1.2.1 Referrals

1. Duty to Refer

Anyone who has concerns about a child's welfare should make a referral to Local Authority Children's Social Care Services.

When there are concerns that a child is suffering or likely to suffer Significant Harm, then the referral must be made immediately. The greater the level of perceived risk, the more urgent the action should be. The suspicion or allegation which leads to the referral may be based on information which comes from different sources. It may arise in the context of an Early Help Assessment. It may come from a member of the public, the child concerned, another child, a family member or a practitioner. It may relate to a single incident or an accumulation of lower level concerns.

The information may also relate to harm caused by another child, in which case both children, i.e. the suspected perpetrator and victim, must be referred - see also Harmful Sexual Behaviour Procedure.

The suspicion or allegation may relate to a parent, professional, volunteer or anyone caring for or working with the child - if so, see also Allegations Against Persons who Work with Children Procedure.

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.

A referral must be made even if it is known that Children's Social Care Services are already involved with the child/family.

The local Children's Social Care Services or, the allocated social worker (if the case is open) can be contacted for advice about the appropriateness of a referral. Alternatively advice may be sought from a Designated Senior Person or Named Professional from within the referrer's own agency.

Where consultation is sought, and Children's Social Care Services then conclude that a referral is required; the information provided so far must be regarded and responded to as a referral, and the referrer must be advised accordingly and must confirm their referral in writing.


2. Urgent Medical Treatment

If the child is suffering from a serious injury or requires treatment, medical attention must be sought immediately by either calling an ambulance or taking the child to the Minor Injuries Unit or Emergency Department of the local hospital. The duty Consultant Paediatrician must be informed of the nature of the concerns and a referral must be made in accordance with this procedure as soon as practicably possible.

3. Ensuring Immediate Safety

The safety of children is paramount in all decisions relating to their welfare. Any action taken by staff should ensure that no child is left in immediate danger.

When considering whether immediate action is required to protect a child, all agencies should also consider whether action is required to safeguard and protect the welfare of any other children in the same household or related to the household or the household of an alleged perpetrator or elsewhere e.g. a work environment such as a school.

The law empowers anyone who has care of a child to do all that is reasonable in the circumstances to safeguard their welfare.

A teacher, foster carer, childminder or any practitioner should, for example, take all reasonable steps to offer a child immediate protection from an abusive situation.

Where abuse is alleged, suspected or confirmed in children admitted to hospital, they must not be discharged until a referral has been made to the relevant Children's Social Care Services team in accordance with this procedure and a decision made as to the need for immediate protective action.

No child known to Children's Social Care Services who is an inpatient in a hospital and about whom there are child protection concerns should be discharged home without a referral to establish that the home environment is safe, the concerns by medical staff are fully addressed and there is a plan in place for the on-going promotion and safeguarding of the child's welfare - for further information about children in hospital, see Section 6, Children in Hospital of Children Living Away from Home (including Children and Families living in Temporary Accommodation) Procedure.

4. Confidentiality

The safety and welfare of a child overrides all other considerations, including the following:

  • Confidentiality;
  • The gathering of evidence; 
  • Commitment or loyalty to relatives, friends or colleagues.

For further details, see Information Sharing Procedure.

The overriding consideration must be the protection of the child - for this reason, absolute confidentiality cannot and should not be promised to anyone.

For guidance in relation to making a referral relating to under-age sexual activity, see Allegations of Harm Arising from Sexual Activity (including Under Age Sexual Activity) Procedure.

If suspicions or allegations are about relatives, friends or colleagues, professional or otherwise, the concerns must not be discussed with them before making the referral.

Individual members of the public who make a referral may prefer not to give their name or alternatively they may disclose their identity, but not wish for it to be revealed to the parents/carers of the child concerned.

Wherever possible, Children's Social Care Services workers receiving referrals from members of the public should respect the referrer's request for anonymity. However, referrers should not be given any guarantees of confidentiality, as there are certain limited circumstances in which the identity of a referrer may have to be given e.g. the Criminal or Family Court arena. The referrer's request for anonymity must be recorded.

NB - Referrals made by practitioners can never be anonymous.

5. Listening to the Child

If a child makes an allegation or discloses information which raises concern about Significant Harm, the initial response should be limited to listening carefully to what the child says so as to:

  • Clarify the concerns;
  • Offer reassurance about how they will be kept safe; and
  • Explain that the information will be passed to Children's Social Care Services and/or the Police.

If a child is freely recalling events, the response should be to listen, rather than stop the child; however, it is important that the child should not be asked to repeat the information to a colleague or asked to write the information down.

If the child has an injury but no explanation is volunteered, it is acceptable to enquire how the injury was sustained.

