social worker should discuss the need for an initial child protection conference. The social worker must record the reasons for the decision whether or not to hold a conference.
Avoiding ‘double protection’
There are situations where children who are subject to a Child Protection Plan become either:
- Section 20 Children Act 1989 accommodated (voluntarily accommodated), or
- are the subject of Care Proceedings
In such circumstances they are ‘doubly protected’ in that they are subject to both a care plan through the Court process or the Looked After Children’s process and subject to a Child Protection Plan. This is unnecessary and leads to a duplication of reviewing procedures.
In the above circumstances, removal from a plan can be considered. The Social Worker must contact Core Group members to advise of the change of the child’s circumstances. If the Core Group are in agreement with the proposal to remove the Child Protection Plan, the Social Worker will then on behalf of the Core Group request the plan be removed by writing to the Independent Reviewing Officer/ Conference Chair.
On receipt of the request the Independent Reviewing Officer / Conference Chair will make a decision. If in agreement, they will end the plan and contact all parties involved in the CPRC to inform them that the plan has ceased as of (date). If the decision is taken to continue with the plan, the Independent Reviewing Officer/ Conference Chair will inform the Social Worker and the scheduled Child Protection Review Conference will be held (or date re-arranged).
Where the Protection Plan has been removed in these situations there must be ongoing multi-professional meetings at a minimum of 6 weekly until the long term plan to keep the child safe is either agreed by the LAC Review or the Court.
Note that Public Law Outline proceedings does not fall under these arrangements and any decision to cease a plan must be taken at a Child Protection Review Conference.
Administrative Arrangements and Record Keeping for Child Protection Conferences
Darlington Borough Council, Children's Social Care is responsible for administering the Child Protection Conference service.
All initial and review conferences should be noted by a dedicated person whose sole task within the conference is to provide a written record of the meeting in a consistent format.
Guidance on electronic and digital recording is available on the DSP website.
Decision of Conference
The decisions of a Child Protection Conference, whether Initial (including Transfer), Pre-birth or Review and where appropriate, details of the category of abuse or neglect, names of the key worker and the core group membership and the outline Child Protection Plan are to be circulated to all those invited within two working days.
The notes of the conference should be distributed as soon as possible (and within 20 working days).
Conference records should include:
- name, date of birth and address of the subject(s) of the conference, parents / carers and other adults in the household
- who was invited, who attended the conference and who submitted their apologies
- a list of written reports available to conference and whether available to parents or not
- the purpose of the conference
- all the essential facts
- opinions of conference members, clearly identified as such
- views of child
- views of parents / carers
- a summary of discussion at the conference, accurately reflecting contributions made
- all decisions reached, with information outlining the reasons
- an outline or revised Child Protection Plan
- name of Lead Social Worker
- members of the Core Group and date of first meeting
- date of next conference.
The conference record should be sent to all those who attended or were invited, within 20 working days of the conference. Any amendment to accuracy of record should be sent, in writing, within 10 working days of the receipt of that record to the chair.
The parents' copy of the conference record should be clearly 'marked ' on all pages that it is a parent's copy. Confidential material may be excluded from the parents' copy.
Where an advocate, supporter or solicitor has been involved the parent should decide whether they give a copy of the conference record.
Where a child has attended a Child Protection Conference, the social worker must arrange to see her/him and arrange to discuss relevant sections of the record. Consideration should be given to whether that child should be given copies of the record. They may be supplied to a child's legal representative on request.
Where parents and / or the child(ren) have a sensory disability or where English is not their first language, steps must be taken to ensure that they can understand and make full use of the conference record.
Conference records are confidential and should not be passed to third parties without the consent of either the conference chair or order of the court. In criminal proceedings the police may reveal the existence of child protection records to the Crown Prosecution Service and in Care Proceedings the record of the conference may be revealed in court.
Every agency must establish arrangements for the storage of Child Protection Conference records in accordance with their own confidentiality and record retention policies.
When the decision is made by an Initial Child Protection Conference to make a child subject to a Child Protection Plan, the Conference must:
- formulate an outline Child Protection Plan (see Actions and Decisions of the Conference Procedure, Outline Child Protection Plan)
- ensure a Lead Social Worker from Children's Social Care is appointed to coordinate and lead all aspects of the inter-agency Child Protection Plan and
- identify members of the Core Group and set the date of the first meeting.
The Core Group is responsible for the formulation and implementation of the detailed Child Protection Plan, previously outlined at the conference.
- meet within 10 working days from the Initial Child Protection Conference if the child is the subject of a Child Protection Plan
- further develop the outline Child Protection Plan, based on assessment findings, and set out what needs to change, by how much, and by when in order for the child to be safe and have their needs met
- decide what steps need to be taken, and by whom, to complete the in-depth assessment to inform decisions about the child’s safety and welfare and
- implement the Child Protection Plan and take joint responsibility for carrying out the agreed tasks, monitoring progress and outcomes, and refining the plan as needed.
Formulation of Child Protection Plan
Each child subject to a Child Protection Plan must have a written Child Protection Plan, using the Child Protection Plan pro-forma.
The purpose of this plan is to facilitate and make explicit a coordinated approach to the protection from further harm of each child subject to a Child Protection Plan.
The parents should be clear about:
- the evidence of significant harm which resulted in the child becoming the subject of a Child Protection Plan
- what needs to change in the future and
- what is expected of them as part of implementing the plan.
All parties must be clear about the respective roles and responsibilities of family members and different agencies in implementing the plan.
All agencies must ensure that professionals are aware of their responsibilities within Core Groups, including challenge and escalation if deemed appropriate.
Lead Social Worker Role
At every initial conference, where a child is made subject to a Child Protection Plan, the chair will name a qualified social worker, identified by the social work team manager, to fulfil the role of Lead Social Worker for the child.
The Lead Social Worker should:
- ensure that Core Groups take place with frequency (10 working days from the Initial Conference and thereafter every 20 working days)
- ensure that the outline Child Protection Plan is developed, in conjunction with members of the Core Group (see Core Group Membership), into a detailed multi-agency protection plan
- clearly note and include in the written record any areas of disagreement
- ensure Core Group members, the child (where appropriate) and family have the opportunity to understand and contribute to the Child Protection Plan and that it is distributed within five days of the Core Group meeting and maintained on the child's electronic record
- obtain a full understanding of the family's history (which must involve reading Children's Social Care records, including those relating to other children who have been part of any households including the current carers of the child - additional information should be obtained from relevant other agencies and local authorities)
- complete the Child and Family Assessment of the child and family (if not previously completed), securing contributions / information from Core Group members and any other agencies with relevant information
- coordinate the contribution of family members and all agencies in putting the plan into action and reviewing the objectives stated in the plan
- must maintain a complete and up-to-date signed record on the current electronic record.
- If the matter is within Letter Before Proceedings (Public Law Outline) alongside a Child Protection Plan, the LBP minutes and plan must be shared within Core Groups and Review Child protection Conferences to ensure joined up planning for children.
Seeing the Child
- ensure the child(ren) is/are seen at least every 10 working days by the Lead Social Worker. This visit should be normally carried out at the home where the child is living, however should also on occasion be carried out at a parent’s home if the child visits/stays there
- there may be occasions where the child is seen in another setting such as school however this should not be the norm and is not classed as a statutory social work visit
- at least every six weeks the lead social worker should have access to where the child sleeps.
- if the Lead Social Worker has difficulty obtaining direct access to the child at home, the Children's Social Care line manager must be informed, as well as other Core Group members
- for every visit/meeting including unplanned visits to children, every effort must be made to ensure that interpreters will be in attendance however, in the event an interpreter cannot attend, children or family members must not be used as interpreters
Absence of the Lead Social Worker
It is the responsibility of the Lead Social Worker, to ensure that clear cover arrangements are made when the Lead Social Worker is absent on planned annual leave, training etc.
Parents and child must be informed of planned absences of the Lead Social Worker, who will be covering the role and what contacts will be made.
Children's Social Care First Line Manager Role
The first line manager has a vital role in managing the progress of cases and supporting the Lead Social Worker. They should ensure any supervision and management case decisions are clearly visible and dated in the child’s record including; progress of the Child Protection Plan; ensuring there has been adequate direct contact with the child; oversee and countersign conference reports and the Child Protection Plan; review the plan when unexpected developments occur; attend all Conferences (or send a deputy) where necessary; confirm the visiting frequency of the Lead Social Worker and the frequency of Core Group meetings.
