This assessment refers to section 47 of the Children Act 1989. The Children Act 1989 came into force on 16 November 1989 and reformed the law in relation to children. The most important consideration under the Children Act is the child’s welfare and this Act incorporates many statutory duties in relation to children. Section 47 in particular deals with assessments undertaken by the Local Authority (also known as social services) where there are concerns that a child is at risk of significant harm.
Section 47 places Social Services under a duty to investigate if they are informed that a child in their area falls into one or more of the following categories:
- is subject of an Emergency Protection Order;
- is in police protection;
- is suffering, or is likely to suffer significant harm.
Under Section 47, Social Services have a statutory duty to make any enquiries that they deem necessary in order to decide whether any action should be taken to safeguard and promote a child’s welfare. In particular, Social Services need to decide whether there is cause for an application to be made at Court concerning the child, so that Social Services are able to make decisions about a child’s welfare.
If Social Services are attempting to undertake an assessment under Section 47, and access to the child is being denied or information as to the child is being withheld, they can apply for an Emergency Protection Order concerning that child.
In reality, when completing a Section 47 assessment, the social workers will seek to undertake extensive and comprehensive enquires into the child’s welfare. This will entail the social workers liaising with the parents or carers, the child’s school, the child’s doctor, the police and any other professional agencies involved in the child’s life.
The outcome of a Section 47 assessment could be that Court proceedings are commenced, that a Child Protection Conference is convened or that the case is reviewed at a later date. A Child Protection Conference may be necessary to record the decisions made about the child and to provide the family with support. This is a meeting of all of the professionals involved in a child’s life that would have no doubt contributed to the Section 47 assessment.
The Child Protection meeting is chaired by an Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO) who ensures that everyone is given an equal opportunity for their views to be heard. The meeting will decide if the child is at risk of significant harm and if so, if this is a continuing issue. There are various categories for a child to be placed on a Child Protection Plan under, such as neglect, emotional harm, physical harm and sexual harm.
A Child Protection Plan is agreed between all of the professionals and the parents in an attempt to help the family and ensure that appropriate assessments are completed. It may be that the family need to ensure that healthcare appointments are kept, that the child’s attendance at school improves or that a parent seeks assistance with alcohol misuse issues for example. These are all issues and concerns that will have been raised during the Section 47 assessment period.
Social Services must complete the Section 47 enquiries within 45 days from first receiving the referral in relation to the child.