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3.1 Making a Referral to Children's Social Care


Chapter 1: Assessing need and providing help, Working Together to Safeguard Children

What to do if you're worried a child is being abused - GOV.UK

Flowchart 1: Action taken when a child is referred to local authority children's social care services, Working Together to Safeguard Children

Worried about a Child?


Blackburn with Darwen




Working Well with Children and Families in Lancashire includes information about the levels of need that agencies in Blackburn with Darwen, Blackpool and Lancashire work to:
Working Well with Children and Families in Lancashire


In November 2021, the links in this document were reviewed locally and amendments made accordingly.


Caption: contents table
  Duty to Refer
  Urgent Medical Treatment
  Ensuring Immediate Safety
  Listening to the Child
  Informing Parents
  Making a Referral
  How Referrals will be Received 
  Where There is or May be a Crime Committed
  The Outcome of a Referral and Feedback
  Emergency Protective Action
  Cross Boundary Referrals
  Pre-Birth Referrals

Duty to Refer

  1. Professionals, employees, managers, helpers, carers and volunteers in all agencies must make a referral to Children's Social Care if it is believed or suspected that:
  1. 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 / Early Help Assessment. 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;
  2. 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 Peer Abuse Procedure;
  3. 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 (including Carers and Volunteers) Procedure;
  4. A referral must be made even if it is known that Children's Social Care is already involved with the child/family;
  5. All staff members who have or became aware of concerns about the welfare or safety of a child should know:
    • What services are available locally;
    • How to gain access to them;
    • What sources of further advice and expertise are available;
    • Who to contact in what circumstances, and how; and
    • When and how to make a referral to Children's Social Care.
  6. 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;
  7. The content of this discussion and the reasons for the decision made by the agency regarding a referral or possible referral should be clearly recorded within the child's records;
  8. Where consultation is sought and the decision is made that a referral is required the referrer must be advised that the referral must be followed up in writing within 48 hours;
  9. Where agencies or individuals anticipate that prospective parents may need support services to care for their baby or that the baby may be at risk of Significant Harm, a referral to Children's Social Care must be made as soon as the concerns are recognised. In Lancashire, see Multi-Agency Pre-Birth Protocol;
  10. See Making a Referral (below);

Urgent Medical Treatment

  1. 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 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.

Ensuring Immediate Safety

  1. 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;
  2. 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;
  3. The law empowers anyone who has care of a child to do all that is reasonable in the circumstances to safeguard their welfare;
  4. 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;
  5. 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 team in accordance with this procedure and a decision made as to the need for immediate protective action;
  6. 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 ongoing promotion and safeguarding of the child's welfare - for further information about children in hospital, see Children Living Away from Home (including Children and Families living in Temporary Accommodation) Procedure;
  7. The need for compulsory intervention to secure the child's safety should always be considered if:
    • Access to the child is being unreasonably refused;
    • The parent refuses consent to the medical examination of a child suspected of being abused or a child who, it is believed, needs urgent medical attention;
    • The parent deliberately frustrates an investigation in other ways, for example removing a child from hospital.


See Information Sharing Procedure.

  1. 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.
  2. The overriding consideration must be the protection of the child - for this reason, absolute confidentiality cannot and should not be promised to anyone;
  3. For guidance in relation to making a referral relating to under-age sexual activity, see Sexually Active Young People Under the Age of 18 Procedure;
  4. 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;
  5. 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;
  6. 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;
  7. N.B. Referrals made by professionals can never be anonymous.

Listening to the Child

  1. 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 they will be kept safe; and
    • Explain that the information will be passed to Children's Social Care and/or the Police.
  2. 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;
  3. If the child has an injury but no explanation is volunteered, it is acceptable to enquire how the injury was sustained;
  4. 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. For more information see Achieving Best Evidence in Criminal Proceedings: Guidance on Interviewing Victims and Witnesses, and Using Special Measures;
  5. 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;
  6. No enquiries or investigations may be initiated without the authority of the Children's Social Care or the Police;
  7. If the child can understand the significance and consequences of making a referral, they should be asked her/his views by the referring professional;
  8. 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.

Informing Parents

  1. 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;
  2. Where a professional 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.

Making a Referral

See Information Sharing Procedure.

