Child protection fact sheet An introduction to child protection legislation
The Children Act 1989
The current child protection system is based on the Children Act 1989, which was introduced in an effort to reform and clarify the existing plethora of laws affecting children. Hailed at the time as “the most comprehensive and far-reaching reform of child law which has come before Parliament in living memory” by the then Lord Chancellor Lord Mackay of Clashfern, it enshrined a number of principles. The paramountcy principle means that a child’s welfare is paramount when making any decisions about a child’s upbringing. The court must also ascertain the wishes and feelings of the child and shall not make an Order unless this is “better for the child than making no Order at all” (section 1). