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Making a safeguarding referral

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How do you make the referral?

You should have policies which are based on the guidance from your local safeguarding children and safeguarding adults team and remind you of their guidance on reporting safeguarding concerns. Follow these guidelines alongside our advice below.

If you decide to make a referral you should do so as soon as possible with as much information as you can safely gather. Do not delay making a referral if you do not have all the information you might need.

Information you can gather:

  • Relevant details of the person you’re concerned about.
  • Your involvement with the person(s) you’re concerned about.
  • The nature of the concern, expressed in a clear and concise way.
  • If there is an alleged perpetrator (someone accused of being responsible for the abuse or harm), any identifiable information including their name, known location or employment details.
  • Whether anyone has spoken to the person, family members or others about the concern.
  • Details of other services that are already involved with the person (if known).

Once you have reported the concern, they will decide if the referral meets their criteria to act. You should be informed within 48 hours. You must follow up if you are not informed within 48 hours.

Where the concern is about a child and someone in connection with your organisation is accused of causing the harm or abuse, reporting will involve speaking to your local authority designated officer (LADO). Every local authority has either one person or a whole team in this role. They are expected to give advice and guidance to employers and voluntary organisation, liaise with the police and other agencies, and monitor the progress of cases to ensure that they are dealt with as quickly as possible. They also have responsibilities to make sure the process is thorough and fair.

  • Not sure where to report concerns about a child? Visit the postcode finder to find your local authority safeguarding team.
  • Concerned that a crime has been committed? Follow the Charity Commission's guidance on criminal incidents (PDF) on how charities can report crimes to the police.

Who may get involved?

  • Social services. Local authorities are the lead organisation for safeguarding children and adults. They have a legal duty to follow up any complaint or concern about harm or abuse.
  • Police. The police will take the lead for investigations where criminal offences are suspected. In serious cases, the police can take a child away for 72 hours to keep the child safe. This is called police protection.
  • NHS bodies, mental health services or private hospitals. Health organisations take the lead when a person needs help or support connected to their physical or mental health, or if a person was harmed in a health setting.
  • Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH). A local authority led organisation which brings these organisations together to manage concerns.

Responding to online harm

You may be managing a concern which has occurred online. This may be where you have become aware of harm through a digital service your organisation runs, where a member of your team sees harm online or it has been shared with you online. It may also be a situation where a member of your team has used your IT systems to perpetrate harm.

You may consider:

  • Where the concern is on a social media platform: you should flag and report the concern on the third party platforms own community reporting systems (eg. Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn). These vary by platform and may depend on your administrator rights.
  • Where the concern is about child sexual abuse pictures and videos (including non-photographic images): report to the Internet Watch Foundation.
  • Where you are concerned a child is being sexually abused or groomed online (including an unknown person communicating with a child for sexual purposes): report to National Crime Agency’s (NCA) Child Exploitation Online Protection (CEOP) Command. If you have already reported your concern to your local statutory service, including the local Children's Social Care or the Police, you do not need to make a report to CEOP.
  • Where intimate images or videos have been shared: sometimes called “Revenge Porn”, this includes sharing intimate images, either on or offline, without their consent with the intention of causing distress. This can also include threats to share intimate images; webcam blackmail (“sextortion”) and upskirting. Report to the Revenge Porn Helpline.
  • Online material promoting terrorism or extremism: this includes articles, images, speeches or videos that promote terrorism or encourage violence; websites made by terrorist or extremist organisations and videos of terrorist attacks. Report to the Home Office.
  • Other forms of online harm: you may become aware of a wide range of harmful and distressing activity online including abuse, bullying or harassment or content which is violent, features self-harm or suicide or is pornographic. Report to the Report Harmful Content website.

Your continuing role as DSL

You must check you understand what your continuing role will be. This may include providing evidence or removing the person from any further activity while an investigation is carried out. Agree your continuing role and the frequency of any updates and communication.

In some situations, you may be asked to work with the agencies to manage the situation. For example, they may ask you to introduce person with whom there is a concern to a social worker and be present at initial meetings to help build trust.

Depending on the nature of your work and relationship with the person with whom their is a concern, you may be asked to attend a multi-agency Initial Action/Strategy Meeting. This brings together information and evidence to plan any further investigation. You should seek advice from the statutory agencies as to what level of involvement they may want your organisation to have.

Your role is not to take the place of Social Services or the police. Say no, if you are asked to manage a situation beyond what you feel uncomfortable with. You should not be investigating or talking to people you don’t have a current relationship with. This can open your organisation up to significant risk and lead to further harm.

Challenging decisions

If you think Social Services or the police have made the wrong decision, it's important you discuss this together with them. If an agreement cannot be reached, your organisation and that of other agencies must follow the escalation procedure.

Escalation procedures normally ask you to involve the next senior person. In any escalation process, you must be specific as to what the disagreement is about and be clear on what you want to achieve.

If you find you are constantly worried about whether or not social services will make enquiries to protect a person who is being harmed, you should raise this with your organisations senior leadership. This can be a question of how they have set their “threshold” for investigation or it can be a question of staff time. It may be necessary for your organisation to raise the issue in the local safeguarding arrangements or boards or to raise this with senior staff or Councillors of the local authority. You may consider whether the level of concern requires you to raise this with independent regulators such as Ofsted or the Care Quality Commission.

If your worries relate to a situation involving a young person, you can turn to the NSPCC (The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children) for advice. NSPCC doesn’t have the same legal responsibilities as the key safeguarding agencies, but it does have the same statutory power to make legal applications to protect children. They can give advice you if you feel Social Services or the police have made the wrong decision and you don’t know what to do.

If you'd like advice from the NSPCC you can call their helpline on 0808 800 5000 or find out more about it on the NSPCC helpline page.

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