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Protecting Children - A Shared Responsibility




Child Abuse

1. Children may be harmed, either suddenly or over a longer period of time, by abuse or neglect which may take a number of different forms. Fuller explanation of these terms and ways in which abuse may be recognised is given in Appendix 1.

  • Physical injury
  • Sexual abuse
  • Non-organic failure to thrive
  • Emotional abuse
  • Physical Neglect

2. These may occur singly or in a combination of different types against one child or a group of children. Sometimes not all children in a family will be affected.

3. There is no commonly accepted view of how much child abuse happens, or how it has changed over time. Child abuse may present as a serious physical injury, after a sexual assault or following the revelation of abusive activities which have been going on for a long time in secret. However, education staff are in a position to notice more subtle signs and symptoms which may be indicative of abuse: for example in the way children work or play or in changes in their relationships with their peers and teachers. Concerns about possible child abuse may be shared with education staff by a parent, by other parents or children, members of the extended family or neighbours. Schools may also be informed of concerns by health visitors, police, social workers or youth workers.

4. The abusers may be adult members of the family, siblings, carers, adult friends, teachers, youth leaders, other children or strangers. Sometimes abusers may be part of a network. Staff should remember that the overriding characteristic of abusers is their apparent normality. Risk factors include domestic violence, unstable parental relationships, parental misuse of drugs or alcohol or mental illness of a parent.

5. Children and young people may require protection as a result of their own actions. These may include:

  • inappropriate use of computers;
  • ill judged relationships;
  • inappropriate social behaviour such as bullying;
  • misuse of drugs or alcohol;
  • sexually explicit language or behaviour
  • eating disorders
  • self-harming; and
  • running away.

6. Schools have a key role to play in

  • promoting safety,
  • providing pupils with the knowledge, skills and values they need to choose and maintain a healthy lifestyle;
  • providing pupils with information about risky behaviour;
  • identifying potentially vulnerable pupils, often with low self esteem, and ensuring that they are suitably monitored and supported;
  • increasing knowledge and understanding of childcare and parenting; and
  • giving pupils access to information about child welfare services such as ChildLine or the Anti-Bullying Network.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child

7. The Scottish Executive is committed to the principles set out under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the European Convention on Human Rights ratified by the UK Government in 1991. These are:

  • each child has the right to be treated as an individual;
  • each child who can form his or her own views on matters affecting him or her has the right to express those views if he or she wishes;
  • the child's views should be taken into account where decisions are made about his or her future;
  • each child has the right to protection from all forms of abuse, neglect or exploitation;
  • parents should normally be responsible for the upbringing of children and should share that responsibility;
  • in decisions relating to protection of children, every effort should be made to keep the child in the family home, providing that this is consistent with the child's welfare;
  • any intervention by a public authority should be properly justified, and should be supported by services from all relevant agencies working in collaboration.

The Children (Scotland )Act 1995

8. The Children (Scotland ) Act 1995 altered the traditional concept of parents having rights over their children to one where both parents (even when separated or divorced) have responsibilities towards their children. The Act states that children must be consulted, and their wishes and views taken into account whenever major decisions are being taken which may affect them. However, taking children's views into account does not mean that adults must do what the child wants. Judgements must be made which take account of the child's views in the broader context of their age, understanding and vulnerability, the views of those who may have parental responsibilities or rights, and other known facts and experience. Within the context of child protection, a child cannot be given a guarantee of confidentiality even if s/he expresses such a wish.

9. Local authorities have a legal duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of children in need in their area. This charge is undertaken by the department with responsibility for social work services. Education, in common with health services, the police and other departments and agencies, also has significant responsibilities for the protection of children.

10. The 1995 Act defines a 'child' as a person below the age of sixteen and, for certain purposes, may also include a person up to the age of eighteen.

  • Local authorities have responsibilities to support children and their families until the 'child' is 18.
  • Where local authorities have been allocated parental responsibilities by a court order, these responsibilities last until the young person is 18.
  • Young people between 16 and 18 who are subject to a Children's Hearing supervision requirement are considered children.
  • Boarding Schools have a welfare duty for young people between 16 and 18 in their charge or care.
  • In all issues of child abuse, child protection procedures may be extended to cover children with special needs (mental or physical disability) until the age of 18.

