SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER
This chapter outlines how to make a referral to Children's Social Care in relation to concerns about a child or unborn baby, including what information is required, and the action that Children's Social Care will take in response.
Derby City and Derbyshire Threshold Document (see Documents Library, Guidance Documents)
Derbyshire and Derby City Practice Guidance on Bruising in Babies and Children (see Documents Library, Guidance Documents)
Guidance on Managing Babies with Suspected Birth Marks, including Mongolian Blue Spots (see Documents Library, Guidance Documents)
Derby and Derbyshire Escalation Policy and Process (see Documents Library, Guidance Documents)
In January 2019, Section 1, Contacting Children's Social Care was updated to include details of the Derbyshire Starting Point Consultation and Advice Service for Professionals and the Derby Children's Services Professional Consultation Line. Information on the process to be followed when making a referral on a recently closed case was also updated.
Links have also been added to the following recently published guidance documents:
- Derbyshire and Derby City Practice Guidance on Bruising in Babies; and
- Children and Guidance on Managing Babies with Suspected Birth Marks, including Mongolian Blue Spots.
In May 2019, additional amendments were made to reflect introduction of the Derby Children's Social Care Online Referral System. The online referral system should be used to submit follow up information within 48 hours of making a telephone referral. It can also be used to make a referral in non-urgent situations or situations where there is no current assessment which could be submitted to the weekly Vulnerable Children's Meeting (VCM). Urgent / child protection referrals should continue to be made by telephone.
- Contacting Children's Social Care
- Information Required to Support a Referral
- Referrals from the Public, Anonymous or Untraceable Sources
- Response to a Referral
- Informing Families
- Action to be Taken
- New Information on a Previously known Child
- Concerns about the Welfare of Unborn Children
- The Response to Sudden Unexpected Death in Children in Derby City and Derbyshire
- Out of Hours Service
1. Contacting Children's Social Care
REMEMBER - If a child, young person or adult is at immediate risk of harm and in need of protection, the Police should be contacted on 999.
Children's Social Care will receive contacts from practitioners, agencies and the public which usually fall into three categories:
- Requests for information from Children's Social Care;
- Provision of information to Children's Social Care, such as notifications about a child;
- Requests for services for a child, which will be in the form of a referral where a child may have complex or serious needs or where there are child protection concerns.
It is important that the individual contacting Children's Social Care is clear about the nature of their contact and in particular where they consider a Children's Social Care response may be needed i.e. they are making a referral.
Anyone who has concerns about a child's welfare can make a referral to local authority Children's Social Care. Referrals can come from the child or young person themselves, any agency in the public, private and community sector as well as family members and members of the public.
The Derby City and Derbyshire Thresholds Document (see Documents Library, Guidance Documents) sets out the definitions of neglect and different forms of abuse including grooming and child sexual exploitation. Practitioners can use the Thresholds Document to help them clarify what they are worried about and how serious the situation might be. The Thresholds Document (see Documents Library, Guidance Documents) has been developed to support practitioners in their decision making when there are concerns about a child or unborn baby; this should be used to determine if a referral to Children's Social Care is required or if alternative action is required.
If a practitioner wishes to speak to a qualified Social Worker for advice, especially if they are uncertain whether the threshold is met for Children's Social Care involvement, they should contact the relevant local authority Children's Social Care Department in their area. In Derbyshire, practitioners working with children and families can access the Starting Point Consultation and Advice Service for Professionals (Tel: 01629 535 353). The service operates Monday to Friday from 08:00 – 18:00. In Derby City, practitioners working with children and families can access the Children's Services Professional Consultation Line. (Tel: 07812 300 329). The service operates Monday to Friday 10am to 1pm. See the Derby City Consultation Line Leaflet for Professionals for more information on the service (see Documents Library, Leaflets).
Referrals on new cases
New referrals should be made to the local authority Children's Social Care.
In Derby this is via:
- Telephone contact to the First Contact Team - where an urgent response is required for example where there are child protection concerns (Section 47). This must be followed up within 48 hours via the Derby Children's Social Care Online Referral System;
- Online referral via the Derby Children's Social Care Online Referral System ONLY in non-urgent situations or there is no current assessment which could be submitted to the weekly Vulnerable Children's Meeting (VCM);
- Submission of an Early Help Assessment, or equivalent assessment, to the weekly Vulnerable Child meeting (VCM) in the relevant locality (direct to the Single Point of Access Clerk in the locality) - ONLY in non-urgent situations.
In Derbyshire is via:
- Telephone contact to StartingPoint or via an online referral at www.derbyshire.gov.uk/startingpoint. Information submitted online will be sent on to Starting Point. Starting Point has representatives from the Derbyshire Constabulary Child Abuse Central Referral Unit, the Domestic Violence Central Referral Unit and Derbyshire Community Health Services, as well as Children's Social Care, each with access to their own information systems.