Children Subject to a Child Protection Plan who go Missing or are Absent
If a practitioner/agency becomes aware that a child who is subject to a Child Protection Plan has gone missing, or is absent from school/educational or day care settings, they should inform the Lead Social Worker immediately. If the child cannot be traced the Lead Social Worker should inform the senior Child Protection Manager and follow the Children and Families Missing from Home, Care or Education Practice Guidance [link].
Death of a Child Subject to a Child Protection Plan – CDOP Procedures
When a child who is subject to a Child Protection Plan dies, from whatever cause, the lead Social Worker must inform the senior child protection manager, who will notify Darlington Safeguarding Partnership. Consideration will need to be given to the need for a Child Safeguarding Practice Review (CSPR). See Child Safeguarding Practice Review Procedure [Link]
Children Returning Home
There are three sets of circumstances where a child may return to live with their family but only in two of these do children cease to be looked after. This section covers circumstances where a child is no longer looked after, but a decision has been taken that local authority Children’s Social Care will continue to provide support and services to the family following reunification. See Working Together to Safeguard Children 2018 (Flowchart 6, page 55) [external link].
Where the decision to return a child to the care of their family is planned, the local authority will have undertaken an assessment while the child is looked after – as part of the care planning process (under regulation 39 of the Care Planning Regulations 2010). This assessment will consider the suitability of the accommodation and maintenance arrangements for the child and consider what services and support the child (and their family) might need. The outcome of this assessment will be included in the child’s care plan. The decision to cease to look after a child will, in most cases, require approval under regulation 39 of The Care Planning, Placement and Case Reviews [England] Regulations 2015 [external link].
Where a child who is accommodated under section 20 returns home in an unplanned way, for example, the decision is not made as part of the care planning process but the parent removes the child or the child decides to leave, the local authority must consider whether there are any immediate concerns about the safety and well-being of the child. If there are concerns about a child’s immediate safety the local authority should take appropriate action, which could include enquiries under section 47 of the Children Act 1989.
Whether a child’s return to their family is planned or unplanned, there should be a clear plan that reflects current and previous assessments, focuses on outcomes and includes details of services and support required. These plans should follow the process for review as with any child in need and/or Child Protection Plan.
Action to be taken following reunification:
- Practitioners should make the timeline and decision making process for providing ongoing services and support clear to the child and family.
- When reviewing outcomes, children should, wherever possible, be seen alone. Practitioners have a duty to ascertain their wishes and feelings regarding the provision of services being delivered.
- The impact of services and support should be monitored and recorded, and the help being delivered should be reviewed.
Child Protection Conference Complaints
Complaint Procedure-If child and/or parent/carer/ practitioner are not satisfied with one of the following aspects of a Child Protection Conference:
- The process of the conference
- The outcome, in terms of the category of primary concern at the time the child became subject of a Child Protection Plan
- A decision for the child to become or continue or not to become the subject of a Child Protection Plan.
They should contact the Head Quality Assurance and Practice Improvement at Darlington Borough Council who will record their concern and make every attempt to resolve the situation and will respond within 10 working days. Whilst a complaint is being considered, the decision made by the conference stands.
Complaints about individual agencies, their performance and provision (or non-provision) of services should be responded to in accordance with the relevant agency's own complaints management processes.
If the child and/or parents/carer/practitioner is not satisfied with the response from the Head of Review and Development the matter will be forwarded to the Statutory Safeguarding Partners/Independent Scrutineer of Darlington Safeguarding Partnership (DSP) together with a copy of the minutes/reports, record of action already taken and any other relevant information.
Upon receipt of a complaint the Statutory Safeguarding Partners/Independent Scrutineer will:
- Write to the child and/or parent/carer/ practitioner or their advocate within five working days to confirm that the matter has been received.
- Consider the documents relating to the matter within fifteen working days.
- The Independent Scrutineer/Chair will give due consideration and take any remedial action necessary and provide the child/parent/carer or practitioner or their advocate a written response within thirty working days of the initial receipt.
After receipt of the response from the Statutory Safeguarding Partners/Independent Scrutineer the child/parent/carer/practitioner or their advocate may be dissatisfied with the outcome if so they should inform the Statutory Safeguarding Partners/Independent Scrutineer of their dissatisfaction in writing and an appeal subcommittee will be convened.
DSP will appoint an independent person to consider the merits of the matter and decide if there are grounds for convening an appeal subcommittee, it will be chaired by an independent person assisted by two members nominated by DSP who have not had any involvement with the case. The appeal subcommittee will meet within twenty working days of receipt of the written notification by the child/parent/carer/practitioner to the Statutory Safeguarding Partners/Independent Scrutineer. The appeal subcommittee will consider all of the documentation, conference minutes, reports, correspondence and other records.
The purpose of an appeal subcommittee will invite the child/parent/carer/practitioner and their advocate if necessary to attend a meeting of the appeal subcommittee where they will have the opportunity to address the specific matters that are the subject of the appeal. The appeal subcommittee will be able to seek clarification of specific issues from the child/parent/carer/practitioner. In addition the appeal subcommittee may also seek clarification from the Head of Review and Development on specific points relating to the subject of the appeal.
Following the meeting of the appeal subcommittee the child/parent/carer will be advised of the outcome within a further five working days. This will be the end of the appeal procedure but will not affect the child’s/parent’s/carer’s/ practitioner’s right to seek other forms of redress. The appeal subcommittee will report the outcome to Darlington Safeguarding Partnership.
If the child/parent/carer/ practitioner and their advocate are still unhappy with the outcome of the appeal they can refer to the Local Government Ombudsman [external link].
When a child dies - Child Death Review Process (CDOP)
Working Together to Safeguard Children 2018 lays out statutory guidance on how organisations should work together to safeguard and promote the welfare of children. Within this guidance is a requirement for Darlington Safeguarding Partnership to undertake reviews into all deaths of children under 18 years of age who are normally resident in their area. In order to make this process as effective and informative as possible Durham safeguarding Partnership and Darlington Safeguarding Partnership have agreed to a joint process, sharing resources and information to improve the quality of outcomes. A Joint Child Death Overview Protocol it is to be adhered to by all agencies.
For detailed guidance in respect of unexpected childhood death see the DSP Management of Sudden and Unexpected Death in Childhood (SUDIC).
For detailed guidance in respect of child deaths including expected deaths see the Joint Durham and Darlington Child Death Review Process.
Where a child in need has moved permanently to another local authority area, the original local authority should ensure that all relevant information (including a child in need plan) is shared with the receiving local authority as soon as possible. The receiving local authority should consider whether support services are still required and discuss with the child and family what might be needed based on a re-assessment of the child’s needs. Support should continue to be provided by the original local authority in the intervening period. The receiving local authority should work with the original local authority to ensure that any changes to the services and support provided are managed carefully.
- Children at risk of radicalisation
- Parental Mental Health and Child Abuse and Neglect
- Parents or carers with Learning Disabilities
- Safeguarding Deaf and Disabled Children and Young People
- Assessment of disabled children and their carers
- Assessment of young carers
- Assessment of children in secure establishments
- Safeguarding the unborn
As well as threats to the welfare of children from within their families, children may be vulnerable to abuse or exploitation outside of the family. Working Together to Safeguard Children (2018) [PDF Document] highlights the importance of practitioners having awareness of the additional vulnerabilities for children and young people who are:
- at risk of gang involvement and association with organised crime groups
- frequently missing/absent from home
- misusing drugs or alcohol
- at risk of modern slavery, trafficking or exploitation or
- at risk of radicalisation.
For further guidance on contextual safeguarding see:
DSP PREVENT Practice Guidance and Channel Process [PDF document].
Additional groups highlighted as being potentially vulnerable are:
- privately fostered children
- young carers
- young people in secure youth establishments
- those living in families where there are emerging parental mental health/drug/alcohol issues
- those who have returned home to their family from care.
Assessments of children in such cases should consider whether wider environmental factors are present in a child’s life and are a threat to their safety and welfare. Children who may be alleged perpetrators should also be assessed to understand the impact of contextual issues on their safety and welfare. Interventions should focus on addressing these wider environmental factors, which are likely to pose a risk to the safety and welfare of a number of children who may or may not be known to the local authority.
Children at risk of radicalisation
Channel Panels were established under the Counter Terrorism and Security Act 2015 [external link] to assess the extent to which identified individuals are vulnerable to being drawn into terrorism and where appropriate to arrange for support to be provided. When assessing Channel referrals the Statutory Safeguarding Partners and the relevant partner agencies should consider how best to align these with assessments undertaken in accordance with the Children Act 1989 [external link].
The Counter Terrorism and Security Act 2015 contains a duty on specified authorities in England, Wales and Scotland to have due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism.