However, a child must not be pressed for information, led or cross-examined or given false assurances of absolute confidentiality. Such well-intentioned actions could prejudice police investigations, especially in cases of Sexual Abuse.

A record of all conversations, (including the timings, the setting, those present, as well as what was said by all parties) and actions must be kept.

No enquiries or investigations may be initiated without the authority of the Children's Social Care Services or the Police.

If the child can understand the significance and consequences of making a referral, they should be asked their views by the referring practitioner.

Whilst the child's views should be considered, it remains the responsibility of the practitioner to take whatever action is required to ensure the safety of that child and any other children.

6. Informing Parents and Carers

When sharing information about a child or family with Children's Social Care Services, 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.

See also: Information Sharing Procedure.

A decision by any practitioner to make a referral without informing parents or carers must be recorded on the child's file with reasons and confirmed in the referral to Children's Social Care Services.

Where a parent or carers has been informed about the referral, this must be recorded and confirmed on the relevant Referral Form.

7. Making a Referral

Referrals can be made in the following ways:

All referrals from professionals should be confirmed in writing, by the referrer, within 48 hours.

PLEASE NOTE - In Kirklees and Wakefield, this written confirmation must be provided within 24 hours of the telephone / verbal referral.

If the child is known to have an allocated social worker, referrals should be made directly to the allocated worker or, in their absence, the manager or a duty officer in that team.

If it is not possible to contact the relevant Children's Social Care Services office, the concern must be reported to the Police CPPU or if not available to the Duty Inspector at the nearest police station. If the Police receive a referral prior to the Children's Social Care Services, they must consult with Children's Social Care Services as soon as practicable and prior to taking any action, if possible.

Agencies will have internal procedures, which identify Designated Senior Persons or Named Professionals - managers or staff, who are able to offer advice on child protection matters and decide upon the necessity for a referral. Consultation may also be required directly with the local Children's Social Care Services Team or the allocated social worker in Children's Social Care Services.

Arrangements within an agency may be that a designated person makes the referral. However, if the designated or named person is not available, the referral must still be made without delay.

A referral or any urgent medical treatment must not be delayed by the unavailability of designated or named professionals.

The person making the referral should provide the following information if available - note - absence of information must not delay a referral:

  • Full name, any aliases, date of birth and gender of child/children;
  • Full family address and any known previous addresses;
  • Identity of those with Parental Responsibility;
  • Names, date of birth and information about all household members, including any other children in the family, and significant people who live outside the child's household;
  • Ethnicity, first language and religion of children and parents/carers;
  • Any need for an interpreter, signer or other communication aid;
  • Any additional needs of the child/ren;
  • Is the child registered at a school or regularly attending a school? If so, identify the school;
  • Any significant/important recent or historical events/incidents in the child or family's life;
  • Has the child recently spent time abroad or recently arrived in the area?
  • Cause for concern including details of any allegations, their sources, timing and location;
  • The identity and current whereabouts of the suspected/alleged perpetrator;
  • The child's current location and emotional and physical condition;
  • Whether the child is currently safe or is in need of immediate protection because of any approaching deadlines (e.g. child about to be collected by alleged abuser);
  • The child's account and the parents' response to the concerns if known;
  • The referrer's relationship and knowledge of the child and parents/carers;
  • Known current or previous involvement of other agencies/professionals;
  • Information regarding parental knowledge of, and agreement to, the referral.

8. How Referrals will be Received

Children's Social Care Services will ensure that a duty worker is available to receive child protection referrals; outside normal working hours, the Emergency Duty Team will receive referrals.

Children's Social Care Services will deal with the referral in accordance with the local Thresholds of Need Guidance and Working Together to Safeguard Children to determine whether a referral should be responded to on the basis that the child is in need of support under Section 17 of the Children Act 1989 or in need of protection under Section 47 of the Children Act 1989. 

Referrers should have an opportunity to discuss their concerns with a qualified social worker.

The worker receiving a referral will establish:

  • The nature of the concern;
  • How and why it has arisen;
  • What the child's and family's needs appear to be;
  • Whether the concern involves actual or likely Significant Harm;
  • Whether there is any need for any urgent action to protect the child, any other child in the same household or any child in contact with an alleged perpetrator.

To do so, the worker receiving the referral will usually discuss the concerns with the referrer and in doing so, will:

  • Give their name and designation;
  • Help the referrer to give as much relevant information as possible and repeat back to the referrer the key points using the order indicated above (Section 7, Making a Referral);
  • Clarify information that the referrer is reporting directly and information that has been obtained from a third party;
  • Discuss whether there are concerns about maltreatment and if so, what is their foundation;
  • Clarify who has and who has not been told about the referral;
  • Clarify the whereabouts of the child;
  • Discuss whether it may be necessary to consider taking urgent action to ensure the safety of the child or any other child in the same household or who is in contact with an alleged perpetrator;
  • Agree how to re-contact the referrer if further clarification is required;
  • Clarify the extent to which the referrer's anonymity can be maintained (if this is an issue in the case of a non-professional referrer);
  • Clarify expectations about how and when feedback is to be given.

