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What is the definition of safeguarding children?

The NSPCC defines safeguarding as “the action that is taken to promote the welfare of children and protect them from harm.”

Safeguarding means:

  • Protecting children from abuse and maltreatment.
  • Preventing harm to children’s health or development.
  • Ensuring children grow up with the provision of safe and effective care.
  • Taking action to enable all children and young people to have the best outcomes.

There are six principles of safeguarding as defined by the Care Act 2014:

  • Prevention – The act of organisations working to stop abuse before it happens, raising awareness, training staff and making information easily accessible are all ways that they can demonstrate prevention measures and encourage individuals to ask for help.
  • Empowerment – Ensuring people are supported and confident in making their own decisions and giving informed consent.
  • Protection – Organisations put measures in place to help stop abuse from occurring and offer help and support to those at risk.
  • Proportionality – Ensures that services take each person into account when dealing with abuse, respecting each individual and assessing any risks presented, taking a proportionate and least intrusive response to the issue presented.
  • Partnership – Forming partnerships with local communities and other appropriate organisations provides the opportunity to work together, to create solutions, so as they can assist in preventing and detecting risk and abuse.
  • Accountability – Safeguarding is everyone’s responsibility and accountability and having complete transparency in delivering safeguarding practice makes sure that everyone plays their part when it comes to safeguarding children.

Whilst these principles were designed initially for the care sector, they are recognised and implemented by all organisations who work with or around children and form the basis for policies and procedures relating to safeguarding children.

Teacher safeguarding young vulnerable child

Key Definitions Relevant to Safeguarding Children

A child – is defined as a person who is aged under 18, and includes an unborn child.

A child at risk – is a child who:

  • Is experiencing or is at risk of abuse, neglect or other kinds of harm.
  • Has needs for care and support (whether or not the authority is meeting any of those needs).

It is important to note that the use of the term ‘at risk’ means that actual abuse or neglect does not need to occur, rather that early interventions to protect a child at risk should be considered to prevent actual harm, abuse and neglect.

The two conditions necessary to demonstrate a child is at risk of abuse or neglect ensures that protection is provided to those with care and support needs who also require actions to secure their safety in the future. Risk of abuse or neglect may be the consequence of one concern or a result of cumulative factors.

Harm is defined as ill treatment; this includes sexual abuse, neglect, emotional abuse and psychological abuse.

It also includes the impairment of physical or mental health (including that suffered from seeing or hearing another person suffer ill treatment) and the impairment of physical, intellectual, emotional, social or behavioural development (including that suffered from seeing or hearing another person suffer ill treatment).

Types of harm include but are not limited to:

  • Physical abuse Hitting, slapping, over or misuse of medication, undue restraint, or inappropriate sanctions.
  • Emotional/psychological abuse – Threats of harm or abandonment, coercive control, humiliation, verbal or racial abuse, isolation or withdrawal from services or supportive networks, witnessing abuse of others.
  • Sexual abuse 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, including: physical contact, including penetrative or non-penetrative acts; non-contact activities, such as involving children in looking at, or in the production of, pornographic material or watching sexual activities or encouraging children to behave in sexually inappropriate ways.
  • Financial abuse – This category will be less prevalent for a child but indicators could be, for example, not meeting their needs for care and support which are provided through direct payments, or complaints that personal property is missing.
  • Neglect – Failure to meet basic physical, emotional or psychological needs which is likely to result in impairment of health or development.

In addition to the above, harm can also include the following acts which are not included in the Care Act:

  • Cyber bullying – This occurs when someone repeatedly makes fun of another person –online, or repeatedly picks on another person through emails or text messages. It can also involve using online forums with the intention of harming, damaging, humiliating, or isolating another person. It includes various different types of bullying, including racist bullying, homophobic bullying, or bullying related to special education needs and disabilities. The main difference is that, instead of the perpetrator carrying out the bullying face to face, they use technology as a means to do it.
  • Forced marriage This is a term used to describe a marriage in which one or both of the parties are married without their consent or against their will; in the case of children, a person is only able to give their consent if they are over the age of 18 years. A forced marriage differs from an arranged marriage, in which both parties consent to the assistance of a third party in identifying a spouse but this does not apply to the under 18s, unless they are in Scotland which is governed by a different legal system and those 16 years and over may give their consent. The Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 make it a criminal offence to force someone to marry.
  • A “mate crime” – Is when “vulnerable people and children are befriended by members of the community who go on to exploit and take advantage of them” (Safety Network Project, ARC). It may not be an illegal act, but it still has a negative effect on the individual. A mate crime is carried out by someone the young adult or child knows, and it often happens in private. In recent years there have been a number of Serious Care Reviews relating to young people and children with a learning disability who were seriously harmed, or even murdered, by people who purported to be their friend.
  • Radicalisation – The aim of radicalisation is to inspire new recruits, embed extreme views and persuade vulnerable individuals to the legitimacy of a cause. This may be direct through a relationship, or through social media.
Child being cyber bullied online

