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1.3.1 Receiving Contacts and Referrals


Taking Referrals where there is a Safeguarding Concern: Practice Guidance

Newcastle Safeguarding Children Board Procedures Manual, Referral, Investigation and Assessment

See also Newcastle Safeguarding Children Board, Referral and Initial Information Record.


This chapter was updated throughout in August 2016 in line with local practice/structures, and should be re-read in its entirety.


  1. Contacts
  2. Guidance on Contacts from Members of the Public
  3. Guidance on Information Sharing and Parental Consent
  4. Decision Making: Progressing to Referral
  5. Timescales
  6. Recording and Gathering Information
  7. Referrals: Specific Circumstances
  8. Contacts and Referrals Out of Hours

1. Contacts

An Initial Contact is made where Children’s Social Care is contacted about a child, who may be a Child in Need, and where there is a request for general advice, information or a service.

All new contacts during office hours about children should be made to the Initial Response Service (IRS). Any contacts outside of office hours are taken by the Emergency Duty Team (EDT).

Any significant information received about a child who is an open case should be regarded as an Initial Contact and must be passed to the child’s allocated social worker and team manager and recorded on ICS.

The Screening Team receives all calls to the Initial Response Service (IRS) and is trained to screen and pass calls about children in need to the appropriate person without delay. They are familiar with these procedures and respond promptly to any contact concerning suspected or deliberate harm to a child.

All incoming contacts, e.g. by telephone, fax, email, or in person to the IRS are defined as a “Contact” and must be recorded on the ICS Contact Record.

On receiving a contact the Screening team will establish:

  • The identity of the referrer, contact details, only in exceptional circumstances will referrals from other agencies/ professionals remain anonymous;
  • Details regarding the child/children referred including names, dates of birth, address and telephone numbers;
  • The nature of the concerns;
  • How and why these have arisen;
  • What appear to be the needs of the child and family;
  • Whether there are safeguarding concerns and, if so, whether immediate action is necessary to ensure the child, or children, is safe;
  • If the contact is from another agency or professional, whether a Early Help Assessment is in place and cross reference this information with the e-Early Help Assessment database.

The receiving social worker will request professional referrers to provide written referrals, within 48 hours of making a verbal referral on the form. Also see Newcastle Safeguarding Children Board (NSCB) Procedures Manual.

2. Guidance on Contacts from Members of the Public

Contacts/referrals from members of the public should be dealt with in the same respectful manner as all other contacts/referrals. Letters and telephone calls, including unclear, incoherent or anonymous messages from the public alerting the Service to concerns for children and families should not be treated any less seriously than information received from other agencies/professionals.

Members of the public can remain anonymous; therefore when a contact/referral is received from a member of the public, personal information about referrers, including anything that could identify them, should only be disclosed to third parties (including other agencies) with the consent of the referrer. 

2.1 Outcomes

The Screening Team, in consultation with the IRS Duty Manager, will decide on the outcome of the contact and advise as follows:

  • Inappropriate contacts: Redirect a caller who has come to the wrong office and there is not an issue with Children’s Social Care. The Screening Team should establish whether the enquiry can be dealt with by the provision of information and advice or re-direction to other agencies or services;
  • Calls clearly of a safeguarding nature: Refer to the Newcastle Safeguarding Children Board (NSCB) Procedures Manual. Where there are safeguarding concerns about the welfare of a child, the Screening Team will refer the case immediately to the Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH) for multi-agency information sharing and decision making.

All other calls:

  • Establish if possible if the family/child concerned have been informed that a referral is being made to Children’s Social Care;
  • Establish if possible if the family have given their consent for Children’s Social Care to contact other agencies. If not, the Screening Team staff should encourage the referrer to speak to the family and seek consent. Where a child is/may be at risk of harm it is not necessary for professionals to advise parents of the referral, as this may negatively impact on the safety/wellbeing of the child and may jeopardise a potential criminal investigation;
  • Request the referrer to provide a written referral within 24 hours;
  • Check status of case (open/closed):
    • If open it should be referred to the relevant social worker/team;
    • If closed/not known and the caller wishes to make a referral or discuss the case, the Screening Team staff will take the necessary information;
    • If known, retrieve information on the family;
    • Pass the detail to the MASH Co-ordinator to decide whether the contact constitutes a referral.

