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Referrals and Enquiries


  1. Introduction
  2. The Duty to Refer
  3. Making a Referral
  4. Receiving a Referral
  5. Concluding a Referral
  6. Enquiries and the Role of the Safeguarding Co-ordinators

    Appendix 1: Safeguarding Co-ordinator Advice Form

    Amendments to this Chapter

1. Introduction

Anyone who has concerns about a child's welfare can make a referral to People's Services. Referrals can come from the child themselves, practitioners such as teachers, early year’s providers, the police, probation service, GPs and health visitors as well as family members and members of the public.

Contacts from practitioners to People's Services usually fall in to three categories:

  • Requests for information from Children’s social care;
  • Provision of information such as notifications about a child or their family;
  • Requests, for services for a child, which will be in the form of a referral.

People's Services has the responsibility to clarify with the referrer the nature of the concerns and how and why they have arisen.

St. Helens Descriptions of Need Document (2019-2022) provides guidance about the criteria for making and receiving referrals.

The child must be seen by a qualified social worker as soon as possible following a referral and the child’s needs and safety remain paramount at all times.

The St. Helens Service Request Form can be accessed here.

2. The Duty to Refer

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.

When practitioners make a referral to People's Services, they should include any pre-existing assessments such as an Early Help Assessment Tool (EHAT) in respect of the child. Any information they have about the child's developmental needs, 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.

When making referrals in respect of children in need, referrers that are professionals should ensure they can provide evidence of early help intervention where possible to do so. This may be examples of support offered to the family by a range of professionals or services, or by the professional themselves, to evidence support to the family being provided prior to reaching a statutory intervention. Where professionals may have concerns regarding neglect a graded care profile should be completed to support the referral to MASH.

The referrer must always have the opportunity to discuss their concerns with a qualified social worker.

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.

3. Making a Referral

For all referrals to People's Services, 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 and supported by line manager from the Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub – MASH Team the within one working day about the type of response that is required.

New referrals and referrals on closed cases should be made to People services via the St Helen's Contact Cares Team.

Referrals in respect of cases already open to a social worker should be made directly to the social worker or in their absence via the duty social worker for the relevant assessment team - If a referrer is not aware who the case is open to they should contact the St Helen's Contact Cares Team.

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 to provide  information about some of the following which should be recorded by the referrer on a Service Request Form  and sent to Children’s Social Care:

  • Full names (including aliases and spelling variations), date of birth and gender identity 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 / practitioners (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. However, there should not be a delay in order to collect information if the delay may place the child at risk of significant harm.

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.

Where practitioner makes a referral without informing the parents or carers this must be recorded in recorded in the child's file with reasons and confirmed in the referral to People's Services.

All referrals from practitioners should be confirmed in writing, by the referrer, within 48 hours. If the referrer has not received an acknowledgement within three working days, they should contact People's Services again.

4. Receiving a Referral

The social worker will discuss the concerns with the referrer and considered any previous records in relation to the child and family in their agency.

Where the referral relates to new cases of children previously unknown to the authority, or closed cases, the process must include screening against the Threshold Criteria for Children in Need and/ or EHAT and must include internal electronic database and agency checks to establish whether the family is previously known.

The social worker will establish:

  • The nature of the concerns;
  • How and why they have arisen;
  • The child’s views, if known;
  • What the child's and the family's needs appear to be;
  • Whether the family are aware of the referral and whether they are in agreement with it or not;
  • Whether the concern involves abuse or neglect; and
  • Whether there is any need for any urgent action to protect the child or any other children in the household or community.

A decision to discuss the referral with other agencies without parental knowledge should be authorised by a People's Services manager, and the reasons recorded.

This checking and information gathering stage must involve an immediate assessment of any concerns about either the child's health and development, or actual and/or potential harm, which justify further enquiries, assessments and / or interventions.

Interviews with the child, if appropriate, should take place in a safe environment. All interviews with the child and family members should be undertaken in their preferred language and where appropriate for some people by using non-verbal communication methods.

The People's Services manager should be informed by a social worker of any referrals where there is reasonable cause to consider Section 47 Enquiries and authorise the decision to initiate action. If the child and / or family are known to other agencies or the facts clearly indicate that a Section 47 Enquiry is required, the Children’s social care should initiate a strategy meeting/discussion immediately, and together with other agencies determine how to proceed.

The police must be informed at the earliest opportunity if a crime may have been committed. The police should assist other agencies to carry out their responsibilities, where there are concerns about the child's welfare, whether or not a crime has been committed.

5. Concluding a Referral

At the end of the referral discussion, the referrer and People's Services should be clear about the proposed action, who will be taking it, timescales and whether no further action will be taken.

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 with a moderate level of need, in which case, the manager may authorise an assessment;
  3. That the child appears to be a Child in Need with a high level of need, which must result in an Assessment;
  4. That it is suspected that the child is suffering or is likely to suffer from significant harm, which will result in an Assessment, with a view to conducting a strategy discussion, prior to a section 47 enquiry commencing.

Whatever the outcome of a referral, it should have been assessed by a qualified social worker and a decision should have been made by the relevant line manager within the time scale of one working day about what should happen next. The People's Services manager must approve the outcome of the referral and ensure that a record has been commenced and/or updated.

The social worker should inform, in writing, all the relevant agencies and the child, if appropriate, and family of their decisions and, if the child is a Child in Need, of the plan for providing support.

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 Multi Agency Escalation Policy.

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 Single Assessment, see Assessment Procedure.

6. Enquiries and the Role of the Safeguarding Co-ordinators

The Safeguarding Coordinators are based in the Safeguarding Unit, and are independent of Children’s Social Care.

Their role includes:

  • Providing advice and guidance to all professionals regarding thresholds. This is separate to the Contact Centre/Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub – MASH Team. They will not accept referrals to Peoples Services and will not be providing immediate Child Protection advice;

    Advice provided will include reflective discussions, providing advice around thresholds and discussions around cases where practitioners are unsure in which way to progress. As stated above this is not a front line service and response will not be immediate, however, they will aim to respond to the query within 1 working day;

    It is requested that professionals complete the Advice Form (see Appendix 1: Safeguarding Co-ordinator Advice Form) and send to email address. The Safeguarding Coordinators will then contact you by telephone to discuss the advice requested and return the form with advice provided.
  • Review & audit children/young people open to agencies from levels 2-4 to ensure the risk is managed at the appropriate level and independently challenge professionals where threshold is not met;
  • Oversight of Child Sexual Exploitation and Child Criminal Exploitation cases in St Helens. Please note Child Exploitation concerns should be referred to the Local Authority area in which the child/young person resides not the Local Authority they are open to. (See also Pan Merseyside Child Exploitation Protocol (2020));
  • Arrange and chair CE2 meetings;
  • Present information regarding children deemed to be at risk of CSE/CCE to MACE (Multi-Agency Child Exploitation meeting);
  • Provide oversight over children who are missing from home/care who are not open to Peoples Services or are CICOLA.

Please note all CE referrals need to be made to the Contact Centre via a CE1 form. Direct referrals will not be accepted by the Safeguarding Coordinators.

Appendix 1: Safeguarding Co-ordinator Advice Form

Click here to view Appendix 1: Safeguarding Co-ordinator Advice Form.

Caption: further information

Amendments to this Chapter

This chapter was updated in November 2021 to reflect local guidance and changes from the revised Working Together to Safeguard Children.