Child protection information for parents and carers
In this section of our website, we have tried to answer the questions that parents and carers often have about the child protection process however, if you have specific concerns or questions that aren't answered here please speak to your social worker, or social services department on 01546 605517.
Child abuse happens when children are mistreated either by someone inflicting significant harm on a child or failing to act to protect them from significant harm. Different types of child abuse are noted below:-
Physical abuse is when someone causes physical harm to a child. It may be that children are hit, shaken, burned, poisoned, beaten or bruised, which is generally considered to be physical assault. Physical punishment of children may be considered physical abuse, particularly if an implement (e.g. belt, slipper or wooden spoon) was used, the child was shaken or hit about their head or if the punishment left a mark or bruise.
Physical abuse also occurs when a parent or carer pretends that the child is ill or deliberately causes ill health to their child to obtain medical treatment or care.
Sexual abuse is anything that involves the child in activities for the sexual pleasure of another person, regardless of whether it is considered that the child agreed or consented to the activity. Sexual abuse may involve physical contact e.g. sexual touching, kissing or sex acts or may be non-contact, e.g. creating or viewing sexual images of children, exposing children to sexual content (e.g. pornography) or using sexual language to a child.
Child sexual exploitation is a form of child sexual abuse which involves the child or young person being given gifts, money or affection in exchange for having sex or sexual contact with others. In some situations the child or young person may believe themselves to be in a loving, consensual relationship because they have been groomed by the perpetrator over a period of time.
Emotional abuse is persistent emotional neglect or ill treatment of a child. It may involve communicating to a child that they are worthless or unloved, or that they only have value in so far as they meet the needs of others. Emotional abuse is present in all types of abuse however, it may also occur in isolation or independently from other types of abuse.
Neglect is the persistent failure to meet the physical and psychological needs of children and young people. It may involve not providing physical care such as food, clothing, shelter or access to appropriate medical care. However it can also encompass not providing emotional support, affection and care needed for children to develop.
When we talk about significant harm, we mean incidents, events or circumstances in a child's life that impact on them, or may impact on them over time, in such a way that they don't develop physically, psychologically, intellectually, socially or behaviourally, or that their development is slowed down or hindered.
Significant harm can be quite a difficult concept to understand because it depends on a lot of different factors. It may be that a single incident (e.g. a violent assault or some kind of sexual contact) means that a child struggles to develop physically, emotionally or intellectually. Sometimes it can be an accumulation of events, e.g. a child's needs not being met for a long period of time, or living with parents struggling with serious mental health issues or domestic abuse that can mean a child doesn't grow and develop the way they should. It is the job of professionals involved in your and your child's life to assess whether the situation or circumstances have impacted your child's development or whether it could be reasonably assumed that the circumstances would, if allowed to continue, impact on their development over time.
The decision to start a child protection investigation is made by a number of agencies working together to understand you and your child's situation. Concerns can be identified in a number of ways, a parent might identify that they are struggling and ask for help, a child might tell someone that they have been hurt or harmed, a neighbour or member of the public might see something that concerns them and tell someone, or a teacher, health worker or other professional might notice that something doesn't seem right with your child.
Once a concern is identified there will be a meeting, called a case discussion, with social work, the police and health to try and understand what might have happened and to decide what happens next. They might decide that there is no action needed, in which case they won't contact you or discuss things further and their file will be closed. They may decide that they need more information because they are concerned that your child isn't safe and will start a child protection investigation.
At this stage, if you aren't already aware that there are concerns about your child, social work will contact you and explain the concerns they have and what happens next in the investigation.
Usually your child will continue to live with you and you will continue to care for them while there is a child protection investigation being carried out.
Occasionally it might be best for your child to be cared for by a relative or for them to be looked after away from home. If this is the case, you will usually be asked to give permission for your child to stay somewhere else while the investigation is undertaken.
If there are concerns that your child isn't currently safe and that their living circumstances can't be made safe enough for them to stay with you, Social Workers will apply for an Emergency Child Protection Order which allows them to remove your child to a place of safety. This is done in exceptional circumstances, where agencies believe it is the best way to keep a child safe.
The application for an Emergency Child Protection Order is made to the Sheriff Court. The Order might also have conditions attached to it, for example that your child can't have contact with a particular person or that they receive a medical assessment. Obtaining a Child Protection Order is a complex, legal process and if someone has made an application in respect of your child, you should seek legal advice. Depending on your circumstances, legal aid might be available to you.
In an emergency situation, where there are concerns that your child is immediately in danger and that the situation can't be made safe enough quickly enough, the police have the power to remove your child from home and take them to a place of safety. This will only happen if the concerns about your child's safety are so urgent that there isn't time to go to the Sheriff for a Child Protection Order.
There are other Emergency Orders that can be requested in respect of your child, for example to have someone removed from the home where a child lives (Exclusion Order) or that workers are given access to your child to complete an assessment of their safety, health and wellbeing (Assessment Order). If any order is being sought for your child, your social worker should explain the reasons for this and you are entitled to legal advice and representation throughout the process. The Scottish Child Law Centre (link to their website) can provide free advice to children, young people and their parents and carers.
If there is a need for a child protection investigation, professionals who know you and/or your child will be asked to provide information. Each professional agency has different roles and responsibilities during the child protection investigation and these are explained below.
Social Workers have a duty to investigate any alleged incident of child abuse or any situation where it is thought that a child or young person might be at risk of significant harm. Their role is to assess the risk to the child and their need for protection. Social Work will often work closely with the child and their family to gain an understanding of the situation and to ensure the right agencies are involved to provide support.
The Police have a duty to investigate any alleged offence and they work closely with Social Workers when there has been suspected child abuse. As part of an investigation the Police will interview and will share relevant information with other agencies to contribute towards an overall assessment of the child's safety and wellbeing.
