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Standard 1 Intake: Receiving a Referral and Determining the Appropriate Response

Overview

This standard outlines the expectations for CASs when they receive new referrals, reports or information that a child may be in need of protection. In particular, it includes requirements with respect to the following:

Intent

The focus of this standard is to ensure that CASs are thorough in their collection of relevant information to inform their initial assessment of the referral, and that the actions taken in response to the referral are appropriate based on the unique needs of children (for safety) and their families (for support). The standard also promotes engagement with the community so that community members understand their ongoing duty to report, and the role of CASs in responding to referrals received from the community.

Standard #1 Intake: Receiving a Referral and Determining the Appropriate Response

Standard

This Standard applies to all new referrals about child protection concerns received by a CAS on both cases which are, and which are not currently receiving child protection services.

Receiving a Referral

All information received by a CAS regarding concerns about a child is considered to be a potential referral. A referral that a child may be in need of protection is given an immediate initial assessment by a child protection worker authorized under section 37(1) of the CFSA and is documented in the case record within 24 hours of its receipt.

The following criteria are considered first:

When receiving a referral that a child may be in need of protection, the child protection worker engages the person reporting in order to:

*Note that for referrals about cases currently receiving child protection services, this step is not required if the information is already known by the CAS.

For cases not currently receiving child protection services, the child protection worker considers whether it may be more appropriate to refer the case to another CAS (e.g. cultural or faith based) in that jurisdiction (if one exists) in accordance with local protocols.

Where there is more than one CAS in a particular territorial jurisdiction, the CASs within that jurisdiction are required to have protocols between them which address processes, timelines, roles and responsibilities for inter-agency transfers of new referrals.

All referrals are universally screened for the presence of domestic violence.

For referrals about community caregivers, the child protection worker engages the person reporting in order to obtain the following additional information:

Information is also gathered from all sources of information that are immediately available, including:

4 The provincial database means the Fast Track Information System, or any other provincial database identified by way of statute or regulation.

The provincial database is searched for information that may be relevant in determining whether or not there are reasonable and probable grounds to believe that a child is in need of protection. It is searched for information about prior contact between any CAS and:

Where the provincial database indicates there has been previous contact by a CAS, the relevant information from the database concerning the contact is included in the case record. The child protection worker also obtains5 the relevant detailed case information from the other CAS prior to initiating contact with the subject family, or as soon as possible thereafter. The other CAS uses clinical judgment to determine which records are relevant in determining child protection concerns. Those records which are relevant must be shared with the CAS requesting the records.

5 Explanatory Note: It is appropriate for other staff (e.g. administrative staff) to assist in coordinating the transmittal of the records (e.g. between agencies) while maintaining the confidentiality of the information. However the responsibility for obtaining and assessing the information lies with the child protection worker.

The results of any search of the Ontario Child Abuse Register are documented on the case record within 3 days of the receipt of the referral.

When there is an open child protection case and a new referral is received, the information is provided to the responsible worker on the same working day (or next working day by an after-hours worker).

Determining the Appropriate Response

The child protection worker uses the Eligibility Spectrum in combination with other available information about the child's vulnerability, child/family/community protective factors, safety threats and risks, and patterns of previous child welfare involvement, to determine the most appropriate referral disposition that meets the unique needs of children (for safety) and their families (for support).

Where information about a child and his/her family is limited to the reported incident or condition, the Eligibility Spectrum is the primary decision making aide in determining the most appropriate referral disposition. In this these situations, cases that are rated above the intervention line are opened for investigation.

The referral dispositions include:

When a child protection investigation is the most appropriate response, a decision about when the investigation is to be initiated is made by the worker receiving the referral. The response time is determined by the level of urgency or the assessed level of present or imminent threat to the safety of a child. An investigation is initiated:

It is within the supervisor’s discretion whether they will review the referral disposition and response time decision based on the level of knowledge and skill of the worker and the risk/complexity of the referral.

The referral rating, disposition and response time decision for investigations and the supporting reasons are documented within 24 hours.

If a community link or no direct client contact/information only referral disposition is chosen, the rationale, and any details about the community link or information provided (if applicable), are documented within 14 days.

