National guidance for child protection in Scotland 2021

This guidance describes the responsibilities and expectations for all involved in protecting children and will support the care and protection of children.



1. This non-statutory national Guidance describes responsibilities and expectations for all involved in protecting children in Scotland. The Guidance outlines how statutory and non-government agencies should work together with parents, families and communities to prevent harm and to protect children from abuse and neglect. Everyone has a role in protecting children from harm.

2. The revision forms part of the Scottish Government's Child Protection Improvement Programme. This version reflects seven years of changes in legislation, as well as standards and policy, developments in practice, findings from research, Significant Case Reviews and Inspections. Review and improvement is a continual process within a complex and contentious practice landscape.

3. Revisions have been informed by a co-productive process. The views of children, families, professionals in the public and Third Sectors, practice educators and community groups have been taken into account.

4. This Guidance recognises that physical and emotional safety provides a foundation for wellbeing and healthy development. There are collective responsibilities to work together to prevent harm from abuse or neglect from pre-birth onwards, including safe transitions of vulnerable young people towards adult life and services.

Principles underpinning this Guidance

5. The most effective protection of children involves early support within the family, before urgent action is needed and purposeful use of compulsory measures are necessary. If children do require placement away from home, real protection involves attuned, trauma-informed and sufficiently sustained support towards reunification, or towards an alternative secure home base when this is not possible.

6. The Scottish approach to child protection is based upon the protection of children's rights. The Getting it right for every child (GIRFEC) policy and practice model is a practical expression of the Scottish Government's commitment to implementation of the United Nations Convention on Rights of the Child (UNCRC). This requires a continuum of preventative and protective work.

7. There are consistent threads running between enabling, preventative and protective work applying the GIRFEC approach. They may be distilled in this way:

  • the timing, process and content of all assessment, planning and action will apply to the individual child, and to their present and future safety and wellbeing. Their views will be heard and given due consideration in decisions, in accordance with their age, level of maturity, and understanding
  • services will seek to build on strengths and resilience as well as address risks and vulnerabilities within the child's world
  • partnership is promoted between those who care about and have responsibilities for the child – it entails a collaborative approach between professionals, carers and family members

8. 'Partnership' may not be attainable in a timescale that protects the child. However, even when urgent action is needed, this Guidance stresses the need for proactive and persistent effort to understand and achieve a shared understanding of concerns, and a shared approach to addressing them. The Guidance references collaborative, strength-based approaches to assessment and engagement in protective action.

9. Recognising the context of risk and need entails recognition of the influence of structural inequalities, such as poverty. Effective protection addresses the interaction between early adverse experiences, poverty, ill health and neglect. A disproportionate intensity of child protection interventions occur in the most materially deprived neighbourhoods. This indicates a need, not only to 'think family' but to think beyond the family, addressing patterns of concern and supporting positive opportunities in communities.

10. In rural and island areas, access to assessment and support services may be reduced. Child protection structures may require tailored adaptation in every area. This Guidance clarifies shared responsibilities and standards across diverse structures.

11. The interaction of risks and needs for each child in the context of their family and their community increasingly involves appreciation of the role of media and internet in each situation, especially in teenage years. Every child has the right to safety and support online.

12. Guidance, procedures and assessment frameworks may promote broad consistency. However, effective communication and partnership is a matter of relationship. This begins with listening and seeking shared understanding. Intuition, analysis, consultation and professional judgement all play a part in deciding when and how to intervene in each situation. Inter-agency training and predictable supervision are key to safe, principled and competent practice.

13. Child protection provokes constant developmental challenges for every individual and for every team. Safe practice is more likely to arise from a culture of leadership that has an evaluative focus on outcomes and promotes systematic learning from mistakes and good practice.

Engagement with children in child protection

14. Voices of children and young people shaped the Children's Charter in 2004. Expectations of children and young people are represented in the wheel diagram (Figure 1). Those voices are echoed and strengthened by the voices of those who, 15 years later, contributed to consultation on the National Practice Model for Advocacy in the Children's Hearings System (revised 2020).

15. The Independent Care Review (2020) listened to over 5,500 individuals. More than half of whom had had experience of the 'care system'. This Review emphasised the need to listen to children's voices. The significance of sibling relationships must also be recognised in assessment and decision-making as now required by the Children Scotland Act (2020).

Engagement with families in child protection

16. Families have a range of distinct yet connected expectations. Strong themes arose from parents, support groups, advocacy and support services during the revision of this Guidance. These are reflected in Figure 2. 'Parents' here refers to parents and any other carers with parental responsibility for the child.

Figure 1: Expectations from children who may be involved in child protection processes
This figure is a wheel diagram that sets out the expectations from children who may be involved in child protection processes.
Children expect practitioners to:
1. "Get to know us", "Speak with us", "Listen to us"
2. "Think about our lives as a whole"
3. "Think carefully about how you use information about us", "Respect our privacy"
4. "Take us seriously", "Involve us", "Be responsible to us"
5. "Use your powers to help", 'Make things happen when they should"
6. "Put us in touch with the right people"
7. "Help us be safe"
Figure 2: Expectations from parents who may be involved in child protection processes.
This figure is a wheel diagram that sets out the expectations from parents who may be involved in child protection processes.
Parents expect practitioners to:
1. "Share understanding: By explaining what you are worried about; By listening to our concerns; By taking time to understand how our family and our culture works"
2. "Respect us: By appreciating differences
in each child and family; By being honest and reliable in what you say and do; through your care and interest in our experience"
3. "Talk with us: About what information
needs to be shared, when and why; About what is happening; About rights and choices; About what our child needs"
4. "Be practical: By offering help early; By explaining what help is available; By working alongside us; By providing help that fits the causes of the main concerns"
5. "Imagine, for each child and parent: What we need to prepare for to take full part  in meetings; What meetings feel like for us; How advocacy might help us work together"
6. "Work as a team: By thinking about child and family as a whole; By co-ordinating plans; By supporting progress
one step at a time; By listening to what
we say about services"
7. "Support good transitions: By providing help for as long as needed; By planning big changes together and in time; By thinking through ‘what if’ contingencies with us"

Structure and content: what has changed?

17. The 2021 Guidance builds on the four-part structure of the 2014 Guidance although Part 2B is new. All sections are revised and supplemented. Children's rights and human rights underpin the whole.

Part 1: The context for child protection – including a focus on support to prevent harm

Part 2A: Roles and responsibilities for child protection – single-agency and collaborative responsibilities

Part 2B: Approach to multi-agency assessment in child protection – inter-agency principles

Part 3: Identifying and responding to concerns about children – consistent expectations in protective processes

Part 4: Specific support needs and concerns – intersecting considerations

Appendices, including references and sources, and a list of legislation – signposts to resources and research



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