Child Protection System in Wales
The Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014 came into force in April 2016. It provides the legal framework for social service provision in Wales.
At a local level regional safeguarding children boards co-ordinate and ensure the effectiveness of work to protect and promote the welfare of children. They are responsible for local child protection policy, procedure and guidance.c Each board includes any:
How to report a concern
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.
Duty to report
Section 130 of the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014 requires health and social care professionals and teachers to inform the local authority if they have reasonable cause to suspect a child is at risk of experiencing abuse, neglect or other types of harm.
It is mandatory for all regulated health and social care professionals and teachers in Wales to report ‘known cases’ of female genital mutilation (FGM) in under 18s to the police (Home Office, 2016).
Referrals and investigations
The local authority child protection team has a legal duty to investigate any concerns referred to them. They will first assess if the child is at immediate risk of danger.
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 initial assessment of the child’s needs.
Under Section 21 of the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014, the local authority has a statutory duty to assess the needs of a child if they appear to need additional support to that provided by their family.
After these investigations they will decide how to act. They may:
A case conference is held if the child is at risk of significant harm. At the case conference relevant professionals can share information, identify risks and outline what needs to be done to protect the child.
In Wales, this must happen within 15 working days from the start of the assessment.
If professionals at the initial case conference decide a child is at risk of significant harm they will add the child to the child protection register, and draw up a child protection plan.
Case conferences will continue at regular intervals until the child is no longer considered at risk of significant harm or until they are taken into care.
Child protection measures
Child protection register
In Wales the child protection register (CPR) is a confidential list of all children in the local area who have been identified as being at risk of significant harm. It allows authorised individuals to check if a child they are working with is known to be at risk.
If a child is added to the CPR they must also have a child protection plan, which sets out what action needs to be taken by whom and when, in order to safeguard the child and promote their welfare.
If the local authority believes that a child is at risk of significant harm they may take the child into care to keep them safe.
Unless the level of risk requires the courts to get involved immediately, extensive efforts will be made to keep the child with their family.A child can be taken into care voluntarily or under a care order.
A child may be taken into care voluntarily through Section 76 of the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014.
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 76 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 and 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 judged to be mature enough they will also be allowed to 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.
Interim care order
After 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 and must be renewed every four weeks, allowing for investigation and further plans to be made. 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 court will only make a full care order if they are convinced:
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.
Once a care order has been made, the child’s care plan will be carried out.
This allows a child to be placed with prospective adopters prior to an adoption order, should the local authority believe this is the best option for the child.
This transfers parental responsibility to the adoptive parents. It’s only made by a court following extensive enquiries, based on the best interest of the child.
At the point of adoption the care order ends and the adoptive parents take over the sole parental responsibility.
Care order duration
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.
Legislation and guidance
In Wales, the Children Act 1989 outlines when to initiate care proceedings and the duty of local authorities to safeguard and promote children’s welfare.
Much of the Children Act 1989 applies to both England and Wales. As of April 2016, Part 3 of the Act (which refers to support for children and families provided by local authorities) has been replaced by Part 6 of the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014.
The Children Act 2004 strengthens this by encouraging partnerships between agencies and creating more accountability. A number of sections have been amended, repealed or replaced by the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014 and the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 contents, including the requirements for the establishment of local safeguarding children boards in Wales.
The Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014 provides Wales with its own framework for social services by:
Provisions in the Act include:
In 2011 the Rights of Children and Young Persons (Wales) Measure made Wales the first, and so far only, country in the UK to make the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, 1989) part of its domestic law. This ensures that children’s rights are included in all policy making in Wales.
Policy and guidance
Welsh Government, 2017
A suite of guidance and codes of practice were issued under Section 145 of the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014. These documents set out the social services requirements for local authorities in Wales. The codes and guidance cover both services for adults and children, and specifically:
The previous guidance, Safeguarding children: working together under the Children Act (Welsh Government, 2006), has been replaced with the relevant volumes of the Working together to safeguard people guidance (Welsh Government, 2017), which includes:
All Wales child protection procedures, 2008
This provides a common set of child protection procedures for every safeguarding board in Wales.
The Procedures are divided into 5 parts, covering:
The Welsh Government has provided safeguarding boards with funding to enable the procedures to be updated and to take account of change brought in by the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014.