C.Co’s Senior Consultant, Heather Baron discusses the threat of the Threshold Domino Effect and how the social care referral challenge should be met by further developing relationships and strengthening the Early Help offer.

If like me you’ve had cause to look through the many Local Authority Ofsted inspection reports written each year, you may have noticed that one of the frequent issues highlighted is that of partners being unclear on the thresholds for the Children’s Social Care front door and, as a result, making inappropriate referrals. Personally, I doubt there’s an area in the country where this isn’t an issue.

The domino effect in the ‘front door’ from inappropriate referrals is significant.

It wastes valuable time – particularly when the quality of those referrals is poor meaning social workers and other professionals have to investigate for themselves what threshold the concerns sit at and what intervention is required.

It can also lead to the front door not being clear about their own threshold application with cases being sent for assessment at Child in Need level to the detriment of both the service and the family involved.

Ultimately, as the last domino to fall, it causes significant delays to the appropriate assessment of risk and subsequent intervention and support given not only to the child and family in question, but also to the many others who are waiting to be screened; some of whom may be at greater risk or in more urgent need of support.

Sadly, once the fire has been fought and all efforts focussed on making the right response within the 24 hours given, there is rarely enough time to step back and review or indeed educate partners on why a referral didn’t meet threshold; and without this critical feedback it will be impossible to eliminate the problem in the future.

Unfortunately, this is far from the whole story. Rooted in this is often the issue of partners not having a sound knowledge of the role they play in Early Help and prevention, not knowing what services are available in their local area to improve earlier signposting and not having access to, or knowledge of, recognised assessment tools that could be used to support their intervention and prevent escalation.

Further to this, there seems to be a growing feeling that it may be easier (and less risky) for partners to ‘off-load’ the issue through referral than try and find more appropriate services for the families they are working with. Of course, this approach only increases the pressure on Children’s Social Care and doesn’t look to support children and families in the way that Early Help is intended.

So what can be done to help?

Without the correct level of interaction and mutual development between Early Help teams and their partners, the situation is only likely to continue.

In my experience, I’ve been witness to many of these scenarios when managing Early Help teams and have subsequently been able to make huge improvements simply by focussing efforts on getting the key elements right. By improving awareness, streamlining processes and opening up the conversation between partners we were able to make a significant impact on the number of ‘inappropriate’ referrals into Children’s Social Care and therefore ensure that all cases were given the right level of priority and support required.

We will never stop the self-referrals and the concerned neighbours making inappropriate contact with front door services, and in reality it is always my preference to encourage the public to make contact rather than stay silent, but we must work to ensure that as a network of professional partners we strengthen the system to stop the same mistakes happening between ourselves.

We need to invest time in recognising there is a problem and, through analysing data and conversion rates which tell us where to focus our efforts, drive forward improvement and change

In my opinion, the solution is not as simple as revising and educating people on the threshold document (a recommendation which was evident in many of the Ofsted inspections) but instead time must be spent on ensuring that there is a strong Early Help offer in place, with clear pathways, in order for partners to be able to consider a different, more appropriate route for their concerns.

Perhaps most importantly, we must place greater emphasis on developing relationships and building that all important level of trust across the board.

To find out more about how C.Co has been helping Authorities strengthen their Early Help offering please contact heather.baron@wearec.co