Child protection investigation

The primary purpose of the investigation is to establish the facts about what, if anything, has happened to the child and to assess the level of risk.

Process of a child protection investigation

The primary purpose of the investigation is to establish the facts of what if anything has happened to the child and to assess the levels of risk. Outcomes of child protection investigations must be recorded on the word icon child protection investigation template [144kb], signed off by the relevant manager and stored on the child's electronic file.

Following completion of the investigation a decision will be made about any immediate action required to protect the child and whether a child protection case conference needs to be convened. A child's plan must be completed by the investigating social worker within 14 working days of the strategy discussion.

Hearing what the child is saying

The voice of the child should be evident throughout the investigation and assessment.

Ask yourself:

  • have I been given appropriate access to all the children in the family?
  • if I have not been able to see a child, is there a very good reason, and have I made arrangements to see them as soon as possible?
  • how should I follow up any concerns about the children's health or development?
  • if the child is old enough and has the necessary communication skills, what is their account of events?
  • if the child uses a language other than English, or alternative non-verbal communication, have I made every effort to get help in understanding them?
  • what is the evidence to support or refute the child's account?

The findings of the investigation should be discussed with the child and their parents.

Make sure that you take seriously what the child is telling you.  Remember that the child always knows what has happened to them; they may not be able to explain it or understand it, or they may have been told to lie about it, but deep down they do know.  Although it is important to build good relationships with parents, you should never forget that the focus of the investigation is the safety of the child.

The child might have difficulties communicating due to additional needs or disability. In such situations it is important to find the best person to offer advice and help the child communicate with you. (See also guidance on protecting children with disabilities from abuse). 

If it is suspected that a child is suffering, or is at risk of suffering, serious harm, the social worker must follow the advice contained in immediate action.

If you discover that a child of school age is not attending school you should contact the Education Service as soon as possible.

Lessons from research

Lord Laming criticised the workers in Victoria Climbié's case because none of them could describe a day in her life. Children are often confused and uncertain on meeting a social worker for the first time. Some are unsure whether they can speak, others feel pressurised to speak. Although many understand that the social worker is there to help them, they are not sure how.

Lack of specialist training or support in this area of work, a very difficult dynamic within the team of three consultants in relation to child abuse and a totally unrealistic work load resulted in the medical evidence in Kennedy's case not being effectively collated and presented to social work or at the planning meeting and this is likely to have contributed to social work's failure to recognise the risks. Kennedy Macfarlane report 2001.

Based on their research with children and young people the Children's Rights Office has drawn up a list of questions for adults to ask when deciding whether children understand something enough to make a decision about it:

  • can the child understand the question they are being asked?
  • does the child reasonably understand the main reasons for what is being proposed?
  • does the child understand what choices they have to decide between?
  • does the child reasonably understand what will happen if they choose each of the choices they can decide to take?
  • can the child weigh up these different choices against each other?
  • can the child tell you their personal choice, rather than repeating what someone else thinks they should do?
  • can the child keep to one decision, without constantly changing their mind?

See Cleaver H, Wattam C and Cawson P: Assessing Risk in Child Protection,  London, NSPCC (1998) and Cloke C (ed): Participation and Empowerment in Child Protection (1995).

See also 10 common pitfalls and how to avoid them.