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Making Referrals to Children's Social Care

Scope of this chapter

The procedure applies to allegations or disclosures of historical abuse and should be read in conjunction with the Adults who Disclose Childhood Sexual Abuse Procedure.

Please note that each LSCP has its own Referral Form which can be accessed from the relevant LSCP website.

Related guidance

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.

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.

When there are concerns about 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 may be based on information, which comes from different sources. It may arise in the context of the Common Assessment Framework. It may come from a member of the public, the child concerned, another child, a family member or professional staff. 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 Behaviours Presented by Children and Young People 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 Managing Allegations of Abuse Made Against Adults Who Work with Children and Young People Procedure.

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

Advice and consultation may be sought about the appropriateness of the referral from the local Children’s Social Care or, if the case is open, from the allocated social worker. 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 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.


If the child is suffering from a serious injury or requires treatment, medical attention must be sought immediately by calling an ambulance or taking the child to the Accident and 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.

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 her/his welfare.

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

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 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 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.

The safety and welfare of the 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 Data Protection, Information Sharing and Confidentiality Policy.

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 Working with Sexually Active Young People Under the Age of 18 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 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.

If the 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 (s)he will be kept safe; and
  • Explain that the information will be passed to Children’s Social Care 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, the 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.

NB It is very important to ensure that all conversation with a child are recorded throughout the process. If a criminal investigation proceeds, failure to follow the guidance in relation to listening and recording information provided by a child could lead to conflict and the credibility of the child's account being undermined at court.

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

If the child can understand the significance and consequences of making a referral, he/she should be asked her/his views by the referring professional.

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

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.

See also Data Protection, Information Sharing and Confidentiality Policy.

Where a parent has agreed to a referral, this must be recorded and confirmed on the relevant Referral Form (which can be accessed on the relevant LSCP website).

If, having taken full account of the parent’s wishes, it is still considered that there is a need for a referral:

  • The reason for proceeding without parental agreement must be recorded;
  • The Children’s Social Care Team should be told that the parent has withheld her/his permission;
  • The parent should be contacted by the referring professional to inform her/him that after considering their wishes, a referral has been made.

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.

Referrals must be made in one of the following ways:

  • By contacting the relevant Children’s Social Care office (See Local Contacts);
  • In an emergency outside office hours, by contacting Children’s Social Care Out of Hours Service / Emergency Duty Team (See Local Contacts) or the Police;
  • All practitioners must confirm verbal and telephone referrals in writing within 48 hours of being made.

Practitioners who make electronic or written referrals should check to ensure safe receipt by Children’s Social Care at the earliest opportunity. (In Trafford, they will receive an automatic receipt by email).

In the event that an agency does not agree with the response and decisions about the referral by Children’s Social Care, 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 Professional Differences/Escalation Policy.

Referrals should be made to the duty officer at the local Children’s Social Care Team where the child is living or is found.

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

If the concern arises out of office hours, the referral must be made to Children’s Social Care Out of Hours/ Emergency Duty Team. Any work undertaken by the Emergency Duty Team will be completed by the regular office hours’ Children’s Social Care.

If it is not possible to contact the relevant Children’s Social Care office, the concern must be reported to the local Police Public Protection Investigation Unit (PPIU) or if not available and it is an emergency dial 999. If the Police receive a referral prior to Children’s Social Care, they must consult with Children’s Social Care as soon as practicable and prior to taking any action, if possible.

Practitioners in most agencies should have internal procedures, which identify Designated Senior Persons or Named Practitioners - 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 Team or the allocated social worker in Children’s Social Care.

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 practitioners.

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

  • Full name (including aliases and spelling variations), date of birth and gender identity of all child/children in the household;
  • 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 special needs of the child(ren) or parents;
  • Is the child registered at a school/early years setting or regularly attending a school/early years setting? If so, identify the school/early years setting;
  • Where available, the child’s NHS number and education UPN number;
  • 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 referrer’s relationship and knowledge of the child and parents/carers;
  • Known current or previous involvement of other agencies/practitioners;
  • Information regarding parental knowledge of, and agreement to, the referral;
  • The child’s views and wishes, if known.

Children’s Social Care will ensure that a duty worker is available to receive child protection referrals; outside normal working hours, the Emergency Duty Team (see Local Contacts) will receive referrals.

Children’s Social Care will deal with the referral in accordance with the local Common Assessment Framework (see The Early Help Assessment) and the Assessment Framework Triangle in Working Together to Safeguard Children and 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 any risk of 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 case 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 violence and 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 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 Children’s Social Care and by the referrer (if a professional in another service) on the relevant forms including the Referral Form.

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

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 Children’s Social Care 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 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 at risk of further Significant Harm.

See also Data Protection, Information Sharing and Confidentiality Policy.

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

Referrals should not be deemed malicious without a full and thorough multi-agency assessment, including talking with the referrer and agreement with the appropriate manager. Referrals should also not be described as malicious in professional conclusions, due to the risks associated with this language.

If the referral relates to a situation in which a crime has or may have been committed, including sexual or physical assault or neglect, the worker receiving the referral must discuss the referral with the local Police PPIU (Public Protection Investigation Unit) at the earliest opportunity. The local PPIU, in consultation with Children’s Social Care and any other agencies involved with the child, must consider whether there should be a criminal investigation and/or a Children’s Social Care led intervention.

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 led intervention rather than a full police investigation.

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

The Children’s Social Care team The Children’s Social Care 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 practitioners 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 outcome of the referral will be:

  • That the child appears to be a Child in Need and there are concerns about the child’s health and development or concerns of Significant Harm which justify an Assessment (which may be very brief if the criteria for initiating a Section 47 Enquiry are met); and / or
  • That emergency protective action should be taken to safeguard the child or children - see Section 11, Emergency Protective Action - (this will usually be determined by an immediate Strategy Discussion); or
  • Where the child is already known and new information suggests that the child is or may be suffering harm, that a Section 47 Enquiry and/or a new or updated Assessment is required; or
  • That a referral to another agency should be made in accordance with the local Common Assessment Framework (see The Early Help Assessment) and/or the provision of advice and information is acted on; or
  • (In Trafford) Advice and Information given (including advising on doing a CAF as an alternative); or
  • That no further action is required.

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  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.

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 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.

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 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 ONE working day, to all relevant parties.

Where agencies or individuals anticipate that an unborn baby may be at risk of Significant Harm, a referral to Children’s Social Care must be made once the pregnancy is viable at 16 to 18 weeks (for Trafford a referral is expected as soon as the pregnancy is confirmed, usually between 10 to 12 weeks). For more detailed local pathways, please see the relevant LSCP website.

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;
  • The degree of domestic violence and abuse known to have occurred is likely to significantly impact on the baby's safety or development;
  • The degree of parental substance misuse is likely to significantly impact on the baby's safety or development;
  • The degree of parental mental illness/impairment is likely to significantly impact on the baby's 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 at risk of Significant Harm, including a parent previously suspected of having Fabricated or Induced Illness in a child, 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 baby 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 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 practitioners. 

See also Data Protection, Information Sharing and Confidentiality Policy.

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 Common Assessment Framework format with the parents’ /carers’ involvement and agreement.

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) and reasons for the decision;
  • Records should be reviewed with regular intervals to ensure that decisions taken are followed through.

NB It is very important to ensure that all conversation with a child are recorded throughout the process. If a criminal investigation proceeds, failure to follow the guidance in relation to listening and recording information provided by a child could lead to conflict and the credibility of the child's account being undermined at court.

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 practitioners 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.

Last Updated: June 17, 2024