Referrals on recently closed or open cases
In Derby City, where referrer knows a case has been closed for less than 3 months, referrals should be made using the Derby Children's Social Care Online Referral System. The First Contact team will then send the referral to the relevant locality. When a case is open to the local authority Multi-Agency Teams (MAT's) a referral can be made directly to the locality Social Work team, via the weekly Vulnerable Child meetings (VCM).
In Derbyshire, any new referrals on recently closed cases should be made via Starting Point. This referral will be reviewed and a threshold decision will be applied to determine further actions. These cases should be managed in the same way as a new referral; see Section 4, Response to a Referral.
Concerns on children who currently have an allocated Social Care Worker should be raised directly with that worker (or in their absence, with their manager or via Starting Point, messages on voicemails should not be left).
Any referrals can also be made via StartingPoint (for Derbyshire) and the First Contact Team (for Derby). All such referrals will be reviewed and a threshold decision will be applied to determine further actions.
For domestic abuse referrals, please see Domestic Abuse Procedure.
2. Information Required to Support a Referral
The provision of a clear referral containing full and accurate information will do much to assist in good decisions being made and a timely intervention being completed. It is not always possible to have all the information, but the following areas are likely to be helpful in enabling Children's Social Care to understand the nature of the concern(s), how and why they have arisen and the apparent needs of the child and family.
The referrer will be asked whether there are urgent concerns about the immediate safety of the child.
When a practitioner refers a child, they should include any information they have on:
- The nature of the concerns, reason for referral and any specific action they feel may be necessary;
- Full details of the child and other members of the family and household, and where appropriate wider family members;
- Whereabouts of the child (and siblings);
- Child's legal status and anyone not already mentioned who has Parental Responsibility;
- A clear indication of the family's knowledge of the referral and whether they have consented to the sharing of confidential information;
- The details of the person making the referral;
- Details of other agencies and practitioners involved with the family, including health, nurseries, schools, community and voluntary sector organisations and adult services;
- The child's developmental needs and the capacity of the child's parents or carers to meet those needs within the context of their wider family, this should also include any history of previous concerns;
- Actions taken and people contacted;
- If there are any pre-existing assessments, including an Early Help Assessment; these should be provided as part of the referral information; and
- Any other information that is likely to impact on the undertaking of an assessment or Section 47 Enquiry.
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.
Starting Point or the First Contact Team must ensure that the details of the referral are fully recorded. The referrer should follow up a telephone referral using the local authority online referral systems; in Derbyshire this is via Starting Point and in Derby this is via the Derby Children's Social Care Online Referral System within 48 hours. To support the referral any existing assessments or other relevant information should be included.
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3. Referrals from the Public, Anonymous or Untraceable Sources
Any referral about the safeguarding and wellbeing of a child should be taken seriously. When a referrer is reluctant to give their name or other personal details every effort should be made to assure them that their confidentiality will be respected wherever possible. It should be emphasised that when a referral from a member of the public is received, personal information about the referrer, including anything that could identify them, should only be disclosed to third parties (including subject families and other agencies) with the consent of the referrer.
Only a court can rule that in exceptional cases the identity of a referrer should be disclosed, where it is essential for this information to be known. However it is not possible to guarantee that their identify will not become known as it may be deduced or inferred by the subject of the referral.
In cases where the referrer remains anonymous or has given inaccurate details, the referral should be followed up through other agencies that know the child in an effort to ascertain whether there are real causes of concern or whether the referral was malicious. Under no circumstances should an anonymous referral be ignored or treated with less urgency than any other referral.
Where Children's Social Care receive a referral from a member of the public who does not request anonymity, personal information about the referrer, including anything that could identify them, should only be disclosed to third parties (including subject families and other agencies) with the referrer's consent.
4. Response to a Referral
When a child, parent, practitioner, or another person contacts Children's Social Care with concerns about a child's welfare, it is the responsibility of Starting Point or the First Contact Team to clarify with the referrer (including self-referrals from children and families):
- The nature of concerns;
- How and why they have arisen; and
- What appear to be the needs of the child and family.
This process should always identify clearly whether there are concerns about maltreatment, what is their foundation, and whether it may be necessary to consider taking urgent action to ensure the child is safe from harm. This is the point at which a referral has been made; Children's Social Care however will record this and a decision made within 24 hours of the outcome of the referral. If there is insufficient information, further action may also be required before a referral is accepted.
Within 1 working day of a referral being received, a local authority Service Manager will make a decision about whether the referral criteria are met and the type of response that is required. This will include determining whether the concerns and needs are:
- Low level needs where individual services and universal service are able to address the child's needs;
- Emerging needs where a range of early help services are required co-ordinated through an Early Help Assessment;
- Complex or serious needs where assessment and help is likely to be required as a Child in Need (Section 17 of the Children Act 1989) or that they require accommodation (Section 20 Children Act 1989);
- Child protection concerns where a child requires immediate protection and urgent action because there is reasonable cause to suspect that the child is suffering, or likely to suffer, significant harm, and enquiries are to be made and the child assessed under Section 47 of the Children Act (1989). This may include consideration about whether a child can safely remain at home.
