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Safeguarding Children Legislation in the UK

Imagine that you live next door to a single mother and a five-year-old son. Every morning you see her leaving for work but realise the child is being left at home by himself. How do you think the child feels being left alone every day? What kind of danger is he in? Or how would you react if you were a council worker on a visit to support a housing tenant, who discovered a disturbing scene of self-neglect and clear signs of mental illness? Safeguarding children legislation has been established with the main aim of protecting children from harm. The legislation prevents unsuitable people from working with children, in any capacity, whether paid or unpaid.

In addition, the legislation ensures that people with responsibilities for the health, safety, education and well-being of children are trained in understanding their responsibilities in relation to the requirements of the law and have a “duty of care” to ensure their protection.

What is Safeguarding?

Safeguarding refers to the measures taken to encourage the safety of children and save them from potential harms. For example: 

  • Protecting children from abuse and ill-treatment
  • Preventing any harm that may pose a threat against the healthy growth and development of children.
  • Ensuring a safe and effective caring environment for children to grow up.
  • Taking the necessary steps to capacitate all children and young people to have the best possible outcomes.
In general, anyone who hasn’t yet reached their 18th birthday is a child. And children can be vulnerable to neglect and abuse from anyone they come across in their daily lives, including their own families.  The first component of the safeguarding children legislation process is Child protection. And it aims to safeguard every child identified as victims, suffering or anticipated to suffer notable harm. Child protection procedures must delineate how to respond to safety concerns about children. And safeguarding is a very simple, real, and enormously effective way to do just that.

Why do children need safeguarding?


Safeguarding is protecting children and adults at risk of harm and abuse. It’s about promoting their welfare. People don’t always know they’re being abused. So, we all have the opportunity to help and protect them.

According to the national statistics provided by the Crime Survey for England and Wales, almost one in every five adults have experienced a form of abuse as a child.

Children need safeguarding to protect them from:

  • Child abuse
  • Emotional abuse
  • Physical abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • Witnessing domestic violence or abuse

It should be your foremost responsibility to protect your children from any sort of maltreatment. So, Safeguarding Children Legislation is required to ensure safeguarding.

What is abuse?

Abuse is an action or lack of action on the part of another person that causes harm. It can be intentional or unintentional. The 2014 care act includes several types of abuse that are important to understand and learn how to identify. For example, physical abuse can be:

  • Hitting
  • Pushing, or
  • Pulling of a vulnerable person.

Other types of abuse covered in the Care Act include

  • Sexual
  • Psychological
  • Emotional and
  • Financial abuse

But all of these forms of abuse can happen in the most intimate of settings, in the family home.

Domestic violence

This is defined as coercive and controlling behaviour in intimate and familial relationships. And sadly, as a result, is often witnessed by children.

So spotting signs of domestic violence and reporting them can be really important for minimising danger to entire families. 


Many of these forms of abuse can be easy to notice and identify, but one type is much more hidden and difficult to see than others, even though it’s happening all around us, in cities, towns, and villages throughout the UK. And this type of abuse is covered in the Care Act as:

  • Neglect
  • Self-neglect
  • Discriminatory abuse (using someone’s race, ethnicity or sexual identity against them)
  • Organizational abuse, for example, it might be in a care home or other institution, intentionally causing harm or withholding care from a vulnerable person.

The rise of the internet and social media has opened up even more ways for children to be accessed and abused. So, it’s important to be even more vigilant than ever before for signs of abuse in different forms, including: 

  • Online abuse or cyber bullying
  • Blackmailing

Modern slavery

This is a rapidly growing heterogeneous system of acute ill-treatment and violence against children and of children rights. Modern slavery poses a threat to the physical, mental, psychological health of children. It can have a profound impact on the nation’s future as well.

Modern slavery includes:

  • Human trafficking
  • Sexual exploitation
  • Forced labour

It can be quite challenging to recognise the signs and victims of modern slavery. But understanding the diversity of potential physical and mental health can benefit you to identify any threat, fear, manipulation or abuse done on children.

According to current statistics, one in four victims of modern slavery is children. Therefore, if you spot any child into forced labour, domestic servitude, forced marriage, or traffic, you should immediately inform the local authorities and child care organisations to take necessary actions.