The Children Act 1989 promotes the view that all children and their parents should be considered as individuals and that family structures, culture, religion, ethnic origins and other characteristics should be respected. Local authorities should ensure they support and promote fundamental British values of democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs.
For further information and guidance see DSP PREVENT Practice Guidance and the Channel Process [PDF Document].
Practitioners should also recognise the right to special protection and help for child refugees.
For further information and guidance see DSP Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking Practice Guidance [PDF Document].
Parental Mental Health and Child Abuse and Neglect
Living in a household where parents or carers have mental health problems does not necessarily mean a child will experience abuse or negative consequences. Many children whose parents have mental health problems go on to achieve their full potential in life, particularly if their parents receive the right support at the right time.
However, there is a risk that parental mental health problems can impact negatively on children. All types of mental health problems can vary in severity. The impact on children depends on the parent or carer, their circumstances and the support they receive.
Babies of mothers who experience perinatal mental illness are at an increased risk of being born prematurely with a low birth weight. Post-natal depression can affect parents and carers bonding with the baby and can have a negative impact on the baby’s intellectual, emotional, social and psychological development. In older children the impact of parental mental health problems include a risk of developing behavioural problems, being required to take on a caring role and increased stress and anxiety. In the most serious cases children may suffer abuse or neglect from a parent or carer with a mental health problem and parental mental health problems are frequently present in cases of abuse and neglect. The risks to children are greater when parental mental health problems exist alongside domestic abuse and parental substance misuse.
For further information and guidance see www.nspcc.org.uk/preventing-abuse/child-protection-system/parental-mental-health [External Link]
Parents or Carers with Learning Disabilities
Parental learning disabilities do not necessarily have an adverse impact on a child’s developmental needs but it is essential to assess the implications for each child in the family. Learning disabled parents may need support to develop the understanding, resources and skills to meet the needs of their children. Such support is particularly necessary where the parent or carer experiences additional stressors such as social exclusion, domestic abuse and poor mental health or have substance misuse problems.
Where a parent has enduring/and or severe learning disabilities children in the household are more likely to suffer significant harm through abuse or neglect. Children may have caring responsibilities inappropriate to their age placed upon them including caring for siblings.
All agencies must recognise that their primary duty is to ensure the promotion of the child’s welfare including their protection from any risk of harm. Children’s Social Care and Adult Social Care (and other agencies) should undertake a multi-disciplinary assessment using the threshold tools.
Safeguarding Disabled Children and Young People
There are several factors that contribute to disabled children and young people being at greater risk of abuse. These include communication barriers, increased isolation, misunderstanding the signs of abuse and inadequate support. Disabled children with behaviour or conduct disorders are at the highest risk of abuse. Other high risk groups include children with learning disabilities, speech and language difficulties, deaf children and children with health related conditions.
If a child is disabled this does not necessarily account for why they are showing particular behaviours and practitioners should always look beyond the disability or diagnosis.
For further information and guidance see NSPCC.org.uk/safeguarding-child protection-deaf and disabled children
Assessment of disabled children and their carers
Working Together to Safeguard Children (2018) [PDF Document] requires that the Statutory Safeguarding Partners and relevant partner agencies have a shared response to meet the needs of disabled children who have specific additional needs. When undertaking an assessment of a disabled child the local authority must also consider whether it is necessary to provide support under Section 2 of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act (CSDPA) 1970 [external link]. Where a local authority is satisfied that the identified services and assistance can be provided under S2 CSDPA and the support is necessary to meet the child’s needs, the local authority must arrange this support.
Where a local authority is assessing the needs of a disabled child, a carer of that child may also require the local authority to undertake an assessment of their ability to provide, or continue to provide, care for the child under Section 1 of the Carers (Recognition and Services) Act 1995 [external link]. The local authority must take account of the results of any such assessment when deciding whether to provide services to the disabled child.
If the local authority considers that a parent or carer of a disabled child may have support needs, it must carry out an assessment under 17ZD of the Children Act 1989 [external link]. The local authority must also carry out such an assessment if a parent carer requests one. Such an assessment must consider whether it is appropriate for the parent carer to provide, or continue to provide, care for the disabled child in light of the parent carer’s needs and wishes.
Assessment of young carers
If the local authority considers that a young carer may have support needs, it must carry out an assessment under section 17ZA Children Act 1989 [external link]. The local authority must also carry out an assessment if a young carer, or the parent of a young carer, requests one. Such an assessment must consider whether it is appropriate of excessive for the young carer to provide care for the person in question, in light of the young carer’s needs and wishes. The Young Carer’s (Needs Assessment) Regulations 2015 [external link] require local authorities to look at the needs of the whole family when carrying out a young carer’s assessment. Young carer’s assessments can be combined with assessments of adults in the household with the agreement of the young carers and adults concerned.
Assessment of children in secure youth establishments
Any assessment of children in secure youth establishments should take account of their specific needs. In all cases the local authority in which the secure youth establishment is located is responsible for the safety and welfare of the children in that establishment. The host local authority should governor, director, manager or principal of the secure youth establishment and the child’s home local authority, the relevant Youth Offending Team and where appropriate the Youth Custody Service to ensure that the child has a single, comprehensive support plan.
Following the Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 [external link] all children and young people remanded by a court in criminal proceedings will be looked after children. Where a child becomes looked after as a result of being remanded in youth detention accommodation (YDA) the local authority must visit the child and assess the child’s needs before making a decision. This information must be used to prepare a Detention Placement Plan (DPP) which must set out how the YDA and other practitioners will meet the child’s needs whilst the child is remanded. The DPP must be reviewed in the same way as a care plan for any other looked after child.
Safeguarding the Unborn
Babies are particularly vulnerable to abuse and any work carried out in the antenatal period can help minimise any potential harm if there is early assessment, intervention and support. All practitioners should understand how respond to concerns for an unborn baby and how to be involved in safe planning with multi-agency practitioners working together, with families, to safeguard the unborn through to birth.
Where practitioners become aware a woman is pregnant, at whatever stage of the pregnancy, and they have concerns for the mother or unborn baby’s welfare, or that of a sibling, it must not be assumed that Midwifery or other health services are aware of the pregnancy or the concerns held. All practitioners should follow their own agency’s child protection procedures and discuss concerns with the agency’s safeguarding lead in the first instance.
An assessment by Children’s Social Care must commence as early as possible where:
- concerns exist regarding the mother’s or father’s ability to self-care or protect
- alcohol and/or substance abuse is present and is likely to impact on both the parent(s) and the child
- there are professional safeguarding concerns regarding parenting capacity, particularly where the parents have either mental health problems, learning disabilities and difficulties or mental capacity issues
- the child is believed to be at risk of significant harm due to domestic abuse
- the expectant parent(s) are very young and a dual assessment of their own needs as well as an assessment of their ability to meet the baby’s needs is required; this includes young people under 16 for who there is a risk of Child Sexual Exploitation, trafficked or as a result of non-consensual sex
- a previous child in the family has been removed either permanently or on a temporary basis because they have suffered harm or been at risk of suffering significant harm
- a person who has been convicted of an offence against a child or adult, or is believed by child protection professionals to have abused a child, intends to join or has contact with the family
- an unborn baby has siblings subject to a Child Protection Plan or previously subject to a Child Protection Plan a person is subject to Multi-agency Public Protection Arrangements (MAPPA) need to be considered
- the parent is a Looked After child or has been previously looked after by a local authority
- any other concerns that the professional beliefs may place the unborn at risk of harm
Any such concerns should be addressed as early as possible before the birth so that a full assessment can be undertaken and support offered to enable the parent/s (wherever possible) to provide safe care (including before the pregnancy is confirmed).
Referral into Children’s Services- Where agencies or individuals anticipate that prospective parents may pose a significant risk for their unborn these should be referred to social care at the earliest opportunity.
For those unborn babies about which practitioners are concerned but which do not meet the criteria for Social Care Assessment, consideration should be given at the earliest opportunity to signposting to other agencies which are able to provide support. Practitioners should also consider the completion of an Early Help Assessment which will identify support requirements and ensure that the wellbeing of the unborn is at the centre of the assessment, allowing early support to be provided to reduce the risks to the unborn. An Early Help assessment is a holistic assessment that considers the child’s developmental needs, parenting capacity, environmental needs and level of risk. Practitioners will be able to gather new information and with the information they already know provide a multi- agency package of support for the baby and family via the Team around the Family process. The information gathered through this process is shared appropriately and can be used to help determine if an unborn single assessment through social care is required.
