Contacts and Referrals


This chapter should be read in conjunction with:

Early Help Framework

Threshold of Need Document

DfE, Information Sharing Advice for Safeguarding Practitioners


This chapter was updated in November 2021. Minor amendments were made in line with local practice.

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 of Help or Protection and where there is a request for general advice, information or an early help support request.

Contact can be made in one of the following ways:

  • In person or by telephone contact to First Contact;
  • In writing using the multi-agency referral form (MARF);
  • In an emergency outside office hours, by contacting the Emergency Duty Team.

All contacts need to be considered alongside thresholds for Children in Need/Child Protection and/or the Early Help criteria and a decision made within one working day 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/ Child Protection.

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.

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

The duty worker should check the electronic database records to see if the child or family is known and, if known, retrieve information on them. Any such information should be passed to the allocated social worker if there is one, and otherwise to the duty manager (see Section 4, Screening Process).

Anybody making a referral should use the multi-agency referral form (MARF)s for all requests for early help and support, or concerns about children.

2. Screening Process

The following process applies to new cases of children previously unknown to the authority, and to closed cases.

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

The screening process should establish:

  • The nature of the concern and its impact on the child;
  • 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 family and referrer where possible;
  • Consideration of any existing records, including whether the child has been the subject of a Child Protection Plan;
  • Involving other agencies as appropriate and in accordance with Information Sharing Advice for Safeguarding Practitioners, DfE:
    • Consent from the parent or carer should normally be sought;
    • However, the Data Protection Act should never be a barrier to 'sharing information where the failure to do so would result in a child or vulnerable adult being placed at risk of harm' or indeed on those occasions where seeking consent might increase the risk of harm;
    • Information should always be 'necessary and proportionate'.

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 (see North and South of Tyne Safeguarding Children Partnership Procedures, Child Protection Enquiries - Section 47 Children Act 1989 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.

The parent's consent should usually be sought 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 or consent. The authorisation should be recorded with reasons.

3. Timescales

Once received, all contacts must be written up, which will include the social workers draft danger statement and safety goal, and a decision made about their disposal within one 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 one working day, the manager 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; the case is transferred to the Multi Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH);
  • 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; This is established within the MASH (see North and South of Tyne Safeguarding Children Partnership Procedures, Child Protection Enquiries - Section 47 Children Act 1989 Procedure);
  • The child is in need, and should be assessed under Section 17 of the Children Act 1989; The case is subsequently allocated to a social worker;
  • Any services are required by the child and family and what type of services; Signposting or referral to Early Help.

4. Referrals

An Initial Contact will be progressed to a Referral where the manager considers an assessment and/or services may be required for a Child in Need of Help or Protection.

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 violence and abuse Including Adolescent to Parent Violence and Abuse APVA, (follow NSCP Pathway) mental illness, substance misuse and/or learning difficulties. These questions can be asked by an enquiry response adviser (ERA).

Once the referral has been accepted by local authority children's social care the case is subsequently allocated to a social worker.

The Social Worker will consider all information gathered as what is working well and what we are worried about.

The allocated 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 and any significant network members;
  • Ethnicity, first language and religion of children and parents;
  • Any special needs of the children including the means in which they communicate;
  • Any significant recent or past events;
  • Cause for concern and its impact on the child, 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 his or her family;
  • Known involvement of other agencies;
  • Information regarding parents' knowledge and agreement to referral.

5. Initial Disposal of Referrals

The outcome 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, referral to Early Help 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 Child and Family Assessment is undertaken;
  3. That the child appears to be a Child in Need with a high level of need, which must result in an Assessment;
  4. That it is suspected that the child is suffering or is likely to suffer from Significant Harm, which will result in an Assessment, with a view to conducting a Strategy Discussion, prior to a Section 47 Enquiry commencing. This will be dealt with by the MASH where multi agency information is shared in order to better inform the decision.

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 Child Protection Enquiries (Section 47) Procedure).

Professional referrers should be advised of the disposal of the referral in writing.

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.

6. Recording of Referrals

All Initial Contacts and Referrals should be recorded on the electronic database and should evidence history of previous involvement as well as an analysis of the strengths and worries, a draft danger statement an safety goal, with clear management oversight considering of the thresholds document and a rationale for the decision making in the case.

The referrer should keep a written record of:

  • The child's account;
  • Discussions with the parents;
  • Discussions with managers;
  • Information provided;
  • Decisions taken (to include date, time and to be signed).

First Contact receiving the referral should keep a written record of:

  • Discussions with the referrer;
  • Discussions with any other professionals or agencies involved (including the police where a crime against a child may have been committed);
  • Any other relevant information which was taken into account;
  • Discussions with managers;
  • Decisions taken (clearly timed, dated and signed).