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, professionals such as teachers, the police, GPs and health visitors as well as family members and members of the public.
Referrals 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;
- 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 local Northamptonshire Thresholds and Pathways provides guidance about the criteria for making and receiving referrals.
The multi agency referral form can be accessed at the Northamptonshire Safeguarding Children Board website.
2. The Duty to Refer
All professionals 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 professionals 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 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.
Professionals can call MASH on 0300 126 1000 and seek professional advice about the child they are working with and whether they need to make a referral.
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 in most cases this will be a Practice Manager within one working day about the type of response that is required.
New referrals and referrals on closed cases should be made to MASH. Referrals on open cases should be made to the allocated social worker for the case (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 / 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. There should not be a delay in order to collect information if the delay may place the child at risk of significant harm. If a child is at immediate risk the professional should call MASH on 0300 126 1000 and make a telephone referral, they will subsequently be required to put this in writing.
The parents should be informed by the professional working with the child that a referral is going to be made and the concerns should be discussed with the parents prior to making this referral. The professional should also seek parental consent to share information and for the MASH to undertake agency checks. Where a professional decides not to discuss the referral with parents first as this may put a child at risk the decision must be recorded in the child's file with reasons, dated and signed and confirmed in the referral to Children's social care.All referrals from professionals should be confirmed in writing, by the referrer, within 48 hours. If the referrer has not received an acknowledgement within 24 working hours, they should contact Children's social care again.
4. Receiving a Referral
If a telephone referral is received the Customer Advisor will discuss the concerns with the referrer and considered any previous records in relation to the child and family in their agency. The Customer Advisor will then seek professional advice from a Practice Manager about how the referral should be handled.
On receiving a written referral the Practice Manager will consult Northamptonshire Thresholds and Pathways document and establish whether this meets Level 4 for Social Care intervention.
The Practice Manager will check Carefirst (Social Care database) to see if there has been previous involvement with the family or if the case is open.
If the case does not meet Level 4 threshold the Practice Manager will either choose to record the information as NFA (no further action) or ask Early Help MASH to undertake checks and offer support to the family and professionals involved.
If the Practice Manager has assessed that the referral meets Level 4 then the case will have MASH checks undertaken by partner agencies and Social Care. The Practice Manager will record whether consent has been gained or not. Social Care MASH officers will seek to gain parental consent during their checks.
The Practice Manager will make a decision about the urgency of the checks, MASH works to two different timescales RED cases require no more than 4 working hours to undertake checks and AMBER cases no more than 8 working hours. The decision making in respect of the urgency is decided in relation to whether a child is at immediate risk of significant harm.
Once all partner agency checks are completed, the Practice Manager will then consider again if the case continues to meet Level 4 intervention.If it is assessed that a child is at risk of significant harm a strategy meeting will be held. Partner agencies in MASH will be required to attend as well as the Social Work team who will pick up the case. This meeting will be chaired by a Team Manager and must include representatives from Police and Health to be quorate.
5. Concluding a Referral
At the end of the MASH process, 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 assessment - referrals for intervention and prevention services within the Common Assessment Framework and Early Help services range of provision;
- If it is assessed following agency checks that the case meets the threshold for Child in Need a a single assessment to be undertaken by Children's Social Care (Section 17 CA 1989);
- If it is assessed following agency checks that the case meets the threshold for Child Protection enquiries then a strategy meeting will be held and a s47 enquiry will be undertaken by Children's Social Care (Section 47 CA 1989) with active involvement of other agencies such as the police.
The referrer and parents will be provided a letter detailing the outcome of the referral.
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 local Professional Disagreement protocol.
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 continuing assessment see Assessment Procedure.