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Key legislation that envelops Safeguarding Children in the UK

There are a number of key legislation and policies in the United Kingdom, each with a fundamental aspect of child education and care designed to protect children from harm or abuse. The statutory guidance for keeping children safe is based on the legal acts implied by the UK government. If you work with or around children, such as in a school, safeguarding is an important responsibility that you must take seriously. In order to properly fulfil your safeguarding duties, you need to understand what the law requires and keep up to date with any amendments or changes to it. The Following is a brief summary of these laws, which explains how they help to protect children. 

1. The Curtis Report (1946)

The Report of the Care of Children Committee was published in 1946 based on the care of children disadvantaged of a normal life with their own parents. This report played a crucial role in developing the institutional structures for children’s out-of-home care in the post-war welfare state and influenced greatly in the development of the 1948 Children Act. The report also covered the inquest of the death of 13-year-old Dennis O’Neil, drawing vivid public attention to issues of child neglect and child cruelty around the nation.

2. The Maria Colwell Report (1974)

A 7-year-old British child, named Maria Colwell was brutally killed by her stepfather on 6th January 1973. The report provided by the local authorities and agencies led to the formation of the Committee of Inquiry into the Care and Supervision in relation to Maria Corwell in the following year.

As a result, area child protection committees, inter-agency child protection conferences to consider specific cases and child protection registers to identify children at risk were created. 

3. The Beckford Report (1986)

The report was commissioned by the London borough of Brent and Brent authority on the death of a 4-year-old girl, Jasmine Beckford. She had been in the care of Brent social services for more than two years. In spite of the social services having contact with Jasmine’s family, she was continuously being neglected of her basic human needs and assaulted. As a result, jasmine was starved and battered to death in July 1984.

Jasmine’s stepfather and mother were convicted of manslaughter and neglect accordingly. This led to the report A Child in Trust (Blom-Cooper 1985) and was later fully supported by the Government. The report recommended the social workers to focus on the parents, as they’re the ones who should be concerned with the care of children at risk. 

4. The Children Act (1989)

This is the key piece of legislation and as it stands today, has been developed over many years as a result of an increase in allegations about abuse and neglect. The act replaces all previous child protection legislation and provides a framework for the protection and safeguarding of children legislation. Central to it is the concept that all children have the right to live a life free from abuse and harm and that those individuals who have a responsibility for children’s care and welfare have a duty to protect them. At the heart of this legislation is the idea of “What is best for the child” and that this is of more importance and what the parent or carer wants for the child. Carer and Supervision A key part of the Children Act (1989) is “orders”. These are rulings on specific issues and can only be made by the courts. An example is a care order, which is imposed by the courts and places a child under the care of a local council. The local council then shares parental responsibility for the child with the parents, making most of the important decisions about the child’s upbringing, such as where they live and how they are educated. Supervision is similar. However, the key difference is that these orders do not remove the child from home, but instead, provide additional supervision of the child by the local authority.  There are numerous orders, all with the specific purpose of protecting the child from harm or abuse.

5. Lord Laming’s Report (2003)

Following the torture and murder of Victoria Climbié by her great-aunt and her boyfriend on 2 November 2000, a public inquiry was ordered by the Government to conduct a statutory investigation. Lord Laming was appointed on the task to inquire a thorough inspection. After two years of investigation on the matter, the report was published on 28 January 2003 denoting two major issues regarding the death of Victoria Climbié.

  • The agencies involved in Victoria’s care failed to protect her, and
  • The workers involved in her case didn’t give enough attention to their task.

Senior managers and members of the organisations whose responsibilities were to protect and give quality services to children and families failed greatly, and it was lamentable.

6. The Children Act (2004)

The Government’s green paper “Every child matters” led to the introduction of the children act in November 2004.

The children act (2004) created the legal framework to establish the direction for a programme of change in the delivery of services that support children, young people and their families.

The legislation builds on the Children act (1989) but does not change it. It requires local authorities to use a multi-agency approach to assist in the protection of children, making the shared experience more extensive and cost-effective.

It works because different organisations consider different issues, which ensures that through working and communicating together, they do not miss information or evidence that could allow abuse to go undetected.

