Resolution of Professional Differences Protocol


This protocol is to be used when resolving professional differences between SBNI member agencies in work related to the safeguarding of children and young people. In addition each agency should have a protocol for resolving internal professional differences related to the safeguarding of children and young people.

This chapter was added to the manual in May 2021.

1. Introduction

Multi-agency working to safeguard children from harm is often complex. There will inevitably be occasions when there are professional differences of opinion or concerns about practice decisions, actions or lack of actions following a referral, assessment or the progress of child/young person’s plan or when a professional feels that the actions, inactions or decisions of another agency do not adequately safeguard a child.

All professionals involved in the safeguarding of children/young people should see it as an integral part of their professional role to be able to constructively and respectfully challenge the decisions and practices of others. Learning from some Case Management Reviews has highlighted the importance of doing so to ensure that children and young people are not left at risk of harm. It is important that professional differences are addressed in an appropriate, timely and proportionate manner and when they cannot be resolved between the practitioners involved they must be escalated formally using the process outlined. The safety and wellbeing of the child or young person is always paramount. Should a child be considered to be at risk of, or suffering significant harm, Children’s Social Services must be contacted.

If a child is in immediate danger the Police should be contacted on 999. To ensure appropriate safeguarding of a child or children, there should be no delay in any agency initiating this protocol where necessary.

This protocol outlines some important principles which underpin good multi-agency working and where applied, may reduce the likelihood of inter-agency disagreements taking place. It also provides examples of case specific areas of potential disagreement between front line practitioners and describes the pathways by which unresolved disagreements can be escalated.

This protocol is not designed to replace the statutory complaints processes established within individual partner agencies nor interfere with any ongoing Court process; it can operate as a parallel process, with the sole purpose of resolving professional disagreements in the interests of safeguarding children.

All agencies are responsible for ensuring that their staff are supported and know how to appropriately escalate and resolve inter-agency concerns and disagreements about a child or young person’s well-being and/or the response to safeguarding needs.

2. Reducing the Likelihood of Inter-Agency Disagreements

The following principles (not an exhaustive list) offer a sound basis for good inter-agency communication and for discussing professional views. Adhering to these principles helps promote robust professional relationships and the capacity to work together on an on-going basis even where there are professional differences of opinion.

  • The needs of the child and family are paramount;
  • Professional differences must be resolved in a timely manner and where a child/young person is considered to be at risk of immediate harm then professionals must act immediately to protect the child/young person;
  • Professional differences are more easily resolved when workers have clarity about roles and responsibilities;
  • All professionals should respect the views of others whatever their level of experience;
  • All professionals should accept that differing views enrich the process;
  • All professionals should checkout their understanding of what is being said to ensure that there is no misunderstanding or misinterpretation of the other person’s view;
  • All professionals should clarify the basis for the other person’s view;
  • All professionals should be able to clearly and calmly explain their professional opinion/decision and support the basis on which this is made;
  • All concerns, actions, responses and outcomes must be clearly recorded.

3. Potential Areas of Professional Difference

There are a range of case specific situations in which professional differences may occur in work related to the safeguarding of children/young people. They include:

  • A dispute at the point of referral due to differing opinions about thresholds (e.g. a decision by Children’s Social Services to threshold a referral as family support rather than child protection);
  • Differing opinions on the need for an assessment or the outcome of an assessment (e.g. a risk assessment or medical assessment);
  • Differing opinions on whether or not to convene an Initial Child Protection Case Conference;
  • There may be conflict relating to a decision made at a Child Protection Case Conference where a professional believes a decision reached places a child at (further) risk of significant harm*;
  • There may be a difference of opinion at the point of implementation of a child's plan i.e. a child protection plan, family support plan or care plan and disagreement about how this should be addressed (e.g. agreed actions not being followed through or lack of clarity about roles);
  • There may be a disagreement about the effectiveness of a child's plan in bringing about the necessary changes and disagreement about how this should be addressed (e.g. drift/delay);
  • There may be disagreement over how and when to share of information in a particular case.

*Please refer to SBNI Child Protection Core Policy and Procedures – Child Protection Case Conferences in respect of complaints or disagreements in respect of other aspects of the Child Protection Case Conference process.