Where an unborn baby is likely to be in need of services from children’s social care when born, you should contact the Children's Initial Advice Team to discuss. Telephone 01325 406252
For further detailed guidance and a flow chart of the referral process see Safeguarding the Unborn Procedure and Practice Guidance [PDF Document].
- Professional Challenge
- How should a practitioner make a challenge
- Threshold for reporting the use of professional challenge to DSP
1. Professional Challenge
The purpose professional challenge process is to establish processes to ensure a culture which promotes professional challenge is embedded across all agencies.
When working in the arena of safeguarding and child protection, it is inevitable that from time to time, there will be practitioner disagreement. Whilst this is understandable and generally acceptable, it is vital that such differences do not affect the outcomes for children and young people. This procedure provides a process for resolving practitioner disagreements and ensuring there is effective challenge in the system. It also provides practitioners with advice and support to enable them to escalate concerns where disagreements are not resolved at a practitioner level.
Professional challenge is a positive activity and a sign of good practice and effective multi-agency working. Being professionally challenged should not be seen as a criticism of the person’s professional capabilities.
Both national and local Child Safeguarding Practice Reviews (CSPRs) continue to draw attention to the importance of interagency communication and have identified an apparent reluctance to challenge interagency decision making with concerns that were not followed up with robust professional challenge which may have altered the professional response and the outcome for the child.
Disagreements can arise in a number of areas of multi-agency working such as:
- thresholds applications
- outcomes of assessments
- decision making; roles and responsibilities of workers
- service provision
- information sharing and communication in relation to practice or actions which may not effectively ensure the safety or well-being of a child or young person or his/her family
Professional challenge and critical reflection about the focus and intended outcome of intervention should include questioning and being open to professional challenge from colleagues, as well as being confident to challenge others.
Many professional challenges will be resolved on an informal basis by contact between the practitioner raising the challenge (or their manager) and the agency receiving the challenge and will end there.
Professional challenge is about challenging decisions, practice or actions which may not effectively ensure the safety or well-being of a child or young person or his/her family.
At no time must professional disagreement detract from ensuring that the child or young person is safeguarded. Any unresolved issues should be escalated with due consideration that might exist for the child. Every effort should be made to resolve the disagreement as quickly and openly as possible, within a time frame which clearly protects the child, determined on a case by case basis. Effective working together depends on resolving disagreements to the satisfaction of practitioners and agencies and a belief in a genuine partnership.
2. How should a practitioner make a challenge?
Concerned practitioner to speak to person who made original decision to express their view and discuss the basis of the decision. Record reason why to you do not agree and record reason for disagreement on case management file.
If the issue cannot be resolved at Stage 1 it should be raised with respective managers/named practitioner /designated safeguarding lead.
If manager deems appropriate, arrange an interagency meeting to discuss differing views. Agreement should be reached on who should attend. A clear record of the agreed outcome and any outstanding issues should be made.
If the issue cannot be resolved in Stage 3 the professional raising the concern should escalate to their Head of Service who will contact the relevant agency's Head of Service to attempt to resolve. With a decision to be reached as soon as possible ensuring the interest of the child taking precedent over professional stalemate.
If resolution cannot be found at Stage 4 the relevant Head of Service for the agency raising concern should raise the issue with the Chair of Darlington Safeguarding Partnership who will make the ultimate decision on the next course of action.
3. Threshold for reporting
The threshold for reporting professional challenge to DSP is when it becomes necessary to move to stage 5 above, because the issue cannot be resolved at stages 1 - 4.
To monitor the use of this procedure the following information should be provided to DSP Business Unit by the Named Person for the agency which raised the challenge:
- what was the challenge?
- what was done to address the challenge?
- what was the outcome of these actions?
- how was the issue resolved?
- are practitioners involved satisfied with the outcome?
- if resolution could not be achieved was the issue referred to the Darlington Safeguarding Partnership?
The areas of challenge, the use of this procedure and the outcomes will be reported to the Darlington Safeguarding Partnership and subsequently reported to the Statutory Safeguarding Partners (with equal and joint responsibility for safeguarding children) on a six monthly basis. Statistical information about professional challenge and the use of this procedure to address professional challenges will be reported in the Safeguarding Partnership Annual Report. The procedure will be reviewed in light of any feedback provided to the Darlington Safeguarding Partnership.
Further information is available in the Professional Challenge Procedure [PDF document]
Harmful Sexual Behaviour (Children who Sexually Harm Others and Children who are Sexually Harmed) - Practice Guidance and Protocol (May 2022)
Darlington Children’s MASH Operational Group identified a need to review and refresh guidance in relation to Harmful Sexual Behaviour (HSB).
The revision of this guidance also considered the findings of the Ofsted thematic review (Review of Sexual Abuse in Schools and Colleges (Ofsted, June 2021) [external link] which detailed concerns around sexual peer-on-peer abuse.
This revised guidance has been developed by a multi-agency group and its aim is to provide professionals who work with children and young people with the information necessary to approach and respond to this area of safeguarding confidently, and in partnership wherever possible.
Principles and Objectives
First and foremost, the priority is the safety and welfare of the child, however there is a strong focus on ensuring any assessment identifies what support might be provided for both the child, and their family when a child has sexually harmed, or when a child has been sexually harmed. It is intended that a relational approach to working in partnership with children, their families and professionals will assist in providing the right service, at the right time. Central to all assessment and intervention is the overall aim, to reduce risk, increase safety and help the child and their family move through their experiences feeling fully supported.
Working Together to Safeguard Children (2018) identifies three key principles that are essential when working with children and young people who sexually harm, or children who are sexually harmed:
- There should be a co-ordinated multi-agency approach including youth justice, children’s social care, education (including educational psychology), health agencies (including child and adolescent mental health) and police;
- The needs of children and young people who sexually harm should be considered separately from the needs of their victims;
- A multi-agency assessment should be carried out in each case, appreciating that these children and young people may have considerable unmet developmental needs, as well as specific needs arising from their behaviour. Information sharing between agencies can be key, often, it is only when information from a number of sources has been shared and it is then put together that it becomes clear that a child is at risk of suffering significant harm.
Along with clarity on the above key principles, this guidance provides practitioners with a ‘working definition’ of HSB when considering the actions and experiences of children and young people, also contained in this guidance is a brief overview of the features of behaviours that may be demonstrated.
Of note: The terms ‘Child who has Sexually Harmed’, and ‘Child who has been Sexually Harmed’ will be used to describe the child victim and child perpetrator. These terms were agreed as being child centred and more appropriate by Darlington Children’s MASH Operational Group. The shift in language and terminology reflects the need to acknowledge this harm is occurring from, and to a child. It is hoped that this will bring about a response where blaming and criminalisation is not the sole focus and that the child, whether this be the Child who has been Sexually Harmed, or the Child who has been Sexually Harmed (or any other child) is first and foremost safe and that an appropriate response is provided.
These procedures are not intended to replace any requirements of either public protection or child protection procedures. Rather, this guidance should inform and enhance any statutory procedures.
Harmful Sexual Behaviour (HSB) is defined by the NSPCC as:
‘developmentally inappropriate sexual behaviour displayed by children and young people which is harmful and abusive’
Harmful Sexual Behaviour (HSB) is the umbrella term for those actions that are either:
- Sexually abusive, where there is an element of manipulation, force or coercion or where the subject of the behaviour is unable to give informed consent, or
- Sexually problematic, where there may not be an element of victimisation but where the behaviours may interfere with the development of the child demonstrating the behaviour or which might provoke rejection, cause distress or increase the risk of victimisation of the child.
HSB is harmful to the children who display it as well as the people subjected to it and can take various forms, for example:
- Peer on peer sexual abuse is defined by the NSPCC as a form of HSB where sexual abuse takes place between children of a similar age or stage of development.
- Problematic sexual behaviour (PSB) is defined by the NSPCC as developmentally inappropriate or socially unexpected, sexualised behaviour which doesn’t have an overt element or victimisation or abuse.
- Technology assisted HSB is defined by the NSPCC as when children and young people use the internet or technology such as mobile phones to engage in sexual activity that may be harmful to themselves or others.
This might include: (not inclusive)
- developmentally inappropriate use of pornography
- sexual harassment
- sending sexual texts, including sexting without images
- exposing other children and young people to pornography
- viewing and distribution of Indecent Images of children and extreme pornography
- voyeurism, e.g. recording an individual(s) in a state of undress or engaging in sexual activity without their knowledge or consent.
With regards to 'sexting', guidance has been published by the CPS (CPS Sexting Guidance) [external link] advising prosecutors that ‘care should be taken when considering
‘sexting’ that involve images taken of persons under 18.’ The guidance advises that it would not usually be in the public interest to prosecute the consensual sharing of sexual images between children and this would suggest most of these incidents be dealt with informally.
