This chapter was updated in October 2021. Minor amendments were made in line with local practice.
Anyone who has concerns about a child's welfare can make a referral to Children's Social Care. Referrals can come from the child themselves, practitioners such as teachers, early year's providers, the police, probation service, GPs and health visitors as well as family members and members of the public.
Contacts from practitioners 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 or their family;
- Requests, for services for a child, which will be in the form of a referral.
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 Framework for Decision-making: Right Help, at the Right Time by the Right Person sets out which agencies and which levels of intervention may be needed to keep children safe, support families, build on their strengths, promote resilience and overall outcomes for children, young people and their families.
The Framework should be used by practitioners to aid decision making and identify next steps but not replace the conversations when concerns about a child or young person are raised.
The child must be seen by a qualified social worker as soon as possible following a referral and the child's needs and safety remain paramount at all times.
The Universal Referral Form can be accessed here.
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 such as an early help assessment in respect of the child. Any information they have about the child's developmental needs, the capacity of their parents and carers to meet these within the context of their wider family and environment should also 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.
Where a child or young person is admitted to a mental health facility, practitioners should consider whether a referral to local authority children's social care is necessary.
3. Making a Referral
For all referrals to Children's Social Care, the child should be regarded as potentially a child in need, and 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 line manager within one working day about the type of response that is required.
New referrals and referrals on closed cases should be made to the Children's social care duty social worker. Referrals on open cases should be made to the child's allocated social worker (or in their absence their manager or the duty social worker).
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 information about some of the following:
- 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 and education UPN 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 / practitioners (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.
When sharing information about a child or family with Children's Social Care, it is good practice for practitioners to be transparent about their concerns and to seek to work cooperatively with parents or carers. Practitioners should therefore usually inform parents or carers (and the child depending on their age and level of understandings) that they are going to make a referral.
However, referrals can be made without first informing parents or carers where to do so would place a child at risk.
Where a practitioner makes a referral without informing the parents or carers this must be recorded in the child's file with reasons and confirmed in the referral to Children's social care.
All referrals from practitioners should be confirmed in writing, by the referrer, within 48 hours. If the referrer has not received an acknowledgement within three working days, they should contact Children's Social Care again.
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 agencies without parental knowledge 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 other agencies or the facts clearly indicate that a Section 47 Enquiry is required, the Children's Social Care 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. Concluding a Referral
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 agencies;
- Early help - referrals for intervention and prevention services;
- 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.
If the referrer disagrees with the decisions made by Children's Social Care about the outcome of the referral, they may consider making a complaint under the local Complaint Procedure or raise the matter under the Professional Resolution Practice Guidance.
The child and parents should be routinely informed about local procedures for raising complaints, if they wish to, and local advocacy services.
Where the outcome of the referral leads to a Children's Social Care Single Assessment see Children and Families Practice Guidance: Assessment.