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3.1 Referrals


Professionals, employees, managers, helpers, carers and volunteers in all agencies must make a referral to the Children's Services Assessment Team:

  • If it is believed or suspected that a child is suffering or is likely to suffer Significant Harm; or
  • Where a professional has identified unmet need in relation to a Child in Need including significant impairment of health or development.

A referral must be made as soon as possible when any concern of significant harm becomes known - the greater the level of perceived risk, the more urgent the action should be.


The belief or suspicion about significant harm may be based on information which comes from different sources. It may arise in the context of the Families First Assessment where the Lead Professional becomes concerned about the extent of the child's unmet needs and the risk of harm to the child. It may come from a member of the public, the child concerned, another child, a family member or other 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.

The suspicion or allegation may relate to a parent or professional or volunteer caring for or working with the child - see Managing Allegations against Adults who work with Children and Young People Procedure.

A referral must be made even if it is known that Children's Services are already involved with the child/family (see also section below under Children’s Services).

Professionals may seek advice and consultation about the appropriateness of a referral by contacting the MASH (Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub) or, if the case is open, from the allocated social worker. Alternatively advice may be sought from the Police or a Designated Professional or Named Professional within your agency.

Children’s Services child protection and service request forms

The child protection referral form and new service request form are:

  • The Child Protection Referral form is for safeguarding concerns only;
  • The Service Request form  is for a request for a service within Children’s Services, where a child or young person has a need which requires a response from one agency only. (for multiple needs a Families First Assessment should be considered).
Both forms can be filled in online and are available with guidance on Hertfordshire County Council Website at: Hertfordshire County Council website: Families First Assessment, SR, Personalised Commissioning & Early Support Forms and Guidance.

Where Can I go for Advice about a Referral?

Continuum of Needs

When considering the threshold of needs for a child, and whether the needs require a targeted (Families First Assessment process) or specialist service (i.e. referral to Children's Services) please refer to Continuum of Needs document. See the Families First Assessment for information. Hertfordshire Safeguarding Children’s Board is working with Children’s Services to produce a Threshold Document, which will include a process for early help, see Continuum of Needs.

See also the Hertfordshire Social Work Procedures Manual, Children in Need and Safeguarding.

Designated Professionals

If you are unsure about making a referral to Children's Services, schools, Children's Centres and health agencies all have designated (or named) professionals responsible for safeguarding children and these professionals should be your first point of contact. Ask your manager if you are not sure who your safeguarding designated or named professional is.

MASH (Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub) Consultation Line

A consultation service to practitioners where they are unsure about safeguarding concerns is available. It is the expectation that practitioners would first discuss the matter with their agency safeguarding lead or designated professional and would contact advice line if they were still unsure.

Children's Services

Where a case is already open to Children's Services, concerns/information should be sent to the allocated social worker (e.g. via information documented within a referral form or telephone call and email follow up). If you have information which suggests an urgent child protection matter, please speak to the allocated social worker or their Team Manager without delay.

If there is a clear safeguarding concern where the child is not already known and an open case to Children's Services, or, if you do not know the name of the allocated social worker, you should contact the Customer Services Centre directly to make a new referral. Customer Service Centre: 0300 123 4043.

See also Section 5, Confirmation of Referral and Section 6, Recording by Referrer about confirming referrals in writing, using the Standard Referral Form.



This chapter was updated in March 2018 to reflect local practice.

This chapter is currently under review and is being updated.


  1. Introduction
  2. Referrals from Members of the Public
  3. Professional Referrals and Referral Criteria
  4. Information to be Provided with a Referral
  5. Confirmation of Referral
  6. Recording by Referrer
  7. Screening by Children's Services
  8. Consent
  9. Checking Information Received with the Referral by Children’s Services
  10. Outcome of Screening the Referral
  11. No Further Action 
  12. Cross Boundary Referrals
  13. Pre Birth Referrals
  14. Communication with the Referrer
  15. Case Allocation Considerations

1. Introduction

This Assessment Framework triangle in Working Together to Safeguard Children provides a systematic multi-agency approach to record and analyse what is happening to children and young people within their families and the wider context of the community in which they live.

The framework provides a standardised approach to the referral and assessment process within Children's Services and all referrals are subject to this screening and assessment process.