Referrers 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.

At the end of any discussion about a child, the referrer (whether a professional or a member of the public or family) and the Children's Social Care Services social worker should be clear about timescales and any proposed action and who will be taking it, or if no further action will be taken. The outcome should be recorded by the Children's Social Care Services and by the referrer (if a professional in another service) on the relevant forms including the Referral Form.

Children's Social Care Services should decide on a course of action. They should acknowledge receipt of a written referral within 1 working day. If the referrer has not received an acknowledgement within 3 working days they should make contact with the relevant manager in the Children's Social Care Services Team.

In the event that an agency does not agree with the response and decisions about the referral by the Children's Social Care Services, the referring agency should discuss their concerns directly with the line manager of the social worker, in the first instance to seek resolution. See also: Resolving Multi Agency Professional Disagreements and Escalation Procedure.

The worker receiving the referral must consider whether there are other children in the same household, the household of an alleged perpetrator or elsewhere, who should be considered as the subject of a referral. 

The worker receiving the referral will also:

  • Check whether the child is subject to a Child Protection Plan and/or whether there has been any previous involvement with the Children's Social Care Services in relation to the child or children concerned and any other members of the household;
  • Identify other agencies or persons who may hold relevant information;
  • Consult other agencies as appropriate (including the Police if any offence has been or is suspected to have been committed – see Section 9, Where there is or may be a Crime Committed).

Parents should be informed of the referral and their permission sought to share information with other agencies unless to do so would:

  • Prejudice any investigations or enquiries;
  • Be prejudicial to the child's welfare and/or safety;
  • Cause concern that the child would be likely to suffer Significant Harm as a result.

See also: Information Sharing Procedure.

In these circumstances, a manager from the Children's Social Care Services may decide to consult other relevant agencies without seeking parental consent. Any such decision must be recorded with reasons.

9. Where there is or may be a Crime Committed

If the referral relates to a situation in which a crime has or may have been committed, including sexual or physical assault or physical injury caused by neglect, the worker receiving the referral must discuss the referral with the Police at the earliest opportunity. The Police, in consultation with Children's Social Care Services and any other agencies involved with the child, must consider whether there should be a criminal investigation and/or a Children's Social Care Services led intervention.

See Joint Protocol between West Yorkshire Police and Children's Social Care Services regarding Joint Police/Children's Social Care Services Enquiries. 

Whilst the responsibility to instigate criminal proceedings rests with the Police, they should consider the view expressed by other agencies. In some circumstances with less serious cases, it may be agreed that the best interests of the child would be served by a Children's Social Care Services led intervention rather than a full police investigation.

This will need to be discussed carefully and a decision made at a Strategy Discussion.

10. The Outcome of a Referral and Feedback

The Children's Social Care Services team will decide upon and record their next steps of action within one working day of receiving a referral. 

The decision about future action will take account of the discussion with the referrer, consideration of information held in existing records and discussion with any other professionals or services as necessary (including the Police where a crime against a child may have been committed - see Section 9, Where there is or may be a Crime Committed).

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, and Children's Social Care Services will commence a Single Assessment;
  3. That it is suspected that the child is suffering or is likely to suffer from Significant Harm, Children's Social Care Services will commence a Single Assessment, with a view to conducting a Strategy Discussion, prior to a Section 47 Enquiry commencing.

Where the significant harm has been caused by a person who was not previously known to the child or by another child, the decision whether to take further action under these procedures will depend on the following:

  • Is the alleged perpetrator likely to pose a risk of significant harm to this or any other children?
  • Did the parent or carer by omission or commission contribute to the abuse?

The duty social worker should acknowledge a written referral within one working day of receiving it. If the referrer has not received an acknowledgement within 3 working days, he/she should contact the manager in the Children's Social Care Services team again.

Feedback on the outcome of a referral should be provided to the referrer, including where no further action is to be taken. 

In the case of a referral by a member of the public, feedback should be provided in a way which will respect the confidentiality of the child.

11. Emergency Protective Action

Also see Flow chart 2: Immediate protection.

Where there is a risk to the life of a child or the possibility of immediate harm, the Police officer or social worker must act with urgency to secure the safety of the child.

Immediate protection may be achieved by:

  • An alleged abuser agreeing to leave the home;
  • The removal of the alleged abuser;
  • A voluntary agreement for the child to move to a safer place;
  • Application for an Emergency Protection Order;
  • Removal of the child under powers of Police Protection;
  • Gaining entry to the household under Police powers.

