Section 3: What to do in Response to Concerns

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In Section 2 we looked at the signs that may alert you to the possibility that a child is being abused.  We also looked at disclosure – where someone tells you about child abuse.  This section will deal with what you need to do next.

Reporting suspicions, disclosures or allegations of child abuse can feel very difficult.  However, one of the worst things you can do is to do nothing!  Investigations of many child deaths and serious injuries have shown that it may have been possible to prevent the death or injury if someone had acted sooner, e.g. in the case of Victoria Climbié, Kyra Ishaq and Baby Peter.  Any suspicions, allegations or disclosures of child abuse MUST be taken very seriously.  Everyone who works with children and/or their families has a duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of children.

If you work with children, young people and/or their families, or with adults who are parents or carers you should be familiar with your organisation’s child protection policies and procedures; and you should know whom to contact if you have a concern.  You may be concerned about data protection, confidentiality and sharing personal information, however, the law is clear that, where there are concerns about the safety or welfare of a child, this over-rides all other considerations.  Your organisation may have policies about confidentiality and information sharing which you should be familiar with.

If you are a member of the public who has a concern about the safety and/or welfare of a child or young person, you can get information about how to deal with those concerns from your Local Safeguarding Children Board website (see below) or from tne NSPCC Helpline on 0808 800 5000.

Your Local Safeguarding Children Board (LSCB) is a statutory partnership, made up of agencies whose job it is to work with children, young people and/or adults who may be parents/carers. These organisations have a statutory duty to work together to safeguard and promote the welfare of children. The LSCB produces multi-agency procedures about protecting children, information on related topics and runs training events.

What to do if You’re Worried a Child is Being Abused

Where the child needs urgent medical attention this must be dealt with as soon as possible. Any discussion with colleagues, the child, parents/carers or organisations can take place once medical attention has been received if necessary.

If you have immediate concerns that abuse has taken place and/or about risk to a child, then you should refer to your organisation’s child protection policies, if they exist, and/or speak with your manager/staff member responsible for child protection about an urgent referral to the child protection team at Children’s Social Care (North Yorkshire or City of York, as appropriate) – both formerly known as Social Services (see section on referrals), or the Police. If a manager is unavailable, you should take responsibility to refer immediately. If you are a member of the public, or your organisation does not have policies or managers, you should contact the Police or Children’s Social Care immediately. You should record any actions that you take, and the reasons. You will need to sign and date the record, and keep it in a secure place.

If you have concerns about the possibility that a child is being abused, or is at risk of abuse, you must record this (as outlined in Section 2).  Your organisation may have a child protection policy or procedure, if so, you should refer to this document, as it will tell you how to proceed.  You should discuss your concerns with your line manager or the staff member responsible for child protection.  If you remain concerned, but unsure how to proceed, you or your manager/child protection staff member should discuss this with a colleague in Children’s Social Care or the Police - this can be done without identifying the child or family as long as you give no details of names.

If you are a member of the public, work alone, or your organisation does not have any child protection procedures, it may be useful for you to ring Children’s Social Care, to discuss your concerns before you make a referral.  This may be helpful where your concerns are not clear or specific.

Whoever you discuss your concerns with; you should agree what will happen next, when it will happen and who is responsible for taking it forward. You should record this clearly. If you remain concerned, even if you are not certain that abuse has occurred, a referral should be made to Children’s Social Care,  Police or NSPCC National Helpline*.

* NB. It is NOT appropriate for statutory sector staff to make referrals to NSPCC National Helpline. This resource could be used for information and advice, but ALL referrals from staff in statutory sector agencies MUST go through the Police or Children’s Social Care.

Whom Should I Tell?

If you are a professional, it is good practice to discuss your concerns with the child as appropriate to their age and understanding.  You should also discuss concerns and actions with the child's carers/parents where possible - research shows that when you are open and honest about your concerns, your honesty will be respected by parents/carers and they are more likely to work with agencies. Talking with the parents about something you've noticed may reveal an innocent explanation, e.g. for weight loss, an injury or a significant change in the child's behaviour. You may find out something that is happening within the family, which means the child needs extra support from you to help them through some difficult family circumstance such as a family break up.

However you must NOT tell the parents/carers of your suspicions and concerns where you believe that:

  • The child is at immediate and serious risk of harm
  • Telling the parents/carers may put the child or another person at increased risk of harm
  • The child may have been subjected to sexual abuse
  • The parent/carer may be deliberately making the child ill, or 'inventing' illnesses
  • To do so may jeopardise police enquiries

Important - you should be clear that your role is not to investigate an allegation or concern, rather by discussing the concern with parents or the child you are only seeking to clarify what you have observed or been told.  If you have any doubts about discussing a concern with a parent, carer or child please seek advice.