Whilst it would not usually be in the public interest to prosecute the consensual sharing of an image between two children of a similar age in a relationship a prosecution may be appropriate in other scenarios, however, such as those involving exploitation, grooming or bullying.
Some suggestions about features of behaviour are given below as prompts.
Healthy Sexual Behaviours:
- No intent to cause harm
- No power differential
- Shared decision making
- Not age-appropriate
- One-off incidents or low key, such as touching over clothing
- Peer pressure
- Spontaneous rather than planned
- Self-directed, e.g. public masturbation
- Other balancing factors, e.g. lack of intent to cause harm or level of understanding, or acceptance of responsibility
- Other children irritated or uncomfortable but not scared; they feel free to tell someone
- Other factors such as parents/carers are concerned and supportive.
- Not age-appropriate
- Elements of planning, secrecy, force or coercion or lack of consent
- Power differentials, e.g. age, size, status, strength
- The response of others, e.g. fear, anxiety, discomfort
- The response of the child, e.g. fear, anger, aggression
- The child blames others and takes no responsibility
- Frequent incidents or increasing in frequency and disproportionate to other aspects of their lives
- Not easily distracted, compulsive despite intervention
- Other difficult behaviours, conduct disorders, anger, poor peer relationships etc.
- May include elements of expressive violence
- Physically violent sexual abuse
- Highly intrusive
- Instrumental violence which is physiologically and/or sexually arousing to the perpetrator
The Brook Traffic Light Tool may also be useful in distinguishing between 'normal' age-appropriate behaviour and behaviour which causes concern.
Professionals should be aware of Assessment Intervention and Moving on Guidance (AIM) [external link] which supports professional decision making to determine the level of concern when an incident has occurred and a response to HSB is required.
Disclosure of a child sexually harming another child can be extremely distressing, particularly for parents or carers. In this situation they may react with shock, anger or be in denial about what has happened, they may also take on board some of the child’s minimisation. It is therefore important that professionals help them through this process at an early stage so they can also help their child. In most situations early intervention for the child and family can make a real difference and will help to manage the potentially devastating impact of the details of the emerging concern, there will however be situations whereby social care and Police involvement is necessary without delay.
A child or young person exhibiting HSB may be both a child who sexually harms and a child who has been sexually harmed. However, professionals should acknowledge that not all children displaying problematic, harmful or abusive sexual behaviours have been sexually harmed themselves. They may have been living in highly abusive, sexual environments with few boundaries, or been exposed to sexual activity or information which is beyond their natural level of development and understanding. They may live in violent and unsettled family homes where little safety, warmth and empathy is evident. In general, the younger the child with this type of behaviour the more likely they are to have experienced or witnessed sexual activity.
When incidents of harmful sexual behaviour come to light, either through discovery or disclosure, which may be third-party or second-hand information the details provided should be accurately recorded by the person receiving the initial account. It is essential that all victims are reassured that their allegations are taken seriously, and they will be safeguarded.
When there is suspicion, or an allegation that a child has sexually harmed another child you should contact the Children’s Initial Advice Team (CIAT) immediately using the professionals phone line 01325 406252 - 8.30am until 5.00pm Monday to Thursday and 8.30am until 4.30pm on a Friday. The Emergency Out of Hours Service can be contacted on 01642 524552.
If a child is in immediate danger of sexual harm, or any other form of abuse, you should contact the Police immediately on 999.
Police and Children’s Social Care should consider the immediate risk to the child who has been harmed, and any other children deemed to be at risk of immediate harm and appropriate safety measures put in place.
Within 72 hours, separate Strategy Meetings should be arranged for any child under 18 years old who has been sexually harmed, and the child who has sexually harmed. The Young People’s Engagement and Justice Service should be invited to the Strategy Meeting.
Different social workers should be allocated for the child who has been sexually harmed and the child who has sexually harmed, even when they remain in the same household. This is to ensure they are both supported through the process of enquiry and that each child’s needs are fully assessed and met.
When the children concerned are the responsibility of different authorities, each child must be represented at the Strategy Meeting, which will usually be convened and chaired by the authority in which the child who has been harmed resides.
Children with sexually problematic / abusive behaviour who are returning to the community following a custodial sentence or time in Secure Accommodation also require consideration through these procedures.
The Strategy Meeting must plan in detail the respective roles of those agencies involved in the Section 47 Enquiry and ensure the following objectives are met:
- Child and Family Assessment is completed for children under 18 years old who have been sexually harmed, and children under 18 years old who have sexually harmed other children.
- In the case of any young adult who has a Disability and is under 25 years old a Child and Family Assessment should be completed.
- Any criminal aspects of the child who has harmed are investigated by the Police.
- Information relevant to the protection and needs of the children who has been harmed is gathered.
- Information relevant to any abusive experiences and to the protection and needs of the child who is alleged to have sexually harmed another child is gathered.
In planning the Section 47 Enquiry, the following factors should be considered:
- The immediate protection of the children involved;
- The age of the children involved;
- Seriousness of the alleged incident/s;
- The vulnerability of the alleged victim;
- The victim’s parents’ attitude and ability to protect their child(ren);
- Which agencies, if any are the child who has harmed / child who has been harmed already open / known to;
- The risks to, and needs of, siblings of the child who has harmed are assessed and reassessed if there are significant new concerns to ensure that siblings of convicted sexual offenders are safe;
- The risks to other children / young people, if the child who has sexually harmed another lives in a foster / residential / boarding or other shared environment;
- A contextual approach to ‘Harm Away From Home’ needs to be taken, consideration of safety in terms of any risks in the community;
- The response of the parents of the child who has sexually harmed to their child’s behaviour;
- Whether there are grounds to believe the child who has sexually abused has also been abused;
- Whether there is reason to suspect that adults have been involved in the development of the alleged sexually harmful behaviours;
- Arrangements to enable the children to continue their school attendance / education, which will include assistance with a risk assessment for the school;
- Consideration of referral to the Health Services to ensure that all health needs of both the child who has been harmed and the child who has harmed has been considered, this includes the risk of pregnancy, sexual health screening and treatment;
- The likelihood and desirability of criminal prosecutions taking place;
- Has access been requested by the Police for Children’s Services/medical/school records etc? Can anyone in the meeting assist in gaining the information if not done so already?
- What is the current situation with the child who has been harmed? Who is their single point of contact (SPOC) throughout this process?
- Who is responsible for updating any other agencies working with the young person if they are not present at the meeting?
- Whether to initiate an AIM2 Assessment [external link];
- Who will undertake the AIM2 & within what timescale?
- Who will contact the solicitor, young person & parents/guardian to gain consent for an AIM2?
- What paperwork is needed in order to complete the AIM2 – who will supply this?
- What other assessments are available to be submitted to CPS?
- Who will gain consent for them to be shared if applicable?
- It might be deemed in the public interest to prosecute, however an AIM2 assessment would assist with this decision and may avoid prosecution if deemed the appropriate course of action once AIM2 is complete.
Where there is suspicion that the child under investigation is also a victim of abuse then the Strategy Meeting must consider the order in which the interviews will take place. Police will decide whether an alleged offence should be subject to a criminal investigation.
It may, at an early stage, or at any point during such an investigation be concluded that the HSB did take place but there is insufficient evidence, or it is not in the public interest to proceed on a criminal path. In such circumstances the multi-agency group should reconvene to consider whether any ongoing engagement / intervention is required to further assess and / or manage any risk identified. The group should also consider how the young person and family will be informed of the end of criminal matters such that risk management and addressing the behaviour and precipitating factors is not compromised.
From the perspective of the criminal investigation, when a child (aged ten or over) is alleged to have committed an offence, the first interview with him/her must be undertaken by the Police, within the provisions of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE) 1984 [external link], i.e. it will be an audio taped interview held in a police station, under caution and with a parent or another appropriate adult present.
There may be circumstances in which this approach may not be in the best interests of the overall management of the investigation or the welfare of the child involved, for example when the child has a significant learning difficulty or disability or other vulnerability. In these circumstances, the Police may agree that it may be preferable for a social worker (and other professional as appropriate) to interview the child.
If during the course of being interviewed as a victim of, or witness to alleged abuse, under the provisions of the Achieving Best Evidence Guidance, a child admits offences, these incidents should normally be the subject of a separate interview. This should only be the case where explicit Police agreement has been obtained to this course of action.
Throughout the enquiry the immediate protection of all child(ren) involved must be ensured.
Where the decision is reached that the alleged behaviour does not constitute abuse and there is no need for a Section 47 Enquiry, the details of the referral and the reasons for the decision must be recorded. In each case, and in respect of each child involved or potentially involved Children’s Services will determine the outcome of the referral.
Schools and colleges should refer to the Department for Education guidance - Sexual violence and sexual harassment between children in schools and colleges (updated September 2021) [pdf document] and Keeping Children Safe in Education (Updated September 2021) [pdf document]
Outcomes of Section 47 Enquiries
If the information gathered in the course of the Section 47 Enquiry suggests that the child who is alleged to have sexually harmed is also a child who has been abused and has suffered due to neglect, physical, emotional or sexual abuse then a Child Protection Conference must be considered and if it is determined an Initial Child Protection Conference should not be held there must be a clear rationale/management oversight in relation to why not.
Assessments of children and young people who have displayed HSB need to take account of the child’s developmental and family circumstances (including own abuse and/or trauma victimisation, and other behavioural issues), along with their educational and social situation, and should look to balance concerns and strengths.
The level of response to HSB displayed by a child or young person will differ case by case and should take into account the seriousness of the behaviour, the needs of the child and their family, the impact on the child(ren) who have been harmed and any other identified risks. In some cases, a structured risk assessment tool may be used to assist trained professionals when intervening with young people who have displayed harmful sexual behaviour. Interventions need to be holistic and child-focused, and involve families.
A number of checklists and risk assessment tools are available within the NICE guidance [external link] which can assist in considering children and young people's sexual behaviour
Children and young people’s use of IT equipment and social media is now widespread. The above prompts can also be used in connection with such behaviour. Accessing pornography may be problematic for children and could lead to them acting in abusive ways to others. Social networking and exchanging personal information and images with other children, young people and/or adults could expose the child to abuse and/or precipitate their own harmful behaviour. Again, the specifics of the child/young person’s behaviour and its context will be important in determining what action to take.
Child Protection Conference
Consideration should be given to inviting a Young Person’s Engagement and Justice Service (YPE&JS) representative to the conference of any child(ren) aged eight or over presenting with HSB.
In addition to carrying out the usual functions, the Child Protection Conference must consider how to respond to the child’s needs as a possible abuser.
Where the child who has sexually abused is not made subject to a Child Protection Plan, consideration should be given to the need for services to address any sexually abusive behaviour.
Multi-Agency Child in Need Meetings
Where there are no grounds for a Child Protection Conference, but concerns remain regarding the child's sexually problematic behaviour, consideration should be given to a Family Safety Plan. Whether the child is a Child in Need or a Child in Need of Protection, it is important that they receive the appropriate level of intervention commensurate with their level of needs and risks. There should never be no action taken and agencies should be clear around who is carrying out actions and interventions. The need to ensure the child’s voice and lived experiences is known and explored is vital.
Children who are harmed and those who harm have complex needs requiring a multi-agency response. Therefore, in cases where there are no grounds for holding a child protection conference, or where one has been held but a child protection plan did not result, a multi-agency meeting should be convened to plan multi-agency services for a child in need.
In most cases universal services will not be deemed appropriate to deal with such a degree of complexity, however through regular reviews if it is considered Building Stronger Families (BSF) are best placed to work with the family then a clear rationale for this transfer must be provided by the Team Manager and a multi-agency meeting convened by Darlington Children's Services must be held to facilitate transfer from Children’s social care to Building Stronger Families (BSF).
Those invited should include original participants of the Strategy Discussion/Meeting and representatives from health, including child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS), the school and any other professionals with relevant knowledge of the child and their parent(s).
On completion of any assessment, it is important that a multi-agency meeting is held in relation to each child to consider the outcome, and to review and coordinate the roles of relevant agencies in providing identified interventions, including a risk management plan and specialist input for children with special needs.
It should be clear which agency is responsible for the risk management plan for a child with HSB. The plan should always address the risk to other children wherever the child spends time, including at school and within or near to the home address or placement whenever a child is Looked After by a local authority. A plan must be in place to minimise risk of future offending.
Where there has not been a transfer to Building Stronger Families (BSF) both the risk management plan and support for the child who has been sexually harmed should be reviewed at regular multi-agency meetings. The Chair of the multi-agency meeting should decide the frequency of the review meetings according to each child’s needs / risk.
Children and Young People who services are unable to engage
Where services are unable to engage a child or young person assessed as posing an ongoing risk of sexual harm the multi-agency group should be notified to review the risks and consider any re-engagement / risk management strategies. Where the intervention has become single agency that agency should convene a professionals meeting to involve Police, CIAT, Assessment and Safeguarding, YPE and JS and BSF if appropriate.
Children Moving into, or Re-entering a Local Authority Area
Children with inappropriate sexual or very violent behaviour who are re-entering the community following a custodial sentence or time in secure accommodation, or who move into an area from another local authority, require the multi-agency response (assessment / intervention) described above. The response should be initiated at the earliest opportunity.
Where a child who has been convicted of sexual offences involving the abuse of other children is released into the community, the local coordinator for the Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements (MAPPA) must be notified in order to consider if the young person should be discussed under these arrangements.
Evidence shows that own victimisation by sexual abuse is a poor single explanation for why children/young people may present with HSB. The younger the child, with more serious/abusive behaviours, the more likely they have witnessed or experienced highly sexualised environments or actual abuse. However, even in these situations, it is not always the case but a trauma informed approach should be taken.
Other forms of victimisation – neglect, physical abuse – are as significant, as is witnessing domestic violence. However, the possibility of child sexual abuse MUST be thoroughly and robustly investigated and the child given appropriate opportunities to discuss such a possibility.
Professionals should be open to the idea that disadvantage and/or traumatic experiences may impact the child/young person’s behaviour, and this may not necessarily be due to their own sexual abuse.
6. Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) and the link with HSB
Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) and HSB are seen as separate yet interlinked phenomena, with some distinct elements but the potential for overlap.
CSE is more likely to be represented by sexual violence towards teenagers, often in a relational context, and frequently where young people are sexually exploited by either individuals or group offenders (other young people or adults). HSB is envisaged as abuse that more often involves young people harming younger pre-pubescent victims of all genders in family or community contexts.
Young people who sexually abuse other young people within the context of relationships, often described as ‘peer-on-peer’ abuse (Firmin, 2015), fit the definitions of both HSB as sexual behaviour which victimises others and CSE as exploitative, exchange based abuse. Hackett et al (2016) therefore argue that it is appropriate to view HSB and CSE as distinct but overlapping forms of sexual abuse, as both share the elements of coercion, misuse of power, violence and lack of consent and choice.
If you are concerned that a child/young person is presenting with HSB, then speak to your manager or designated child protection lead. Action should be taken in accordance with child protection procedures. Ultimately what action is taken to help the child should depend on, and be proportionate to, the type of behaviour being demonstrated and the child’s developmental stage and needs. These decisions should be taken in collaboration with the child/young person’s parents/carers.
Consideration should also be given to safeguarding children in contact with the child /young person who may be demonstrating harmful sexual behaviour, including siblings.
Any concerns about a child or young person not already known to Children's Services should be reported via the Children’s Initial Advice Team using the designated professionals telephone line – 01325 406252.
8. Useful Information and resources
Children and Young People with Harmful Sexual Behaviours (Research in Practice)
Key messages from research on children and young people who display harmful sexual behaviour – Centre for Expertise on child sexual abuse
Harmful Sexual Behaviour – NSPCC research and resources
Sharing nudes and semi-nudes Guidance – UK Council for Internet Safety (UKCIS)
Young people who engage in child sexual exploitation behaviours – an exploratory study, Durham University
Child’s Play – Preventing Abuse among Children and Young People - Stop it Now publication
Fabricated or Induced Illness (FII) perpetrated by parents or carers can cause significant harm to children. FII involves a well-child being presented by a parent or carer as unwell or disabled, or an ill or disabled child being presented with a more serious problem than he or she has in reality, and is likely to be suffering harm as a consequence. There are particular challenges for professionals in terms of managing an FII case.
For further information see DSP Fabricated and Induced Illness Practice Guidance [insert link].
Fabricated and Induced Illness Chronology Template [Word Document]
Young people with fire setting behaviour present a high risk to themselves and other people. Most children raise fires from curiosity. Education of both the children and their parents is shown to be effective. Some children start fire setting from the age of 3, and the behaviour peaks at age 8 with boys predominating. There is another, smaller, peak at aged 13 when children may be involved in fire setting set as part of anti-social behaviour with other young people for the purpose of seeking excitement. If not treated the behaviour continues into adulthood.
