Referral (share your concerns): decision making

Key points

All agencies involved in child protection have a responsibility to pursue concerns in the management of the protection plan. Whilst the lead agency will be social services, all decisions should be open and transparent, in that all professionals, and family members, should be in a position to understand, and to contribute to decisions which affect the management of the case, where ever practicable.

It is not in the best interest of the child/young person for any professional to accept what they perceive to be, for example, a poor decision, lack of action or inappropriate intervention, without raising their concerns. It is the responsibility of the worker raising the issue to ensure that these concerns are followed up, a response received and the result noted on the file. Where there is no response to concerns that are raised,  the procedure below should be followed.

The different cultures within agencies sometimes result in different meanings being attached to the same word. Particular care needs to be taken to ensure that the dispute is not as a result of this kind of misunderstanding. As such it is important that at every stage, care is taken to identify and understand the exact nature of the concerns of the other party. The underlying principle must always be what action is in the best interest of the child/young person, taking into account any risks presenting.

How to do it

This process must be used when there is a fundamental disagreement between agencies, over the way to proceed in the management of individual cases:

1) As a first step the practitioners in dispute should discuss the situation and make every effort to listen to and understand the concerns of the other. Where a solution that is acceptable to both parties cannot be found and either party feels that the welfare/wellbeing of the client is at risk because of this, the matter must be referred to the line managers and a record made of the nature of the disagreement and the action taken to refer upwards. This must be documented within the individual case records.

2) The line managers will then discuss the situation and confer. Where an agreement is reached, this should be documented in writing with a copy for the individual case records. Where they are unable to come to a resolution, a professional meeting should be called. Depending on the complexity of the issue; it may be appropriate to utilise independent facilitation for this meeting. The agency raising the concern should organise, chair and minute the meeting.

The line managers will need to make a judgment on the urgency of the meeting, weighing up the risk issues involved. When an organisation believes there are significant risks presenting, all relevant staff will be expected to prioritize attendance at this meeting to ensure timely and effective action. The timescales for calling the meeting must be informed by the level of perceived risk. In some situations it will be necessary to do it the same day, others may be able to wait a week or more, but in all cases this needs to be within ten working days.

Discussions at the meeting and any actions agreed must be appropriately documented in minutes and on the individual file.

3) The Child Protection Committee Lead Officer should be notified of the circumstances and a copy of the minutes forwarded for information. Following the meeting, if there is still no agreed way forward the matter will be raised with the relevant senior manager, e.g. head of service or general manage (Health), who will discuss the case and try to resolve. The senior manager will ensure that the relevant senior staff are involved in any discussions. Any note of concern and decision will recorded on individual case records.

4) If this is unsuccessful, final arbitration will be with the Chief Social Work Officer/Chief Executive NHS Borders/Divisional Commander of Police etc. This process does not take precedence over any other existing multi agency agreement.

Lessons from research

‘There was hesitancy in challenging the opinion of other professionals which appeared to stem from a lack of confidence, knowledge, experience or status. Although there were some good examples of incidents of confident professional challenge, sustained challenge was difficult, and differences of opinion or judgment were rarely pursued to a satisfactory conclusion.’

Taken from: Analysing child deaths and serious injury through abuse and neglect: what can we learn? A biennial analysis of serious case reviews 2003-2005, page 10, Research Report DCSF-RR023.

National Guidance for Child Protection in Scotland 2010