Early Intervention or Child Protection?

When it comes to safeguarding children concerns, if professionals have reasonable cause to suspect that a child is suffering or likely to suffer significant harm (under section 47 of The Children Act 1989), they are required to refer them to the Local Authority’s Children’s Social Care Team. However, where harm is being experienced or likely to have been experienced and it Is not meet the ‘significant harm’ threshold, professionals should try and address the risks by first meeting with parents or carers. The solution to the problem could be something as simple as asking if they would allow you to refer them to a parenting programme or they might need help to access other services such as: counselling, Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT), food banks and advocacy services. Additionally, if a safeguarding concern has arisen due to something such as poor social housing conditions, you could be part of the solution in writing supporting letters to the Housing Department or contacting Environmental Health if it is something that is placing children at risk of harm. Don’t rule out lower level intervention that goes the extra mile, as your actions could help to prevent them from becoming more entrenched and escalating.

Professionals should also consider whether a referral to the Local Authority’s Early Help service would be appropriate. This is not statutory intervention but voluntary help that is provided to families where children are at risk of achieving poor outcomes. These could include: those with children who are associating with anti-social peers, families with children who are young carers or have children with special education needs (SEN). An Early Help Assessment or CAF (Common Assessment Framework) is completed in order to identify risk factors and objectives are identified that aim to address them. The aim of Early Help is to address risk factors before them become more entrenched. Therefore, for families that don’t meet the threshold for compulsory intervention, don’t rule this out as it could be the solution that they need.

Tips for Making Referrals to Children’s Social Care

When referring children who appear to meet the compulsory intervention threshold to Children’s Social Care, use the Local Authority’s preferred means of referring. This may be an online form, an email or a form in word format. Do be sure to include all relevant details in the referral as important information that is missing could result in it failing to meet their criteria for intervention and the child not receiving the help they deserve.
For example, include information about any impact that the abuse may have had upon the child’s development. Also, if referring the case of a family with longstanding issues of neglect, it’s good to include a chronology of previous neglect concerns, including the dates and what action was taken.This is likely to be useful particularly in cases of neglect as it is the very difficult to detect. The NSPCC, states that neglect accounts for 60% of Serious Case Reviews. https://www.nspcc.org.uk/preventing-abuse/child-protection-system/case-reviews/learning/neglect/

It is also worth noting that neglect is a failure to act, whereas the other types of abuse (physical, sexual and emotional) are all acts that are carried out on others. If you have observations from various professionals within your service, include those too, but do ensure that you differentiate between facts, observations and disclosures and who made them.

If you have an urgent case where a child appears to be a risk of imminent significant harm, call Children’s Services to discuss your referral and follow up with an email. The team receiving the referral will be the MASH (Multi Agency Safeguarding Hub) or it will be a Referral and Assessment Service.

Do take the names and job titles of everyone you speak to. This is very important in case you need to escalate later on. Furthermore, there are some teams where practitioners who are not qualified Social Workers screen referrals. It is essential that there is managerial oversight over such cases as it could result in referrals being rejected and no further action taken when they should have been accepted. Ideally, it is good practice for Local Authorities to have referrals screened by professionals who are social work qualified as they are more likely to have the necessary skills, knowledge and experienced that are required to determine whether further action needs to be taken.

If you are a professional working with children and young people, it is essential that you have some knowledge of the levels of need in Children’s Services. This will enable you to have a better idea about whether any child or children whom you refer have been initially assessed correctly by the Local Authority. ‘Lack of local clarity and consensus about thresholds’ is also something that the Social Care Institute For Excellence (SCIE) also highlights as a theme identified from Serious Case Reviews https://www.scie.org.uk/children/safeguarding/case-reviews/learning-from-case-reviews/05.asp

There is a continuum of need at levels 1 to 4 (or in some boroughs 1 to 3) with more urgent cases being assessed at levels 3 or 4. For example, in one particular borough, children assessed at level 3 may be more likely to be assessed as a child in need and level 4 requiring statutory protection likely to be in the form of a child protection plan.

What do I do if I’m not happy with the Local Authority’s response to my referral?

The Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE) raises disagreement between the referrer and Children’s Social Care as a common theme that is associated with Serious Case Reviews where children have been seriously or fatally injured. https://www.scie.org.uk/children/safeguarding/case-reviews/learning-from-case-reviews/05.asp

If you aren’t in agreement with the response from the Local Authority, you can challenge the decision. Ask for the Team Manager’s contact details and if possible, request a call back. Some teams have Assistant Team Managers also, and you might be directed to them in the first instance. Every Local Authority will have an escalation procedure that has been put together by the Local Safeguarding Children’s Board, so if you are unsure about who the next person is in the hierarchy – ask them.

Working Together To Safeguard Children 2015 says that safeguarding is everyone’s responsibility.Therefore, it is not enough to simply make a referral to Children’s services and then forget about it, assuming that it is now the responsibility of the Local Authority. It is the referrer’s responsibility to follow up the referral and ensure that they receive a response, even if that response is a no further action.  https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/592101/Working_Together_to_Safeguard_Children_20170213.pdf

Once you speak to a manager, if the concern is serious and you are still not happy with the response, you can escalate it within the hierarchy if necessary. The buck doesn’t necessarily stop with a Team Manager, and you are at liberty to escalate it to the manager’s manager if you remain concerned. Usually, above the Team Manager is the Head of Service, Assistant Director and then Director of Children’s Services.

In my own practice, I have achieved a number of successful outcomes from escalating concerns that that were initially not deemed to meet the statutory threshold for Children’s Services intervention. These have included: a child taken into care for assessment after making several disclosures of physical abuse at home by family members. The Local Authority indicated that due to his age (an adolescent), he was more able to remove himself from the situation than a younger child would be, and he could call the police or run away and call them for help if he needed it. This particular Authority stated that their priority was for cases concerning younger children who weren’t able to defend themselves, which was not an acceptable reason. This case was escalated through various levels of management and the referral was finally accepted after involvement from the Assistant Director. Additionally, other challenges that have been escalated within the Local Authority have included decisions to take no further action being changed to assessments and subsequent intervention from them to give children the help they deserve.

The question I ask myself whenever I am responding to safeguarding children concerns is “have I done my very best in addressing the risks?” If the answer is ‘yes’; only then can I feel satisfied that I have done is good job in trying to protect them from maltreatment and harm.

If you feel that you would benefit from any of the training and/or consultancy services offered by SJA Consultancy, do feel free to get in touch.  http://sjaconsultancy.com/services/

Samantha Ashley

Safeguarding Consultant and Independent Social Worker