Whatever the circumstances, the child's welfare and safety must come first, despite any impact that making a referral to the appropriate agencies may have upon the child's parents or carers.  You must ALWAYS maintain a focus on the child.

Making a Referral

Your organisation’s child protection policy may define who should make a referral.  If you are in doubt, if that person is not available or if you are not an employee, you should take responsibility to do it yourself.  You can make a referral to the Assessment and Safeguarding Team at Children’s Social Care, or the Police (see below for useful numbers).

You should make sure you have all available information about the child to hand.  You should give as much relevant detail as possible to the organisation you are referring to.  The minimum details you should try to give, if you have them, are:

  • What your concerns are (the Framework for the Assessment of Children in Need, at Appendix 2 of Working Toghether 2010, available online, may help in identifying and articulating the source of your concerns
  • The child’s name, date of birth or age, address, parent/carer’s name, school and doctor if possible
  • The child’s ethnicity and religion if known
  • What you saw, or were told; when and where this happened giving as much details as possible
  • What you have done so far; anyone you have spoken with including the parents/carers and child
  • Your name, phone number, email, workplace, address, job, manager etc.
  • Any potential danger or risk to staff or the public

You should make a record of which agency you made the referral to, whom you spoke to and what they agreed to do next (e.g. what will happen and when). You should tell the person you speak with that you wish to be kept informed of what happens. However, if you are not involved in further enquiries into possible abuse of the child, you may not be able to be given much information as this may jeopardise the investigation/enquiries.

If you are a professional, you should follow up your telephone referral with a written referral within 48 hours.  If you are referring to Children’s Social Care in City of York, forms can be found on the York Safeguarding Children Board website.  For North Yorkshire Children’s Social Care, you should submit a referral form if your agency has one or give the information by letter.  You should keep a copy, in a secure place, for your own records

Children's Social Care should confirm receipt of your written referral within 1 working day.  If you have not heard anything within 3 working days, you should contact them again and record who you speak with.

What Next?

Once you have made a referral, information will be gathered and decisions made as to what will happen next - you may be involved in these discussions and deliberations.

An assessment will be conducted, which may identify the need for support services or serious concerns about the child's welfare.  Depending on the action taken by the organisation you refer to, you may need to be involved further in the process. This could range from participating in the assessment to attending a Child Protection Conference or, more rarely, giving evidence in court. To ensure that you are prepared for any of these, you should keep all your original documentation and notes.

If there is a Child Protection Conference, this will be arranged by Children’s Social Care and attended by relevant professionals involved with the child and family. The family will be invited, along with the child where appropriate. The conference will establish what the risks are to the child, whether the child is at risk of harm, and plan what action needs to be taken to protect the child. The plans usually involve helping the parents/carers to be able to safely and appropriately look after their child/children.

Sometimes it may be decided that there is not enough information to take any further action.  It may be appropriate to undertake work using the Common Assessment Framework (CAF).  If you are unsure about whether, or how, to do this, seek advice from Children's Social Care or speak to your local Integrated Services Manager.  However, if you continue to feel that the child is at risk or being abused; or if you have any new information or information that suggests that the situation has changed, it is important that you don't give up.  Be persistent and re-refer if necessary.  Seek support from your manager, senior colleagues, child protection advisor or services based in the community (e.g. counselling services, faith leader) but be careful not to break confidentiality.

Dealing with any child protection issues can be stressful and upsetting for all those involved, including yourself. You should identify where you can get support, either within your own organisation from a senior colleague, manager or counselling service, from your community or external counselling service, and use the support.

NB. You must respect the confidentiality of anyone involved by not discussing the case in public places, and not revealing details which would identify the child, young person and/or family.

Useful Numbers

City of York Council Children's Social Care:  01904 613161 (referrals Monday – Friday office hours)

North Yorkshire County Council Customer Service Centre:  0845 034 9410  (referrals Monday – Friday: 8am to 5.30pm, Saturday: 9am to 5pm )

City of York and North Yorkshire Emergency Duty Team: 0845 034 9417 (out of office hours and weekends)

NSPCC National Helpline: 0808 800 5000 (24 hour, 7 day week service)

* NB.  It is NOT appropriate for statutory sector staff to make referrals to NSPCC National Helpline.  This resource could be used for information and advice, but ALL referrals from staff in statutory sector agencies MUST go through the Police or Children’s Social Care.

Further Information

City of York Safeguarding Children Board:

City of York Council

North Yorkshire Safeguarding Children Board:

North Yorkshire County Council (follow Social Care link)

For information about Safeguarding Children, inclusing disabled children and those affected by sexual exploitation etc. Working Together and What to do if You’re Worried a Child is Being Abused:

National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC)

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