Appropriate emergency action taken

Appropriate emergency action taken

Key points

Where there is risk to the life of a child or a likelihood of serious immediate harm, Police or Children’s Social Care should act quickly to secure the immediate safety of the child.

Emergency action may include

  • talking to the child, with or without the parents’ permission
  • talking to the parents
  • accommodating the child with the parent’s permission, under Section 20 of the Children Act 1989
  • ensuring that the alleged abuser leaves the family home
  • enabling the child to stay somewhere where they are safe, with the parents’ permission or by using police protection or an emergency protection order
  • removing the child by using police protection or an emergency protection order

Social workers must seek the agreement of their line manager or a senior manager and obtain legal advice before they take any legal action.

Social workers should only ask the police to take a child into police protection if they feel that making an application for an emergency protection order would place the child at greater risk, and they will need to justify their decision if they follow through with further court action.

Enquiries into suspicions that a child is at risk of significant harm must start immediately.

How to do it

The social worker or police officer must consider the safety of all the other children in the same household. If they know the identity of the alleged perpetrator, they must also consider the safety of any other children he or she may have contact with.

If after this they decide not to remove a child, they must be clear why they think the risks are acceptable, and record their decision and the reasons why. This should be agreed by a team manager.

Sometimes a social worker or police officer may be refused access to the child or denied information about the child’s whereabouts, when carrying out a child protection enquiry. If this happens they must decide if there is enough evidence to be sure the child is safe, and whether they should apply for any of the orders available to them under the Children Act 1989. The most likely measure is an emergency protection order , but instead the police could place the child in police protection.

The social worker or police officer should anticipate the likely reaction when the parent or carer realises that they are carrying out a formal enquiry, and think through how they will explain their role and any action they are taking. It often makes sense to check with other professionals who know the family, and other family members, in case they have important information. Can they suggest alternatives such as temporary placement with a relative, or could the social worker achieve the same result if another person speaks to the parent or child first?

If there are likely to be other children or adults present, how are they likely to respond to a social worker or police visit? It can be very frightening and upsetting for everyone, so the way that the social worker first makes contact, what they say and how they say it, can make all the difference.

Most parents will cooperate, even if they are angry and upset. It is unusual for them to refuse access. If the worker believes the child is present, they should explain their reasons for needing to see the child. If access is still denied, the worker must discuss what action they may have to take if they cannot be sure that the child is safe.

Most children have strong opinions about what they need, and if a social worker can create the right atmosphere this will help the child say how they feel. But it is also possible that they will feel too anxious or scared to say very much.