This chapter was updated in July 2021 to reflect changes from the revised Working Together to Safeguard Children.
- The Duty to Refer
- Making a Referral
- Receiving a Referral
- Concluding a Referral
- Local Information
Anyone who has concerns about a child's welfare should make a referral to Children's Social Care to seek advice and guidance. Referrals can be made by the child themselves, practitioners such as teachers, early years providers, the police, probation service, GPs and health visitors, staff from private or voluntary sector organisations as well as family members and members of the public.
Children's Social Care has the responsibility to clarify with the referrer the nature of the concerns and how and why they have arisen, and to determine the outcome agreed alongside the original referrer.
The local Threshold Criteria is the guidance that underpins this decision making. Click here for Local information.
The child must be seen by a qualified social worker within 24 hours or less if there are child protection concerns and within a maximum of 5 working days for children in need concerns. In all cases the child's needs and safety remain paramount at all times.
The relevant referral process for each local authority area must be used to refer into Children's Social Care to ensure consistency of approach and enable business processes to be secure.
2. The Duty to Refer
All practitioners have a responsibility to refer a child to Children's Social Care under section 11 of the Children Act 2004 if they believe or suspect that the child:
- Has suffered significant harm;
- Is likely to suffer significant harm;
- Has a disability, developmental and welfare needs which are likely only to be met through provision of family support services (with agreement of the child's parent) under the Children Act 1989;
- Is a Child in Need whose development would be likely to be impaired without provision of services.
When practitioners make a referral to Children's Social Care, they should include any pre-existing assessments in respect of the child, if they have been completed. Any information they have about the child's developmental needs, the capacity of their parents and carers to meet these within the context of their wider family and environment should also be provided as a part of the referral information. This should include any information that may inform safeguarding concerns or assessment of risk from outside the home (extra-familial risk).
The referrer should always seek consent from parents they are referring unless to do so would put any child or young person at further risk. See Information Sharing Procedure, National Guidance on Information Sharing for further information on how and when to share safeguarding concerns.
The referrer will always have the opportunity to discuss their concerns with a practitioner in the first instance and should be requested to follow this up in writing.
Where a child or young person is admitted to a mental health facility, practitioners should consider whether a referral to local authority Children's Social Care is necessary.
3. Making a Referral
For all referrals to Children's Social Care, the child will be regarded as potentially a child in need (Children Act 1989), and the referral will be evaluated on the same day that it was received. An outcome decision will be made by a qualified social worker alongside their Team Manager within 24 hours about the type of response that is required.
Referrals or matters of concern for a child who has an open case should be made to the relevant Children's Social Care team. New referrals should be made to the relevant local Children's Services initial point of contact by telephone so that a practitioner can discuss this fully with the referrer.
The referrer should provide information about their concerns and any information they may have gathered in an assessment that may have taken place prior to making the referral. The referrer will be asked for information about the following:
- Full names (including aliases and spelling variations), date of birth and gender of all child/ren in the household;
- Family address and (where relevant) school / nursery attended;
- Identity of those with parental responsibility and any other significant adults who may be involved in caring for the child such as grandparents;
- Names and date of birth of all household members, if available;
- Where available, the child's NHS number and education UPN number;
- Ethnicity, first language and religion of children and parents;
- Any special needs of children or parents;
- Any significant/important recent or historical events/incidents in child or family's life;
- Cause for concern including details of any allegations, their sources, timing and location;
- Child's current location and emotional and physical condition;
- Whether the child needs immediate protection;
- Details of alleged perpetrator, if relevant;
- Referrer's relationship and knowledge of child and parents;
- Known involvement of other agencies / practitioners (e.g. GP);
- Information regarding parental knowledge of, and agreement to, the referral;
- The child's views and wishes, if known.
Other information may be relevant and some information may not be available at the time of making the referral. However, there should not be a delay in order to collect information if the delay may place the child at risk of significant harm.
Once a referral is received by telephone a written follow up must be required if agreed by the referrer and the receiving social worker. In all cases the information provided by the referrer and any actions agreed, will be written up by the social worker. Feedback should be given by local authority children's social care to the referrer on the decisions taken. Where appropriate, this feedback should include the reasons why a case may not meet the statutory threshold and offer suggestions for other sources of more suitable support. Practitioners should always follow up their concerns if they are not satisfied with the local authority children's social care response and should escalate their concerns if they remain dissatisfied.
