The purpose of strategy discussions is to share information in order to decide whether to start an enquiry into suspicions about significant harm (Section 47 Children’s Act 1989), and to inform any criminal investigation. If a Section 47 is progressed the strategy discussion will plan the enquiry and monitor its progress. Strategy discussions should be thought of as a process rather than a one-off event. They are the means for keeping relevant professionals involved in a child protection enquiry.
Where there are concerns that there is a significant risk of harm to the child, strategy discussions should take place as soon as possible. Only in exceptional circumstances, where delay might place a child or young person at additional risk, should an enquiry into suspicions about significant harm (Section 47 Children Act 1989) be begun without a strategy discussion first being held. In such cases, a strategy discussion must take place within 24 hours of starting the Section 47 enquiry. In all other situations, a strategy discussion must be held before the enquiry begins. In the event that the alleged abuser is under the age of eighteen a separate strategy discussion must take place to consider their needs.
Strategy discussions may be face-to-face, but they usually take place by telephone.
In more complex cases a strategy meeting should be held. The time and venue of the meeting should be decided in advance to allow as many relevant people as possible to attend.
When the child has sustained significant physical injury or there are allegations of recent sexual abuse, where there are also child protection concerns, the first strategy discussion should be held on the same day as the referral is made. It may be important to get forensic evidence. All parties to strategy discussions should be notified in writing of the results of the enquiries as soon as they are completed. A strategy discussion should be reconvened if the Section 47 enquiry concludes that a different plan is needed from that agreed in the original strategy discussion, for example if it is thought a child protection conference is no longer necessary.
It is important to keep all parties involved in the progress of the child protection enquiry.
Strategy discussions should involve the following:
- a first line manager from local authority Children’s Social Care
- a police officer
- other agencies as appropriate, for example, health, schools
- the referrer, if they are a professional (but not if they are a member of the public).
The discussion should have information available from the referring agency and all other relevant agencies.
There should also be discussions with:
- a senior doctor from the service that would examine the child (where it is thought a medical examination may be needed)
- the medical consultant for the child’s health care (where the child is an in or out patient at a hospital or is receiving services from a child development team)
- the senior ward nurse (where the child is an in-patient).
How to do it
Outcomes of strategy meeting should be recorded by the chair of the meeting. They should include any information shared, all decisions reached, and the basis for these decisions. Key points from the discussions must be circulated to all parties within a timely fashion.
A Section 47 enquiry is different to other assessments, in that the consent of parents to interview the child and share information with other agencies is not necessary. This does not mean that parents should not be informed about concerns about their child, or should not be told what is going on. Children and young people themselves should also be given information in a developmentally appropriate manner. Only when social workers or police officers fear that giving parents information might lead to the child (or another person) being put at risk of significant harm, or where the police believe it might seriously damage a criminal investigation, should information be withheld from family members. It is vital that strategy discussions takes place in a way which ensures that all key people are available and able to be fully involved. The venue may be a school or hospital, police station or Children’s Social Care office wherever the most relevant people can attend and contribute. To summarise, strategy discussions will
- share available information
- agree the conduct and timing of any criminal investigation
- decide whether a core assessment under Section 47 should be started, or continued if it has already begun
- plan how the Section 47 enquiries should be undertaken, including:
- whether medical assessment and/or treatment is needed
- who will carry out which actions, by when and for what purpose
- when the child should be seen.
- agree what action is required immediately to protect the child, and/or provide interim services and support. If the child is in hospital, decisions should also be made about how to secure the safe discharge of the child
- determine what information will be shared with the family
- determine if legal action is required.
Relevant matters will include
- agreeing a plan for how the core assessment under Section 47 will be carried out, what further information is required about the child and family, and how it should be obtained and recorded
- agreeing who should be interviewed, who by, for what purpose, and when
- agreeing how the child’s views will be sought
- considering any arrangements necessary taking into account the race and ethnicity of the child and family
- considering the needs of other children who may be affected, for example siblings, other children living in the same premises, or children and young persons in contact with alleged abusers.