There are lots of different health staff who might be involved in a child protection investigation depending on the concerns and the age of the child. For example, a Health Visitor, School Nurse, GP or specialist health provider (like Speech & Language Therapist) may be asked to contribute to an assessment of risk or to provide medical care for children or adults who care for them.
Education staff may be involved in identifying and reporting concerns about children, and will also have a role to play in identifying additional educational supports that the child might need. Teachers and school staff may also have some involvement in monitoring the progress of children who are subject to a child protection plan.
Other Services / Voluntary Agencies
There are many organisations that can provide care and support to children and their families. It may be that a child or parent needs some therapeutic support, help with understanding parenting roles, support with mental health or substance misuse etc. Agencies involved in supporting the family might be asked to contribute to a child protection investigation and may also share information if they have concerns about a child's welfare.
If there are concerns that your child might have been harmed or be at risk of harm in the future, you may be invited to a Child Protection Case Conference. This is a meeting to talk through the concerns and to decide how best to keep your child safe and well. The case conference meeting will include people who know you and/or your child and may include:-
- Nursery or School Staff
- Health Visitor
- Social Worker
- Housing Staff
- Youth Worker
- Addiction Services
- Voluntary Organisations
You will also be invited to attend and depending on your child's age, they might be invited to attend all or part of the meeting too. If they don't come to the meeting someone will speak to them beforehand in case there is anything they want people at the meeting to know. You are entitled to bring someone with you to the meeting to support you, like a friend, family member or legal representative.
The people who attend will usually provide a written report about their knowledge of you and your family. A copy of the report should be shared with you and you should have the chance to talk to the person who wrote the report before the meeting. They won't necessarily change what they have written, but can talk to you about why it's important to share what they have written with the people at the case conference.
You also have the opportunity to share your opinion about what has been happening. This can feel quite difficult to do and it might help you to really think about what you want to say. You might want to write something either to read out loud yourself, or to remind you of the things that feel important to say, or to give to someone else at the meeting to read for you. If you are finding it hard to think about what you want to say, you could ask a family member, friend or solicitor to help you - or talk to your Social Worker as it's part of their job to make sure your views are heard.
At the meeting, there will be a full discussion about the reasons why there has been a child protection investigation, and what was found. There will be an opportunity for everyone to ask questions and the Chair of the meeting will make sure everyone has a chance to speak. Once everyone has had space to speak if they want to, the professionals around the table will make decisions about what happens next.
Again, there are a few different outcomes at this stage:-
- That there aren't any concerns for your child's safety (perhaps because the situation has changed during the time of the investigation) and that no further action needs to be taken.
- That there's a need for you to be supported in your parenting role and that this support can be given by one agency (e.g. additional support at school).
- That your child's name needs to be placed on the Child Protection Register because there are concerns about their safety.
- That your child needs to be referred to the Reporter at the Scottish Children's Reporter Administration because the professionals at the meeting think you may not be able to keep your child safe.
The Chair of the meeting will ask the professionals in the room to say what they think should happen next, and if the professionals don't all agree, the Chair will decide on what they think the best outcome should be. If you don't agree with the decision that has been made, you can ask the Chair to record that you aren't in agreement. After the meeting you'll be sent a note of the decisions that were made and a copy of the Minute of Meeting, which is simply a record of who said what at the meeting.
Yes, you have the right to appeal the decisions made at the case conference, your child can also appeal if you don't agree with the decision to:
- register your child's name on the Child Protection Register
- have their name stay on the Child Protection Register
- not to have their name on the Child Protection Register
To appeal, you need to explain in writing that you are unhappy with the decision and that you want to make an appeal. The Chair of the meeting would have advised where to send your complaint to, if you are unsure, your Social Worker will advise. Your case will then be reviewed by a Children & Families Service Manager in Social Work Services, who has not been involved in your case before and who doesn't have responsibility for any of the workers involved in your case. You should receive a written response to your appeal within 28 days of receiving your letter.
If you are unhappy with the decision on appeal, you can request that the case is reviewed by the Head of Service for Children and Family Services. They will write to you with their decision within 28 days of receipt of your letter.
You also have the right to complain if you are unhappy with the way that professionals have worked with you and/or your child. Your Social Worker can advise you on the complaints process for the relevant part of the service that you want to complain about.
The Child Protection Register is a list that the local authority keeps of children who need a Child Protection Plan. The Register will contain details of your child, like their name, date of birth, and address along with a bit of information about why the Child Protection Plan is needed, known as areas for concern. It may be that your child has been registered because they are living with domestic violence or there are concerns that they are being neglected, or because they behave in a way that puts themselves at risk. You will be given a copy of the information held about your child on the Child Protection Register.
A Child Protection Plan is a plan drawn up by professionals, in conjunction with you, at a Child Protection Case Conference. What this means is that all of the agencies involved in you or your child's life will think about the kind of support you both might need for your child to grow and develop safely. Sometimes it may mean meeting regularly with a Social Worker or Health Visitor to talk through some of the difficulties you are having, it might mean attending groups to help you cope with the challenges of being a parent, or having some support for substance misuse or mental health.
The purpose of the plan is to help you look after your child safely and to help them grow and develop. If there are parts of the plan you don't agree with, it is important to talk to your Social Worker about them as quickly as possible so that they can understand why you don't agree and whether there is another option that might work better for you and your child.
The Child Protection Plan is reviewed regularly and every 3 months a meeting called a Review Case Conference will be held to see whether the plan is working and whether your child's name can be removed from the Child Protection Register. This meeting should work in the same way as the Initial Case Conference, and again you will receive a copy of the decisions made at the meeting, a copy of the minute of meeting and you have the same right to complain or appeal the decisions made.