The Act refers to the term “well-being” which specifies five outcomes. These outcomes pinpoint the areas of a child’s well-being that are considered important, mainly that of the child: 

  • Is healthy
  • Safe
  • Able to enjoy and achieve
  • Can make a positive contribution
  • Has economic well-being

7. Inquiries on the death of Petter Connelly (2008)

Petter Connelly (also known as “Baby P”) was a 17-months-old English boy who suffered continuous physical assaults from his mother, and mother’s boyfriend and died in 2007. This brutality shocked and agitated the public as well as the officials in the Parliament of the UK.

The child welfare authorities that failed in the case on Victoria Climbié was unable to safeguard Peter Connelly too. As a result, a public inquiry was ordered by the government to prevent similar child abuse cases from happening.

8. Lord Laming’s Progress report (2009)

To safeguard the children from harm, Lord Laming proposed further improvements into the progress of the implementation of safeguarding children legislation introduced after the Victoria Climbié Inquiry in 2003.

The changes made in the progress report (2009) were to prioritise the safeguarding of children and to ensure that the child carer, frontline services and adequate resources are in place to deliver these priorities.

9. The Munro review of child protection: final report, a child-centred system (2011)

Professor Munro set forth recommendations to improve the child safeguarding children legislation system to stop it from being over-bureaucratised. The Munro review of child protection created the conditions that enable professionals to make the best judgement about the help to give to children, young people and families.

10. Operation Yewtree (2012)

This was a British Police investigation that started in 2012 to inquire about the sexual abuse allegations, primarily the abuse of children. The Metropolitan Police Service led the investigation to inquire into the accusation of child sex abuse by Jimmy Savile, an English media personality.

Operation Yewtree led to an increase in the number of reported sex crimes and set off debates on police policy and the rights of those accused of sex crimes.

11. The Care Act (2014)

To overhaul the existing old legislation regarding social care in England, the Parliament of the UK set out the Care Act in 2014. This act is intended to support councils and their partners and local authorities to develop outcome focus person-centred safeguarding practice. 

Under the Care Act 2014, local authorities and childcare providers must:

  • Conduct an assessment of anyone who might be needing care and support, even if they aren’t eligible for state-funded care.
  • Involve anyone responsible or related to the person needing care in the assessment.
  • Involve anyone responsible or related to the person needing care in the assessment.
  • Besides care services, provide preventive services and community support to meet the desired outcomes.

Under Section 145, it gives powers to Welsh Ministers to proclaim codes of practice providing guidance, objectives and requirements on local authorities’ provision of social services.

12. Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (2015)

Due to the serious concerns about the organisation’s failure to protect children from sexual abuse, the Independent Inquiry into Child Abuse (IICSA) was announced by the British Home Secretary.

It was a public inquiry that ran some 14 investigations and provided solid evidence of sexual abuse that occurred in schools, the Roman Catholic Church and the Anglican Church.

The statutory investigation revealed widespread abuse that stretched back over decades.  And it was quite apparent that the institutions and organisations responsible for safeguarding children were not adequate. 

13. The Digital Economy Act (2017)

The Digital Economy Act (DEA) was announced by the Parliament of the UK to make some restrictions on electronic communications infrastructures and services. It was intended to block online pornography sites in the UK that display pornography to children.

The Act also empowered Ofcom to necessitate public service broadcasters to add a minimum quantity of children’s programmes made in the UK.

14. Working Together to Safeguard Children (2018)

The Department for Education published Working Together to Safeguard Children in 2018 to establish a system that will respond to the needs and interest of children and families and to clarify the responsibilities of safeguarding practitioners.

The Local Safeguarding Children Boards’ key principles were amended with a motive to:

  • Protect children from maltreatment
  • Put a stop to any harm to children’s mental and physical health development.
  • Ensure a safe and effective care environment for children to grow up.
  • Take the necessary measures to enable all children to have the best outcomes.

How to safeguard children?

Firstly, by paying attention to signs of abuse, and telling someone about it. Think about how you would react in this situation and what you could do to make a difference. If you see a situation where a person or child is in danger of harm or abuse, acting fast can have a major impact. 

But how would you know if a child is being abused at home or in any facility? How do you spot these dangers? What should you be looking for? And what are the signs that tell you to take action?

