‘Referral’ is the process by which social services departments around the country get to hear about people who may need their help. Councils like to have systems in place to make sure people do not get overlooked – they need to ensure that there is a common ‘entry’ point to the system, especially in councils with large geographical areas to cover. That is why county councils will often have area or district offices, to provide a focal point for local people and to avoid the need to travel very far for an appointment.
Referrals may come from a number of sources. Hospitals have social work staff, and in some areas, the council’s social workers/care managers are based at the hospital by agreement. GPs know that social services departments may be able to help the people they see, with non-medical or non-nursing support, in the community, so they play a vital role. Neighbours, friends, relatives and in fact anyone who has a concern about someone else’s welfare, can phone social services, and provide information.
People can also self-refer for an assessment. Alternatively, they might merely have a question about services or eligibility, in relation to a problem they are expecting to have soon, like after discharge from hospital, or a relative coming to stay temporarily, who may need help. Councils, if they have the foresight and the capacity, will treat such approaches as advance notice of a likely need for an assessment in the near future, and open a file there and then.
The legal issues which people worry about in connection with referral are as follows: the confidentiality of information provided about others without their knowledge, and the anonymity of the information provider; the rigidity of systems set up by councils as to how to access an assessment; and the question of delay from the date of the referral.
The new Single Assessment Process, a government initiative to make agencies work better together so as to streamline the process, sees the First Contact as being something which trained non-professionally qualified people can do, because one does not have to be a social worker or a nurse to take people’s basic biographical details. But the very next stage, which will be obtaining information about the presenting problem, is seen as a function in respect of which there needs to be a certain level of experience and expertise, even if no formal qualification, on the part of the person taking those details.