Searching Children and Their Belongings
SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTERThis procedure applies to children placed in children's homes and foster homes managed by the authority, but the principles apply to the placement of all looked after children. Therefore, where children are placed with parents, relatives or friends or in placements not managed by the authority, the social worker must ensure these or other adequate procedures are applied.
It may be appropriate to conduct a search of a child or a child's belongings if there is reasonable cause to believe that the child has concealed weapons, illegal drugs other items, which may place the child or others at risk of injury.
1.1 Searches With Co-operation
If there is a suspicion that such items are concealed, residential staff/foster carers should try to obtain them with the child's co-operation.
Before conducting such a search, staff/carers should consult their manager/supervising social worker and the child's social worker. Two staff/carers should be present during the search, and the child should be present.
Only outer garments may be searched. More intimate searches may only be conducted by the Police or with the authorisation of the court.
When conducting searches, reasonable precautions must be taken to protect against possible sharp or dangerous objects that may be concealed.
If weapons or any dangerous or offensive items are found, they must be confiscated and passed to the manager/fostering social worker.
1.2 Searches Without Co-operation
If the child does not cooperate, or is likely not to, a search may be undertaken without the child's cooperation or knowledge.
Unless there are exceptional circumstances (see shaded paragraph below), the manager/ supervising social worker and child's social worker must be consulted and come to a decision about the actions that may be taken. It may also be appropriate to consult other relevant line managers.
When coming to a decision on the actions that will be taken, the managers/ supervising social worker/social worker(s) must take account of the following:
- Two staff/carers must be present and the child if possible;
- Only outer garments may be searched. More intimate searches may only be conducted by the Police or with the authorisation of the court;
- When conducting searches, reasonable precautions must be taken to protect against possible sharp or dangerous objects that may be concealed;
- If weapons or any dangerous or offensive items are found, they must be confiscated and passed to the child's social worker.
If there is an immediate risk of injury or damage to property, staff/carers may take what actions they deem to be appropriate to protect themselves or others. As a last resort, this can include the use of Physical Intervention in order to search a child, and the entering of a child's bedroom without their knowledge. However, staff/carers must only take such actions if it is safe to do so. If there is a risk that an offence may be committed, the Police must be called.See Contacting the Police Procedure
When a search involves entering a child's bedroom when they are not present, there should be respect for the child's privacy, for example if documents or the child's diary have been left out, they should not be routinely inspected, unless a specific risk has been identified and recorded. Room searches should only seek to identify risks or inappropriate items, not personal possessions or documents.
There are different notification procedures for searches concluded with and without children's cooperation.
2.1 Searches Conducted With Children's Cooperation
Searches undertaken with the child's cooperation, where no force is used, must be notified to the manager/ supervising social worker and the child's social worker at the first opportunity.
2.2 Searches Conducted Without Children's Cooperation
Searches conducted without the child's cooperation (where a level of force has been used) are deemed to be Incidents and must be notified to the manager/ supervising social worker and the child's social worker as soon as possible, but within 24 hours.
The child's social worker should decide whether to inform the child's parent(s).
If the Incident results in any serious damage or the Police are called for assistance, a senior manager and others must be notified.
There are different recording procedures for searches concluded with and without children's cooperation.
3.1 Searches Conducted With Children's Cooperation
Searches conducted with the child's cooperation should be recorded by the social worker in the child's file, by foster carers and residential staff in the child's Daily Record, and by the supervising social worker in the foster carer's file. The details to be included in the Daily Record are:
- The time and date of the search;
- The reason or suspicions which led to the need to conduct the search;
- Who conducted the search and whether the child or others were present;
- What was found, and whether items found were retained/confiscated;
- If items were retained/confiscated, where they were stored.
3.2 Searches Conducted Without Children's Cooperation
Searches conducted without the child's cooperation are deemed to be Incidents.
Please see Incidents Guidance, which summarises the records that must be completed and the undertaking of Management Reviews.