Contacts and Referrals

1. Initial Contacts

An Initial Contact is made where Children's Social Care is contacted about a child, who may be a Child in Need, and where there is a request for general advice, information or a service.

All contacts need to be considered alongside the Threshold Document and Early Help Criteria and a decision made within 24 hours regarding the level of response required.

At any time, an Initial Contact may become a Referral if it appears that services may be required for a Child in Need.

Any significant information received about a child who is an open case should be regarded as an Initial Contact, passed to the child's allocated social worker and recorded on the electronic database.

An Early Help Assessment is not a referral form, although it may be used to support a Referral or a specialist assessment.

In all other cases, at the point when an Initial Contact is made, the duty worker should establish whether the enquiry can be dealt with by the provision of information and advice or re-direction to other agencies or services.

The duty worker should also check the electronic data base records to see if the child or family is known and, if so, retrieve information on them (see Section 4, Screening Process).

2. Referrals

An Initial Contact will be progressed to a Referral where a social work qualified Practice Supervisor or manager considers an assessment and/or services may be required for a Child in Need.

Once the Referral has been accepted by local authority Children's Social Care, a social work qualified Practice Supervisor or manager should decide, with partners where appropriate, who the most appropriate Lead Practitioner will be. The Lead Practitioner role can be held by a range of people, including social workers. When allocating the Lead Practitioner, consideration should be taken to ensure that they have the time required to meet the needs of the child and their family. The Lead Practitioner should have the skills, knowledge, competence, and experience to work effectively with the child and their family.

The Lead Practitioner should always be a social worker for child protection enquiries.

The Lead Practitioner should clarify with the referrer, when known, the nature of the concerns and how and why they have arisen.

The Lead Practitioner will arrange to visit or contact the referrer and obtain as much of the following information as possible:

  • Full names, dates of birth and gender of children;
  • Family address and, where relevant, school/nursery attended;
  • Identity of those with Parental Responsibility;
  • Names and dates of birth of all members of the household;
  • Ethnicity, first language and religion of children and parents;
  • Nationality and immigration status;
  • Any additional needs of the children including the means in which they communicate;
  • Any significant recent or past events;
  • Cause for concern including details of allegations, their sources, timing and location;
  • The child's current location and emotional and physical condition;
  • Whether the child needs immediate protection;
  • Details of any alleged perpetrator;
  • Referrer's relationship with and knowledge of the child and their family;
  • Known involvement of other agencies;
  • Information regarding parents' knowledge of the referral.

3. Timescales

Once received, all Referrals must be written up and a decision made about their disposal within 1 working day of the initial contact. (Note: This should be as soon as possible where it is evident the child is seen as requiring immediate protection/urgent action).

Within 1 working day, the social work qualified Practice Supervisor or manager should make a decision about the type of response that is required.

4. Screening Process

The following process applies both to children who are already known to the authority and those who were not previously known.

The process of Referrals must include screening against the Threshold Document and/ or Early Help Criteria and must include internal electronic database and agency checks to establish whether the family is previously known, and whether there is a Child Protection Plan in relation to the child and/or whether the child is Looked After.

The screening process should establish:

  • The nature of the concern;
  • How and why it has arisen;
  • What the child's needs appear to be;
  • Whether the concern involves the child suffering/being likely to suffer Significant Harm;
  • Whether there is any need for urgent action to protect the child or any children in the household.

This process will involve:

  • Consideration of any existing records, including whether the child is the subject of a Child Protection Plan; this includes going through any pervious assessments or support that may have been offered;
  • The parent or carer should normally, as good practice, be informed that a Referral is being made unless to do so would place a child or vulnerable adult at increased risk of harm;
  • The information shared should always be necessary, proportionate, relevant, accurate, timely and secure;
  • Involving other agencies as appropriate and in accordance with Information Sharing: Advice for Safeguarding Practitioners (DfE) and Working Together to Safeguard Children (DfE).

If there are indications that a child may be at risk of significant harm, the social work qualified Practice Supervisor or manager may authorise whatever actions are necessary to protect the child or others in the household from significant harm, which may result in the immediate provision of services. There should be consideration of a Strategy Discussion and of a multi-agency response (see Strategy Meeting).

If there is suspicion that a crime may have been committed including sexual or physical assault or neglect of the child, the police must be notified immediately.

Personal information about non-professional referrers should not be disclosed to the parents or other agencies without the referrer's consent.

As good practice, parents/carers should usually be informed before discussing a referral with other agencies unless this may place the child at risk of significant harm, in which case the manager should authorise the discussion of the referral with other agencies without parental knowledge. The authorisation should be recorded with reasons.

5. Initial Disposal of Referrals

The initial disposal of a Referral, which must be authorised by the social work qualified Practice Supervisor or manager, may be:

  • That the child requires immediate protection and urgent action is required;
  • That the child is in need and should be assessed under section 17 of the Children Act 1989;
  • That there is reasonable cause to suspect that the child/children is/are suffering or likely to suffer significant harm, and whether enquiries must be made, and the child/children assessed under section 47 of the Children Act 1989;
  • That immediate services are required urgently by the child and family and what type of services;
  • Further specialist assessments are required to help the local authority to decide what further action to take;
  • To see the child as soon as possible if the decision is taken that the referral requires further assessment.

