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Last updated: 28.07.17

Child protection re-referrals a product of high caseloads

What is the problem?

Child protection referral statistics show that more than half (55 per cent) of young people referred to UK child protection services return to the system at least once in the following six years.

This is according to data from the Department for Education (DfE), which shows that high caseloads among social workers may be contributing to a rise in child protection re-referrals.

Across 144 local authorities in Britain, the likelihood of children being re-referred to child protection and safeguarding services ranged from seven per cent to as much as 63 per cent in 2010-11 - the most recent data available.

The child protection referral process

In the UK, the child protection referral process involves a social worker, teacher or member of the public alerting their local authority's child protection team to concerns regarding the welfare of a child.

This could be due to domestic abuse in their home, concerns about female genital mutilation (FGM) or neglect, for example.

It is then the duty of the police or social workers belonging to the child protection team to assess whether the child is in immediate danger, and then identify the appropriate next steps to take with the child's welfare and safety in mind.

So, with a structured child protection referral process in place, why are system re-referrals so common?

Key factors in child protection re-referrals

The DfE report found that child protection re-referrals were more common among certain groups of young people, such as children with disabilities, children displaying signs of socially unacceptable behaviour, girls, and children initially referred to child protection services because of abuse or neglect.

High caseloads among social workers are seen as a key contributing factor in child protection re-referrals.

Indeed, the DfE report stated: "The lower the number of children in need per social worker, the lower the effect of referral rates on re-referral propensity."

In local authorities where social workers were each looking after ten or more cases involving children, re-referral rates were found to be markedly higher.

At Virtual College, our e-learning safeguarding courses are designed to provide social workers and anybody else who works in child protection and safeguarding with the knowledge they need to assess sensitive situations to ensure children's best interests are as well-protected as possible. Explore our safeguarding courses here.


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