Contacts and Referrals


This chapter should be read in conjunction with:

Threshold Framework: Luton Safeguarding Children Board

Bedford Borough, Central Bedfordshire and Luton Safeguarding Children Boards Procedures, Information Sharing

Luton Protocol for Single Assessments in Children's Social Care

DfE, Information sharing: advice for safeguarding practitioners

Working Together to Safeguard Children (DfE)


In March 2018, this chapter was revised to set out in more detail the timetable and partnership requirements associated with effectively managing contacts and referrals.

1. Initial Contacts

A 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. In Luton, this function is provided by either the Early Help Service or the Multi Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH), depending upon the nature of the contact and its needs according to the Threshold document.

All Contacts need to be considered alongside the Threshold Document and Early Help Threshold and in consultations with the Safeguarding Lead in the agency making the referral and a decision made within 24 hours regarding the level of response required.

At any time, a Contact may become a Referral if it appears that services may be required for a Child in Need.

Any significant information received about a child who is an open case should be regarded as information on an open case, passed to the child's allocated social worker and recorded on the electronic data-base.

The Early Help Assessment (EHA) is not a referral form, although it may be used to support a Referral or a specialist assessment.

All enquiries where a child is not at immediate risk of, or is likely to suffer significant harm, should be directed in the first instance to the Early Help Duty worker for advice.

In all other cases, at the point when a Contact is made to the MASH, the MASH Officer should establish whether the enquiry can be dealt with by the provision of information and advice or re-direction to other agencies or services.

The MASH worker should also check the electronic data-base records to see if the child or family is known and, if so, retrieve information on them (see Section 4, Early Help).

2. Referrals

A Contact will be progressed to a Referral where the MASH Officer or manager considers an assessment and/or services may be required for a Child in Need or in Need of Protection.

Referrers should have the opportunity to discuss their significant concerns with a qualified social worker. MASH Officers are senior Social Workers.

The referrer 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.

The MASH Officer will ask the referrer and obtain as much of the following information as possible:
  • Full names, dates of birth and gender of children;
  • Family address and, where relevant, school/nursery attended;
  • Identity of those with Parental Responsibility;
  • Names and dates of birth of all members of the household;
  • Ethnicity, first language and religion of children and parents;
  • Nationality and immigration status;
  • Any additional needs of the children including the means in which they communicate;
  • Any significant recent or past events;
  • Cause for concern including details of allegations, their sources, timing and location;
  • The child's current location and emotional and physical condition;
  • Whether the child needs immediate protection;
  • Details of any alleged perpetrator;
  • Referrer's relationship with and knowledge of the child and their family;
  • Known involvement of other agencies;
  • Information regarding parents' knowledge of the referral.

Once the Contact has been accepted by the MASH as meeting tier 4 of the Threshold document, the matter will be transferred to a Child Protection And Assessment Neighbourhood Team and the lead professional role falls to a social worker.

The social worker and their manager should clarify with the referrer, the nature of the concerns and how and why they have arisen to satisfy themselves as to the focus of the assessment to be completed.

3. Timescales

Once accepted, all Contacts must be considered and a decision made about their disposal within the RAG rating process for MASH (please see the MASH Timescales and RAG Rating Policy) of the initial contact. (Note: This should be as soon as possible where it is evident the child is seen as requiring immediate protection/urgent action).

The MASH Officer and their manager 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;
  • 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;
    (See Bedford Borough, Central Bedfordshire and Luton Safeguarding Children Boards, Child Protection Enquiries Procedure for timescales);
  • The child is in need, and should be assessed under Section 17 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.

4. Early Help

The following process applies both to children who are already known to the authority and those who were not previously known.

The process of Referrals must include screening against the Threshold Document and/or EHA and must include internal electronic database and agency checks to establish whether the family is previously known, and whether there is a Child Protection Plan in relation to the child and/or whether the child is Looked After.

The screening process should establish:

  • The nature of the concern;
  • How and why it has arisen;
  • What the child's needs appear to be;
  • Whether the concern involves Significant Harm;
  • Whether there is any need for urgent action to protect the child or any children in the household.

This process will involve:

  • Discussion with the referrer;
  • Consideration of any existing records, including whether the child is the subject of a Child Protection Plan;
  • The parent or carer should normally be informed that a Referral is being made unless to do so would place a child or vulnerable adult at increased risk of harm;
  • The Information shared should always be necessary, proportionate, relevant, accurate, timely and secure;
  • Involving other agencies as appropriate and in accordance with Information sharing: advice for safeguarding practitioners (GOV.UK) and Working Together to Safeguard Children.

If there are indications that a child may be at risk of Significant Harm, the manager may authorise whatever actions are necessary to protect the child or others in the household from Significant Harm, which may result in the immediate provision of services. There should be consideration of a Strategy Discussion and of a multi-agency response (see Bedford Borough, Central Bedfordshire and Luton Safeguarding Children Boards, Strategy Meeting Procedure).

If there is suspicion that a crime may have been committed including sexual or physical assault or neglect of the child, the Police must be notified immediately.

Personal information about non-professional referrers should not be disclosed to the parents or other agencies without the referrer's consent.

Parents/carers should usually be informed before discussing a referral with other agencies unless this may place the child at risk of Significant Harm, in which case the manager should authorise the discussion of the referral with other agencies without parental knowledge. The authorisation should be recorded with reasons.

5. Initial Disposal of Contacts

The initial disposal of a Contact, which must be authorised by the Manager, may be:

  1. That the child does not appear to be a Child in Need, which will result in one of the following: the provision of information, advice, sign-posting to another agency and/or no further action;
  2. That the child appears to be a Child in Need with a moderate level of need, in which case, the manager may authorise a Single Assessment;
  3. That the child appears to be a Child in Need with a high level of need, which must result in a Single Assessment;
  4. That it is suspected that the child is suffering or is likely to suffer from Significant Harm, which will result in a Single Assessment, with a view to conducting a Strategy Discussion, prior to a Section 47 Enquiry commencing;
  5. Initial Strategy Discussions will be instigated and held within the MASH. Any subsequent Section 47 investigation will be undertaken by the relevant Neighbourhood Team.

Professional referrers should be advised of the outcome of the Contact, by the MASH Officer.

Feedback on the outcome of the Contact should also be provided to non-professional referrers in a manner consistent with respecting the confidentiality of the child.

The child and family must be informed of the action to be taken.

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

Where requested to do so by local authority 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.

6. Recording of Referrals

All Contacts and Referrals should be recorded on the appropriate electronic database.