Child protection system in England
The Department for Education (DfE) is responsible for child protection in England. It sets out policy, legislation and statutory guidance on how the child protection system should work.
From 29 June 2018, local safeguarding children's boards (LSCBs) are being replaced by safeguarding partners, who are responsible for child protection policy, procedure and guidance at a local level.
The local safeguarding arrangements are led by three statutory safeguarding partners:
Working together with other relevant agencies, they must co-ordinate and ensure the effectiveness of work to protect and promote the welfare of children, including making arrangements to identify and support children at risk of harm.
The government has given local authorities until 29 September 2019 to transition to the new partnership arrangements for safeguarding.
In England, people working with children are expected to report concerns about a child's welfare to the relevant agencies.
Duty to protect children
The key guidance for child protection is Working together to safeguard children (Department for Education, 2018). This states:
In addition, section 11 of the Children Act 2004 places a statutory duty on certain agencies to co-operate to safeguard and promote the welfare of children. This includes:
People who work in these agencies and who do not report suspected cases of abuse or neglect may be subject to disciplinary proceedings but do not currently face criminal penalties.
It is mandatory for all regulated health and social care professionals and teachers in England to report 'known cases' of female genital mutilation (FGM) in under 18s to the police (Home Office, 2016).
How to report concerns about a child's welfare
If you think a child is in immediate danger, contact the police on 999. If you're worried about a child but they are not in immediate danger, you should share your concerns.
Services will risk assess the situation and take action to protect the child as appropriate either through statutory involvement or other support. This may include making a referral to the local authority.
Working together to safeguard children states that local authority children's services should give feedback to anyone who has made a child protection referral to them on the decisions they have taken (Department for Education, 2018).
Referrals and investigations
Working together to safeguard children (Department for Education, 2018) highlights the importance of providing early help to promote the welfare of children. Local organisations and agencies should work together to:
If a child has complex needs, it may be appropriate for the local authority to provide support under section 17 of the Children Act 1989 (children in need).
Where there are child protection concerns, the local authority must make enquiries and decide if any action must be taken under section 47 of the Children Act 1989.
Assessing child welfare and child protection concerns
It is the responsibility of the local authority to investigate any concerns raised about a child's welfare.
If the child is in immediate danger the local authority or an authorised person(including the NSPCC) can take the following action through the courts:
If the child is not in immediate danger, there will be an assessment of the child's needs. Within one working day of a referral being received, a local authority social worker should acknowledge receipt to the referrer and make a decision about next steps and the type of response required. This will include determining whether:
Assessing the risk of significant harm
If information gathered during an assessment suggests that a child is suffering or likely to suffer significant harm, the local authority should hold a strategy discussion to enable it to decide, with other agencies, whether it must undertake a section 47 enquiry.
A Section 47 enquiry refers to Section 47 of the Children Act 1989 and involves social workers gathering evidence and speaking with the child, family and other relevant professionals to determine if any interventions may be beneficial to the child's welfare.
All assessments should be completed within 45 working days from the point of referral into local authority children's social care.
Child protection conferences
A child protection conference is held if a child is assessed as being at risk of significant harm. It may also take place where there are concerns about an unborn child.
At the case conference relevant professionals can share information, identify risks and outline what needs to be done to protect the child.
In England, this must happen within 15 working days of the strategy discussion.
Professionals draft a child protection plan which the core group will develop and implement.
A core group is set up of family members and professionals.
Child protection measures
Child protection plan
A child protection plan sets out what action needs to be taken, by when and by whom (including family members), to keep the child safe from harm and to promote their welfare.
The plan will be reviewed at regular child protection conferences until the child is no longer considered at risk of significant harm or until they are taken into care.
In some cases, professionals may conclude that the parents or carers are not able to provide safe or appropriate care for their child and the local authority will decide to take the child into care.
Unless the level of risk requires the courts to get involved immediately, care proceedings will only start after extensive efforts to keep the child with their family.
If the child is still at risk following these efforts then the parents will be invited to a pre-proceedings meeting as a final attempt to avoid going to court.
A child may be taken in to care voluntarily through Section 20 of the Children Act 1989.
A local authority must provide accommodation for children who do not have anywhere suitable to live. This includes children who have nobody to look after them or whose parents are unable to look after them for a period of time, due to illness or other problems.
Under Section 20 a parent retains all their legal rights and can require the child's return at any stage.
Going to court
Care proceedings are usually held in the Family Court although more complex cases may be held in the High Court.
The court will make sure the child has a children's guardian. The guardian's job is to look after the child's interests. If the child is mature enough they can appoint their own solicitor to represent their wishes.
The child's social worker will make a care plan to help the court decide how the child should be cared for.
If the courts agree that it's necessary, they can make an order giving the local authority parental responsibility for a child. There are four types of care order.
Interim care order
At the initial hearing the court may decide that an interim care order is needed to set out what should happen to the child during proceedings.
This is awarded for eight weeks initially. The social worker and an officer from the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) among others will try to understand why the child might be at risk and what can be done to keep them safe.
The social worker and Cafcass officer will then produce reports on what they think should happen to the child, after consulting with the parents, child and family and friends.
This will include whether they think the child should be taken into care or stay with the family.
The judge will decide how long the interim care order will last and how often it will be reviewed.
While the interim care order is in place, professionals can work together with the family to see if the child can return home. Other options that may be explored are rehabilitation and placement.
Rehabilitation aims to return the child to the birth family, while placements offer options for fostering or adoption.
The court will only make a full care order if they are convinced:
and that the level of harm is due to either:
A care order gives the local authority shared parental responsibility with the parents, but the local authority has the power to decide how much involvement a parent should have with their child.
At the point of the adoption the care order ends and the adoptive parents take over sole parental responsibility.
Unless an adoption order is made or the child returns home, care orders last until the child turns 18. Local authorities have a duty to continue to promote the welfare of care-leavers until the age of 21, or 25 if the young person wants to.
Legislation and guidance
The Children Act 1989 provides the legislative framework for child protection in England. Key principles established by the Act include:
This is strengthened by the Children Act 2004, which encourages partnerships between agencies and creates more accountability, by:
Both of these acts are amended by the Children and Social Work Act 2017, which received Royal Assent on 27 April 2017. Key provisions include:
Policy and guidance
Working together to safeguard children (Department for Education, 2018)
The Department for Education (DfE) published an updated version of the key statutory guidance for anyone working with children in England in July 2018. It sets out how organisations and individuals should work together and how practitioners should conduct the assessment of children.
This latest guidance updates the previous version published in 2015.
The main changes are:
Other amendments include:
What to do if you're worried a child is being abused: advice for practitioners (Department for Education, 2015)
This describes the indicators of abuse and neglect and the actions to take if you think a child is being abused or neglected. It's relevant for anyone who comes into contact with children and families while working and applies to the statutory, voluntary and independent sectors.
Mandatory reporting of female genital mutilation (FGM) (Home Office, 2015)
This guidance gives health and social care professionals, teachers and the police information on their responsibilities under the female genital mutilation mandatory reporting duty, which came into force 31 October 2015.