Alternatives to secure care and custody: guidance

Guidance for local authorities, community planning partnerships and service providers on developing a whole system approach.

2. Definitions

In Scotland, a child is defined differently in different legal contexts.

  • Section 93(2)(a) and (b) of the Children (Scotland) Act 1995 define a child in relation to the powers and duties of the Local Authority. Young people between the age of 16 and 18 who are still subject to a supervision requirement by a Children's Hearing are viewed as children. This reflects the fact that young people over the age of 16 may still require intervention to protect them.
  • Part 5 of the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995 (as amended) deals with the definition of 'child' for the purposes of the criminal process.
  • with the introduction of the Adult Support and Protection (Scotland) Act 2007, an adult is defined as someone over the age of the 16.
  • at the same time, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child applies to anyone under the age of 18.

Although these differing legal definitions can be confusing, the priority is to ensure that a vulnerable young person who is, or may be, at risk of significant harm is offered support and protection. The individual young person's circumstances and age will dictate what legal measures can be applied to protect that young person should they need it. It is essential to ensure that local areas have very clear links between their Child and Adult Protection Committees and clear guidelines in place for the transition from child to adult services. Those between 16 and 18 are potentially vulnerable to falling between the gaps and local services must ensure that staff offer ongoing support and protection, as required, via continuous single planning for the young person.

For the purposes of this guidance, a 'young person' is taken to mean anyone under age 18. A young person described as being a 'looked after child' is defined as a young person who is looked after and accommodated by the local authority.


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