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Professionals in all agencies have a responsibility to refer a child to local authority children's social care when it is believed or suspected that the child or unborn 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 social work led family support services (with agreement of the child's parent) under the Children Act 1989
- is a Child in Need whose development is likely to be impaired without provision of services.
Before making a referral it is important that professionals understand their responsibilities outlined in the previous chapters, particularly in relation to:
- listening to the child
- consulting parents (normally a referral should only be made with the knowledge and informed consent of at least one person who holds parental responsibility, although there are exceptions to this)
- considering diversity
- seeking urgent medical attention
- sharing information, and
- the information that will be required when making a referral. Professionals should also familiarise themselves with the relevant threshold/level of need criteria
Making a referral
Referrals should be made to the local authority children’s social care for the area where the child is living or is found. For these purposes, 'found' means the physical location where the child suffers, or is identified to be at risk of, harm or neglect.
If the child is known to have an allocated social worker, the referral should be made to them, or in their absence to the social worker’s manager/the duty children’s social worker. Referrals should not be delayed if it the child’s allocated social worker cannot be contacted.
Pre-birth referrals should be made as early as possible so that a full assessment can be undertaken and support offered to enable the parent/s (wherever possible) to provide safe care. For more information, read the section on pre-birth referral.
Where there aer concerns about a child, these should be raised as per local procedures, often via the Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH) or similar 'front-door' arrangements. Current referral arrangements, threshold/level of need criteria documents, referral forms, and contact numbers (including referrals outside of normal working hours) for each of the areas are available for each local area.
Information required for referrals
The referrer should outline their concerns and will be asked to provide information to explain what they are concerned about and why, particularly in relation to the welfare and immediate safety of the child.
If an assessment (such as an early help assessment) has been completed prior to the referral, these details should be provided. Any information the referrer has about the child's developmental needs and the capacity of their parents and carers to meet these should also be provided.
The referrer will have the opportunity to discuss their concerns with a qualified social worker and is likely to be asked for the following information:
- Full names (including aliases and spelling variations), date of birth and gender of all children 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.
- Any other known adults in the household (such as lodgers) or adults who frequently visit the household.
- Names and date of birth of all household members, if available.
- Where available, the child’s NHS number and education Unique Pupil Number (UPN) number.
- Ethnicity, first language and religion of children and parents/carers.
- Any special needs of children or parents/carers.
- 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/carers.
- Known involvement of other agencies/professionals (for example, GP).
- Whether the parents know about, and whether they have consented to, the referral.
- The child’s views and wishes, if known.
The referrer must not delay making a referral because they lack some of the information as the welfare of the child is the priority.
Professionals making a referral should confirm verbal and telephone referrals in writing within 48 hours.
The referrer should keep a formal record, whether hardcopy or electronic, of:
- discussions with the child
- discussions with the parent/carer
- discussions with their managers
- information provided to local authority children’s social care
- decisions and actions taken (with time and date clearly noted, and signed).
Responding to a referral
Local authority children’s social care must make a decision about the course of action to be taken within one working day of receiving a referral. The social worker will make a professional judgment as to what type and level of help and support is needed, record this, and feedback in writing to the referrer, all relevant agencies, the child and their family.
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.
The police must be informed at the earliest opportunity if a crime may have been committed. The police will decide whether to commence a criminal investigation and a discussion should take place to plan how parents are to be informed of concerns without jeopardising police investigations.
The immediate response to referrals may be:
- No further action at this stage.
- Signposting to other agencies and services.
- Re-direction to appropriate early help arrangements.
- Provision of services.
- Emergency action to protect a child.
- An assessment of needs with a stated timescale and plan including regular reviews.
- A section 47 strategy meeting/discussion.
If a response is not received within three working days, the referrer should contact local authority children’s social care again and, if necessary, ask to speak to a line manager to establish progress.
If the referrer disagrees with the decisions made by another agency, they may consider raising their concerns under the relevant local multi-agency escalation policy.
The child and parents/carers should be routinely informed about local procedures for raising complaints and local advocacy services.
Where there is to be no further children's social care action, feedback should be provided to the child, the family and referrers. This should include the reasons why a case may not meet the statutory threshold to be considered by local authority children's social care for assessment and suggestions for other sources of more suitable support.
Where it becomes clear that statutory intervention maybe needed, local authority children’s social care is responsible for making rigorous enquires to map who is involved in that child and family’s life.