The risk of fire in a home is linked with other factors of social exclusion. Persistent fire setting behaviour is linked with less stable homes, absent fathers, poor supervision, harsh or inconsistent discipline, violence, abuse, neglect and parental substance misuse. Such children may be lonely and feel excluded and anxious.
Fire-setting behaviour may be managed in one environment, for example residential care, but may return if the child returns to the home environment and the underlying behaviour is not addressed.
Motivation for fire setting behaviour is a key issue. It is seen as arising from:
- Excitement and attention seeking behaviour
- Angry, frustrated and revengeful feelings
Anti-Social Behaviour or gang fire setters
- As a result of mental illness
- Abuse and neglect
The following can assist in changing the behaviour:
- Education of child and parent
- Helping the child find positive activities. Fire setting may arise from revengeful feelings, but the fire does not provide positive feedback for many
- Behaviour management
- Support to parenting
- Addressing causes of insecurity
A good preventative service may prevent the behaviour leading to the setting of more serious fires and address the child welfare and child protection issues for the child. Once the child has against his or her name the label of being a serious fire setter this will have serious implications within the provision of care and education and re-assessments should ensure that this is addressed as behaviour improves.
2. Initial Referral to Agencies and Assessment by County Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue Service
- If the Police, any practitioner or member of the community becomes aware of any fire setting behaviour by a child/young person they should complete the County Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue Service (CDDFRS) referral form which should be sent via e mail email@example.com See www.ddfire.gov.uk/fireplay for more information or contact CDDFRS on 0191 916 0217 or 0191 916 0214
- If any agency, practitioner or member of the community becomes aware of any safeguarding issues, they should in addition contact the Local Authority Children’s Social Care via the Childrens Initial Advice Team. The Police should refer any young person over the age of 10 years to Youth Offending Service.
- When CDDFRS becomes aware of child/young person's fire setting behaviour, there should be consideration of whether there are any safeguarding issues and whether there are any immediate hazards. If this is the case, the child should be referred to Children’s Social Care via the Childrens Initial Advice Team. If this is not required, CDDFRS should undertake assessment of the risk presented by the child/young person and their behaviour and the motivation behind this. This assessment will occur within 14 days.
- Where the motivation for fire-setting is seen as curiosity and there are no other child/young person safeguarding issues CDDFRS will offer an education service and take no further action.
3. Inter-Agency Assessment
Where the motivation is seen to be other than curiosity and there are other child safeguarding issues, CDDFRS should make a referral to Children’s Social Care via the Childrens Initial Advice Team for further assessment.
Children's Social Care will either undertake an assessment, under Section 17, or a child protection investigation, under Section 47 of the Children Act 1989 using the Assessment Framework. Where it is appropriate to undertake an assessment, this will be completed within 45 working days.
Children's Social Care should send a referral to CAMHS/FCAMHS (Forensic CAMHS) if this is deemed to be an underlying mental health or neuro development issue. A copy of the Assessment and the Fire and Rescue Service assessment should be sent to CAMHS and there should be liaison between the CAMHS and FCAMHS teams. Parents will be informed that this will be undertaken, and their agreement sought. Information may be shared between agencies under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 S 115 and in accordance with Darlington Safeguarding Partnership Information Sharing Protocol.
Where Fire and Rescue Service education service only is required this will be provided by CDDFRS.
Where the assessment of CAMHS, FCAMHS Children's Social Care and CDDFRS indicate that education service by CDDFRS and Children’s Social Care is all that is required, a care plan will be drawn up by Children’s Social Care.
Where a complex care package is needed a Child Protection Conference or Child in Need meeting will be held to put together an inter-agency plan. This would be likely to include CDDFRS, CAMHS/FCAMHS, Children’s Social Care, Darlington Borough Council Housing Department, Housing Association, Education and relevant provider services, for example the Youth Offending Service.
If a CiN Plan or a Child Protection Plan, the plan should be reviewed within the timescales outlined in Darlington Safeguarding Partnership Child Protection Procedures, until it is decided that the child or young person's behaviour has altered round fire setting and that his or her needs are being adequately met.
CAMHS/FCAHMS will offer an assessment of the therapeutic needs of the child or young person and send a copy to Children's Services, CDDFRS and the parents or those holding parental responsibility. The permission of those holding parental responsibility will be required unless the child's needs are being considered under a S47 investigation or a Child Protection Plan.
Where a child or young person has been assessed as more than an acceptable risk of fire setting behaviour CDDFRS will continue to be available until the assessment may be reduced to acceptable risk. The re-assessments will be passed to Children's Social Care, CAMHS (if appropriate) or NE FCAMHS for advice consultation and/or assessment and the parents, or those who hold parental responsibility, will be informed.
- Multi-agency chronologies
- Format of the chronology
- Significant information/events
It is widely recognised by almost all Child Safeguarding Practice Reviews (CSPRs), that children and young people are most effectively safeguarded if practitioners work together and share information. Single factors in themselves are often perceived to be relatively harmless; however, if they multiply and compound one another the consequences can be serious, on occasions, devastating.
A Multi-agency Child Protection Chronology:
- provides a mechanism through which information can be systematically shared and merged
- enables agencies to identify the history of a family
- provides invaluable information about a child’s life experience
- can reveal risks, concerns, patterns and themes, strengths and weaknesses within a family
- identify previous periods of practitioner involvement/support and the effectiveness/failure of previous intervention
- informs the overall assessment regarding the caregivers’ ability and motivation to change.
Chronologies are not only a means of organising and merging information; they enable practitioners to gain a more accurate picture of the whole case and highlight gaps and missing details that require further assessment and identification.
The chronology provides a skeleton of key incidents and events that inform the assessment of children and young people who are considered at risk of significant harm and are the subject of Child Protection Plans. If they are to be of value they should be:
- succinct - If every issue/contact is recorded, the chronology loses its value
- simple in format – thus ensuring that information can be efficiently merged, sorted and analysed
- in the agreed typed format - all contributions should be submitted in the Microsoft Word template and shared via secure email.
See DSP Multi-Agency Chronology template [Word document].
The purpose of the Multi Agency Child Protection Chronology is to inform assessment and analysis of progress and levels of risk. It is therefore essential that the chronology is owned by the Core Group and that all members contribute to its production and analysis, including the formation of protection plans based on the outcome of such analysis. The chronology is only headline information and reports are still crucial to provide a full picture. Getting the facts agreed and seeing the overall pattern is essential and can often be informative and revealing.
It is the responsibility of each agency to ensure that there is a mechanism to collate all significant events in the child’s life over time:
- it is expected that any practitioner or agency that contributes to the protection of children will provide up-to-date information for the Multi-Agency Child Protection Chronology
- the Multi-agency Child Protection Chronology will commence at the strategy discussion/meeting verbally. In addition, some families have long and complicated histories – the compiling of a chronology will be a more onerous task and cannot be completed within a short period of time. It is essential that as much work as is practicable is completed in the early stages and continued commitment and time be given to the completion of a full chronology through the course of the child protection period. Basic chronological information must be shared with the social worker in time for a merged document to be included within their Assessment and subsequently shared at the Initial Child Protection Conference
- at the Initial Child Protection Conference, when a child or young person is made the subject of a Child Protection Plan, the continued requirement of a Multi-agency Child Protection Chronology will form part of the Child Protection Plan – the chair of the conference will be responsible for reinforcing the requirement in the planning stage of the meeting. Members of the Initial Child Protection Conference will decide the timescale for the chronology.
- thereafter, the chronology will be updated prior to each monthly core group and a copy sent to the social worker prior to the core group meeting. The chronology will be presented to each Child Protection Review Conference by the Key Worker as an appendix to the social work report. It is the responsibility of all core group members to ensure that the chronology is kept up to date and the key worker must ensure that the chronology is disseminated with core group minutes As the lead agency, the responsibility for collating the information gathered is that of Children’s Social Care. In these cases, it will be the key worker who is identified at the Initial Child Protection Conference.
- it is essential that all practitioners and agencies understand that they have a joint responsibility in safeguarding vulnerable children and young people and should be active participants in the child protection process. All practitioners are to ensure that information describing key incidents/events/information is passed on to the key worker, each month, in the agreed typed format. This can be done by secure email.
- it is the responsibility of all practitioners not just to provide information but to contribute to its analysis. The analysis of the multi-agency information is key.
- core group minutes must reflect the discussion of the chronology at all meetings and the analysis of improvements and levels of risk as a consequence.
- the Social Work Team Manager is responsible for ensuring that all chronologies are maintained and kept up-to-date for each child subject to a Child Protection Plan.
