A referral is a request from a member of the public or a professional to the local authority child protection team or the police to intervene to support or protect a child.
When reports about a child are referred, the police or the local authority child protection team will first assess if the child is at immediate risk of danger.
Helping children in immediate danger
When a child's in immediate danger, the local authority or an authorised person including the NSPCC, can take the following action through the courts:
emergency protection order
An emergency protection order can be issued to immediately remove a child to a place of safety.
An exclusion order can be issued to remove the abuser from the family home.
child assessment order
A child assessment order can be issued so that a children's social worker can assess the child's needs if the parents' or carers' won't give consent for them to do so.
removal by police
The police can remove a child to a place of safety for up to 72 hours without obtaining a court order.
Authorised person status
In England, Wales and Northern Ireland the NSPCC is unique amongst charities as it has statutory powers to intervene on behalf of children.
In these nations, only local authorities and the NSPCC can apply to a court for a care, supervision, or child assessment order.
What is significant harm and how is it determined
"Harm" is the "ill treatment or the impairment of the health or development of the child".
It is determined "significant" by "comparing a child's health and development with what might be reasonably expected of a similar child".
Although there is no absolute criteria for determining whether or not harm is "significant", local authorities such as social services, police, education and health agencies work with family members to assess the child, and a decision is made based on their professional judgement using the gathered evidence.
Legal definitions for the 4 nations:
no further child protection action
If the child hasn't been harmed and isn't considered to be at risk of significant harm, it may be decided that there doesn't need to be any further child protection action. The child and their family may be offered additional support, such as a parenting programme, instead.
designated as a child in need
If it's decided that the child is in need of further support from social services, they will officially become a child in need.
Child in need
Local authorities have a duty to "safeguard and promote the welfare of children who are in need". The national threshold for providing services is if a child is assessed as being a 'child in need'.
A child is defined as being 'in need' if:
Child in need status will cease to exist in Wales when the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act comes into force in 2016.
Legal definitions for the 4 nations:
view Section 17 of the Children Act 1989 (England and Wales)
view Section 17 of the Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995
view Section 22 and 93 of the Children (Scotland) Act 1995
strategy discussion takes place
If the initial referral suggests that the child may be at risk of significant harm then the professionals who work with the family will have a strategy discussion. A strategy discussion involves the social worker gathering more information from the child, parents, family members and other professionals. If the strategy discussion confirms concerns about a child, a section 47 enquiry will start.
section 47 enquiries take place
If the strategy discussion suggests that the child may be at risk of significant harm then the professionals who work with the family will decide if there should be section 47 enquiries. As part of the enquiry there will assessments of the child's welfare and safety needs. If the assessments find that the child is at risk of significant harm then there will be a child protection conference.
A case conference is held if the child is at risk of significant harm, so that all of the relevant professionals can share information, identify risks and outline what needs to be done to protect the child. This must happen within 15 working days of the strategy discussion.
Who's involved in a case conference:
What's considered during a case conference:
At an initial case conference all the relevant agencies share information, identify risks and outline what needs to be done to protect the child. At this conference professionals draw up an outline child protection plan which, if they decide a child is at risk of significant harm, the core group will then develop and implement. A core group is set up of family members and professionals. A child protection conference may also be help where there are concerns about an unborn child.
Child protection plans
The child protection plan sets out:
Case conferences will continue at regular intervals until the child is no longer considered at risk of significant harm or until they are taken into care.
view Section 47 of the Children Act 1989view Working together to safeguard children: a guide to inter-agency working to safeguard and promote the welfare of children (PDF)