If factual information is received after the response decision has been made (in the case of an investigation) but prior to the first face-to-face contact with the child, and that information indicates that there are no longer any reasonable and probable grounds to suspect that the child may be in need of protection, the investigation may be discontinued. The decision not to proceed with the investigation is approved by the supervisor and documented in the case record.

Practice Notes
Receiving a Referral

A referral includes any report or information received from any source (e.g. a child, a community member, the police, etc.), and through any method (e.g. by phone, in person, in writing) that a child may be in need of protection.

Obtaining Information from the Person Making the Report

When obtaining a full and detailed report of the incident or condition that causes the person reporting to be concerned that a child may be in need of protection, the child protection worker makes attempts to understand the reason that the reporter believes that the child may be in need of protection, including the incident or situation that caused the person to make a report, the location and timing of the incident or the duration of the situation, and any physical evidence of abuse.

When obtaining information about the identities of all adults living in the home who may have access to or charge of the child, all children believed to be in need of protection, and the person alleged to have caused the need for protection, the child protection worker inquires about the full names and ages of the individuals, and the relationships of the adults to the child(ren) alleged to be in need of protection.

When obtaining information about the functioning of the family and its individual members, particularly the child who is the subject of the concern the child protection worker inquires about:

When obtaining information about the child and family’s support network the child protection worker inquires about:

When inquiring about whether there may be any worker safety issues, the worker makes attempts to determine through discussion with the referent whether:

When inquiring about the family’s ethnic origin, first language, religion and whether the child may have or be eligible for Indian status it is important to be clear that it is voluntary for the referent to provide this information. It is recognized that in some cases the person making the report may not be able to provide this information in which case the worker should revisit the question with the child and/or the child’s caregiver(s) when appropriate (if not obtained).

Informing the Person Making the Report

As part of the conversation with the person making the referral, the child protection worker:

Sharing Relevant Records with Another CAS

As noted in the standard, clinical judgment is used to determine what records are relevant in determining child protection concerns, and those records which are deemed relevant must be shared with the requesting CAS. It is preferable for agencies to collaborate to determine what information should be shared to ensure the child is protected. Of note, some records may be subject to other statutory or court-ordered protections (e.g. records under the Youth Criminal Justice Act, a sealing order under the Mental Health Act). When unsure about whether a particular record may be disclosed, child protection workers should consult with a supervisor or legal counsel to determine whether certain records are subject to any statutory or court-ordered limitations.

Guidance on Screening for the Presence of Domestic Violence

When screening for the presence of domestic violence it is important to discuss with the referent that domestic violence may take many forms (e.g. physical, sexual, emotional). If it is determined through screening that domestic violence may be present, it is important for the child protection worker receiving the referral to inquire about the duration, frequency (pattern) and severity of the violence, and the children’s exposure to the violence.

The child protection worker also attempts to determine through discussion with the referent whether other risk factors* may be present such as:

*Note these were found to be common risk factors in reviews undertaken by the Domestic Violence Death Review Committee of the Office of the Chief Coroner for domestic violence related deaths from 2003-11. In the vast majority of cases reviewed, 7 or more risk factors were identified.

The referent may not have sufficient knowledge of the family to provide this level of detail about the family dynamics. In all cases where domestic violence is a concern, further efforts are made to continue to assess these risk factors throughout the life of a case.

For additional guidance on screening for domestic violence and working with families experiencing domestic violence please see “Critical Connections – Where Woman Abuse and Child Safety Intersect: A Practical Guide for Child Welfare Professionals in Ontario, Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies, 2010” and/or other training available through the OACAS.

Determining the Appropriate Response

The key factors outlined in the standard which are considered when determining the appropriate response to a referral are further described below:

1. Child Vulnerability

A child may be considered highly vulnerable when he/she:

2. Child/Family/Community Protective Factors

The child protection worker:

3. Safety Threats and Risks

Safety threats are immediate threats of harm or maltreatment to a child. Risk factors are factors related to family characteristics, behaviour or functioning and environmental conditions which contribute to the likelihood of future maltreatment. Although not applied at this phase of service, the Ontario Safety Assessment and the Ontario Risk Assessment tools in the Ontario Child Protection Tools Manual provide further elaboration on some of the key safety and risk factors in child welfare that workers making initial assessments of referrals should be familiar with.