11. The Protection of Children (Scotland) Act 2003 covers children up to the age of 18.

12. Therefore education staff have some responsibilities for the welfare and protection of all young people to the age of 16, and for some to the age of 18, particularly those who are 'looked after', subject to supervision arrangements, or have special needs.

13. In relation to issues of child abuse, the implications of the Children (Scotland) Act for education staff are that:

  • the child's welfare and protection receives priority;
  • staff working with children at risk should help the child to express his or her views and should take these into account when making decisions about what to do next;
  • in most instances, 1 parents, who have legal responsibilities and rights in respect of their children, should be informed of concerns, encouraged to participate in discussion about the child(ren)'s needs, and kept informed of actions being taken.

The European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR)

14. The European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) was introduced in Scotland through the Scotland Act 1998, and then directly enacted through the Human Rights Act of 1998. Article 8 of the ECHR states that:

  • Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.
  • There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety, or the economic well being of the country, for the prevention of disorder and crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

15. Although there have been concerns that, as a result of Article 8, child protection measures will be interpreted as an illegitimate interference in the private and family life of the parents, this Article also applies to children themselves. Concern for the private life of the child (including the right to physical and moral integrity) may be the basis for interference in the child's (as well as the adults') family life. This means that child protection concerns may arise:

  • as a positive obligation deriving from the child's right to a private life under article 8.1
  • as a justification for interfering in family life under article 8.2.

Child Protection procedures

16. Where an individual or agency has reasonable cause to suspect or believe that a child is at risk of significant harm and so in need of protection, there is responsibility to refer the child to the agencies charged with investigating child abuse - police and/or social work and/or to the Reporter. The police have a statutory duty to investigate cases of child abuse, and social work services have a responsibility to make enquiries about child abuse or neglect. The Reporter may be involved either directly by the referrer, or through social work when it is believed that compulsory measures of supervision may be necessary. The full criteria for referral to the Reporter are set out in Appendix 2. However, school staff should note that in most instances their direct line of referral should be to social work services, who will involve the police and contact the Reporter when deemed necessary. The police should be contacted directly if an actual instance of violence is taking place or is threatened on the school premises, grounds or immediate vicinity of the school.

17. Local authorities have a duty to make enquiries about the circumstances of children referred to them in order to determine

  • if they are in need,
  • if compulsory measures of supervision may be necessary or
  • if a child protection or an exclusion order is needed for their protection.

They will also need to make enquiries in order to complete an assessment of need.

18. On the basis of the information gathered, social work services will decide whether there is need for a multi- agency plan to support the child. If so, a multi-agency Case Conference will be called, at which a decision will be taken whether or not to place the child's name on the Child Protection Register (CPR) 2. Generally the parents of the child will also attend. When a child's name has been placed on the CPR, the agencies will agree together with the parent(s) a plan of action to support and protect that child, and may form a core group to implement the plan of action. The retention of the child's name on the CPR will be reviewed regularly, initially after 3 months, and thereafter at not more than six monthly intervals. The child's name will be removed when it is judged that the risk to the child has been eliminated or significantly reduced. It should be noted, however, that the child may continue to need support even after s/he has been de-registered.

19. When the Reporter receives a referral s/he will similarly make a decision as to whether the referral requires further action. If so s/he will gather information from the individuals or agencies considered relevant, including the child's school. At that stage one of three decisions may be made - to take no further action, to refer the child to social work services for voluntary measures of supervision, or to refer the case to the Children's Hearing. At the Children's Hearing, panel members will listen to the evidence and interview both the child and other family members before reaching a decision on what action if any will best meet the needs of the child. At the one extreme, they may decide that no further action is necessary, at the other, the child may be removed from his/her home into the care of the local authority. Where either the child or the parents dispute the grounds for the referral, or where the child does not understand or is incapable of understanding the grounds of referral, the case may be directed to the Sheriff for a proof hearing prior to it being heard by panel members. The Sheriff will consider the evidence and make a decision as to whether there are adequate reasons for the case to be heard.