Working Together to Safeguard Children (HM Government)

March 2020: This chapter has been updated to reflect the name change from Local Safeguarding Children’s Boards to Safeguarding Children’s Partnerships.

1. Introduction

Safeguarding children from abuse or neglect is everybody’s business. Whilst the service works predominately with adults, staff, volunteers and contractors may come into contact with children in the course of their work.

All staff have a responsibility to report any suspicions they have that a child is suffering, or is likely to suffer from abuse or neglect. All allegations must be taken seriously and staff must report them to their manager or an independent person – such as the children’s social carer, the police, Ofsted or the NSPCC.

Action on safeguarding concerns does not necessarily mean that the child will be subject to child protection processes. Early intervention in such circumstances may result in the child and their parent / carers being provided with necessary support to prevent the situation from worsening, and improving their childhood outcomes.

The procedures below are compulsory and any failure to comply with them will be addressed through appropriate disciplinary procedures.

2. Key Terms

2.1 Child in need

Under the Children Act 1989, a child is defined as a child in need if:

  • they are unlikely to achieve or maintain, or have the opportunity of achieving or maintaining, a reasonable standard of health or development without the provision of services by a local authority;
  • their health or development is likely to be significantly impaired, or further impaired, without the provision for him/her of such services; or
  • they are disabled.

2.2 Child protection

Child protection is a part of the overall concept of safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children. This refers to professional action that is undertaken to protect specific children who are suffering, or are likely to suffer, significant harm.

2.3 Safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children

Safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children is defined as:

  • protecting children from maltreatment;
  • preventing impairment of children’s health or development;
  • ensuring that children are growing up in circumstances consistent with the provision of safe and effective care; and
  • undertaking that role to enable those children to have optimum life chances and to enter adulthood successfully.

2.4 Significant harm

The Children Act 1989 introduced significant harm as the threshold that justifies compulsory intervention in family life by specific professionals, in the best interests of children.

Harm is defined as the ill treatment or impairment of health and development. This definition was clarified in the Adoption and Children Act 2002 to include, “for example, impairment suffered from seeing or hearing the ill treatment of another”.

Suspicions or allegations that a child is suffering or likely to suffer significant harm should result in an assessment, which includes a Section 47 enquiry.

Physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse and neglect are all categories of significant harm (see Section 4, Categories of Abuse and Neglect).

There are no absolute criteria which can be applied when deciding what constitutes significant harm. Sometimes it can be a single episode, but it is more likely to be an accumulation of significant events, both acute and longer term, which can interrupt, damage or alter the child’s development.

3. Recognising Child Abuse and Neglect

Abuse and neglect are not always easy to identify. Obvious signs of abuse or neglect may not be easily spotted.

Someone might become concerned as a result of:

  • comments made by the child or their parents or friends;
  • changes in a child’s behaviour or mood which may indicate abuse or neglect;
  • indications that the family is under extreme stress, which may be as a result of financial pressures, relationship difficulties, domestic abuse or violence for example;
  • by a series of events, which, may not be thought to be of concern individually, but when they are viewed together can be considered as significant.

Somebody can abuse or neglect a child by either inflicting harm or by failing to act to prevent harm. Children may be abused in a family or in an institution or community setting; by those known to them or sometimes a stranger. They may be abused by an adult or adults or another child or children (see Section 5, Causes of Abuse or Neglect).

‘Practitioners should, in particular, be alert to the potential need for early help for a child who:

  • is disabled and has specific additional needs;
  • has special educational needs (whether or not they have a statutory Education, Health and Care Plan);
  • is a young carer;
  • is showing signs of being drawn into anti-social or criminal behaviour, including gang involvement and association with organised crime groups;
  • is frequently missing/goes missing from care or from home;
  • is at risk of modern slavery, trafficking or exploitation;
  • is at risk of being radicalised or exploited;
  • is in a family circumstance presenting challenges for the child, such as drug and alcohol misuse, adult mental health issues and domestic abuse;
  • is misusing drugs or alcohol themselves;
  • has returned home to their family from care;
  • is a privately fostered child’. (Working Together to Safeguard Children, p 13)

4. Categories of Abuse and Neglect

There are four defined categories of child abuse, which are forms of significant harm. These are:

  • neglect;
  • physical abuse;
  • emotional abuse;
  • sexual abuse.

