The definition of significant harm is relevant throughout the Children Act 1989. It is defined by section 31(9) as follows:
- “harm” means ill-treatment or the impairment of health or development, including, for example, impairment suffered from seeing or hearing the ill-treatment of another;
- “development” means physical, intellectual, emotional, social or behavioural development;
- “health” means physical or mental health; and
- “ill-treatment” includes sexual abuse and forms of ill-treatment which are not physical
Under section 47 Children Act 1989, a local authority has a duty to investigate if it appears to them that a child in its area is suffering or is at risk of suffering significant harm. The threshold for an investigation is that the local authority has ‘reasonable cause to suspect’ significant harm, or where the child is subject to an emergency protection order, or is under police protection (see below). In these circumstances, the local authority must make enquiries as to whether any action is needed to safeguard or promote the child’s welfare.
In Wales, applicable statutory guidance for all agencies on responding to concerns that a child may at risk of harm is the ‘Working Together to Safeguard People – Individual children at risk‘ guidance published in June 2018. This replaces the previous 2004 guidance. A range of non-statutory guidance known as the All Wales Children Protection Procedures, listed on the Other Guidance page is currently being reviewed.
An initial child protection conference will consider the outcome of the section 47 investigation. It will be attended (as appropriate) by the child (if s/he is of sufficient age and understanding), parents, social worker, health visitor, school nurse, nurse manager, midwife, voluntary organisation(s), housing, Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS), Women’s Aid, police, social services team leader, school, education welfare officer, solicitor, consultant paediatrician, probation, substance misuse worker; nursery worker.
If the Initial Conference agrees to registration on the CPR (see below), the Conference must also confirm an outline Plan for the Core Group which will meet frequently to facilitate working together on the Plan, monitor actions and outcomes, timetable and prepare the report to the Review Conference. The Key Worker is responsible for calling the Core Group meetings and providing minutes, making sure that the outline Plan is developed and agreed by the Core Group into a more detailed inter-agency Plan; act as lead worker for the inter-agency work with the family; ensure communication and co-ordination between members and arrange Core Group meetings and minutes; and the completion of the Core Assessment within the maximum 35 working days.
On behalf of the Local Safeguarding Children’ Board, each childrens’ servcies department maintains the Child Protection Register (CPR) which lists all the children and young people who are assessed by a Conference to be suffering, or likely to suffer, significant harm and for whom there is a Child Protection Plan, a key worker and Core Group. The name of the child or young person can only be placed on the CPR by a decision of an Initial Conference that the criteria for registration have been met. A child’s name can only be removed by a decision of a Review Conference. When a child is on the Register in one county of the UK and moves to another county, they are automatically placed on the Register of the ‘receiving’ county. An Initial Conference will be held to ‘transfer-in’ the child and decide if the grounds for registration justify remaining on the Register.
Review meetings will consider explicitly whether the child continues to be at risk of significant harm and continues to need safeguarding through adherence to the child protection plan. If not, then the conference can decide to remove the name of the young person from the CPR. A Review is due withing three months of the Initial Conference and then at least every six months while the Plan continues.
If a Child Protection Pre-birth Conference decides to register an unborn baby, registration on the CPR will commence on the date of birth.
Professional guidance to doctors about child protection is published by the General Medical Council.
Police protection powers are contained in section 46 Children Act 1989 under which a police officer who has reasonable cause to suspect that a child is at risk of significant harm can remove the child to a safe place for up to 72 hours. The police should notify children’s services as soon as practicable. Section 46 powers are sometimes mistakenly referred to as ‘a police protection order’ but no order is involved.