The agency taking protective action must always consider whether action is also required to safeguard other children in the same household or in the household of/in contact with an alleged perpetrator or elsewhere.

Children's Social Care Services should only seek the assistance of the police to use their powers of Police Protection in exceptional circumstances where there is insufficient time to seek an Emergency Protection Order or other reasons relating to the child's immediate safety.

Planned immediate protection will normally take place following a Strategy Discussion.

Where a child/ is or children are afforded immediate protection by an Emergency Protection Order or Police Protection the local authority has a duty to initiate Section 47 Enquiry.

12. Cross Boundary Referrals

If the referral relates to a child who is temporarily visiting the area of another local authority or in a hospital or Looked After outside of the local area, the local authority/Police for the area where the child actually is at the time have prime responsibility for an initial response to the referral. 

The referral should be passed to that authority immediately for them to follow the necessary procedures and to undertake a Section 47 Enquiry and/or take any immediate protective action that is necessary. They will be responsible for liaising with any other Children's Social Care Services as necessary.

Before undertaking such enquiries, the child's home authority must be consulted and agreement sought on who is best placed to undertake the enquiries. Where this is consistent with the child's immediate protection needs, it may be agreed that the child's home authority will respond to the referral.

For those children from other local authority areas, who are the subject of Child Protection Plans, there must be consultation with the responsible Lead Social Worker.

Any relevant personnel from another local authority or agency should be consulted and invited to attend the Strategy Meeting or invited to contribute to the Strategy Discussion.

Comprehensive enquiries must be undertaken with the host local authority and any agencies to which the child is known. This must include checking whether the child has a Child Protection Plan.

All enquiries should be confirmed in writing.

The Strategy Discussion/Meeting, clarifying roles, responsibilities and timescales for actions, must be recorded on the relevant Forms and copies of the record distributed within 1 working day, to all relevant parties.

13. Pre-Birth Referrals

Where agencies or individuals anticipate that prospective parents may need support services to care for their baby or that the baby may be likely to suffer Significant Harm, a referral to Children's Social Care Services must be made as soon as the concerns are recognised.

Where the concerns centre around an aspect of parenting behaviour, for example substance misuse, the referrer must make clear how this is likely to impact on the baby and what risks are predicted.

A pre-birth referral should always be considered where:

  • There has been a previous unexplained death of a child whilst in the care of either parent;
  • A parent or other adult in the household has been convicted for violent conduct;
  • The mother, father or a sibling in the household has a Child Protection Plan;
  • The mother, father or a sibling has previously been removed from the household by court order or Accommodated as a result of concerns regarding Significant Harm;
  • There are concerns in relation to domestic abuse;
  • The degree of parental substance misuse is likely to significantly impact on the babies safety or development;
  • The degree of parental mental illness/impairment is likely to significantly impact on the babies safety or development;
  • There are serious concerns about the prospective parents' ability to care for themselves and/or to care for the child, for example where the parent has no support and/or has learning disabilities;
  • Any other concern exists that the baby may be likely to suffer Significant Harm, including a parent previously suspected of having Perplexing Presentations (PP) and Fabricated or Induced Illness (FII) in Children, or a prospective parent who has been the subject of fabricated or induced illness as a child themselves.

Delay must be avoided when making referrals in order to:

  • Provide sufficient time to make adequate plans for the babies protection;
  • Provide sufficient time for a full and informed assessment;
  • Avoid initial approaches to parents in the last stages of pregnancy, at what is already an emotionally charged time;
  • Enable parents to have more time to contribute their own ideas and solutions to concerns and increase the likelihood of a positive outcome to assessments;
  • Enable the early provision of support services so as to facilitate optimum home circumstances prior to the birth.

Concerns should be shared with prospective parent/s and consent obtained to refer to Children's Social Care Services unless this action in itself may place the welfare of the unborn child at risk e.g. if there are concerns that the parent/s may move to avoid contact with social workers or other professionals. 

See also: Pre Birth Procedure.

Where the outcome of the referral is that the child is in need of support services rather than safeguarding, the child should be referred to the appropriate service using the Early Help Assessment format with the parents' / carers' involvement and agreement.

14. Recording

The referrer should keep a written record of:

  • The child's account;
  • Discussions with the parent;
  • Discussions with managers;
  • Information provided to the duty social worker;
  • Decisions taken (clearly timed, dated and signed);
  • Records should be reviewed with regular intervals to ensure that decisions taken are followed through.

The referrer should confirm verbal and telephone referrals in writing, within 48 hours, using the relevant Referral Form.

The duty social worker 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);
  • Records should be reviewed with regular intervals to ensure that decisions are followed through.