This chapter was updated in September 2019.This chapter is currently under review.
1. Holding a Strategy Discussion
Children's Services 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 whether or not it appears that a criminal offence against a child has been committed.
This may be following a Referral and Social Work Assessment or at any time where a child is receiving support services and if concerns about Significant Harm to the child emerge. If there is any doubt about whether Section 47 applies, agencies should steer on the side of caution and hold a Strategy Discussion.
2. Purpose of Strategy Discussion
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. The Social Work Assessment is the means by which the Section 47 Enquiry is recorded by Children's Services Social Care.
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 last Strategy Discussion.
3. When the Strategy Discussion Should be a Meeting
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 Services, if there is concern about one of the following:
- Where there has been an allegation made about a professional, carer or volunteer or anyone professionally involved with the child - see Allegations Against Persons who Work with Children Procedure;
- Where there are suspicions of organised or multiple abuse - see Complex Safeguarding (Organised or Multiple) Abuse also known as Gold Group Procedure;
- Where concerns relate to fabricated or induced illness - see Fabricated or Induced Illness/Perplexing Presentation 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;
- Strategy discussions must be timely to enable the participation of professionals and to agree next steps and actions to secure evidence where necessary.
4. Who Should be Involved
The Strategy Discussion should be convened by Lincolnshire Children's Social Care and those participating should be sufficiently senior and able, therefore, to contribute to the discussion of available information and to make decisions on behalf of their agencies. The Strategy Discussion should involve, at a minimum, Children's Social Care Services, the Police, Children's Health and the referring agency if possible. Other agencies involved with the family should be included as appropriate particularly Education and other Health professionals.
- If the child is a hospital patient (in-patient or out-patient) or receiving services from a child development team, the medical consultant responsible for the child's health should be involved, as should the senior ward nurse where the child is an in-patient;
- When strategy discussions are convened and the child is an in-patient on a Children's Ward, the Consultant Paediatrician on the Ward is to be contacted and participate in the strategy discussion alongside the Police and Social Work and Children's Health teams;
- Where a medical examination may be necessary, or has taken place, a senior doctor from those providing services should also be involved;
- 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 abuse, substance misuse or mental illness, it will also be important to consider involving the relevant adult services professionals.
5. Agenda for Strategy Discussion
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 e.g. siblings and other children in contact with the alleged abuser/s;
- Decide whether a Social Work Assessment and 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 Medical Assessments and/or treatment, and who will carry out what actions, by when and for what purpose;
- 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 and if the child is an in-patient on a Maternity or Children's Ward, the child's discharge from hospital;
- 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 parental and other contact arrangements;
- 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;
- For every child admitted to a Children's Ward, consider whether a discharge planning meeting (DPM) should be held. The expectation is that in most cases, a discharge planning meeting will be held. A record of the discharge planning meeting should be made.
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 suffering Significant Harm, or that concerns are substantiated and the child is judged to be at risk of suffering Significant Harm, must be authorised by a Children's Social Care Manager.
Significant harm to children can give rise to both child welfare concerns and law enforcement concerns. The strategy discussion may conclude that there are no criminal matters involved, and that the Section 47 enquiries should be conducted on a single-agency basis by Children's Social Care, while keeping open the possibility of the police becoming involved at a later stage.
In the majority of cases however it is anticipated that Section 47 enquiries will run concurrently with police investigations concerning possible associated crime(s). In these circumstances, the LSCP is committed to the principles of close co-operation and joint working between Police and Children's Social Care. The allocated social worker and Police officer from the Public Protection Unit (PPU) will form the joint enquiries/investigation team in that particular case and will work closely together in carrying out the plan agreed by the Strategy Discussion. Practitioners should be aware of the joint protocol between the Crown Prosecution Service, Police and Local Authorities on Exchange of Information in the Investigation and Prosecution of Child Abuse Cases. This is available on the CPS website.
Where a decision is made to initiate legal proceedings, legal advice must be obtained and the approval of a Children's Services Head of Service must also be obtained.
Any decision made after a Strategy Discussion that further child protection action by Children's Social Care Services and/or the Police is not necessary as there is insufficient evidence of risk of suffering Significant Harm to the child may only be made providing it is agreed by a Children's Services Social Care Manager and the Detective Sergeant of the Police Public Protection Unit and the reasons recorded.
In such circumstances consideration should be given to whether any other service is appropriate for the child under the Child in Need or Team Around the Child (TAC) criteria.
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 Strategy Discussion that initiated the investigation. If the investigation concludes that the concerns are substantiated and the child is considered to be at continuing risk of significant harm.
6. Recording of a Strategy Discussion
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 Services will record this on the relevant proforma within the child's Mosaic record.
The full record from the Strategy Discussion meeting will be circulated within 10 days of the meeting.Records of Strategy Discussions will be held in the relevant record on the Mosaic 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 by the Police.