What is the Difference Between Safeguarding Children and Child Protection?

The differences between the two phrases are subtle but important. Child protection is part of the safeguarding process. It focuses on protecting individual children identified as suffering or likely to suffer significant harm. This includes child protection procedures which detail how to respond to concerns about a child.

Child protection involves the work and engagement of key agencies such as:

  • Police.
  • Children’s social care.
  • Health services.
  • Local authorities.
  • Housing.
  • Probation services.

All organisations that work with or come into contact with children should have safeguarding policies and procedures to ensure that every child, regardless of their age, disability, gender reassignment, race, religion or belief, sex, or sexual orientation, has a right to equal protection from harm.

Section 11 of the Children Act 2004 places duties on a range of organisations, agencies and individuals to ensure their functions, and any services that they contract out to others, are fulfilled acknowledging the need to safeguard and promote the welfare of children.

These organisations include but are not limited to:

  • Schools, colleges and other educational providers.
  • Early Years and Childcare.
  • Health and designated health professionals.
  • Public Health England.
  • Sports organisations and clubs.
  • Social care services.
  • Voluntary, charity, social enterprise, faith-based organisations and private sector organisations.
  • Housing services.
  • Police and British Transport Police.
  • Prison Service.
  • Probation Service.
  • Children’s homes.
  • Youth offending and secure establishments.
  • UK Visas and Immigration, Immigration Enforcement and the Border Force.
  • Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Services.
  • Armed services.

Chief executive officers and senior management in these organisations have a statutory executive responsibility to ensure that they and all staff implement and comply with safeguarding policies and procedures; take personal responsibility to safeguard and promote the welfare of children and young people; and co-operate with other agencies to protect individual children and young people from harm.

All board members including non-executive members must have a level of knowledge of safeguarding at least equivalent to all staff.

Legislation that Underpins Safeguarding

The child protection system in the UK is the responsibility of the government of each of the UK’s four nations – England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Each government is responsible for passing legislation, publishing guidance and establishing policy frameworks that organisations are required to implement and comply with.

Relevant legislation and statutory guidance includes:

In England –

  • Children Act 1989.
  • Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003.
  • Children Act 2004.
  • Children and Young Persons Act 2008.
  • Children and Families Act 2014.
  • Children and Social Work Act 2017.
  • Working Together to Safeguard Children.

In Northern Ireland – 

  • Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995.
  • Protection of Children & Vulnerable Adults (NI) Order (2003).
  • The Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups (Northern Ireland) Order 2007.
  • Safeguarding Board Act (Northern Ireland) 2011.
  • Department of Health 2008 Standards for Child Protection Services.
  • Department of Health (2017). Co-operating to Safeguard Children. Belfast: Department of Health.
  • Department of Health 2018 Safeguarding Board for Northern Ireland Procedures Manual.

In Scotland – 

  • Children (Scotland) Act 1995.
  • The Age of Legal Capacity (Scotland) Act 1991.
  • Scottish Government. Children and Young People’s (Scotland) Act 2014.
  • Scottish Government. Child Protection Guidance for Health Professionals. Edinburgh: Scottish Government 2013.
  • Protecting Children and Young People Framework of Standards 2004.
  • Scottish Government 2017 Getting it right for every child.

In Wales – 

  • Welsh Assembly Government 2007 Safeguarding Children – Working Together Under the Children Act 2004.
  • Protecting Children in Wales. Guidance for Arrangements for Multi-Agency Child Practice Reviews. Jan 2013.
  • The Social Services and Wellbeing Act (Wales) 2014.
  • Violence Against Women Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act 2015.
  • All Local Safeguarding Children Boards in Wales.

All those working with or who come into contact with children in the course of their work must have an enhanced disclosure check via the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) for England and Wales, Disclosure Scotland, for Scotland, and Access Northern Ireland in Northern Ireland.