3. Guidance on Information Sharing and Parental Consent

In relation to Children’s Social Care, parents’ permission should be sought before discussing a referral about them with other agencies, unless permission seeking may itself place a child in likelihood of Significant Harm. The Screening Team should check whether consent has been given already (Haringey compliance) and, if not, seek consent from the parents/child where appropriate to discuss with other agencies unless permission seeking may result in the child being more likely to suffer Significant Harm. Where is a decision is made by the MASH Manager in Children’s Social Care that the threshold of significant harm is met and it is not appropriate to consult with parents regarding the sharing of information with other agencies, the rationale for this decision must be recorded on the child’s file.

See also Confidentiality Policy and Information Sharing, Working Together to Safeguarding Children.

Overall the intention of the guidance is to place an expectation on professionals that they will explain to families what they are doing, why, and seek consent to information sharing where this does not place the child at increased likelihood of significant harm.

The law permits the disclosure of confidential information necessary to safeguard a child or children in the public interest but disclosure should be justifiable in each case, according to the facts of the case and legal advice should be sought in cases of doubt.

See also Confidentiality Policy.

4. Decision Making: Progressing to Referral

Following this initial screening, all cases where there are safeguarding concerns must be referred immediately to the MASH which consists of the MASH Co-ordinator; Police; Health and Children’s Social Care. The MASH Co-ordinator will rag rate the referral according to urgency of response. The MASH will consult with their host agencies to collate relevant information and this will inform decision making about the child’s health and development, or actual and/or potential harm, which justify further enquiries, assessments and/or interventions.

At the end of any review of a case within the MASH, the MASH co-ordinator must record a decision as to the response to the referral, timescales and who will be taking this action, or if no further action will be taken.

The MASH Co-ordinator will decide, within 24 hours, whether the child’s needs may need to be met by the provision of further services, taking into account the Newcastle Children’s Trust Thresholds for Access to Services and whether the child has complex needs.

The MASH Co-ordinator will decide on the next course of action, which may be:

  • No further action;
  • Signposting to an appropriate service;
  • That completion of a Early Help Assessment would be appropriate in this case;
  • Commencement of a Child and Family Assessment;
  • Strategy meeting or discussion to consider trigger of s.47 enquiries;
  • Immediate action to check on the safety of a child;
  • Immediate action to safeguard a child.

The MASH Co-ordinator will:

  • Ensure that all information is recorded, including the source, the time it was received, any discussions, and the decision about the referral made;
  • Whether the case is previously known and if known ensure that all relevant information is retrieved including historical case files;
  • Track progress on each referral and ensures that actions agreed and timescales are adhered to.

If, at any time in the process, the information indicates safeguarding concerns the NSCB Procedures should be followed.

Once the referral has been accepted by local authority children's social care the Lead Practitioner role falls to a social worker.

The social worker should clarify with the referrer, when known, the nature of the concerns and how and why they have arisen.

The child should be seen as soon as possible if the decision is taken that the Referral requires further assessment.

Where requested to do so by children's social care, professionals from other parts of the local authority such as housing and those in health organisations have a duty to cooperate under Section 27 of the Children Act 1989 by assisting the local authority in carrying out its children's social care functions.

4.1 Referrals on Open Cases

A child who is currently receiving services from Children’s Social Care will have been, or will be subject to a Child and Family Assessment and will have a Child in Need or Child Protection Plan or Care Plan as a Looked After Child in place to address identified need. In all cases when new concerns are received regarding a child on a case open to Children’s Social Care, all information held by Social Care regarding the family must be considered to ensure a full analysis on all available information can be made to support decisions regarding further action and any subsequent assessment.

If there is a concern regarding significant harm the Screening Team will contact the relevant Social Worker/Team Manager immediately and record the contact on ICS.

In other contacts, the Screening Team will pass the information on to the allocated social worker. The allocated social worker will consult with their Team Manager, and family/carers, the child, relevant professionals, as appropriate and review all information held regarding by Children’s Social Care on the family, to determine how the concerns can be addressed. It may be appropriate to convene a strategy meeting if in the context of the contact and current issues in the case there are child protection concerns or a planning meeting to formally pursue the concerns.

In all cases, the Screening Team will:

  1. Record any information on such a case in a new ICS Contact Record;
  2. Send the Contact Record to the social worker and the social worker’s Team Manager.

