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Key Definitions

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
  • Taking action to enable all children to have the best life chances.

Child Protection

Child Protection is part of safeguarding and promoting welfare. This refers to the activity that is undertaken to protect specific children who are suffering or are likely to suffer Significant Harm.

Significant Harm

The Children Act 1989 introduced Significant Harm as the threshold that justifies compulsory intervention in family life in the best interests of children. Physical Abuse, Sexual Abuse, Emotional Abuse and Neglect are all categories of Significant Harm. Harm is defined as the ‘ill treatment or impairment of health and development’ of a child. It may include, "for example, impairment suffered from seeing or hearing the ill treatment of another" (such as in families where domestic abuse occurs).

There are no absolute criteria on which to rely when judging what constitutes Significant Harm. Sometimes a single violent episode may constitute Significant Harm but more often it is an accumulation of significant events, both acute and longstanding, which interrupt, damage or change the child's development.

Children in Need

A Child in Need is defined under the Children Act 1989 as a child who is unlikely to achieve or maintain a satisfactory level of health or development, or their health and development will be significantly impaired, without the provision of services; or a child who is disabled. In these cases, assessments by a social worker are carried out under Section 17 of the Children Act 1989. Children in need may be assessed under section 17 of the Children Act 1989, in relation to their special educational needs, disabilities, or as a carer, or because they have committed a crime. The process for assessment should also be used for children whose parents are in prison and for asylum seeking children. When assessing children in need and providing services, specialist assessments may be required and, where possible, should be coordinated so that the child and family experience a coherent process and a single plan of action.

Abuse and Neglect 

Recognising when a child is experiencing abuse or neglect can be complex. 

Working Together to Safeguard Children 2015 provides the following definitions of abuse and neglect:

  • Abuse is a form of maltreatment of a child. Somebody may abuse or neglect a child by inflicting harm, or by failing to act to prevent harm. Children may be abused in a family or in an institutional or community setting by those known to them or, more rarely, by others (e.g. via the internet). They may be abused by an adult or adults, or another child or children;
  • 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 or carer fabricates the symptoms of, or deliberately induces illness in a child.
  • Emotional Abuse is the persistent emotional maltreatment of a child such as to cause severe and persistent adverse effects on the child’s emotional development. It may involve conveying to children that they are worthless or unloved, inadequate, or valued only insofar as they meet the needs of another person. It may include not giving the child opportunities to express their views, deliberately silencing them or “making fun” of what they say or how they communicate. It may feature age or developmentally inappropriate expectations being imposed on children. These may include interactions that are beyond the child’s developmental capacity, as well as overprotection and limitation of exploration and learning, or preventing the child participating in normal social interaction. It may involve hearing or seeing the ill treatment of another. It may involve serious bullying (including cyber bullying) causing children frequently to feel frightened or in danger, or the exploitation or corruption of children. Some level of emotional abuse is involved in all types of maltreatment of a child, although it may occur alone.
  • Sexual Abuse involves forcing or enticing a child or young person to take part in sexual activities not necessarily involving a high level of violence, whether or not the child is aware of what is happening. The activities may involve physical contact, including assault by penetration (e.g. rape, or oral sex) or non penetrative acts such as masturbation, kissing, rubbing and touching outside of clothing. They may include non contact activities, such as involving children in looking at, or in the production of, sexual images, watching sexual activities or encouraging children to behave in sexually inappropriate ways or grooming a child in preparation for abuse (including via the internet). Sexual abuse is not solely perpetrated by adult males. Women can also commit acts of sexual abuse as can other children.
  • Neglect is the persistent failure to meet a child’s basic physical and/or psychological needs, likely to result in the serious impairment of the child’s health or development. Neglect may occur during pregnancy as a result of maternal substance abuse. Once a child is born, neglect may involve a parent or carer failing to:
    • Provide adequate food, clothing and shelter (including exclusion from home or abandonment);
    • Protect a child from physical and emotional harm or danger;
    • Ensure adequate supervision (including the use of inadequate care givers);
    • Ensure access to appropriate medical care or treatment.
    It may also include neglect of, or unresponsiveness to, a child’s basic emotional needs.

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