National guidance for child protection in Scotland 2014

This guidance has been superseded by the 2021 version .



1. The Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 has just completed its passage through Parliament and guidance will be developed over the coming year to prepare for commencement of the provisions. The Scottish Government is working with Community Planning Partnerships to encourage the necessary changes in procedure and process to ensure readiness for the new duties. This guidance references the anticipated new ways of working and procedures which some Community Planning Partnership areas are already implementing. This will help to minimise any update ahead of commencement once the guidance to support implementation of the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 is completed.

Purpose of the guidance

2. Procedures and guidance cannot in themselves protect children; a competent, skilled and confident workforce, together with a vigilant public, can. Child protection is a complex system requiring the interaction of services, the public, children and families. For the system to work effectively, it is essential that everyone understands the contribution they can make and how those contributions work together to provide the best outcomes for children. Everyone working with children and their families, including social workers, health professionals, police, educational staff, voluntary organisations and the third sector, as well as members of the community, need to appreciate the important role they can play in remaining vigilant and providing robust support for child protection. Guidance provides the framework for that understanding. It enables managers and practitioners to apply their skills collectively and effectively and to develop a shared understanding of their common objective - to promote, support and safeguard the wellbeing of all children, including those who are most vulnerable.

3. Improving outcomes for children and young people is a fundamental objective for all services and organisations. Ensuring that they and their families get the help they need, when they need it, will give all children and young people the opportunity to flourish. Agencies can improve outcomes for all children including Scotland's most vulnerable by adopting common frameworks for assessment, planning and action that help them to identify needs and risks and work together to address them appropriately. This national guidance sets out common standards for child protection services in Scotland, making it clear how all agencies should work together where appropriate to respond to concerns early and effectively and ensuring that practice is consistent and of high quality.

4. The guidance provides a national framework within which agencies and practitioners at local level - individually and jointly - can understand and agree processes for working together to support, promote and safeguard and the wellbeing of all children. It sets out expectations for strategic planning of services to protect children and young people and highlights key responsibilities for services and organisations, both individual and shared. It also serves as a resource for practitioners on specific areas of practice and key issues in child protection. This guidance replaces the previous version of this guidance published in 2010 and Protecting Children - A Shared Responsibility: Guidance on Inter-agency Co-operation, which was published in 1998 and incorporates the Scottish Government guidance, Protecting Children and Young People: Child Protection Committees (2005).

5. While this guidance is intended to act as a practical reference point for practitioners and agencies, it should not be regarded as exhaustive or exclusive. Nor does it constitute legal advice. Where they have concerns about the wellbeing of a child, users of this guidance should consider whether there is also a need to consult with others.

6. This guidance is for all services, agencies, professional bodies and organisations, and for individuals working within an adult and child service context who face, or could face, child protection issues. Children and their families come into contact with services at different points for different reasons and with different needs. Often, those needs can be met by the family themselves or by a single agency; but where children and families are particularly vulnerable and/or have complex needs, services must work together to take a collective and co-ordinated approach within the Getting it right for every child framework. Protecting children means recognising when to be concerned about their safety and understanding when and how to share these concerns, how to investigate and assess such concerns and fundamentally, what steps are required to ensure the child's safety and wellbeing.

Contents of the guidance

7. This guidance is in four parts.

Part 1 - The context for child protection addresses the definitions, key principles, standards and legislative framework that underpin the approach to keeping children safe and promoting their wellbeing.

Part 2 - Roles and responsibilities for child protection outlines the core responsibilities of services and organisations including statutory and non-statutory services, third sector organisations, and church and faith communities. The role and functions of Child Protection Committees are addressed here, as well as the key responsibilities of Chief Officers. Effective leadership and staff development and training are also outlined as are the connections with other strategic planning fora.

Part 3 - Identifying and responding to concerns about children provides a framework for identifying and managing risk and outlines the common stages of responding to concerns about a child's safety. This includes early gathering of information, joint decision-making and planning, joint investigations and medical examinations and assessment and Child Plan meetings where Child Protection is the primary issue.

Part 4 - Child protection in specific circumstances gives additional information on dealing with specific circumstances that may impact adversely on children as well as addressing operational considerations in certain circumstances. While a range of special or specific circumstances has been included, the national guidance does not provide detailed guidelines on areas of practice/policy that are covered elsewhere. Rather, where appropriate, it signposts to relevant policies and materials or provides a framework of standards that local policies will need to consider.

The guidance in context

8. The Scottish Government wants Scotland to be the best place in the world for children and young people to grow up so that they become: successful learners, confident individuals, effective contributors and responsible citizens. All children and young people (including unborn babies) have the right to be cared for and protected from harm and abuse and to grow up in a safe environment in which their rights are respected and their needs met. Children and young people should get the help they need, when they need it and their safety is always paramount.

9. Child protection has to be seen in the context of the wider Getting it right for every child ( GIRFEC) approach [1] , the Early Years Framework and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. GIRFEC promotes action to improve the wellbeing of all children and young people in eight areas [2] . These wellbeing indicators state that children and young people must be: healthy, achieving, nurtured, active, respected, responsible, included and, above all in this context, safe. The primary indicator for child protection is to keep a child safe and, in so doing, attention is given to other areas of wellbeing as appropriate.

