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Local authority investigations of child abuse

This advice applies to England

The local authority must investigate child abuse if they suspect a child is being seriously harmed or is likely to be seriously harmed. This page tells you more about how they investigate a concern.

What is an investigation

The local authority must investigate if they have good reason to suspect that a child who lives, or is found, in their area is suffering (or is likely to suffer) significant harm. A child is someone under the age of 18.

Within one working day of a concern being reported, a social worker should make the decision about what sort of investigation is needed. Unless there is absolutely no real cause for concern, they will decide to carry out one of two different sorts of investigations to see if the child is either:

  • a child in need. This is known as a section 17 investigation, or
  • a child at risk of significant harm. This is known as a section 47 investigation.

These investigations must be carried out within 45 working days from when the concern was reported. Depending on the circumstances, the investigation may need to be done more quickly.

Each local authority will have its own procedures about how they investigate although they have to keep to certain standards.You can ask the social worker for a copy of their local procedure.

What does an investigation usually involve?

Usually, an investigation involves social workers meeting with the parents and other professionals involved with the family, for example, the child’s teacher or doctor. They will look at the child’s records and may ask the police to investigate whether any other allegations have made about the person suspected of abuse. In very serious cases, the social workers may start making enquiries before they let the parents know.

If the local authority informs you, as the parent, that they are starting an investigation, it’s very important that you co-operate with them. You might want to get legal advice from a specialist in these cases-you might get legal aid.

What can happen after the investigation?

This investigation might be enough to end the local authority’s concerns.

However, it may be that after a section 47 investigation, it’s clear there is serious abuse. In cases of serious abuse, and in all cases of sexual abuse, the local authority will tell the police. Occasionally at this stage, the local authority will have to take urgent action to have the child removed from the family home and placed under police protection. However more usually, the social worker is likely to decide that the child is a child in need or that a meeting called a child protection conference should be called.

If the police are involved, or if the local authority is taking action to have the child removed from the family home, get legal advice if you haven’t done so already. Contact a specialist solicitor who offers family law services. You might get legal aid.

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