4. Process for Resolution and Escalation

There are four stages outlined below and recommended timescales are included at each stage. It is important to note however that the circumstances of the child(ren) and the nature of the professional disagreement may mean that all 4 stages could be progressed within the space of a day or less. Should a child be considered to be at risk of, or suffering significant harm, Children’s Social Services must be contacted and if a child is in immediate danger the Police should be contacted on 999.

Stage 1: Practitioner to Practitioner

Any practitioner who has a professional concern or disagreement in respect of a decision or response from another agency should in the first instance share their concern with the practitioner in the other agency within one working day of the disagreement or on receipt of a disputed decision and provide clear evidence–based reasons for their disagreement. The receiving professional should speak to the professional who has raised the disagreement as soon as possible and attempt to find a mutually agreeable way forward via a discussion or meeting. They may seek their own management/safeguarding advice if needed. Where the practitioner is concerned that a child/young person is at risk of immediate harm then immediate action must be taken as outlined in this protocol.

If agreement is reached, the receiving professional will advise the practitioner in the agency which raised the concern of the outcome within a maximum of 1 working day and confirm in writing. The practitioner in the agency which raised the concern should acknowledge receipt of this and confirm that it is an accurate account of the resolution reached. The practitioners involved should not agree to compromise if they consider that this position may lead to the relevant child/young person’s support plan and/or safeguarding needs not being met.

The practitioners involved at stage 1 of this resolution process should record any inter/multi-agency discussion they have had in line with their agency’s case recording guidance.

Stage Two: Line Manager to Line Manager

If the practitioners involved are unable to resolve the matter satisfactorily within the timescale, the professional difference should be escalated to their respective line managers on the same working day. The line manager in the agency sharing the professional difference should contact the equivalent manager in the other agency concerned with a view to seeking a resolution within 5 working days. These first line managers should where necessary seek advice from their agency’s designated safeguarding lead.

The line manager in the agency in receipt of the concern will advise the line manager in the agency raising the concern of their decision and confirm this in writing.

Discussions between first line managers are important as they ensure that there is appropriate management oversight of the decision making process; that the child is safe from harm; and that professional disagreements about one case do not adversely affect inter-agency relationships.

Stage Three: Senior Manager to Senior Manager

If there is no resolution of the issue between the line managers at stage two they should refer the matter without delay to a senior manager at Head of Service/Service Manager or equivalent level. This will result in a review of the case, including the circumstances leading to the professional difference, with a view to resolving the issue.

The Senior Manager in the agency sharing the professional difference will contact the peer senior manager in the other agency concerned and seek to resolve the issue of disagreement within 5 working days. This should involve a face to face discussion/meeting.

Where appropriate, consultation with named professionals for safeguarding within the respective agencies should take place and opinions on the issue should be recorded. It may be helpful to involve a senior professional from within the agency who is independent of the case to help facilitate a resolution. Should an agency consider that the involvement of an independent professional from another SBNI member agency would be helpful then consideration will need to be given as to how information can be lawfully shared in such circumstances. Such consultations should always be undertaken in a timely manner to safeguard the child/young person.

Stage Four: Director/Assistant Director/SBNI representative

In the unlikely event that the professional disagreement remains unresolved at Stages 2 and 3 having exhausted all options or the discussions raise significant policy issues then the matter should be immediately escalated to the Director/Assistant Director/SBNI representative in the agency raising the professional difference. This person will contact and where necessary meet their agency equivalent within 5 working days to discuss with them details of the professional difference involved and actions taken to date to resolve the matter. The Directors/Assistant Directors/SBNI representatives should seek to resolve the professional difference within 5 working days. At this stage the decision made by the Director/Assistant Director/SBNI representative in the agency with whom the professional difference has been shared will be final.


At stages two and above the managers in the agency which has raised the professional difference should complete the Record of Professional Difference template (Appendix 2: Record of Escalation Template). A copy of this record should be forwarded to the equivalent manager in the agency with whom the professional difference has been raised. This manager should acknowledge receipt of this record and confirm in writing that it is an accurate account of decisions made and actions taken. A copy of the record and any other related documentation should be placed in the child's file.

Learning Lessons

Professional disagreements resolved at earlier stages in the escalation process may identify learning opportunities which may be shared on a single or inter agency level. Such learning may also be shared within Area Safeguarding Panels. For example:

  • Identification of training need;
  • Commissioning need;
  • New agency practice guidance; or
  • New or revised SBNI protocol and procedural guidance.