How to handle a frustrating referral conversation?
DO YOU EVER FIND YOURSELF deeply frustrated by the way your conversation goes when making a referral to the Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH Team)? You may feel anxious making the call in the first place…You've thought about what you are going to say…You're sure that the harm you are seeing in the child or young person is 'significant'...You've even had that difficult conversation with the child's parent/s...
...the person at the other end of the phone says "that does not meet the threshold".
You feel thwarted, perhaps frustrated and alone with a child and parent and your deep worries for them.
Does this sound familiar?
Well, let's take this apart...
Firstly, remember that the Working Together to Safeguard Children 2015, means what it says on the cover 'Working Together'… it means that the Officer at the MASH Team and you are of equal professional status.
If you are calling from the child's early years’ setting or school, you will know the child and parent pretty well; the MASH Officer will probably never have met them before.
Your role, during the conversation with the MASH Officer is to convey why you are so concerned for this child or young person and/or the parent/s. You also have the benefit of comparing this child to so many others in your setting or school. This comparison needs to come to life in your referral conversation, as does your reference to ALL your concerns linked to all the elements on the Assessment Framework triangle.
This conversation is your consultation with the MASH Team and is a part of the professional process named in the guidance. You have a right to this.
As you talk with each other, professional to professional, do you hear yourself communicating in a meaningful way? Is talking and listening happening and is it two-way? Again, you should expect this level of professional regard and respect.
Finally, are you familiar with your Local Safeguarding Children Board Threshold Document?
If you do not have a copy, or, perhaps are unfamiliar with the ways that the thresholds are applied in your area, it could indeed be possible that the concerns you have for the child or young person and/or parent/s are not at a level that warrants a core assessment and possible investigation. In this case, the MASH Officer may suggest you look at an "Early Help Assessment" or make provision for the family from your own service.
If you are certain that the threshold has been met however you have a clear difference in opinion about whether the threshold has been met, make sure to stand your ground.
Continue to maintain clear, professional and respectful communication. In this case, you have a right to request a consultation with a more senior member of the MASH Team. This will generally be a Senior Practitioner or Practice Manager (the professional titles vary across regions).
Each Local Safeguarding Children Board should have what is known as an Escalation Policy for use in exactly these kinds of situations. Make sure to locate yours and equip yourself for such eventualities.
In all cases, it is a really good idea to ask who you are talking with and ensure that you maintain a clear record of discussions, reflecting who you spoke with, when and what advice they gave. This should then be confirmed with the MASH Officer in order that your conversations, including any points of difference are evident.
Finally, remember that deciding to use the Escalation Policy is in pursuit of your child protection responsibilities towards the child.
Your decision to assert your view is a mark of professionalism and can contribute to both subtle and significant change in effective inter-agency 'Working Together'.
- You and the referral officer are of equal professional status. The referral conversation should be a respectful dialogue.
- Explain your concern for the child. How does this situation compare with other children in the early years’ setting or school?
- Know how thresholds are applied in your area. It may be the case that the concerns you have don’t meet these thresholds and another step is necessary first.
- If you are clear the threshold has been met, stand your ground.
- If the conversation isn’t productive ask to speak to a more senior member of the MASH team.
- Be aware of the Escalation Policy for your Local Safeguarding Children’s Board. And use it when necessary.
Your decisions have impact. We’re all “working together to safeguard children”.