Working with children and adults who may be at risk of self harm: practice guidance

This guidance is focussed on issues of confidentiality, information sharing and protection and is for people working with children and adults where there is a concern about self-harm.


In Towards a Mentally Flourishing Scotland: Policy and Action Plan 2009-11, the Scottish Government made a commitment to improve knowledge and understanding of self-harm in Scotland and to develop an appropriate response. The Government committed to working with partners to, among other things, offer guidance to those delivering both general and specific services and develop local and national information.

A National Self-Harm Working Group was established in August 2009 to take these tasks forward and to map out the next stage of activity in developing services and health improvement approaches.

Responding to Self-harm was developed by the Working Group and agreed by Scottish Ministers for publication in 2011. It can be found at It is presented as a work plan of objectives and forms the basis for more specific action during the ongoing implementation process. One of the Specific Objectives (SO5) was that guidance should be prepared on information sharing, protection and confidentiality for those working with children and adults at risk where there is concern about self-harm; this guidance fulfils this Objective.

The term self-harm is used in this guidance to refer to any act of selfpoisoning or self-injury, irrespective of the apparent purpose of the act. This commonly involves self-poisoning with medication or self-injury by cutting, but can also include biting or burning. There are three important exclusions which this term is not intended to cover: self-harm through substance misuse (alcohol & drug); accidental self-harm; and self-harm related to eat i ng disorders.

It is hoped that those who come into contact with both children and adults who self-harm will find this guidance document both useful and informative. This document is aimed at a range of staff groups and others, including health, social work, residential care staff; foster carers, kinship carers; teachers and other education staff; police staff, custody staff and prison staff who work with children and adults where there is a concern that they are involved in self-harming behaviours.

For the purposes of this Guidance ‘child’ means a person under the age of 18 years; and a “young person” means someone up to 24 years old.


Email: Janet Megoran

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