The decision includes checks of previous referrals, including child protection concerns and involvement with the child and family by Children's Social Care (including whether a child has been subject of a Child Protection Plan). This may also be informed by discussion with other agencies involved.
This initial consideration of the case should address, on the basis of the available evidence, whether there are concerns about either the child's health and development or actual and/or potential harm which justifies a Children's Social Care Single Assessment, as set out in the Derby City and Derbyshire Assessment Protocols (see Derby City Council Children's Services Assessment Protocol (see Document Library, Protocols) and Derbyshire Assessment Protocol (see Document Library, Protocols)) and the level of urgency of those concerns. Thus a referral may result in the following outcomes:
- Agreement to the referral and action by Children's Social Care;
- A request for more information and submission of an Early Help or other assessment to inform the referral (ONLY in non-urgent situations); or
- Referral not accepted and advice offered with regard to completion of an Early Help Assessment, referral to other agencies, the provision of advice or information to the family, or no further action.
At the end of any discussion about a child, the referrer (whether a practitioner or a member of the public or family) and the Starting Point or First Contact Team should be clear about:
- Proposed action and timescales;
- Who will be taking action; or
- If no further action will be taken.
The decision should be recorded by Starting Point and the First Contact Team and by the referrer (if a practitioner in another service). Both the referrer and Children's Social Care should be clear about what the child and family will be told, by whom and when.
Children's Social Care should respond in writing (this may be by email) to any written referrals within 1 working day of receiving it. If the referrer has not received an acknowledgement within 3 working days, they should contact Children's Social Care again.
Where a referral is not accepted by Children's Social Care and the referrer is not in agreement with this, they should speak with the relevant team manager. If agreement is still not reached, the Derby and Derbyshire Escalation Policy and Process (see Documents Library, Guidance Documents) should be applied with a level of urgency which reflects the level of the concerns.
Where a member of the public is not in agreement with the decision, the local authority complaints and disagreements procedure should be used.
5. Informing Families
Parents' permission or the child's where appropriate, should be sought before discussing a referral about them with other agencies, unless permission-seeking may itself place a child at increased likelihood of Significant Harm.
When a practitioner is uncertain about whether or not to raise their concerns with the parent before making a referral to Children's Social Care, advice should always be sought from the line manager or designated lead for child protection. In some cases it may be appropriate to seek advice from Children's Social Care.
Similarly where workers already involved with a family have increasing concerns which they believe indicate that the child is suffering or likely to suffer Significant Harm, they should share these concerns with the family unless this too would increase the risk to the child. There is clear guidance about when and what information can and should be shared without consent in the Providing Early Help Procedure.
If the Police are involved, Children's Social Care will need to discuss with them when to inform the parents about referrals from third parties, as this will have a bearing on the conduct of Police investigations.
6. Action to be Taken
Once the referral has been accepted by the local authority Children's Social Care the Lead Practitioner role falls to a Social Worker and an assessment should commence as set out in the Derby or Derbyshire Assessment Protocols (see Derby City Council Children's Services Assessment Protocol (see Document Library, Protocols) and Derbyshire Assessment Protocol (see Document Library, Protocols)).
The assessment process will need to be planned to reflect the level of urgency and needs of the child, to include whether:
- The child requires immediate protection and urgent action is required;
- The child is in need, and should be assesses under Section 17 of the Children Act 1989;
- There is reasonable cause to suspect that the child is suffering, or likely to suffer, significant harm, and whether enquiries must be made and the child assessed under Section 47 of the Children Act 1989;
- Any services are required by the child and family and what type of services; and
- Further specialist assessments are required in order to help the local authority to decide what further action to take.
Action to be taken includes:
- When, what and by whom the child and family will be informed of the action to be taken;
- When and where the child should be seen by the Social Worker - this will be within a maximum of 24 hours of Section 47, or otherwise 7 working days;
- Where requested to do so by local authority Children's Social Care, practitioners from other parts of the local authority such as housing and those in health organisations have a duty to co-operate under Section 27 of the Children Act 1989 by assisting the local authority in carrying out it's Children's Social Care functions.
Where a child is believed to be in need of urgent protection, or suffering or likely to suffer Significant Harm, the Child Protection Section 47 Enquiries Procedure should be followed.
Feedback should be provided to the referrer, who should be told of the decision and the reasons for making it. In the case of public referrals, this should be done in a manner consistent with respecting the confidentiality of the child.
7. New Information on a Previously known Child
New information may be received about a child or family who are already known to Children's Social Care.