Staff in all agencies should be aware of the framework and what it might mean for them in terms of their contribution to assessments of children in need. When the Families First Assessment process is in progress, it should inform the overall assessment process. The CAF Form is not a referral form although it may be used to support a referral or a specialist assessment.

The Assessment Framework captures and analyses information by means of:

At all stages of referral and assessment, consideration must be given to issues of diversity, so that the impact of cultural expectations and obligations are understood.

Where there are any communication difficulties, an interpreter should be used. Consideration should be given to the needs of those families who speak English adequately for day to day interactions, but whose linguistic abilities may be insufficient to understand sensitive and complex discussions about parenting and child welfare. Family members should not be used as interpreters.

Some families may have little knowledge of the law with regard to the power of the state to intervene in the area of child welfare and may need help to appreciate the implications of this for their child(ren).

The Safety of the Child:

Throughout the assessment processes, the safety of the child remains paramount at all times and in all circumstances.

Where abuse is alleged, the initial response by professionals should be limited to listening carefully to what the child says so as to:

  • Clarify the concerns;
  • Offer re-assurance about how (s)he will be kept safe; and
  • Explain what action will be taken.

The child must not be pressed for information, led, cross-examined or given false assurances of absolute confidentiality. Such well intentioned actions could prejudice Police investigations, especially in cases of sexual abuse.

If the child can understand the significance and consequences of making a referral to Children's Services, (s)he should be asked her/his view. However, using a child-centred approach the children should be informed, engaged and involved in procedures, decisions, concerns and plans.

Regardless of the child's view, it remains the responsibility of the professional to take whatever action is required to ensure the safety of that child and any other children.

Children's Services determines whether a referral should be assessed for local authority support services to a child in need (see Section 17, Children Act 1989) or whether child protection enquiries are required (see Section 47, Children Act 1989).

Any concerns about Adults at Risk arising during the assessment process (or at any point in Children's Services intervention) should be referred to the Adult Care Services of Hertfordshire.

Incidents of abuse and neglect within families are on a continuum and situations where abuse is developing can, at times, be resolved by support services outside the child protection procedures such as the Families First Assessment process, Assessment Framework and Family Support Services or through the Assessment and a Child in Need Plan. This may include Child in Need meetings and /or Family Group Conferences and other service provision to support child and family.

Link with Child Protection Enquiries

A decision to initiate a child protection enquiry a Section 47 Enquiry may be taken at any time, whenever it is believed or suspected that a child is suffering or is likely to suffer Significant Harm.

The outcome of the Assessment completed within a maximum of 45 working days (please see local guidelines for Hertfordshire's timescales) may be a Section 47 Enquiry. The process may be much shorter because the facts clearly indicate a need for a Strategy Discussion which will initiate the Section 47 Enquiry.

An Assessment should always be commenced following the Strategy Discussion initiating the Section 47 Enquiry and must be concluded within 45 working days from the point of referral.

2. Referral from Members of the Public

When members of the public are concerned about the welfare of a child or an unborn baby, they should contact the Customer Services Centre (CSC), who will either pass the referral to the MASH, or the relevant Specialist or Safeguarding Social Care Team. Child protection concerns will be fast tracked to the appropriate Assessment Team for immediate action. See Local Contacts for telephone numbers.

The Police and the NSPCC help lines offer an alternative means of reporting concerns and they must inform Children's Services of any child protection concerns.

Any professional from another agency receiving a child protection referral from a member of the public must:

  • Advise her/him to refer directly to Children's Services via the CSC;
  • Inform Children's Services of the details of the concern via CSC;
  • Note details of the concern and the communication with CSC.

Individuals may prefer not to give their name to Children's Services or the NSPCC. Anonymous referrals from members of the public must be fully recorded and investigated thoroughly by Children's Services.

Alternatively the referrer may disclose their identity, but not wish for it to be revealed to the parents / carers of the child concerned. The “identity” of the carer as an issue must be distinguished from the “information” which they are providing in relation to the facts of the case. Where the referrer is a member of the public, personal information about the referrer, including identity details, should only be disclosed to a third party with the consent of the referrer.

Where possible, staff should respect a referrer's request for anonymity. But there are however, certain limited circumstances in which her/his identity may have to be given e.g. to a court. This should always be explained to the referrer.

