No one agency can ensure children are safe and well cared for. Child protection is part of a network of services responsible for protecting children and supporting families.
Through the course of child protection involvement with children and families practitioners may identify concerns within a family regarding parenting, child development or other issues for which another agency or professionals can provide a specific service. Effective and timely referrals can be instrumental in connecting a family or individual members to a relevant service and successful referrals can be central to any plan to reduce identified protective concerns resulting in:
- strengthening the family’s ability to adequately manage care and protection issues
- assisting the family to develop a support and resource network
- empowering the family to actively seek supports and solutions to matters of concerns.
Making referrals is a core skill for practitioners, it requires knowledge of the service system and management of a range of tasks and actions to ensure a family is successfully connected to relevant services.
A referral to another agency or professional can be made at any point or phase of child protection involvement, from intake through to closure phase. A practitioner (or member of the care team) may assess and discuss issues or concerns with a family related to the ongoing assessment of safety, development and wellbeing of the child or family functioning and dynamics that may require the specialist skills or resources of another agency or professional.
The concern or issue may:
- form part of a wellbeing or protective intervention report or
- arise from the assessment or case planning process
- arise from other reports or assessments, for example, psychiatric or psychological assessment, parenting assessment
- be identified by the family or an individual member as a personal issue of concern.
Where a referral is assessed as appropriate and in the child's best interests, the practitioner will need to consider whether consultation should occur with the senior child protection practitioner (community based) (CBCPP) or Child FIRST. This will depend upon the nature and content of the identified concern(s) and the phase of child protection involvement.
The optimal success of any referral to another agency or professional is dependant upon:
- the family acknowledging the specific concern or issue
- the practitioner achieving a good match between the requirements of the referral and the agency
- the family agreeing to the referral
- the practitioner providing practical and emotional support for the family during the engagement phase
- the family demonstrating a willingness to work with the agency to resolve the issue
- the family engaging with the agency sufficiently for the work to occur
- the practitioner acknowledging and rewarding outcomes and progress.
Below is an outline of the stages of the referral process and the factors requiring consideration from best interests assessment as the basis for any referral to providing ongoing support and direction. Whether the whole process is followed will depend upon:
- whether child protection involvement with the family is ongoing
- the significance of the referral to the identified issues and the requirement for child protection to receive progress or assessment reports
- whether there are a number of identified issues for which a referral can be made and the successful completion of a family's involvement with one agency or service will lead to further referrals.
Further, the level of the practitioner's involvement in the referral process will depend upon:
- the nature of the referral and the family's motivation to address the issue
- others in the family or service network who are able to assist and support the family.
Best interests assessment
- The assessment of safety, development and wellbeing should be the basis for any referral to an agency or professional to address concerns and assist the family. A good match between the child and family's needs and the service will enhance the possibility of positive outcomes.
- Discussion with the family about the nature of the referrals that may be of assistance and the benefits that can occur.
- There may be a number of concerns within a family for which referrals could be made. A casework task for the practitioner is to identify the priorities according to the assessed risks to the child's safety and development and attempt to reach agreement with the family about the priority areas for change.
- Practitioners need to discuss with the family the timeframes in which the work should be undertaken as well as any monitoring mechanisms required and review points.
- Where the family do not acknowledge the need for the referral, it is likely to be unsuccessful. If the referral relates to the safety or wellbeing of the child, the referral may need to be ordered by the Court.
- Before attending court to recommend a specific service or service type, practitioners will need to make enquiries as to suitability and availability of the service. If the Court orders the referral, practitioners should seek a condition to allow progress reports to be made available to the Department of Health and Human Services and clarify the willingness of the agency for this to occur.
- Court conditions identifying a particular agency should be avoided and practitioners must seek the service's permission to be included, if this is required by the Court.
Locating and matching resources
- Practitioners should contact the agency or service regarding the services provided, the specific type of service required and the appropriateness of the referral. Practitioners should also obtain information regarding, intake processes, waiting times, the manner in which the agency or service may work and how they perceive their role.
- Practitioners need to ensure that the agency or professional clearly understands the child protection role, specific tasks or assessments required and any requirements for information exchange or reporting back to child protection, such as:
- discussions about the work undertaken with the family or individual members
- where families or individual members may fail to attend
- assessment and progress reports
- further concerns for the child or any disclosures made
- if involvement with family or individual members is terminated
- any written reports, which may be required.
- Practitioners need to clarify any costs involved, who will pay the costs and when the arrangement will be reviewed. Where costs are identified management approval is required prior to the referral being made.
Connecting the family and the service
- Practitioners should meet with or contact the family to discuss the outcomes of the discussion with the agency or service to ensure the family agrees to access the agency or service and, has a clear understanding of the nature of the service to be provided.
- Practitioners should inform the family of any expectations or arrangements required for the exchange of information between the agency and child protection. Most agencies or services will require families or individuals to sign a release of information consent form. If child protection requires information regarding the family's involvement with an agency or service to be reported the practitioner must ensure the family or relevant individual members are aware of this.
To reduce any particular anxieties or apprehensions, facilitate the referral process and maximise the family or individual family member's engagement with an agency or service, practitioners may consider the following actions:
- completing the referral requirements jointly with the relevant family member(s)
- assist the family to contact the agency or service
- provide emotional support and encouragement
- provide practical assistance in getting the relevant family members to the appointment, that is, drive them to the appointment or if appropriate provide taxi vouchers or travel assistance
- suggest an initial meeting with the agency or service and relevant family members to provide support, clarify expectations.
Providing ongoing support and direction
Where child protection involvement with the family may be ongoing:
- practitioners should contact the family or individual family member's after their contact with the agency to provide positive feedback, encouragement, and recognition for progress made, and to identify any potential problems that may develop
- as a family or an individual family members work with an agency or service progresses practitioners should set a review date to discuss whether the work undertaken has addressed the identified concerns and whether further or other work or referrals need to be undertaken.