1. Introduction

A referral, in the context of child protection, is when someone contacts Children and Families Division with information to share their concerns. Referrers may also wish to request specific services for a child or may request information about a child.

Anyone who has concerns about a child's welfare should initially make a referral to the Initial Response Team (Children and Families Division) by telephone. Referrals can come from the child themselves, professionals such as teachers, the police, GPs and Health Visitors, School Nurses, Health Professionals, Mental Health Professionals etc. as well as family members and members of the public.

Professionals should confirm the referral in writing using the Multi-Agency Referral Form (MARF) following the initial telephone conversation with the Initial Response Team duty social worker. The referral should include any information they have on the child and the family.

The Social Worker receiving the referral is responsible for clarifying with the referrer the nature of the concern and how and why it has arisen.

The use of the Island's Continuum of Need threshold document will inform the level of need and the required service response.

The multi-agency referral form (MARF) can be accessed here - link to follow.

2. The Duty to Refer

All professionals should refer in accordance with the duty to safeguard children as established in the Safeguarding Act 2018, and follow the procedures of the Safeguarding Board 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) in accordance with the Children and Young Person's Act 2001;
  • Is a Child in Need (child with complex needs) and whose development would be likely to be impaired without provision of services.

Early sharing of information enables early help where there are emerging concerns and can be essential should effective child protection services be required.

When professionals make a referral to the Initial Response Team, they should include any pre-existing assessments. Where an early help NARRATES assessment has already been undertaken it should be used to support a referral but is not a prerequisite for making a referral.

Information 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, if available.

The referrer must always be provided with the opportunity to discuss their concerns with a qualified social worker.

The Dynamic Risk Assessment tool (DRAT) is a consistent approach to risk assessment during the referral process and can be found here - link to follow.

3. Making a Referral

The Department has a duty under section 23 of the Children and Young Person's Act 2001 to take reasonable steps to identify children in need. For all referrals to the Initial Response Team, the child should be regarded as potentially 'a child with complex needs'. The referral should be evaluated on the same day that it was received. A decision must be made by a qualified social worker supported by the line manager within one working day who will decide the type of response that is required.

New referrals and referrals on closed cases should be made to the Initial Response Team, Children and Families Division. Referrals on open cases should be made to the allocated social worker for the case (or in their absence their manager).

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 the following:

  • Whether consent to the referral being made has been given by parents unless to do so would cause harm to the child;
  • 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;
  • 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 / professionals (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.

The parents' permission should be sought before discussing a referral about them with other agencies, unless permission-seeking may itself place a child at risk of significant harm. Where a professional decides not to seek parental permission before making a referral the decision must be recorded in the child's file with reasons, dated and signed and confirmed in the referral.

Professionals should initially contact the Initial Response Team duty social worker by telephone to make the referral. The MARF should be sent in immediately after the conversation to enable the referral to progress, If the referrer has not received an acknowledgement from the social worker within three working days, they should contact the Initial Response Team, or the team that they made their referral to again for an outcome to their referral.

4. Receiving a Referral

The social worker will discuss the concerns with the referrer and consider any previous records that are held 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 (consent to referral);
  • 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 or permission should be authorised by the Team Manager with the reasons recorded.

The 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 under Section 46 of Children and Young Persons Act 2001.

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 Team Manager should be informed by a social worker of any referrals where there is reasonable cause to consider Section 46 Enquiries and should 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 46 Enquiry is required, then a strategy meeting/discussion should be initiated immediately and together with other agencies there will need to be an agreement of 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 duties, where there are concerns about the child's welfare, whether or not a crime has been committed.

5. Concluding a Referral

On receipt of a confirmed referral there are five possible outcomes. The social worker should be clear about the proposed action, who will be taking it, timescales and whether or not further action will be taken.

Referral outcomes about a child, where there may be concerns, typically fall in to the following:

  • No further action, which may include information to signpost to other agencies;
  • Information and advice provided;
  • Step down to early help and support;
  • Initiate Narrates Assessment;
  • Strategy Meeting where there is reasonable cause to suspect that a child is suffering or likely to suffer significant harm and where S46 enquiries may be initiated.

Please see NARRATES Professional Operational Guidance April (2016) page 4.

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 Team manager within the time scale of one working day about what should happen next. The Team Manager must approve the outcome of the referral and ensure that a record has been commenced and/or updated.

Feedback should be given by the team responsible who received the referral, to the referrer on the decisions taken. Where appropriate, this feedback should include the reasons why a case may not meet the statutory threshold for assessment and suggestions made for other sources of more suitable support.

The social worker should clearly inform the child (if appropriate) and the family of their decisions (if the child and family are aware of the referral being made) and provide a clear explanation of what needs to happen next.

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 decision made regarding the outcome of the referral, they should be guided to speak to the Team Manager in the first instance to make their complaint known. The Team Manager who should be aware of the detail of the referral will be able to explain the rationale and threshold for the proposed action. If the matter cannot be resolved at that stage then the following two pathways should be considered:

  • A child, their parent or carer or anyone acting on behalf of the child can make a complaint and should be guided to the complaints procedure by the social worker if this is requested;
  • A professional who has made a referral and does not agree with the decision that has been made should then refer to the Escalation of Concerns Procedure if the matter cannot initially be resolved through discussion with the Team Manager.

The child and parents should be routinely informed about local procedures for raising complaints, and provided with a leaflet to explain what they can do if they wish to make a complaint.

Where the outcome of the referral leads to a continuing assessment, please refer to the use of the Needs Assessment, Robust Risk Analysis, Timely Effective Support (NARRATES) single assessment framework for specific guidance around the assessment process.