1.5 Strategy Discussions

1. Holding a Strategy Discussion

Children's 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.

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.

If the concerns relate to actions by practitioners, volunteers or foster carers, see Allegations against Persons who work with Children (including Staff, Carers and Volunteers) Procedure.

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 Assessment is the means by which the Section 47 Enquiry is carried out.

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 that confirms that concerns are substantiated, a Section 47 enquiry is commenced and it is agrees that an initial child protection conference is necessary.

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 Safeguarding Children's Service/Children's Social Care, if there is concern about one of the following:

4. Who Should be Involved

The Strategy Discussion should involve, at a minimum, the Children's social worker and their manager, the Police, Health representative and may include the referring agency It is best practice to involve other agencies that know the family for example, education, early years providers.

If the child is a hospital patient (in-patient or out-patient) or receiving services from the 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. Advice should be sought from the Child Assessment Unit, Sheffield Children's Hospital.

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 practitioner 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 practitioners.

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.

5. Agenda for Strategy Discussion

The Strategy Discussion should be used to:

  • Share and evaluate the 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 a Sheffield Social Care 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 the Achieving Best Evidence in Criminal Proceedings Guidance (see Achieving Best Evidence in Criminal Proceedings: Guidance on Interviewing Victims and Witnesses and Using Special Measures (Ministry of Justice, March 2011) and Vulnerable and Intimidated Witnesses, A Police Service Guide (Ministry of Justice, March 2011);
  • 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 including if interpreters are required or if a child has communication difficulties/ what support will be used;
  • 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 practitioners, 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 if required with clear timescales.

Any decision made at a Strategy Discussion, i.e. that concerns are not substantiated, or that concerns are substantiated and the child is judged to be likely to suffer Significant Harm, must be authorised by a Children's Social Care Manager

Where a decision is made to initiate legal proceedings, legal advice must be obtained and the approval of a Children's Social Care Manager must also be obtained.

Any decision made after a Strategy Discussion that further child protection action by Children's Social Care and/or the Police is not necessary as there is insufficient evidence of risk of Significant Harm to the child may only be made providing it is agreed by a Children's Social Care 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 Family Common Assessment Framework criteria or support provided to the child.

Any extension to timescales because of practical difficulties should be part of the formal decision making process and recorded. Such extensions should not place the child at further risk.

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 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.