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 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. 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, 4) 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. These diverse perceptions of risk amongst the referring professionals challenge the child welfare case workers and adds to the difficulty of decision making.
Translated title of the contributionOpfattelser af risio og beslutninger om at underrette om udsatte børn
Original languageEnglish
JournalChild Care in Practice
Issue number2
Pages (from-to)130
Number of pages145
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • socially endangered youth
  • socially endangered children

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