Relevant safeguarding children legislation

Who is Responsible for Safeguarding Children and what Training do they Need?

Everyone who works with children including teachers, GPs, nurses, dentists, midwives, social workers, health visitors, early years professionals, youth workers, police, NHS staff, nursery staff, crèche volunteers, scout/guide leaders, holiday camp staff, voluntary and community organisations, sports club staff, and freelance coaches, has a responsibility for keeping them safe.

It is essential that anyone who works or volunteers with children or young people has the knowledge and skills needed to help keep children safe.

Statutory guidance such as Working Together to Safeguard Children 2018 sets out the requirements for people working or volunteering with children in the UK. These requirements differ depending on a person’s role and whether they work directly with children or have a specific safeguarding responsibility such as designated safeguarding lead.

There is also separate guidance for people working in specific sectors such as education (Keeping Children Safe in Education – for schools and colleges), healthcare, early years, childcare and social work.

Everyone who works or volunteers with children should understand the role they have in keeping children safe, and this includes being able to recognise the signs and indicators of abuse and knowing how to follow their organisation’s safeguarding and child protection procedures. For further information see Level 2 and Level 3 safeguarding training.

If you are working with children or are in a role where you come into contact with children, child safeguarding should be part of your induction process for all new staff and volunteers, whatever the role and responsibilities, and whichever sector you work in. How often training should be refreshed should be detailed in your organisation’s safeguarding policy or your sector’s regulatory body guidelines.

Some Statistics –

The latest (2019/2020) government statistics were showing a decrease in incidents of child abuse and neglect:

  • There were 389,260 children in need at 31 March 2020, a decrease of 2.6% from the same point in 2019.
  • This was a rate of 323.7 per 10,000 children, down from 334.2 last year and the lowest rate in the last 8 years.
  • There were 51,510 children in need on child protection plans, a decrease of 1.4% from the same point in 2019.
  • This was a rate of 42.8 per 10,000 children, down from 43.7 last year.
  • There were 642,980 referrals during the year 2020, a decrease of 1.0% compared to 2019.
  • Domestic violence by the parent was identified as a factor at the end of assessment in 169,860 episodes of need and remains the most common factor.

However, the BBC have recently reported on the effect of Covid-19 on child safeguarding and their findings are very concerning.

They found that the number of reported incidents of children dying or being seriously harmed after suspected abuse or neglect rose by a quarter after England’s first lockdown last year. England’s first lockdown began at the end of March last year and ended on 4 July 2020.

The Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel received 285 serious incident notifications from April to September. This is an increase of 27% from 225 in the same period the previous year. The data also includes children who were in care and died, regardless of whether abuse or neglect was suspected.

Child deaths increased from 89 to 119 and those seriously harmed rose from 132 to 153 compared with the same period in 2019, according to the data. The number of serious incidents involving children under one increased by 30%, as did the harm suffered by those aged 16 and over.

The majority (54%) of incidents related to boys, and almost two thirds related to white children. In two thirds of the 285 cases reported, the harm occurred while children were living at home. The number of serious incident notifications had fallen in 2019-20 compared with 2018-19 when there were 274 such notifications.

A policy manager at the Children’s Society, told the BBC that the increase in incidents last year happened at a time when Covid-19 was having a “huge impact on the well-being of children and families and disrupted help available to those who needed it most”.

She added that “During the first lockdown many vulnerable children were stuck at home in difficult, sometimes dangerous situations, often isolated from friends and support networks. Sadly, children also continued to be targeted and groomed by people outside their families for sexual and criminal exploitation like county lines drug dealing operations, which can lead to serious violence or death. At the same time, they were often hidden from view of professionals like social workers and teachers who are best placed to spot the signs if they may be in danger.”

These worrying statistics make it even more important for everyone working with or who come into contact with children to be extra vigilant as lockdown measures reduce and children are again using services such as schools, colleges, NHS, clubs etc. Irrespective of lockdowns, vital frontline services have been maintained, so report any safeguarding concerns to either dedicated safeguarding leads, local authorities or to the police.

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About the author

Megan Huziej

Megan Huziej

Megan has worked with CPD since August 2020, she is in charge of content production, as well as planning and delegating tasks. Megan is currently studying for her Business Administration Level 3 qualification. Outside of work Megan loves to venture to different places and eateries as well as spending quality time with friends and family.



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