10. GIRFEC has a number of key components: [3]

  • a focus on improving outcomes for children, young people and their families based on a shared understanding of wellbeing;
  • a common approach to gaining consent and sharing information where appropriate;
  • an integral role for children, young people and families in assessment, planning and intervention;
  • a co-ordinated and unified approach to identifying concerns, assessing needs, agreeing actions and outcomes, based on the wellbeing indicators;
  • streamlined planning, assessment and decision-making processes that result in children, young people and their families getting the right help at the right time;
  • consistent high standards of co-operation, joint working and communication, locally and across Scotland;
  • a Named Person in universal services for each child and a Lead Professional to co-ordinate and monitor multi-agency activity where necessary;
  • maximising the skilled workforce within universal services to address needs and risks as early as possible;
  • a confident and competent workforce across all services for children, young people and their families; and
  • the capacity to share demographic, assessment and planning information within and across agency boundaries.

11. At the heart of the GIRFEC approach is an emphasis on early, proactive intervention in order to create a supportive environment and identify any additional support that may be required as early as possible.

12. Parents/carers, families and communities have the primary role in safeguarding, supporting and promoting the wellbeing of children; parents/carers have ultimate responsibility for ensuring that their child's needs are met, and are often best placed to do so. Agencies and services should encourage and support parents/carers, families and communities in carrying out that role. All staff who work with children and/or their carers have a role to play in ensuring that a child's needs are met, either by providing support directly or by identifying when a child and/or their family needs additional support from another agency or service (this is also true of adult services). Early intervention and support can prevent a problem from escalating into a crisis and ultimately, ensure positive outcomes for children. It must be remembered that early intervention and Compulsory Measures of Supervision are not mutually exclusive, early use of Compulsory Measures of Supervision may help to ensure compliance and prevent concerns from escalating.

13. In the past decade, increasing awareness of the potential harm to children from parental issues such as alcohol and drug problems, domestic abuse, mental health problems, and the complexities of working with families with a parent who may have a learning or physical disability has risen significantly. Our understanding of the potential harm to children caused by gender-based abuse, child trafficking, internet grooming, sexual exploitation or neglect has also increased. This guidance also addresses a number of areas that, while not necessarily directly linked to familial responsibility, can and do result in significant harm to children and require a strategic response from local services.

14. Child protection is the responsibility of all who work with children and families, regardless of whether that work brings them into direct contact with children. All workers should be fully informed of the impact of adult behaviour on children and of their responsibilities in respect of keeping children safe. Social work services and the police have a legal responsibility to investigate child protection concerns; they can only do this if they are made aware of those concerns. Similarly, Children's Reporters can only arrange for Compulsory Measures of Supervision to be put in place if children are referred to them.

15. All services that work with children and/or their carers are expected to identify and consider the child's wellbeing, and to share appropriate information with others collaboratively with the child, their family and other services. Services and agencies that may previously have seen their role as being to 'pass on' concerns are now expected to take a proactive approach to identifying and responding to potential risks, irrespective of whether the child in question is their 'client', 'patient' or 'service user'. Equally, services that work with adults who may pose a risk to children and young people have a responsibility to take action when risks to children or young people are identified [4] . The role of the Named Person, as defined by the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014, is key to information sharing and the management of concerns about children. Where the role is in place the Named Person will be a single point of contact with responsibility for promoting, supporting and safeguarding children's wellbeing. The Act also introduces a legal duty to share information that is likely to be relevant to the Named Person functions. Guidance on the exercise of the Named Person functions and on information sharing will be issued in advance of these provisions coming into force.

16. Research and the Care Inspectorate's findings of joint inspections of child protection services [5] have helped identify good practice and highlighted some of the pitfalls. The need for comprehensive and robust assessments, good communication and information-sharing, sound decision-making and outcome-focused planning and intervention have all been recurring themes in the past decade.

17. Chief Officers and senior managers have a clear responsibility to deliver robust, co-ordinated strategies and services for protecting children and to provide an agreed framework to help practitioners and managers achieve the common objective of keeping children safe. Additionally, when the provisions within Part 3 of the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 come into force, local authorities and health boards will be required to jointly produce Children's Services Plans that identify how children's and related services will be provided in a way that best safeguards, supports and promotes the wellbeing of all children in their locality. Currently only local authorities are under a duty to publish plans for services for children under section 19 of the Children (Scotland) Act 1995 which will replaced by the provisions in Part 3 of the 2014 Act when they come into force.

18. Perhaps most significantly, policies and services are increasingly focused on the need for interventions to be outcome-focused rather than process-led. This should underpin the way in which everyone working with children and young people look at issues of child protection. Using the GIRFEC approach, at each stage of an intervention, practitioners should ask themselves the following questions:

  • What is getting in the way of this child or young person's wellbeing?
  • Do I have all the information I need to help this child or young person?
  • What can I do now to help this child or young person?
  • What can my agency do to help this child or young person?
  • What additional help, if any, may be needed from others? [6]

19. By keeping these questions in mind, keeping children at the centre will be more than rhetoric and become the baseline by which we must measure any involvement in a child's life.


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