3.4 Strategy Discussions
In August 2014, minor amendments were made throughout this chapter and it should be re-read.
- Holding a Strategy Discussion
- Purpose of Strategy Discussion
- When the Strategy Discussion Should be a Meeting
- Who Should be Involved?
- Agenda for Strategy Discussion
- Roles and Responsibilities of Social Workers and Police
- Recording a Strategy Discussion
Children’s Social Care must hold a Strategy Discussion whenever there is reasonable cause to suspect that a child has suffered or is likely to suffer Significant Harm.
This may be following a Referral or at any time during an Assessment or where a child is receiving support services, if concerns about Significant Harm to the child emerge.
The purpose of the Strategy Discussion is to decide whether a Section 47 Enquiry under the Children Act 1989 is required and if so, to develop a plan of action for the Section 47 Enquiry.
More than one Strategy Discussion may be necessary.
Where there are more than one Strategy Discussions/Meetings, care must be taken to monitor the time frames involved so that no child is left for too long without a decision as to what services should be provided or what actions should be taken. Where an Initial Child Protection Conference is to be convened this must take place within 15 working days of the Strategy Discussion at which the Section 47 Enquiry was initiated.
The Strategy Discussion may take place over the telephone or at a meeting.
A Strategy Discussion must take the form of a meeting, chaired by a manager from Children’s Social Care, if there is concern about one of the following:
- Where there are suspicions of organised or multiple abuse - see Institutional, Organised or Multiple Abuse Procedure;
- Where concerns relate to fabricated or induced illness - see Fabricated or Induced Illness Procedure;
- Where concerns are considered to be complex;
- Following the death of a child, where there are Child Protection concerns and there are surviving siblings or other identified children who are vulnerable.
The Strategy Discussion should involve, at a minimum, social worker, their manager, health professionals and a police representative. Other relevant professionals will depend on the nature of the individual case but may include:-
- The professional or agency that made the referral
- The child’s education setting
- Any other health services the child or family are receiving
All those involved should be sufficiently senior to make decisions on behalf of their agencies.
If the child is a hospital patient (in-patient or out-patient) or receiving services from a child development team, the consultant paediatrician responsible for the child’s health should be involved, as should the senior ward nurse where the child is an in-patient.
Where a medical examination may be necessary, or has taken place, the paediatric consultant involved in the medical examination of the child should contribute to the strategy discussion. In the case of a pre-birth Strategy Discussion, this should involve the midwifery services, hospital based and/or community based.
If the child lives outside of the area all agencies that have information about the child and family must be invited to attend or contribute to the Strategy Discussion.
Where required, a legal adviser should be invited or legal advice sought to inform the Strategy Discussion.
Consideration should also be given to the need to seek advice from or invite a professional with expertise in the particular type of suspected Significant Harm.
Where parents or adults in the household are experiencing problems such as domestic violence and abuse, substance misuse or mental illness, it will also be important to consider involving the relevant adult services professionals.
It is essential that the Strategy Discussion is recorded accurately and reflects fully all information from those agencies involved, including where information has been provided from those agencies not in attendance, either in person or via a conference call.