The child/children should be seen alone, if appropriate.

Professional referrers should be advised of the disposal of the Referral and where appropriate, feedback should be given to include the reasons why a case may not meet the threshold for children’s social care intervention and offer suggestions for other sources of more suitable support.

Feedback on the outcome of the Referral should also be provided to non-professional referrers in a manner consistent with respecting the confidentiality of the child.

The child and family must be informed of the action to be taken.

The Lead Practitioner should:

  • Clarify with the referrer, when known, the nature of the concerns and how and why they have arisen;
  • Make clear to children and families how the assessment will be carried out and when they can expect a decision on next steps;
  • Inform the child and family of the action to be taken, unless a decision is taken on the basis that this may jeopardise a police investigation or place the child at risk of significant harm.

Where requested to do so by local authority children's social care, professionals from other parts of the local authority such as housing and those in health organisations have a duty to cooperate under section 27 of the Children Act 1989 by assisting the local authority in carrying out its children's social care functions.

See: Flowchart 1:  Action Taken When a Child is Referred to Local Authority Children’s Social Care

6. Children in Specific Circumstances

Supporting Disabled Children and Their Carers

Where a referral is received requesting help and support for disabled children and their families, practitioners should recognise additional pressures on the family, and the distinct challenges they may have had to negotiate as a result of their child’s disability when carrying out any assessments.  Such an assessment also be carried out if requested by the parent/carer. Consideration should also be given to any support needs for the parents/carers of the disabled child. An assessment would need to be carried out to consider whether it is appropriate for the parent carer to provide, or continue to provide, care for the disabled child. The assessment should consider the parent/carer’s needs and wishes and the specific needs and circumstances of the child resulting from their disability. Parent carers have the right to request an assessment under section 17ZD of the Children Act 1989, including where a child is not otherwise known to children’s social care.

Supporting Young Carers

If it is considered that a young carer may have support needs, it must carry out an assessment to establish how best they can support the young carer and their family. An assessment must also be carried out if a young carer, or the parent of a young carer, requests one. Such an assessment must consider whether it is appropriate or excessive for the young carer to provide care for the person in question, (which may be a sibling, parent, or other member of the family), in light of the young carer’s needs and wishes.

Supporting Children at Risk of, or Experiencing, Harm Outside the Home

Where there are concerns that a child is experiencing extra-familial harm, practitioners should consider all the needs and vulnerabilities of the child. Some children will have vulnerabilities that can be exploited by others and will require support appropriate to their needs to minimise the potential for exploitation. All children, including those who may be causing harm to others, should receive a safeguarding response first and practitioners should work with them to understand their experiences and what will reduce the likelihood of harm to themselves and others. An assessment will need to be undertaken to determine whether a child is in need under section 17 of the Children Act 1989 or whether to make enquires under section 47 of the same Act, following concerns that the child is suffering or likely to suffer significant harm.

Where there are concerns that more than one child may be experiencing harm in an extra-familial context, practitioners should consider the individual needs of each child as well as work with the group. The children in the group may or may not already be known to children’s social care.

Supporting Children in Secure Youth Establishments

Where a child becomes looked after, as a result of being remanded to youth detention accommodation (YDA), a visit to the child should be undertaken to assess the child’s needs before taking a decision on how they should be supported. This information should be used to prepare the care plan, which should set out how the YDA and other practitioners will meet the child’s needs whilst the child remains remanded, and at any point of transition they will experience, whether returning to the community or receiving a custodial sentence.

Supporting Children in Mother and Baby Units (in Prison)

When a woman applies for a place on a mother and baby unit (MBU) whilst in prison, an assessment must be completed by children’s social care from the mother’s home authority. Any assessment should set out the needs of the child in relation to the mother’s application to be placed on an MBU.

The Lead Practitioner should attend the MBU Admissions Board to represent the best interests of the child. When placed in an MBU, the mother retains full parental responsibility for the day-to-day care of the child and the local authority in which the prison is located is responsible for safeguarding and promoting the welfare of the child.

Supporting Children at Risk from People in Prison and People Supervised by the Probation Service

If a child safeguarding enquiry is received from the Prison Service regarding a prisoner who presents an ongoing risk to children from within custody, children social care should:

  1. Review information provided by the Prison Service and record it as required;
  2. Respond to the child safeguarding enquiry and share with the Prison Service any concerns about the prisoner and any contact with a child;
  3. Contribute to the prisons’ child contact risk assessment where a child is known to children's social care, or has previously been known, by providing a report on the child's best interests and verifying the child's identity. Where the child is not known to children’s social care, they should still provide a view on child contact and should advise the prison to complete a child safeguarding referral if one is required.

The Probation Service will share information with children’s social care about supervised individuals who have contact with children or who pose a known risk and will also request information by making child safeguarding enquiries.

7. Recording of Referrals

All Initial Contacts and Referrals should be recorded on the electronic database.