Further information is available via the Local Safeguarding Children Partnership procedures.

4.1 Neglect

Neglect is the persistent failure of a parent or carer to meet a child’s basic physical and / or psychological needs, which is likely to result in the serious impairment of the child’s health or development.

Neglect may occur during pregnancy because of a mother’s drug or alcohol misuse, parental mental ill health or learning difficulties or as a result of a combination of these factors. Where a parent or carer is suffering domestic abuse or violence, the needs of the child may be neglected.

Once a child is born, neglect may involve a parent failing to:

  • provide adequate food, clothing and shelter (including excluding the child from the home or abandoning them elsewhere);
  • protect a child from physical and emotional harm or danger;
  • ensure adequate supervision, including using inappropriate people to care for the child;
  • ensure access to appropriate medical care or treatment, as required.

It may also include neglecting or being unresponsive to a child’s basic emotional, social and educational needs.

4.2 Physical abuse

Physical abuse may involve hitting, shaking, throwing, poisoning, burning or scalding, drowning, suffocating, or otherwise causing physical harm to a child.

Physical harm may also be caused when a parent makes up symptoms of, or deliberately makes a child ill (fabricated or induced illness).

4.3 Sexual abuse

Sexual abuse involves forcing or enticing a child or young person to take part in sexual activities, whether or not the child is aware of what is happening. It may not necessarily involve violence. Sexual abuse may involve physical contact, including assault by penetration (vaginal, anal or oral) or non-penetrative acts such as masturbation, kissing and rubbing, including touching the child’s body outside of their clothing.

Sexual abuse includes non-contact actions, such as involving children in looking at or in the production of pornographic materials, watching sexual activities or encouraging them to behave in sexually inappropriate ways, or grooming a child in preparation for abuse (including via the internet). Sexual abuse can take place via the internet and mobile phone technology. It is not just perpetrated by adult males; women can also sexually abuse, as can other children.

Sexual abuse includes children being abused through organised networks of perpetrators or peers via gang membership or association.

Penetrative sex where a child is under the age of 16 is illegal, although prosecution of those of a similar age and where sex has taken place between consenting partners is not usual. However, where a child is under the age of 13 it is classified as rape as they cannot consent to sex at this age.

4.4. Emotional abuse

Emotional abuse is the persistent emotional maltreatment of a child, which can have significant and long standing effects on their emotional development. This may include:

  • telling children that they are worthless or unloved, inadequate, or valued only insofar as they meet the needs of another person;
  • imposing age or developmentally inappropriate expectations on children. These may include interactions beyond the child’s developmental capability, as well as over-protection, limiting exploration and learning or preventing the child participating in normal social interaction;
  • seeing or hearing the ill-treatment of another for example where there is domestic violence and abuse;
  • serious bullying, causing children frequently to feel frightened or in danger;
  • exploiting and corrupting children.

Some level of emotional abuse is involved in all types of maltreatment of a child, though it may occur alone.

5. Causes of Abuse and Neglect

There is no typical situation or environment in which child abuse or neglect may occur, although many children are abused by their parents or carers.

Children may also be abused in an institution or community setting; by those known to them or, more rarely, by a stranger. For example, children may be subject to ill treatment or abuse in the following settings:

  • where they are looked after in local authority, independent residential or foster homes;
  • by teachers in day or residential schools in the public, private voluntary or charities;
  • in secure accommodation, prison or custody;
  • when attending clubs or associations;
  • at leisure or sporting facilities, events or activities.

Abuse may also occur in the following situations:

  • they may be coerced into sexual exploitation or pornography.
  • they may be severely bullied or abused by other children at school, whilst playing, at clubs or in residential or foster care;
  • they may be enticed or befriended by people whilst away from home, which can include children who have run away or are missing from home or care;
  • they can be subject to organised abuse by groups of adults or younger people, who may be relatives, friends of the family or professionals or otherwise previously unknown to them;
  • they may be placed at risk resulting from domestic violence, from parental drug and alcohol use, mental illness or learning disabilities.