The allocated Social Worker and their Team Manager will:

  • Discuss the Contact Record and previous information known about the family to establish whether the issue(s) has been previously addressed or if this is new information;
  • Decide what further action, if any, needs to be taken. This may be a brief activity to gain more understanding of the concern but must include consideration of all information available to Children’s Social Care regarding the family rather than just the new information contained in the Contact Record;
  • The contact will then be closed, within two working days or progressed to a referral after this time and a new Child and Family assessment undertaken;
  • Record any activity in the child’s file and on ICS;
  • Inform the referrer, if a professional, of the outcome.

NB If the Social Worker is not available, the Team Manager will ensure that this is undertaken.

In all cases, if the criteria for Child Protection enquires have been met, the immediate safety of the child has to be considered and appropriate action taken to safeguard their well-being according to the NSCB Procedures. This will require a strategy meeting to be held and consideration to be given to a s.47 enquiry and a new Child and Family Assessment.

4.2 Referrals on Cases Closed Within the Previous 3 Months

If a referral is made about a child who has been an open case within the previous 3 months, the Team Manager/Senior Practitioner of the relevant team must be consulted as for “Open Cases” above.

The Screening Team will:

  • Record any information on such a case in a new Contact Record;
  • Send the Contact Record to the previous social worker’s Team Manager. If there is a concern regarding Significant Harm the Duty Social Worker will contact the Team Manager immediately.

The previous Social Worker and their Team Manager will:

  • Discuss the information in the Contact Record to establish whether the issue(s) has been previously addressed or if this is new information;
  • Decide what further action, if any, needs to be taken. This may be a “brief activity” to gain more understanding concern but must include consideration of all information available to Children’s Social Care regarding the family rather than just the new information contained in the Contact Record to ensure any decision is informed by all available information;
  • The contact will then be closed, within 2 working days or progressed to a referral after this time and a Child and Family Assessment undertaken;
  • Record any activity in the child’s file and on ICS;
  • Inform the referrer, if a professional, of the outcome.

NB If the Social Worker is not available, the Team Manager will ensure that this is undertaken.

4.3 Cases Already Subject To a Common Assessment (Early Help Assessment)

Contacts received as a result of a Common Assessment being undertaken will have a single page referral sheet attached to the Early Help Assessment. To avoid duplication, the content of the Common Assessment will inform the Statutory Assessment, although children and families must be seen and their views and those of all relevant professionals must be taken into account when completing the Statutory Assessment.

4.4 New Cases: Progression to Referral

On receipt of information on all other cases, the MASH Co-ordinator and IRS Social Worker will:

  • Ensure that as much information as possible is gathered. Identify any gaps in available information. This includes access to historical records and paper case records which must be retrieved to inform ongoing risk management and assessment;
  • Evaluate the information;
  • Record all information, including the source, the time it was received, the decision about the referral made. All consultation and decisions made by the Team Manager or Duty Social worker must be carefully recorded as part of the Agency record;
  • Determine, if possible at this stage, if an interpreter is required;
  • Commence the Child and Family Assessment.

The Duty social worker will:

  • Write to the person making the referral acknowledging receipt and indicating what action is to be taken. When the referral is from a member of the public and their address is known the Duty Worker should write confirming receipt only;
  • Pursue written referral from professionals, if requested, after 24 hours.

4.5 Consultation

Whenever a practitioner contacts the service for advice, the record of the discussion must be recorded on ICS. Practitioners are likely to seek consultation if they are unclear about levels of need and risk.

5. Timescales

Once received, all Referrals must be written up and a decision made about their disposal within one working day. 

Within one working day of a Referral being received, the MASH Co-ordinator should make a decision about the type of response that is required. This will include determining whether:

  • The child requires immediate protection and urgent action is required;
  • The child is in need, and should be assessed 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 enquires 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.

6. Recording and Gathering Information

Following the decision of the MASH Co-ordinator or Duty Manager, the social worker will:

No Further Action (NFA) referrals:

  • Record contact as information received and close down; and
  • Complete referrer notification letter and letter of support to family as directed by Team Manager, including signposting to more appropriate services according to the child and family’s identified needs.

Contacts leading to safeguarding action:

  • Record outcome; and
  • Ensure all information is passed to allocated social worker.