- managers of all workers involved in the supervision and support of children who are the subject of Child Protection Plans, are responsible for ensuring that workers actively contribute to the Multi-agency Child Protection Chronology in the agreed format.
Format of the chronology
The formatting of shared information will be done so in a simple, agreed format.
Name: This is the name of the child
DOB: This is the child’s date of birth
Address: This is the address of the child
Agency: This is the agency sharing the information
Author: This is the name of the author of the chronology
Date and Time - The date the episode event is said to have taken place (not the date of recording) Dates should be recorded in the following format to enable electronic merging of each agencies chronology DD/MM/YY. Time in the following format 00:00 (24 hour)
Significant Event - The significant piece of information e.g. police log of reported incidence of domestic violence: report from school that child arrives from home hungry, unkempt and tired: missed medical appointments: allegation of non-accidental injury: anonymous referral regarding child left unsupervised: Section 47 enquiry etc.
Agency and Professional records - The agency the information is obtained and the record from which the information was obtained, e.g. social work record, health visiting record, school nursing record, police record, probation record, etc.
Who was involved - Who was involved in the event. The names of each individual involved in the episode including practitioners, child/ren or parent/s, carer/s other adults.
Decisions/ Outcome - Comments should inform the reader of key decisions taken, any action taken and the outcome in response to the event or episode.
Child Seen/ Views obtained - Yes or No. If obtained, statement re the child’s views, either expressed or observations of behaviour should be noted.
Author comments: i.e. any additional information that may inform the context of the entry.
Significant Information/ Events
A significant event is an incident that impacts on the child’s safety and welfare, circumstances or home environment. This will inevitably involve a professional decision and/or judgement based upon the child and family’s individual circumstances.
A chronology provides a sequential story of significant events in a family’s history whilst interweaving information about emotional and/or relationship difficulties. It contributes to an emerging picture, based on fact and interactions of a case – current information is understood in the context of previous information, informing professional assessment.
There are a number of core incidents, which should be recorded. Dependent upon the nature of the harm, these may differ from case to case. Examples of Core Incidents:
- contacts or referrals about the child and/or family
- assessments e.g. family support
- strategy discussions/meetings
- section 47 investigations
- house moves
- school exclusions
- school attendance/major incidents e.g. bullying racism
- attendance/admittance to Accident and Emergency Department or hospital
- frequent use of out of hours and walk in services rather that GP services
- criminal proceedings
- change in school
- change in GP e.g. this could be particularly significant in cases of Fabricated and Induced Illness
- referrals to other agencies/teams
- enquiries regarding whether the child is subject to a Child Protection Plan
- child absconded/missing
- child becomes looked after/child is discharged from local authority care
- death in the family
- parent/Carer has new partner
- another person moves into the family home
- birth of a new baby
- person moves out of the family home
- attempted suicide or overdose
- failure to attend/no access
- evidence of parental or young person’s substance misuse/ mental health difficulties
- police logs detailing pertinent info re family members/family home e.g. reported incident of domestic violence; drunken behaviour of carers.
There are also a number of other incidents, which may be significant to the child and family, depending on their circumstances. Examples include: a significant observation during home visits e.g. the frequent presence of unknown adults, evidence of damage to the property.
If chronologies are to accurately reflect family circumstances, protective factors should also be recorded. Examples include: Evidence of the family’s engagement with practitioners, parent’s self-referral for help/guidance support with relevant agencies. The child’s presentation in school significantly improves.
The above provide a small number of examples and it is essential that practitioners use their professional judgement in identifying pertinent information. Workers are encouraged to use this information and to consult with their managers and/or safeguarding leads if clarity is needed regarding significant events/ episodes/ information.
Sometimes a child suffers a serious injury or death as a result of child abuse or neglect. Understanding not only what happened but also why things happened as they did can help to improve responses in the future. Understanding the impact that the actions of different organisations and agencies had on the child’s life, and on the lives of his or her family, and whether or not different approaches or actions may have resulted in a different outcome, is essential to improve our collective knowledge.
The local authority has a statutory duty under Working Together to Safeguard Children 2018 (Chapter 4, paragraph 12) where it knows or suspects that a child has been abused or neglected to report any incident to the Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel that meets the criteria identified below:
- the child dies or is seriously harmed in the local authority’s area, or
- while normally resident in the local authority’s area, the child dies or is seriously harmed
The Local Authority must notify the Statutory Safeguarding Partners who should meet within 5 working days to decide whether the case meets the criteria for a serious child safeguarding incident referral.
If the Statutory Safeguarding Partners agree that the case reaches the criteria for a serious child safeguarding incident the Local Authority must notify The Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel/Ofsted and Secretary of State for DfE no later than 5 working days of initial receipt of notification.
The local authority must also notify the Secretary of State for Education (DfE) and Ofsted where a looked after child has died, whether or not abuse or neglect is known or suspected.
It is the responsibility of others who have functions relating to children to inform DSP of any incident which they think should be considered for a child safeguarding practice review, using the criteria above.
For further guidance and the referral process and forms see DSP Child Safeguarding Practice Review and Serious Incident Notification Procedures [PDF Document]
Notifiable (Serious) Incident Referral Form [Word document]
When to refer a case for consideration for a Serious Child Safeguarding Practice Review (CSPR)
Section 16C (1) of the Children Act 2004 (as amended by the Children and Social Work Act 2017) requires that the local authority notify any event which meets the following criteria to the Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel within five working days of becoming aware that an incident has occurred. The local authority should also report the event to safeguarding partners in their area (and in other areas if appropriate) within five working days. The criteria are:
- a child has died (including cases of suspected suicide), and abuse or neglect is known or suspected
- a child has been seriously harmed and abuse or neglect is known or suspected
- a looked after child has died (including cases where abuse or neglect is not known or suspected) or
- a child in a regulated setting or service has died (including cases where abuse or neglect is not known or suspected).
The local authority should also report the event to the Statutory Safeguarding Safeguarding Partners in their area (and in other areas if appropriate) within five working days.
How to refer a case to the Statutory Safeguarding Partners:
Where any individual or agency believes or suspects there may have been circumstances where the threshold for holding a Child Safeguarding Practice Review (CSPR) has been met as per the criteria outlined in this section they may refer a case to the Statutory Safeguarding Partners via the Partnership Business Manager to establish if there are important lessons for multi-agency work to be learned from a case. This includes any professional body, members of the public, councillor, MP and the Coroner.
A referral is made by completing the referral form detailing why you (as the referrer) believe the case meets the criteria for a CSPR. Referrals should be made as soon as it is apparent that the criteria may be met. An unreasonable delay in raising an issue can impact both on the process and the key purpose.
In order to ensure the optimum effectiveness and learning from the resources employed, DSP will not normally review cases that are more than twelve months old, unless significant information emerges, or there were good reasons why the CSPR was not deemed appropriate at an earlier stage.
Prior to making a referral, professionals working with children, should consider the relevant guidance, and seek assurance from their line manager, Designated Safeguarding Lead or DSP representative.
By virtue of the criteria, in cases where a CSPR may be indicated, a safeguarding concern and/or enquiry may already have been made. In this case a discussion with the relevant children’s services team manager should normally take place prior to making a referral for a CSPR. Consideration of whether a CSPR is required should never delay the raising of a safeguarding concern and the adherence to multi-agency safeguarding policy and procedures which considers any immediate protection required.
However, there may be circumstances where safeguarding concerns are not obvious or evident, for example, where the child/ren may have died as a result of suicide (where abuse or neglect are known or suspected) and there are concerns that partner agencies could have worked more effectively to protect the child.
All agencies have their own internal or statutory procedures to investigate serious incidents and to promote reflective practice or learning, and this protocol is not intended to duplicate or replace these. However consideration of this protocol must be considered when agencies undertake internal reviews or when investigating serious incidents.
The duty of the Statutory Safeguarding Partners to notify the Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel
The duty to notify events to the Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel rests with the Statutory Safeguarding Partners. Others who have functions relating to children should inform the Statutory Safeguarding Partners of any incident which they think should be considered for a Child Safeguarding Practice Review.
Where a child looked after has died the local authority must also notify the Secretary of State and Ofsted regardless of whether abuse or neglect is known or suspected to have occurred.
The Statutory Safeguarding Partners must make arrangements to identify and review serious child safeguarding cases which raise issues of importance within the local authority area and must commission and oversee the review of such cases where it is considered appropriate for a review to be undertaken.
For further details of the criteria for a Serious Child Child Safeguarding Incident see Child Safeguarding Practice Review and Serious Incident Notification procedures [PDF document]