When sharing information about a child or family with Children's Social Care, it is good practice for practitioners to be transparent about their concerns and to seek to work cooperatively with parents or carers. Practitioners should therefore usually inform parents or carers (and the child depending on their age and level of understandings) that they are going to make a referral.
However, referrals can be made without first informing parents or carers where to do so would place a child at risk.
Where a practitioner makes a referral without informing the parents or carers this must be recorded in the child's file with reasons and this will be confirmed in the referral to Children's Social Care.
All referrals from practitioners must be confirmed in writing, by the referrer, within 24 hours if requested by Children's Social Care, otherwise all information will be documented on the referral record. The referrer should receive an acknowledgement within three working days of the outcome and if not received they should contact Children's Social Care.
4. Receiving a Referral
A practitioner will discuss the concerns with the referrer and is required to consider any previous records in relation to the child and family in their agency. The practitioner will establish:
- The nature of the concerns, including levels of risk and need;
- How and why they have arisen;
- Any mitigating factors;
- If the threshold for a Children's Social Care referral is met;
- Advise if other outcomes are more appropriate, including Early Help;
- The child's views, if known;
- What the child's and the family's needs appear to be;
- Whether the family are aware of the referral and whether they are in agreement with it or not;
- Whether the concern involves abuse or neglect; and
- Whether there is any need for any urgent action to protect the child or any other children in the household or community.
A decision to discuss the referral with other agencies without parental knowledge can only be authorised by a Children's Social Care manager, and the reasons recorded. This checking and information gathering stage must involve an immediate assessment of any concerns about either the child's health and development, or actual and/or potential harm, which justify further enquiries, assessments and / or interventions, including Child Protection.
Interviews with the child, if appropriate, should take place in a safe environment and follow the statutory requirements under Working Together to Safeguard Children and the best practice guidance of 'Achieving Best Evidence'. All interviews with children and family members should take account of the children and families' communication methods i.e. be undertaken in their preferred language and where appropriate for some people by using non-verbal communication methods such as Makaton or BSL.
The Children's Social Care manager will maintain management oversight of assessment and will authorise the decision to initiate action. If the child and / or family are known to other agencies or the facts clearly indicate that a Section 47 Enquiry is required, Children's Social Care will initiate a strategy meeting/discussion immediately (Children Act 1989, Working Together to Safeguard Children), and together with other agencies determine what threshold is met and what subsequent actions are required how to proceed.
The police will be informed if a crime may have been committed through strategy discussion. The police will determine their level of intervention alongside Children's Social Care through strategy discussion and subsequent strategy meetings (Children Act 1989, Working Together to Safeguard Children 2018).
5. Concluding a Referral
At the end of the referral discussion, the referrer and Children's Social Care should be clear about the proposed action, who will be taking it, timescales and whether no further action will be taken. This will be fully recorded in the referral record.
Potential outcomes may include:
- No further action, which may include information to signpost to other agencies;
- Early help - referrals for intervention and prevention services;
- Identity of lead professional;
- Back to referrer;
- Child in Need services - assessment to be undertaken by Children's Social Care (Section 17 CA 1989);
- Looked After Child status;
- Child Protection services - assessment and child protection enquiries to be undertaken by Children's Social Care (Section 47 CA 1989) with active involvement of other agencies such as the police.
This decision must be made in 24 hours and approved by a Manager (Social Worker Manager or MASH Manager in areas where this is established).
The practitioner should inform, in writing, all the relevant agencies and the child, if appropriate, and family of their decisions.
In the case of referrals from members of the public, feedback must be consistent with the rights to confidentiality of the child and their family.
If the referrer disagrees with the decisions made by Children's Social Care about the outcome of the referral, they may consider making a complaint under the local Complaint procedure or raise the matter under the local Professional Disagreement / Escalation Protocol (see: Resolving Professional Disagreement and Escalation Procedure).
The child and parents will be routinely informed about local procedures for raising complaints, if they wish to, and local advocacy services, including being given a leaflet at first visit.
Where the outcome of the referral leads to a Children's Social Care Single Assessment, see: Single Assessment Procedure.