Request copy of Early Help Assessment from referrer:

  • Record outcome of Early Help Assessment request on Contact Record;
  • Contact Record reassigned to IRS admin with a 2 week requirement date;
  • If Early Help Assessment received within 2 weeks, standard letter to be sent to follow up need for contact;
  • Outcome recorded i.e. NFA or follow up; and
  • Early Help Assessment passed to Duty Team Manager for decision when received.

Child in Need referrals:

  • Collect as much information as possible;
  • Ensure that all relevant details are recorded on child and all relevant family members on ICS Referral and Information Record;
  • Record “Further Information requested” on Contact Record if written referral is required;
  • Use ICS as a reminder of the:
    • Issues that need to be checked;
    • Matters raised by the Referrer that should be recorded.
  • Identify and obtain any case record(s) relevant to this referral, as requested by IRS Team Manager; and
  • Following decisions by the IRS Team Manager, complete the relevant acknowledgement letter(s).

Early Help Assessment recommended:

  • Discussion with Early Help Advisor based in MASH regarding step down of contact or referral to Early Help Assessment and identification of lead professional and consent from family;
  • Record Early Help Assessment recommended on contact form for case to be reviewed through Supporting Families.

7. Referrals: Specific Circumstances

7.1 Referrals by Children’s Social Care to other Agencies/Local Authorities

It may be necessary and appropriate at any stage in Children’s Social Care involvement with a Child in Need to refer the child and family to other agencies for assistance.

The Social Worker will:

  • Seek agreement from the family (where appropriate), professionals and managerial staff most closely involved with the child and family before a referral is made for a service provided by other agencies including another Local Authority;
  • Contact the agency; this may be by telephone and must be confirmed in writing within 48 hours, including explicit information as to why the referral is being made, any agreed action and what is expected from the agency receiving the referral;
  • Record the purpose of the referral on ICS immediately;
  • Request confirmation in writing from the agency that the referral has been received and this information retained on file.

7.2 Difficulties with Referrals to another Local Authority

  • Where the referral is to another Local Authority and there are difficulties with the acceptance of responsibility, the Team Manager should discuss the difficulties with their counterpart in that Authority and confirm the contents of the discussion in writing;
  • If this action does not resolve the matter the relevant Service Manager should be consulted without delay.

7.3 Referral that may Constitute a Criminal Offence and Sharing Information

Please see Newcastle Safeguarding Children Board (NSCB) Procedures Manual.

7.4 Police Involvement

Children have a right to the protection and remedies offered by the criminal law. The Police have a duty and responsibility to investigate criminal offences against children. The Police must be notified as soon as possible when it becomes clear that a criminal offence may have been committed against a child. This does not mean that in all such cases a criminal investigation will be required, or that there will necessarily be any further Police involvement.

  • The Team Manager must ensure that the Police are informed at the earliest opportunity and that the communication is recorded on the case record and ICS where appropriate;
  • If there is doubt or uncertainty about notifying the Police, the Team Manager should consult the relevant Service Manager.

7.5 Referral and Requests for Police Intelligence (PI)

The Screening Team will:

  • Identify warning on CareFirst of Police Intelligence on an adult;
  • Note requirement on Contact Record;
  • Duplicate onto adult’s record;
  • Notify Duty Social Worker of identification of PI warning.

The Duty Social Worker will:

  • Contact Secure Records to Duty obtain/request PI. If this is not available at the time of making request, an activity must be opened on the adult’s record stating information is being awaited regarding the PI. This must be left open to IRSSCR clipboard which must be updated within 24hrs of request by Duty Social Worker;
  • On receipt of PI, complete ICS activity of PI info received;
  • Share PI information with Duty Manager to enable decision to be made on how the case is to progress;
  • On allocation of case update social worker on PI information obtained;
  • If the case progresses to assessment Duty Manager to liaise with Allocating Manager regarding PI information received.

7.6 Referral of Children with Complex Disability or Health Needs

Children in Need who have an identified complex health need or a disability which fulfils the criteria of the Children with Disabilities Team can be referred directly to them. For further information please see Children with Disabilities Team: Access to Services Eligibility Criteria Procedure.

7.7 Referrals of Families in Temporary Accommodation

Occasionally homeless families and young people already involved with Children’s Social Care may be found temporary accommodation. Alternatively Children’s Social Care may be asked by a referring agency to undertake an assessment of their needs.

