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Consultation, Contacts and Referrals


This chapter should be read in conjunction with:

Family Support Process

Norfolk Threshold Guide - A Child Centred Framework for Making Decisions

Information Sharing and Confidentiality (NSCP)

Referrals (NSCP)

DfE, Information sharing advice for safeguarding practitioners

Working Together to Safeguard Children (DfE)


In December 2021, guidance contained in this chapter was reviewed and updated as required to reflect guidance from the refreshed Working Together to Safeguard Children.


  1. Consultation
  2. Contacts
  3. Referrals
  4. Timescales
  5. Screening Process
  6. Initial Disposal of Referrals
  7. Recording of Referrals

1. Consultation

Where there is doubt about the most appropriate service pathway to take, anyone concerned about the welfare of a child should, before they make a referral, consult with their own manager and/or designated safeguarding lead and, where they remain unsure, speak to a qualified social worker by contacting the Children’s Advice and Duty Service on 0344 800 8021 and ask for the consultation line.

If the consultation is external (between practitioners from different organisations) you should use the Information sharing advice to decide whether information should be shared. In most cases, unless the child would be at significant risk, the child and family should give consent to the consultation taking place and where appropriate, be given the opportunity to be involved.

Children’s Advice and Duty Service

If you have concerns about a child and want an opportunity to talk these through with a social worker before deciding the best course of action, please contact the Children’s Advice and Duty Service on 0344 800 8021 and ask for the consultation line.

Consultation at levels 2 and 3 – Additional and intensive

The Children’s Advice and Duty Service also supports partners’ Early Help activity at level 2 and 3. The consultation line social worker can provide information, advice and guidance about having difficult conversations, Early Help Plans, Team Around the Family meetings and additional external services available.

All consultations with Children’s Advice and Duty Service must be recorded by the caller

Children’s Advice and Duty Service will only create records for children where the consent criteria is met.

If during a consultation it becomes clear that a child is at immediate risk of significant harm the process for accessing urgent Level 4 services will be followed.

If, following consultation, a practitioner wishes to submit a referral, they should follow the process for accessing Level 3 or 4 services.

At any time during the Early Help Plan or Shared Family Assessment process, it is important that practitioners feel they can ask for help and advice and draw on the expertise of other practitioners. All practitioners and services, schools and settings, working with families should feel able to consult with one another at any time before deciding on a course of action or way forward.

2. Contacts

A Contact record is created where Children's Social Care is contacted about a child, who may be Child in Need.

All contacts need to be considered alongside thresholds for Children in Need (or if Early Help, the Family Support Process (FSP) criteria) and a decision made within 24 hours regarding the level of response required.

At any time, a 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 passed to the child's allocated social worker and recorded on the electronic data base.

The Family Support Process (FSP) 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 a Contact is made, the social 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 social 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 5, Screening Process).

3. Referrals

A Contact will be progressed to a Referral where the social worker or manager considers an assessment and/or services may be required for a Child in Need.

Referrers should have the opportunity to discuss their concerns with a qualified social worker. The referrer should be asked specifically if they hold any information about difficulties being experienced by the family/household due to domestic abuse, mental illness, substance misuse and/or learning difficulties.

Once the Referral has been accepted by local authority children's social care the lead professional role falls to a social worker.

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

The social worker 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.

4. 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 worker should make a decision about the type of response that is required. This will include determining whether:

  • The child requires immediate protection and urgent action is required;
  • There is reasonable cause to suspect that the child is suffering, or likely to suffer, Significant Harm, and whether enquires must be made and the child assessed under Section 47 of the Children Act 1989 (see Section 47 Enquiries Procedure);
  • The child is in need, and should be assessed under Section 17 of the Children Act 1989.

    (See Safeguarding Children Procedures for timescales);
  • Any services are required by the child and family and what type of services; and
  • Further specialist assessments are required in order to help the local authority to decide what further action to take.

5. 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 Family Support Process (FSP) 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 Significant Harm;
  • Whether there is any need for urgent action to protect the child or any children in the household.

This process will involve:

  • Discussion with the referrer;
  • Consideration of any existing records, including whether the child is the subject of a Child Protection Plan;
  • The parent or carer should normally 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.

If there are indications that a child may be at risk of Significant Harm, the 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 Section 47 Enquiries Procedure).

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.

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. 

6. Initial Disposal of Referrals

The initial disposal of a Referral, which must be authorised by the manager, may be:

  1. That the child does not appear to be a Child In Need, which will result in one of the following: the provision of information, advice, sign-posting to another agency and/or no further action;
  2. That the child appears to be a Child in Need with a moderate level of need, in which case, the manager may authorise a Single Assessment;
  3. That the child appears to be a Child in Need with a high level of need, which must result in a Single Assessment;
  4. That it is suspected that the child is suffering or is likely to suffer from Significant Harm, which will result in a Single Assessment, with a view to conducting a Strategy Discussion, prior to a Section 47 Enquiry commencing.

If there are indications that a child may be at risk of Significant Harm, the 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.

Professional referrers should be advised of the disposal of the Referral.

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 child should be seen as soon as possible if the decision is taken that the Referral requires further assessment.

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.

7. Recording of Referrals

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