A briefing paper by the government’s Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel has advised that bruising found in pre-mobile babies should not automatically lead to social workers launching a Section 47 inquiry.

Section 47 Inquiries, which are outlined in the Children’s Act 1989, are carried out by social workers in local authorities if they say they have reasonable cause to suspect that a child living our found in their area is suffering or likely to suffer significant harm.

Current guidelines about pre-mobile bruising for social workers and other health practitioners, established by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) say that where practitioners see bruises and ‘suspect’ abuse or maltreatment, they “should refer the child… to children’s social care, following local multi-agency arrangements.”

However, the review panel said it did not support “blanket policies that require Section 47s or other interventions without an initial appraisal of the circumstances of the presentation”. The panel also raised concerns that local authorities across the country were interpreting the process for launching Section 47 inquiries in ways which did not always reflect the laws or the guidance in place.

The panel made five recommendations, including clarifying current guidance, requiring a review by a health professional who has the right expertise to assess the bruise and other connected injuries, and reviews by all safeguarding partners of their current policies on bruising in non-mobile infants to make sure they are in line with the evidence base and national guidelines.

Pre-mobile bruising in babies is a controversial area in child protection. Once-accepted research on the phenomenon suggested that this kind of bruising was rare and more likely to be caused by abuse. New research has challenged this notion, and suggests instead that such bruises are much more common than first thought and can be caused accidentally by the babies themselves.

The panel’s briefing paper will be seen as a welcome development for families with experience of child protective services whose children have been removed from their care or who have been exposed to child protection proceedings, without cause.

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