4. Patterns of Previous Child Welfare Involvement

The child protection worker also considers any patterns of previous child protection referrals, investigations or ongoing involvement. The Paediatric Death Review Committee (PDRC) of the Office of the Chief Coroner noted in their 2013 Annual Report that although a causal link cannot be drawn, a common risk factor in child death cases reviewed in 2012 were when families had three or more referrals to child welfare (Office of the Chief Coroner, 2013). It is important to consider any themes, which risk factors were present in the family, whether they were successfully resolved, the effectiveness of any interventions used, and the family’s understanding of the child protection concerns. Furthermore, a pattern of referrals that are not investigated, and which are not suspected to be malicious/non-credible, may warrant the opening of an investigation for further assessment.

Choosing the Appropriate Referral Disposition

In order to inform the decision about the referral disposition the child protection worker:

Of note, the Eligibility Spectrum assists in determining the severity of the incident or condition that has led the caller to believe that the child is in need of protection. The intervention line in the Eligibility Spectrum is not sufficient in and of itself to make a determination of whether or not a protection investigation will be initiated. The consideration of that incident within the context of broader information known about the child and family’s functioning results in a more accurate, customized decision about the most appropriate response, based on the unique needs of the child and family.

Referral Disposition Options

The possible referral dispositions are explained below:

A) Open for Child Protection or Open for Other Child Welfare Service A child protection investigation disposition is chosen for any referral where there are reasonable and probable grounds that a child may be in need of protection including:

“Other child welfare services” include non-protection services outlined in sections 6 to 11 of the Eligibility Spectrum. Some examples of “other child welfare services” include:

B) “Community Link”

A “Community Link” disposition may be chosen for:

Where the child is an Indian or Native person, the child protection worker provides information about services/resources available from the Band or Native community.

Some appropriate community links for Aboriginal children and families could be a local Aboriginal family services agency, community Elders, Aboriginal mentors and other cultural organizations which can promote engagement of the child and family with their cultural community.

For cases requiring a community link:

The child protection worker reviews any new information obtained from the family and confirms the original case response decision or opens the case for investigation.

C) No Direct Contact/Information Only

No Direct Contact/Information Only referral disposition is chosen for cases which do not require a protection investigation or a “community link” service and which do not receive any direct contact from the CAS. This also includes situations where a CAS provides information only (e.g. about appropriate discipline, or at what age a child may be left at home alone).

Making a Decision Regarding a Response Time for an Investigation

The response time for child protection investigations is determined by the level of urgency or the assessed level of present or imminent threat to the safety of a child. The decision regarding the timing of an investigation is based on:

A more prompt response should be considered when:

Referrals Involving More Than One CAS

It is not possible to address all situations that may cross jurisdictional boundaries or that may involve more than one CAS. However, where the service provision of two or more CASs intersects, communication and collaboration between the two CASs is essential to ensuring continuity of service. The priority must always be the best interests, protection and well-being of the child(ren).

In most cases, it is best practice for the CAS to which the referral is made to:

The following is one example of a situation where a referral may involve more than one CAS: CAS “A” receives a referral regarding maltreatment of a child while the child was outside of his or her home jurisdiction, and in the jurisdiction of CAS “B.” In this case, it is best practice for CAS “A” to receive the referral, document and assess the information, and choose the appropriate referral disposition in accordance with the requirements in Standard #1. CAS “A” also notifies CAS “B,” and works with CAS “B” to ensure that an appropriate service response is provided.

Furthermore, in some territorial jurisdictions, there may be more than one CAS (e.g. a mainstream agency and an Aboriginal agency, or a faith-based agency). For example, CAS “A” may receive a referral, and determine that the child may be more appropriately served by CAS “B.” In this situation, it is best practice for CAS “A” to receive, document and assess the referral, and choose the appropriate referral disposition in accordance with Standard #1, notify CAS “B,” and work with CAS “B” in accordance with local protocols and procedures to ensure that an appropriate service response is provided.