Anyone who has concerns about a child's welfare can make a referral to the local authority children's social care service. Referrals can come from the child themselves, practitioners such as teachers, the police, GPs, medical and nursing staff, health visitors as well as family members and members of the public.
Referrals to children's social care services usually fall in to three categories:
- Requests for information from Children's Social Care;
- Provision of information such as notifications about a child;
- Requests, for services for a child, which will be in the form of a referral.
Local authority children's social care has the responsibility to clarify with the referrer the nature of the concerns and how and why they have arisen.
The local Threshold documents clarify the criteria for making and receiving referrals
In Nottingham City, this is the Family Support Strategy and Pathway, which can be accessed here: Family Support Pathway.
In Nottinghamshire, this is the Pathway to Provision, which can be accessed here: Pathway to Provision.
If the referral meets the threshold for children's social care services, the child must be seen as soon as possible following a referral and the child's needs and safety should remain paramount at all times.
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 and information about services which are or have been provided such as an early assessment or a Common Assessment (CAF) in respect of the child. Any information they have about the child's developmental needs and the capacity of their parents and carers to meet these within the context of their wider family and environment should be provided as a part of the referral information.
The referrer must always have the opportunity to discuss their concerns with a qualified social worker.
3. Making a Referral
All new referrals should be made to the appropriate local authority contact point as detailed in the links below, following the guidance provided. Referrals on open cases should be made to the allocated social worker for the case (or in their absence their manager or the duty social worker).
In Nottingham City, referrals should be made using Children and Families Direct.
In Nottinghamshire, referrals should be made to the MASH (Nottinghamshire Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub).
All referrals from practitioners should be confirmed in writing, by the referrer, within 24 hours. If the referrer has not received an acknowledgement within three working days, they should contact children's social care again.
A decision must be made by a qualified social worker supported by line manager within one working day about the type of response that is required
4. Receiving a Referral
The social worker will discuss the concerns with the referrer and considered any previous records in relation to the child and family in their agency. The social worker will establish:
- The nature of the concerns;
- How and why they have arisen;
- 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 organisations without parental knowledge or permission should 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.
Interviews with the child, if appropriate, should take place in a safe environment. All interviews with the child and family members should be undertaken in their preferred language and where appropriate for some people by using non-verbal communication methods.
The children's social care manager should be informed by a social worker of any referrals where there is reasonable cause to consider Section 47 Enquiries and authorise the decision to initiate action. If the child and / or family are known to professional agencies or the facts clearly indicate that a Section 47 Enquiry is required, children's social acre should initiate a strategy meeting/discussion immediately, and together with other agencies determine how to proceed.
The police must be informed at the earliest opportunity if a crime may have been committed. The police should assist other agencies to carry out their responsibilities, where there are concerns about the child's welfare, whether or not a crime has been committed.
5. Referral Outcome
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.
Referral outcomes about a child, where there may be concerns, typically fall in to four categories and pathways:
- No further action, which may include information to signpost to other services;
- Early help - referrals for intervention and prevention services within the Common Assessment Framework and Early Help services range of provision;
- Child in Need services - assessment to be undertaken by Children's Social Care (Section 17 CA 1989);
- 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.
Whatever the outcome of a referral, it should have been assessed by a qualified social worker and a decision should have been made by the relevant line manager within the time scale of one working day about what should happen next. The children's social care manager must approve the outcome of the referral and ensure that a record has been commenced and/or updated.
The social worker should inform, in writing, all the relevant agencies and the child, if appropriate, and family of their decisions and, if the child is a Child in Need, of the plan for providing support.
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.
Where a referring professional disagrees with the children's social care response to their referral, they have a duty to escalate their concerns as outlined in Resolving Professional Disagreements (Escalation) Procedure.
The child and parents should be routinely informed about local procedures for raising complaints, if they wish to, and local advocacy services.
For guidance on the principles underpinning assessment of children see Assessment Procedure.