3. Professional Referrals and Referral Criteria


Staff in Hertfordshire HSCB member agencies and contracted service providers must make a referral to Children's Services if there are signs that a child under the age of eighteen or an unborn baby:

  • Is suffering or has suffered abuse and / or neglect;
  • Is likely to suffer abuse and / or neglect; or
  • (With agreement of a person with parental responsibility) would be likely to benefit from family support services.

Whilst professionals should, in general, seek to discuss any concerns with the family and where possible seek their agreement to making referrals to Children's Services, this should only be done where such discussion and agreement-seeking will not place a child at an increased likelihood of suffering Significant Harm.

Professional referrals cannot be anonymous and should be made in the knowledge that during the course of enquiries it will be made clear which agency has originated the referral.

A notification that a child who is subject to a CP plan in another local authority area, and / or a request to arrange an initial (“transfer”) child protection conference for such a child should be received and responded to as a referral. The referral should not be accepted until sufficient relevant information and documents have been received from the referring authority. Such cases should be allocated with a Locality Family Safeguarding Team for assessment as described in Children Moving Across Local Authority Boundaries Procedure, Role of Officers Responsible for Placements where a Child Subject to a Child Protection Plan Moves between Local Authorities.

General referrals to Children's Services

The referral to Children's Social Care process for professionals is the same as for the public, via the Customer Services Centre (CSC), telephone: 0300 123 4043, e-mail:

Health referrals to Children's Services

All health referrals from hospital or CCG must include the child’s NHS number and must be made on a Child Protection Form or Service Request Form and faxed to Customer Service Centre on their dedicated number.

Police and Schools

Police and all schools and educational establishments should make referrals direct to the Customer Service Centre on their dedicated number, or if known, the named worker or team.

Referrals Outside Normal Hours

Referrals to Children's Services outside normal Customer Service Centre hours (08.00 - 20-00 Monday - Friday & 09.00 - 16.00 Saturday) are diverted to the Safeguarding Out of Hours Service.

Referrals to the Police Joint Child Protection Investigation Team (JCPIT) should be made on 101 (unless it is an emergency then dial 999). The JCPIT normal hours are 08.00 - 22.00 Monday - Friday & 08.00 - 17.00 week-ends and Bank Holidays. Any emergency calls outside of these hours should be made via the 999 system.

4. Information to be provided with a Referral

Where it is available, the following information should be provided with the referral (but the absence of any information must not delay the referral):

  • Cause for concern including details of any allegations, the source(s) of these, timing and location of incident(s);
  • Child's current location and emotional and physical condition;
  • Whether the child needs immediate protection;
  • Full names, date of birth and gender of child(ren) (including all surnames used);
  • Family address (current, when last moved and previous address);
  • Identity of those with parental responsibility;
  • Names and date of birth of all household members and any known regular visitors to the household (including all surnames used);
  • Details of child's extended family or community who are significant for the child;
  • Ethnicity, first language and religion of children, parents / carers;
  • Any need for an interpreter, signer or other communication aid;
  • Any special needs of child(ren) and other household members;
  • Any significant / important recent or historical events / incidents in child or family's life, including previous concerns;
  • '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';
  • Details of any alleged perpetrators (if relevant);
  • Background information relevant to referral e.g. positive aspects of parents care, previous concerns, pertinent parental issues e.g. mental health, domestic violence, drug or alcohol abuse, threats and violence towards professionals;
  • Referrer's relationship and knowledge of child and parents / carers;
  • Known current or previous involvement of other agencies / professionals e.g. schools, GPs;
  • Information regarding parental knowledge of, and agreement to, the referral;
  • Where the referrer is a member of the public consent should be obtained for disclosure of their identity – see Section 2, Referral from Members of the Public above.

5. Confirmation of Referral

The professional referrer must confirm verbal and telephone referrals in writing, within twenty four hours, where possible using a multi-agency referral form. Any CAF that has been undertaken should be attached to the referral. Referrals should be addressed to Customer Service Centre, P.O. Box 153, Stevenage, Herts. SG1 2GH Fax: 01438 737402(MB2).

Children's Services must acknowledge referrals in writing within one working day of receipt. If no acknowledgement is received within three working days, the referrer must contact Children's Services again to establish the current status of the referral.

6. Recording by Referrer

The referrer should keep a written record of:

  • Discussions with child;
  • Discussions with parent;
  • Discussions with managers;
  • Information provided to Children's Services;
  • Decisions taken (clearly timed, dated and signed).