In Derby City, if the child's case is open, the referral information will be passed on to the appropriate practitioner within 1 working day. If there is an urgent need to safeguard a child and the practitioner is not available, immediate action must be taken to raise the concern with their line manager or duty manager.In Derbyshire, any new referrals on open cases should either be made directly to the allocated worker, their line manager or via Starting Point, this referral will be reviewed and a threshold decision will be applied to determine further actions. If the child's case is open the referral information will be passed on to the appropriate practitioner within 1 working day. If there is an urgent need to safeguard a child and the practitioner is not available, immediate action must be taken to raise the concern with their line manager or through Starting Point.
If there are concerns that the child is or may be suffering Significant Harm then a decision should be made about whether a Strategy Discussion should be initiated. In these circumstances it may not be necessary to undertake an assessment before deciding what to do next. It may, however, be appropriate to update or extend a previous assessment in order to understand the child's current needs and circumstances and inform future decision making.
8. Concerns about the Welfare of Unborn Children
Where agencies or individuals anticipate that parents may need support services to care for their baby, when it is born, or that the baby is likely to suffer Significant Harm, the Derby and Derbyshire Multi-Agency Protocol for Pre-Birth Assessments and Interventions (see Document Library, Protocols) should be followed. Where necessary, a referral to Children's Social Care must be made as soon as possible after 12 weeks of pregnancy. This includes where:
- A parent, or other adult in the household, or the person a parent is in an on-going relationship with, is a person who poses a risk to children;
- A sibling or child in the household is subject to a Child Protection Plan;
- Another child has previously been removed from the care of either parent, either temporarily or by a court order (this may include where the child has been placed with a family member);
- There is evidence of one or more risk factors, for example high risk domestic abuse, or problematic and chaotic substance misuse, or severe and enduring mental illness;
- There are concerns about the parental ability to self care and/or to care for the child, e.g. where the parent is learning disabled;
- The expectant mother is under the age of 13 years or where the mother is under 16 years and there are additional concerns; or
- Any other concerns exist that the baby may be likely to suffer Significant Harm.
Referrals can be made later in pregnancy where concerns have escalated or belatedly come to the attention of staff.
Concerns should be shared with prospective parent(s) and consent obtained to refer to Children's Social Care unless this action in itself may place the welfare or safety of the unborn child and/or mother at risk.
Concealed Pregnancy or Unattended Birth
In the event of a concealed pregnancy becoming known, or a baby being born at home, unattended by either a Midwife or medical practitioner, a Midwife should always be contacted immediately. The Midwife has a duty of care to the baby and mother during the antenatal, intranatal (during the birth) and post-natal periods up to 28 days following the birth. The Midwife will have a significant role in identifying the needs of the baby and mother.
If the pregnancy has been deliberately concealed, or the birth has been or is likely to be unattended and this is believed to be intentional, practitioners should assess whether this causes any concerns about the welfare of the baby, including prior to its birth. An urgent referral to Children's Social Care should be made where either:
- There is an attempt to avoid statutory involvement due to concerns about the unborn child;
- There are concerns about the welfare of the baby; or
- There are welfare concerns about other children in the family.
There is a statutory duty on midwives and anyone "in attendance" at the birth to notify the appropriate Medical Officer of the birth, whether live or stillborn, within 36 hours.
9. The Response to Sudden Unexpected Death in Children in Derby City and Derbyshire
Where there has been a sudden unexpected death (i.e. not anticipated 24 hours previously) in children up to 18 years of age for the whole of Derbyshire (including Derby City), Police, Emergency Departments, Paediatric staff and the rapid response Paediatrician, should refer to the joint protocol - Response to Sudden Unexpected Death in Childhood in Derby City and Derbyshire Protocol (See Documents Library, Protocols). A referral to Children's Social Care should immediately follow where there are concerns about the circumstances of the death, or for the safety and well-being of any surviving siblings.
If a child who is normally resident outside this area dies in Derbyshire, it is anticipated that the immediate response will take place in Derby City or Derbyshire County and that the case will then be handed over to the relevant area.
10. Out of Hours Service
Children's Social Care provides an out of hours service (Careline - Derby, Call Derbyshire - Derbyshire) to ensure that urgent action is taken to safeguard children suffering, or likely to suffer Significant Harm. The primary role of the out of hour's service is to ensure the safety of children.
Practitioners working for the out of hours services must distinguish carefully:
- What immediate action may be required to ensure the immediate and longer term safety of a child; and
- What responses may be best undertaken by Children's Social Care during office hours.
Practitioners working for the out of hours services must ensure that all referrals, relevant information obtained and actions taken out of office hours are transmitted without delay to the relevant sections within Children's Social Care and other agencies as appropriate. If it appears that a crime has been committed against a child, the Police should be informed urgently.