Signs and indicators

Some signs of abuse are obvious. But often signs of abuse can be hidden or subtle. The most powerful tool we have for noticing hidden abuse is our instincts. Sometimes we see something that just doesn’t feel right. That’s a feeling worth paying attention to. 

But apart from instincts, there are other signs and indicators that can make it easier to spot abuse. For example:

  • Bruising
  • Cuts
  • Burns
  • And any other injuries might be a sign of physical abuse, but they could also be due to an accident. So, how do we tell the difference?

There are parts of the body where accidental injuries occur more often such as the forehead, elbows, knees, skins; but injuries in other areas of the body might be a sign of abuse such as the face, back, bottom and thigh.

However, other forms of abuse all have their own possible signs and indicators. Sudden significant changes in appearance, behaviour, or mood might be a sign of abuse. For instance:

  • If a normally happy person suddenly seems frequently depressed or angry
  • A sudden change in finance, debt or spending habits could be a sign of financial abuse
  • Inappropriately sexual conduct or conversation, especially in younger people, could be a signal that some form of sexual abuse is going on.
  • If a child person often seems hungry, cold, unkempt, or unclean, this could be a sign of neglect.

Some signs of abuse are clear, where others aren’t. That’s why it’s important for all of us to use our eyes, ears and instincts in order to help vulnerable children who may be at risk.

Taking Action

Once you have identified possible abuse, what should you do? How should you report it? These following steps will tell you exactly how to take actions when you suspect that someone may be in danger.

  • Firstly, remember when reporting any possible abuse, you don’t have to provide your name if you wish to remain anonymous. You’ll simply be asked to provide as much detail as possible about your concerns. If you’ve witnessed abuse or suspect possible abuse, there are very specific steps you should take depending on what’s happening.
  • Most importantly, if it’s an emergency where someone is in immediate danger or needs urgent medical attention, ring 999.
  • If what you’re witnessing isn’t an emergency, but you think a crime has happened, then phone the police on the non-emergency contact number, 101.
  • In case of minor injuries and illness, you can call 111.
  • If you’re a volunteer, contact social services directly, which you can do by ringing 0808 802 6666.
  • The most important thing you should do if you’ve seen or suspect abuse is to tell someone about it. If you’re working for the council or any company in the borough, tell your line manager, or if that’s not possible, tell your manager’s manager.

No matter what, make sure that you’ve done everything possible to keep yourself, the child in danger, and other people safe.

After you’ve made sure to deal with emergencies, possible crimes, or reporting the suspected abuse to someone, it’s important to make a record of it by writing down what you’ve seen, heard, and what you’ve done. 

Acting Quickly

Acting quickly and early can have a huge impact. In some cases, it could be a matter of life and death. Don’t promise to keep secrets. Victims may be worried about talking but assure them that you’ll only pass on the information to people that need to know and that can help. If a person chooses to tell you about being abused, try to stay calm, be sympathetic, reassuring. 

To safeguard the children, we need to take responsibilities and work with inter-agency. Try to use your knowledge, instinct and what you’ve learned so far to spot the danger.

Using your power of safeguarding is important and can change people’s lives. 

Safeguarding is something that we can all do. And simply by looking out for abuse and reporting it, you’re helping to save people from harm. 

Cooperating with the statutory safeguarding partners

The local safeguarding arrangements are led by the following legislative safeguarding partners:

  • Local authority
  • Clinical commission group
  • The police

It’s the duty of child care organisations and local authorities to suggest parenting classes so that the parents can learn how to positively discipline their children as opposed to hitting them. Either you suspect any possible abuse done to a child or witness one, you should immediately act by informing the childcare services in your locality. 

Safeguarding Children Level 3

Instant e-certificate, Accredited by CPD, 24/7 Learning Assistance

Safeguarding Children Level 3

Instant e-certificate, Accredited by CPD, 24/7 Learning Assistance

Closing Note

Many of us in our lives have a deep desire to make more of a difference in the world. To do good and to help other people.

Imagine how much safer vulnerable people would be in the UK if everyone was protecting them? Safeguarding is a power that each of us has and that we can use to prevent and stop abuse in all corners of the UK. Parks, schools, shops, everywhere. All we need to do to activate that power is to pay attention, notice when something is wrong and tell someone about it. That’s especially important when it comes to safeguarding children.

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