3.4 Strategy Discussions
Children’s Social Care Services 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 and Assessment 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. The Assessment is the means by which the Section 47 Enquiry is carried out.
More than one Strategy Discussion may be necessary.
The plan made at the strategy discussion/meeting should reflect the requirement to convene an initial child protection conference within 15 working days of the strategy discussion at which it was decided to initiate the Section 47 Enquiry (if there was more than one strategy discussion / meeting). In exceptional circumstances, enquiries may be more complicated and may require more than one strategy discussion/meeting. If the strategy discussion / meeting concludes that a further strategy discussion / meeting is required, then a clear timescale should be set and be subject to regular review by the social work manager bearing in mind the safety of the child at all times.
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 are suspicions of organised or multiple abuse – see Complex (Organised or Multiple) Abuse Policy;
- Where concerns relate to fabricated or induced illness – see Fabricated or Induced Illness Policy;
- 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, Children’s Social Care Services, the Police, Health and the referring agency. Other agencies involved with the family may be included as appropriate (for example Education).
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.
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.
Those participating should be sufficiently qualified to be able to contribute to the discussions of the available information and to make decisions on behalf of their own agency.
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 an 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;
- 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 suffering or likely to suffer Significant Harm, or that concerns are substantiated and the child is judged to be suffering or likely to suffer Significant Harm, must be authorised by a Children’s Social Care Services Manager.
Where a decision is made to initiate legal proceedings, legal advice must be obtained and the approval of a Children’s Social Care Head of Social Work 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 or likely to suffer Significant Harm to the child may only be made providing it is agreed by a Children’s Social Care Services Manager and the Officer in Charge of the Police Child Abuse Investigation Unit and the reasons recorded.
In such circumstances consideration should be given to whether any other service is appropriate for the child under the local Family Support Process 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 where Section 47 Enquiries were initiated.
At the point the Police or the CPS conclude that no further action (NFA) will be taken with regard to a criminal prosecution the procedure set out below should be followed.
- The police officer will update the social worker and will provide a succinct written summary of the NFA decision to include the reasoning behind it. Both parties will ensure that their respective internal records are updated with this summary to ensure consistency.
- Both parties will agree any further work that needs to be completed from a safeguarding perspective at this stage. This includes agreement as to how other parties are to be updated so that they also understand the reasoning behind the decision and are left in no doubt as to what action to take should further child protection concerns come to light.
- Depending upon the particular circumstances of the case this discussion may need to be held between supervisory staff from the Police and CSC.
- Depending upon the particular circumstances of the case consideration should be given to holding a strategy meeting at this stage.
- Depending upon the particular circumstances of the case consideration should be given to seeking legal advice at this stage and/or to holding a legal strategy meeting.
- If agencies do not agree at this stage as to further safeguarding action the Resolving Professional Disagreements process should be followed.
- All of the above considerations and agreements should be recorded on Police and CSC records and these records should not be finalised until signed off by a supervisor.
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 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.
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.