7. Screening by Children's Services

All referrals to Children's Services should initially be regarded as Children in potential Need of services and in potential need of protection. The information must be evaluated on the day of receipt (or within one working day) and a decision made about the next course of action. When taking a referral, staff must establish as much of the information detailed above as possible:

This screening process should establish:

  • The nature of the concern;
  • How and why it has arisen;
  • What the child's needs appear to be;
  • Current location of child, when last seen and by whom;
  • Whether the concern involves abuse or neglect (e.g. Is the child a Child in Need and an assessment should start, or is it suspected that the child is suffering or is likely to suffer Significant Harm and should an Assessment under Section 47 be commenced?);
  • The foundations for these concerns;
  • Any need for urgent action to protect the child / any other children (does the child require immediate protection?);
  • Services should be provided;
  • Further specialist assessment is required;
  • Whether the child is or has been known to children’s services. Whether the child has any siblings, including half-siblings, or there are other children in the household, that are or have been known to children’s services. Whether adult members of the child’s family (including those closely connected to the child’s family, i.e. mother’s boyfriend) have themselves been known to children’s services and whether these adult members have other children who are or have been known to children’s services.

Once a referral is accepted, the social worker becomes the Lead Professional.

This above process will involve:

  • Discussion with referrers;
  • Consideration of any existing records for the child and for any other members of the household (including if children are or have ever been the subject of Child Protection Plans);
  • Involving other agencies as appropriate (including the Police if any offence has been or is suspected to have been committed) (see also Section 47 Enquiry Procedure, Single and Joint Agency Investigations).

Personal information about non-professional referrers including subject families and other agencies, should not (without consent) be disclosed to third parties.

8. Consent

The child and family should be informed and parents' permission should generally be sought by Children's Services before discussing a referral about them with other agencies. Permission is not required if any criteria below apply.

If parent(s) have not been informed prior to referral, the professional referrer should be asked to inform them unless it is considered to do so might place the child at an increased likelihood of suffering significant harm by:

  • The behavioural response it prompts e.g. a child being subjected to abuse, maltreatment or threats / forced to remain silent if alleged abuser informed;
  • Leading to an unreasonable delay;
  • Leading to the risk of loss of evidential material;
  • Placing a member of staff from any agency at risk. 

Inter-agency discussion without parental permission may also be justified if it is concluded information held in other organisations is likely to inform a decision to conduct Section 47 Enquiries.

In the absence of consent by the parents the Lead Professional should make a judgement as to whether, without help, the needs of the child to be safeguarded will escalate.

The Children's Services Team Manager should authorise any decision to discuss the referral with other agencies without parental knowledge or permission, and the reasons for such action must be recorded. When there is a possibility that a crime may have been committed, discussion with the Police must occur prior to informing the parents of the concern.

9. Checking Information Received with the Referral by Children’s Services

Other agencies' response to requests by Children's Services for information should be in accordance with Information Sharing and Confidentiality Procedure.

Practitioners in Children’s Services will be undertaking systematic investigations with colleagues in partner agencies in order to avoid jumping to conclusions and to ensure that professional decision making is based on evidence. To assist the investigations they will need to determine which adults are relevant to the child, especially all males, with particular care to spelling of name, alternative names, etc.

  • The adults will require background checks, in relation to any criminal history such as sexual offences and any history of being looked after, substance misuse, domestic violence and relevant mental health problems;
  • Often relevant adults, who come to light after an investigation, or while a child protection plan is current, need to be checked as a matter of course;
  • The Probation services may have highly relevant information;
  • Information available in relation to the address, in particular known violence, drug dealing, sex work, etc should be checked with agencies with local knowledge such as Housing agencies for example;
  • An enquiry letter should be forwarded to relevant doctors, in the main this is the child’s GP. There is a standard letter to be sent electronically from a secure server to NHS.net1. All GP practices should have an address which is used regularly (it may also be appropriate to telephone the GP practice to alert it to the email or have a conversation.

Note: Medical information about the adult carers in relation to the “toxic trio” as identified in many Serious Case Reviews (violence, mental ill-health, substance and alcohol misuse) should lead to further enquiries from CRI-Spectrum, HPFT etc bearing in mind that many adults with mental health difficulties have only ever seen their own GP, who might not be the same GP or GP Practice as the child’s.

