Perceptions of risk and decisions of referring children at risk

Lene Mosegaard Søbjerg, Liesanth Nirmalarajan, Anne Marie Villumsen

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Decision-making in child protection is often understood as the final step in the process of risk, assessment and decision-making. However, when working with referrals about children at risk, decisions are also made a lot earlier when someone decides whether to refer a child to child welfare services or not. The risk assessments made by child welfare case workers are restricted by assessments and decisions made by professionals working with the child on a day-to-day basis. This article presents an empirical study of 511 referrals received by two local authorities in Denmark. The study investigates the information presented in the referrals in order to get an understanding of what child protection case workers must work with when assessing the risk of children referred to child welfare services. The study shows that 80% of referrals are made by various professionals and the majority of referrals concern older children (more than 10 years old). The content of the referrals shows differences in perceptions of risk depending on professional backgrounds, which leads to the development of five hypothesis about how and why referrals are made. (1) frontline professionals make referrals because they are required to do so according to Danish legislation, (2) some frontline professionals are reluctant to make decisions about how to help children at risk and referrals are a way of passing the decision-making on to the child welfare case workers, (3) some referrals are in essence applications for increased resources by frontline professionals for example in public schools, (4) the use of referral templates does not always make sense to the professionals using them and (5) the perception of risk may be influenced by the reporter’s own perception of risk and class in society.

Original languageEnglish
JournalChild Care in Practice
Issue number2
Pages (from-to)130-145
Number of pages16
Publication statusPublished - 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Child welfare services
  • assessment
  • decision-making
  • professionals
  • referrals
  • risk


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