Working with children and families
The child and family should always be enabled to participate fully in the enquiry process and the child's voice should always be heard. The following may need to be provided to remove barriers to involvement:
- where a child or parent is disabled, and this has an impact on their communication, it may be necessary to provide help with communication to maximise their opportunity to participate in the process;
- an interpreter should be provided where the child or parent's first language is not the same as that of the interviewer;
- if the child is unable to take part in an interview because of their age or understanding, alternative means of understanding the child's perspective should be used.
Enquiries should always be carried out in such a way as to minimise distress to the child, and to ensure that families are treated sensitively and with respect.
How to increase participation
Explaining the purpose of the child protection enquiries
The social worker should explain the purpose of the child protection investigation to the parents and child (having regard to age and understanding) and be prepared to answer questions openly, unless doing so would affect the safety and welfare of the child. It is particularly helpful for families if the social worker provides written information about the purpose, process and potential outcomes of the child protection investigation. It should include information about how advice and support can be obtained from independent sources and how to access complaints procedures.
It is essential that the child is consulted and informed about what is taking place and helped to understand the reasons why. It is equally important, provided it is not contrary to the welfare of the child, that the parents and carers are kept informed of all the action being taken, its implications and consequences.
Considering the child
As part of the enquiry process, the child's wishes and feelings must be established. The process must be explained to the child in a way appropriate to his or her age and understanding. The child must be seen separately and listened to carefully. The child should never be interviewed in the presence of the alleged offender.
In some cases it may be appropriate to speak to a suspected child victim without the knowledge of the parent or carer. However, this should only be done if:
- there is a possibility that a child would be threatened or otherwise coerced into silence;
- it is likely that evidence would be destroyed;
- the child in question did not wish the parent to be involved at this stage and is competent to make that decision.
Even initial discussions with children should be conducted in a way that minimises any distress caused to them.
- Talk to the child separately from the parents or carers.
- Avoid leading or suggestive questions.
- Write down what the child tells you and what you said to the child.
- Children may need time to develop sufficient trust to communicate any concerns they have. This may mean you need to talk to them on more than one occasion.
Considering the parents or carers
The parents or carers should be involved throughout the investigation as far as possible, subject to this being in the best interests of the child.
In most cases the parents or carers will be asked to give written consent for any medical examination or interview with the child.
Where appropriate, non-abusing parents and carers should be encouraged to accompany the child for interview and medical examination. However, care should be taken to avoid action which might prejudice any criminal investigation, particularly where the parent or carer is a witness.
Parents or carers should be told that relevant information may have to be shared with professional colleagues who also have responsibility for the child's welfare.
Considering other children
Those making enquiries should always be alert to the potential needs and safety of any siblings, or other children in the household of the child in question.
Enquiries may also need to cover children in other households with whom the alleged offender may have had contact.
Where parents or carers refuse to co-operate
At every stage of these procedures consideration must be given to whether a child is at imminent risk and whether emergency action needs to be taken. This may be because parents or carers refuse to co-operate with the investigation, or they may take particular action, such as removing a child from hospital.
Emergency action might be necessary as soon as a referral is received or at any stage of the process.
Consideration must also be given to whether compulsory intervention may be necessary to meet the child's needs. If this does seem likely the social worker/manager will consult with the service manager, responsible for children's social care, to explore whether it is necessary to make a referral to the Children's Convenor and/or to call a Legal Threshold meeting to explore an application to the Court.
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