Assessment and Referral for Children's Services
What is a referral, and who can make one to Children's Services?
In the context of child protection, a referral occurs when someone contacts Children's Services about the child's well-being and safety.
Anyone, including a friend, family member, parent, teacher, or doctor, can make a referral.
What happens when a referral is made to Children's Services?
When Children's Services receives information from a referral indicating serious concerns about the child's well-being and safety, they have 24 hours after receiving the information to decide what action to take. The social workers of Children's Services must consider the following factors when making their decision:
If the child or children require assistance,
If the child or children require immediate and urgent protection and whether action must be taken.
If there are reasonable grounds to believe that the child or children is/are suffering or is likely to suffer significant harm, and whether further investigations are required.
If the child or children require any services, what are those services?
Whether a specialist assessment is needed to determine next steps and assist Children's Services.
Is there anything that needs to be done?
Is it necessary to refer the matter to an appropriate agency if action from Children's Services is not required
What if Children's Services decides to conduct an assessment as a result of a referral?
Unless a child for whom a referral has been received requires immediate protection, most cases begin with a social worker conducting a multi-agency assessment which must be completed within 45 days of receiving the referral.
The assessment's primary goals are to collect information and analyze the risk of harm to the child, the nature of the risk and the needs of the child and family.
Every Local Authority will have its own child protection protocols and assessment
procedure. However, they will generally include the following;
Meet with the child's or children's family members and discuss the allegations made against them.
Separately from the family, conduct an interview with the child.
Determine the child's developmental requirements.
Examine the parent's ability to respond to the needs of the child.
Analyze and take into account the family history, family impact, and environmental factors, as well as the parents' ability to respond to the child's developmental progress and needs.
What if I don't want my child to be interviewed on their own?
Children's Services are legally required to ascertain the child's feelings and wishes under the provisions of the Children Act, 1989. Guidance on “Working Together in order to Safeguard Children” states that children should be seen alone whenever possible.
Social workers will always communicate with the child in an age-appropriate manner.
If the parents do not want their child to be interviewed by social workers on their own this could lead to social workers becoming concerned about the child's well-being and safety.
Such incidents may result in the involvement of Children's Services being escalated. A court order, for example, can be issued to ensure the child's safety.
Though it is natural to be concerned for your child, Children's Services have to be able to conduct a full assessment, which often involves speaking with the child alone.
What are the possible outcomes of a Children's Services assessment?
The outcome of the Children's Services assessment will be one of the following:
The child is classed as “Not In Need” The Children's Services will take no further action in this case. They may provide information and advice as needed to the parents but will not be taking formal action.
The child is classified as “In Need” but it has been determined that the child is not suffering from or is at risk of suffering from any significant harm. (This covers children who may be unable to achieve a standard level of health and development without extra help. Children classed as such may have a serious disability, be Young Carers, be seeking asylum or have committed a crime) In such a case, Children's Services must determine the appropriate support action by developing a Child In Need plan.
The child is "In need", and there are concerns that the child is at risk of suffering significant harm. In such cases, Children's Services will initiate a Strategy Discussion to determine whether an investigation under Section 47 is required and if immediate protective care is necessary.
What exactly is Strategy Discussion?
A strategy discussion is a meeting held by Children's Services when there is reasonable cause to believe that a child is at risk of suffering or is likely to suffer significant harm.
Though the discussion will be lead by Children’s Services, other agencies such as health, police, and education providers can and often will be involved in such discussions.
The Strategy Discussion's objectives are listed below;
Distribute the information to the agencies involved;
decide what additional steps should be taken to protect the child in question, including any immediate action required;
Prepare for the Section 47 investigation
Determine when social workers should interview the child based on the child's age.
Determine what information from the Strategy Discussion should be shared with the family. Information will not be shared if it increases the risk of harm to the child or jeopardizes a criminal investigation.
It should be noted that family members and parents are not allowed to attend the strategy discussion.
What exactly is Section 47?
Under the Child Act 1989, a Section 47 enquiry is carried out to ascertain if any and what type of action is required to safeguard and promote the welfare of a child who is suspected of, or likely to be, suffering significant harm. When such concerns are raised a multi-agency assessment Enquiries should be carried out.
If Section 47 investigations reveal that the child is suffering or is likely to suffer significant harm, a Child Protection Plan can be implemented.
Read our detailed articles on Section 47s here.
How will Children's Services determine whether the child is in danger?
The definition of "harm" is "ill-treatment or impairment of health or development." It includes any impairment caused by hearing or seeing mistreatment happening to someone else.
Harm involves any types of abuse, not just physical abuse. If a child's developement is being hindered Children's Services will take note of this.
Under Section 31(10) of the Children Act, 1989 Children's Services will perform a comparison of the child's development or health to a similar child not suffering harm.
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