  1. Referrals where this is concern about the child being at risk of Significant Harm must be made in one of the following ways:

    • In person or by telephone contact to the relevant Children's Social Care Office;
    • In an emergency outside office hours, by contacting the Children's Social Care Out of Hours Service / Emergency Duty Team or the Police;
    • All professionals must confirm verbal and telephone referrals in writing within 48 hours of being made.
  2. In the event that an agency does not agree with the response and decisions about the referral by the 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 Disagreements (Escalation and Conflict Resolution) Procedure;
  3. Referrals should be made to the duty officer at the Children's Social Care Team where the child is living or is found. All professionals should make a follow-up written referral within 48 hours using their agreed referral process;
  4. In Blackpool, the referral should be made in Blackpool using the Multi Agency Referral Form (MARF). In Blackburn with Darwen, the referral must be telephoned to the Children Advice and Duty Service (CADS). In Lancashire, the referral must be made on the Safeguarding Children Referral Form;
  5. 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 Children's Social Care;
  6. If the concern arises out of office hours, the referral must be made to the 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;
  7. If it is not possible to contact Children's Social Care, the concern must be reported to the Police 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, they must consult with Children's Social Care as soon as practicable and prior to taking any action, if possible;
  8. Professionals in most agencies should 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 team or the allocated social worker in Children's Social Care;
  9. Arrangements within an agency may be that a designated person makes the referral. However, if the Designated Person or Named Professional is not available, the referral must still be made without delay.


  1. 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.

How Referrals will be Received

  1. Children's Social Care will ensure that a duty worker is available to receive child protection referrals; outside normal working hours, in Blackpool and Blackburn with Darwen the Emergency Duty Team will receive referrals. See Local Contacts;
  2. Children's Social Care will deal with the referral in accordance with the local Common Assessment Framework and the Framework for the Assessment of Children in Need and their Families 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;
  3. Referrers should have an opportunity to discuss their concerns with a qualified social worker;
  4. 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.
  5. 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;
  6. 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 (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.
  7. 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 the Children's Social Care and by the referrer (if a professional in another service) on the relevant forms including the Referral Form;
  8. Children's Social Care should decide on a course of action. They should acknowledge receipt of a referral and the decision made of the response to be taken 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 Team to ensure the referring agency records are updated with the outcome of the referral;
  9. 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;
  10. 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 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 Where there is or may be a Crime Committed).
  11. Parents should be informed of the referral.

Where There is or May be a Crime Committed

  1. 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 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;
  2. 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;
  3. This will need to be discussed carefully and a decision made at a Strategy Discussion;
  4. See also Sexually Active Young People Under the Age of 18 Procedure.

The Outcome of a Referral and Feedback

  1. The Children's Social Care team will decide upon and record their next steps of action within 1 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 Where there is or may be a Crime Committed;
  2. 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 a Single Assessment;

    • That emergency protective action should be taken to safeguard the child or children - see Emergency Protective Action - (this will usually be determined by an immediate Strategy Discussion);

    • 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 Single Assessment is required;

    • That a referral to another agency should be made in accordance with the local Early Help process and/or the provision of advice and information is acted on;

    • That no further action is required.
  3. 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?
  4. The duty social worker should acknowledge a referral within 1 working day of receiving it. If the referrer has not received an acknowledgement within 3 working days, they should contact the manager in Children's Social Care again;
  5. The Children's Social Care manager is responsible for ensuring that the referrer and the family (provided this does not increase any risk to the child) are informed of the outcome of the referral and reasons for supporting the decision. This will be done as soon as possible and, in all cases, within a maximum of 7 working days;
  6. Feedback on the outcome of a referral should be provided to the referrer, including where no further action is to be taken, including the reason(s) why no further action will be taken;
  7. 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.

Emergency Protective Action

Also see Flowchart 3: Action taken for an assessment of a child under the Children Act 1989, Working Together to Safeguard Children.

  1. 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;
  2. 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.
  3. 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;
  4. 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;
  5. Planned immediate protection will normally take place following a Strategy Discussion;
  6. 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.

Cross Boundary Referrals

  1. 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;
  2. 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;
  3. 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;
  4. 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;
  5. 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;
  6. Where the decision is made that a referral is required the referrer must be advised that the referral must be followed up in writing within 48 hours;
  7. 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.

Pre-Birth Referrals

See also Multi-Agency Pre-Birth Protocol.

  1. Where agencies or individuals anticipate that prospective parents may need support services to care for their baby or that the baby may be at risk of Significant Harm, a referral to Children's Social Care must be made as soon as the concerns are recognised. In Lancashire, see Multi-Agency Pre-Birth Protocol.

    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;
  1. 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 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.
  2. Delay must be avoided when making referrals in order to:
    • Provide sufficient time to make adequate plans for the baby's 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.
  3. Concerns should be shared with prospective parent/s and they should be informed that a referral will be made 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 professionals.

    See also Information Sharing Procedure;
  1. 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 process format with the parents' / carers' involvement and agreement.


  1. 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.
  2. The referrer should confirm verbal and telephone referrals in writing, within 48 hours, using the relevant Referral Form;
  3. 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.