6. Taking Action where there are Concerns about a Child

6.1 Receiving concerns or allegations of abuse of harm

Staff members who see, hear or are told anything that causes them to become concerned that a child or young person may be at risk of or is being / has been abused, must report it immediately to a manager.

Non-action is not an option in relation to safeguarding children and all staff have a duty to act.

Children and young people sometimes disclose abuse to an adult who they have come to feel they can trust. If a child or young person discloses abuse it is important that staff respond appropriately by remaining calm and receptive; listening without interrupting; only asking questions of clarification; acknowledging the child’s courage in telling.

It is not staff members’ responsibility to investigate or in any way make judgements about what is reported to them. Investigations, if necessary, must be undertaken by properly trained, specified professionals within specific agencies following receipt of a referral.

If a disclosure or allegation of abuse or harm has been made, staff should discuss with the child or other person who has made the complaint what steps they would like taken to protect them and their wishes should be shared and, if not in conflict with procedures, followed.

Staff must not give absolute guarantees of confidentiality to those who report possible abuse or harm, but they should guarantee that they will take steps to ensure that appropriate action is taken and the child or young person protected. Unless doing so would put the child at more risk, they should inform the child and their parent / carer who they will share that information with and what is likely to happen as a result.

Where the allegation is of an historical nature, for example relating to abuse or harm that may have been perpetrated elsewhere or by family members, allegations must be taken seriously and must be reported in the same way as any other allegation.

Staff must make a written record as soon as possible of their concerns, what they have been told, any questions they asked and the replies given and the actions taken and by whom. They must then give the report to the manager.

The concerns raised and actions taken should be recorded. Where they relate to a child who is associated with an adult who uses the service, the information recorded on their case record.

Staff should not discuss the matter with others, including other staff, parents etc unless asked to do so by those responsible for dealing any subsequent investigation or enquiry.

6.2 Reporting concerns, suspicions or allegations of abuse or neglect

The following actions should be taken when there is any concern, disclosure, suspicion or allegation about the welfare of a child or young person, which is causing or likely to cause abuse or neglect. This includes historical abuse, that may have occurred at some time in the past and may not have been previously reported or investigated, or new information has come to light.

All suspicions, disclosures by a child or allegations must be reported to the line manager or delegated other member of staff, and the relevant agency as appropriate, for example children’s social care and / or the police.

Concerns can include harm perpetrated by any person, including:

  • another child or young person (including serious or persistent bullying);
  • a member of staff, contractor or volunteer;
  • a visitor or person in the community;
  • a teacher, social worker or other professional;
  • a parent or other family member.

Staff should first inform their manager or designated other member of staff about their concerns, unless the manager is implicated (see Allegations against Persons in Positions of Trust).

In an emergency, where there is an immediate risk to the child, staff must take necessary action. This may involve asking for police assistance or seeking emergency medical assistance for example, taking the child to hospital or contacting the emergency services via 999.

Once notified, the line manager will be responsible for following the local Safeguarding Children Partnership procedures and making contact with the children’s social care services (see Section 6.3, Action by the manager, below).

At this stage staff should not alert the person/s who may have caused or who are implicated in the concerns about the child.

6.3 Action by the manager

After receiving a report of a concern, suspicion or allegation of abuse or harm, the manager must firstly take any steps needed to protect any child or young person from risk of immediate harm.

The manager should then ensure the following people are notified:

  • their line manager;
  • children’s social care and / or
  • the police.

Where the concerns relate to a member of staff or volunteer, see Allegations against People in Positions of Trust.

The manager (or delegated senior manager) will co-operate with the decisions / actions taken by children’s social care.

Having received the referral in relation to the concern and alongside conducting an assessment, children’s social care will decide whether a strategy discussion or meeting will be held, and decide whether to initiate a child protection enquiry (Section 42 enquiry).

The member of staff who made the referral, or the manager, should be kept informed about the outcome of the referral and invited to attend meetings as appropriate. The service may be involved in discussions and arrangements about

  • who should inform the child’s parent or carer, where they are a client of the service;
  • any immediate arrangements for protection of the child, including contact with the adult;
  • whether it is necessary to inform staff and if so who will do so;
  • whether any implicated staff should be suspended or moved.

The manager should ensure that all staff involved cooperate fully with the safeguarding process.