The Strategy Discussion should be used to:
- Share available information;
- Agree when the child will be seen alone by the Lead Social Worker (unless inappropriate for the child) and whether any particular factors such as the child’s race, ethnicity, language, disability or any other special needs should be taken into account and whether an interpreter will be required for the child and/or the family;
- Consider the needs of any other children who may be affected;
- Decide whether a Section 47 Enquiry should be initiated or continued and if so, which children should be included;
- Plan the Section 47 Enquiry (if one is to be undertaken), including the need for further information, the need for and timing of Section 47 Medical Assessments and/or treatment by a paediatrician, and who will carry out what actions, by when and for what purpose. Consideration must also be given to whether there are any other children in the household who may also require a medical assessment;
- Decide whether a single agency or a joint enquiry/investigation is required;
- Agree what action is required immediately and in the short term to safeguard the child and/or provide interim services and support, including the care arrangements for the child/children;
- Agree whether urgent actions are required to remove the child from the risk of harm or to remove the alleged perpetrator from the child’s home;
- Agree where a child is in hospital how to manage contact and how to secure the safe discharge of the child;
- Agree a contingency plan if the child cannot be located;
- Agree the conduct and timing of any criminal investigation, including who should be interviewed, by whom, for what purpose and when and the need to carry out the interviews in accordance with Achieving Best Evidence guidance;
- Agree the arrangements for obtaining consents to interviews and assessments of the child (if the assessment is to take place during the course of court proceedings, the courts prior consent must be obtained);
- Agree how the child and family will be supported during the process;
- Determine what information from the Strategy Discussion will be shared with the family, unless such information sharing may place a child at increased risk of harm or jeopardise any criminal investigation. If urgent action is necessary, a decision will need to be taken about informing or consulting parents and the child(ren), obtaining consents, taking legal action, accompanying the child and notifying parents;
- Agree, in the light of the race and ethnicity of the child and family, how information will be obtained and shared with the family and establishing whether an interpreter is required;
- Determine if legal action is required;
- Coordinate a press strategy, if relevant;
- Agree timescales for all the above and responsibilities for required actions;
- In cases where information indicates a history of violence and threatening behaviour by the parents towards professionals, consider the risks to the child/children and to staff, determine a strategy for managing the risk and agree joint action as appropriate;
- Agree the need for feedback to each other (e.g. if single agency enquiries) and for further Strategy Discussions with clear timescales.
Any decision made at a Strategy Discussion, i.e. that concerns are not substantiated, or that concerns are substantiated but the child is not judged to be at continuing risk of Significant Harm, or that concerns are substantiated and the child is judged to be at risk of Significant Harm, must be authorised by a Children’s Social Care Manager. The evidence upon which any judgement is made should be clearly recorded.
Where a decision is made to initiate legal proceedings, legal advice must be obtained and the approval of a Children’s Social Care Manager must also be obtained.
Any decision made after a Strategy Discussion that further child protection action by Children’s Social Care and/or the Police is not necessary as there is insufficient evidence of risk of Significant Harm to the child may only be made providing it is agreed by a Children’s Social Care Manager and the Officer in the Case within the local PPIU (Police Public Investigation Unit), and the reasons must be recorded.
In such circumstances consideration should be given to whether any other service is appropriate for the child under the local Common Assessment Framework criteria, see The Common Assessment Framework / Early Help Assessment.
Where the decision of the Strategy Discussion is to initiate a Section 47 Enquiry, the plan for the Section 47 Enquiry should reflect the requirement to convene an Initial Child Protection Conference within 15 working days of the last Strategy Discussion.
Social workers with their managers should:
- Assess the child’s welfare and safety, and identify the level of risk faced by the child; decide 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);
- Agree what further action is required, and who will do what by when, where an EPO is in place or the child is the subject of police powers of protection;
- Record agreed decisions in accordance with local recording procedures; and
- Follow up actions to make sure what was agreed gets done.
The police should:
- Discuss the basis for any criminal investigation and any relevant processes that other agencies might need to know about, including the timing and methods of evidence gathering; and
- Lead the criminal investigation (local authority children’s social care have the lead for the section 47 enquires and assessment of the child’s welfare) where joint enquiries take place.
At the conclusion of the Strategy Discussion, a list of action points, timescales, agreed roles and responsibilities and an agreed mechanism for reviewing completion of the action points must be recorded and circulated to all parties within one working day. Children’s Social Care will record this on the relevant form.
For telephone discussions, a copy of the notes on the relevant form must be authorised by the manager and should then be sent to all participants.
All records should clearly state:-
- Who contributed information to the discussion - name, job role and agency;
- How this information was sourced for the strategy discussion if the individual or agency is not present either in person or via conference call, for example from telephone conversation with social worker, early help assessment etc;
- The recommendation of each member of the strategy discussion as to whether the child is suffering or likely to suffer significant harm and the evidence that supports this.
Records of Strategy Discussions will be held in the relevant record systems for the child. Where appropriate, taking into account the confidentiality of the child(ren) and any adult, agreed sections of the records should be placed on the relevant records for the adult.