The above information should be sought before the decision is taken by Children’s Services and partner agencies as to which agencies will conduct the Section 47 investigation.

Where the concerns referred relate to Physical abuse:

The practitioners will make enquiries about the history of any injury as in many instances r a child is referred by health practitioners with an injury, which there is no immediate explanation for. Most injuries are not independently diagnostic of abuse. The history taking needs systematic follow-up by the three core agencies; Children’s Services, Health professionals and the Police working together, usually undertaken as a Police interview. Very often it is necessary to undertake a forensic home visit which particularly applies to thermal injuries of concern. It is often necessary to hold a re-convened strategy meeting which may be by telephone conference.

See also: Bruising Flowchart and Multi-Agency Protocol for the Management of bruising, bites and suspicious/unexplained marks in children (0-17) and Recognition of Child Abuse 5th Edition.

10. Outcome of Screening the Referral

The outcome of the referral must involve immediate evaluation of any concerns about either the child's health and development, or actual and/or potential harm, which may justify further enquiries, assessments and/or interventions.

The Team Manager / duty senior must be informed of any potential Section 47 Enquiries and authorise the decision to initiate a Strategy Discussion. If the child and/or family are well known to Children's Services and/or the facts clearly indicate that Section 47 Enquiries are required, it may be appropriate to hold a Strategy Discussion without further assessment - in that case the referral information will also constitute the Assessment.

The threshold may be met for a Section 47 Enquiry at the time of referral, during the assessment process or at any point of Children's Services involvement.

The Police must be informed at the earliest opportunity if a crime may have been committed. The Police must decide whether to commence a criminal investigation and a discussion held to plan how parents are to be informed of concerns without jeopardising Police investigations. In accordance with the national crime recording standards, if a crime has not been established the Police will record a child protection incident, a process which is accountable and auditable see Section 47 Enquiry Procedure, Single and Joint Agency Investigations.

The immediate response to referrals may be:

  • That the child appears to be a Child in Need and there are concerns about the child's health and development which justify an assessment;
  • That there is reason to believe that child has suffered or is likely to suffer Significant Harm which justifies an Assessment (which may be very brief if the criteria for initiating a Section 47 Enquiry are met);
  • That emergency protective action should be taken to safeguard the child or children (this will usually be determined by an immediate Strategy Discussion);
  • That the Families First Assessment process is appropriate at this stage; or
  • That the provision of advice and information is made; or
  • That no further action is required.

All agencies must act immediately to secure the welfare of the child. Where a child is to be removed, an Emergency Protection Order should be used.

The Team Manager must sign and approve the outcomes of the referral and ensure a chronology has been commenced and / or updated.

All referrals must be acknowledged in writing within one working day.

11. No Further Action

Where there is to be no further action, feedback should be provided to referrers about the decision and the reasons for making it.

In the case of referrals from the public, feedback must be consistent with the rights to confidentiality of the child and her/his family.

12. Cross Boundary Referrals

Any issues related to children and their families moving across local authority boundaries can be accessed in the Children Moving Across Local Authority Boundaries Procedure.

13. Pre Birth Referrals

Any professional who is working with expecting parents and  who has concerns in relation to the welfare of the unborn child must discuss and analyse them with her/his line manager, supervisor or designated Safeguarding officer.

If it appears that an unborn child is likely to suffer  significant harm a referral must be made to Children's Services. At any stage professionals may wish to consult Children's Services about the appropriateness of a referral. further guidance can be accessed in the Pre-Birth Protocol, Procedures and Guidance for Pre-Birth Assessment.

14. Communication with the Referrer

The referrer will be informed of what action has been, or will be taken, in writing, in line with data protection and parental/child consent guidelines.  If the referrer made the referral on behalf of someone else or referred on information s/he received, they will be reminded that it is their responsibility to feed back the actions to the person they received the information from.

Information on Hertfordshire’s MASH local referral process can be found on the HSCB website Homepage.

See also: MASH Leaflet.

and Single Assessment Procedure, Communication with the Referrer.

15. Case Allocation Considerations

Should an action following a referral include the provision of support from one of the social work teams, the allocation of each child who is a full-time or part-time member of a household to the same caseworker should always be considered. When household members are allocated to different caseworkers the respective social workers must  keep themselves aware of the care plans for each child so that these are consistent and the work is well coordinated.