  • If the family are known to Children’s Social Care the worker must undertake an assessment regarding the suitability of the accommodation;
  • If the request for assessment has come from another agency the Statutory Assessment must consider the suitability of the accommodation;
  • The assessment in either case must cover such factors as conditions, state of repair, heating, lighting, other tenants, access, security and safety and risk to young person;
  • If the accommodation is thought to be unsuitable then the Team Manager must be advised;
  • The Team Manager must then write to Your Homes Newcastle (YHN) informing them that the accommodation provided is thought to be unfit for a child to live in.

In such circumstances a Planning Meeting should be convened to consider the overall needs of the child. YHN must always be invited to attend.

7.8 Referrals of Children not attending school

If a referral is received about non-school attendance, or during the completion of an Statutory Assessment or ongoing work with a family it becomes apparent that a child of school age is failing to attend school or is not registered at a school, the Social Worker will:

  • Raise the matter with the family;
  • Make an immediate referral to the local Education Welfare Service or Officer (the referral must be confirmed in writing to the Principal EWO within the LEA and copied to the Education Welfare Service);
  • Record on ICS any action agreed with the Education Welfare Service about the school absence;
  • Make an immediate referral to ASPIRE service if the child is a Looked After Child.

Note: Looked after children within this context include children being educated within private educational facilities, i.e. Independent Special Schools and settings not approved by Education.

7.9 Children Admitted To Hospital

If a child is admitted to hospital and the staff have either Child in Need or Child Protection concerns, Children’s Social Care should be immediately notified as per these procedures. Liaison must take place between Paediatric Staff and Children’s Social Care within one day to agree what action, if any, is required. The child should not be discharged from hospital without a written plan being agreed, which highlights how these concerns will be address.

7.10 Unaccompanied Minors

Any child/young person presenting as an unaccompanied minor, will be considered to be a vulnerable child/young person in need. The child/young person will be placed in care of Local Authority, while an age assessment alongside a Statutory Assessment is undertaken. The child/young person has the right to the protection and remedies offered by the Criminal Law. It is essential that consideration be given to guidance that includes: trafficked children; forced marriage; honour based violence. In these circumstances refer to the Newcastle Safeguarding Children Board (NSCB) Procedures Manual.

Close liaison with the Police and Border and Immigration is essential throughout this assessment process.

7.11 Families Who Have No Recourse to Public Funds

There may be occasion where families present having no legal status to remain within this country. The families may seek assistance to return to their home of origin. Alternatively the family may request access to services from Children’s Social Care under s.17 arrangements. In these circumstances a Statutory Assessment which addresses the holistic needs of the children must be initiated.

See also Families with No Recourse to Public Funds Procedure.

Click here for flow chart and consulate information for Returning a Family to their Country of Origin, with a Child and without a Passport.

8. Contacts and Referrals Out of Hours

Contacts or referrals that need to be made outside of office hours must be made to the Emergency Duty Team. The EDT will act on behalf of Children’s Social Care, providing an out of office hours service (5.00pm - 8.45am), including weekends and Bank Holidays.

Where anyone has a concern for a child’s safety and welfare outside of normal office hours s/he can contact EDT for a check to be made regarding a Child Protection Plan. The referral will be taken and passed to the day services the following working day, unless emergency action is required.

The EDT social worker will advise the referrer of their decision and any action to be taken. The EDT social worker will advise on whether:

  • The discussion will be logged with no further action;
  • A referral will be taken and passed to the Initial Response Service for consideration the next working day;
  • Immediate action will be taken to protect a child.

If there is a difference of opinion between the referrer and the EDT worker regarding the status of a referral, the EDT worker will consult with police colleagues and a home visit will be made if it is felt necessary to assess the situation and any risk to the child/ren. Following assessment, if the EDT Social Worker does not believe that a Child in Need of protection referral should be made, s/he should provide advice, assistance and support to the family as required and record all the information to pass to the Initial Response Service the next working day. In this event the Duty social worker must contact the referrer on receipt of the information to further discuss their concerns and attempt to resolve any disagreement.

8.1 Handover between Day Services and EDT

To ensure that information is passed on from EDT to daytime services, EDT must update ICS immediately and that information is sent on to IRS the next working day.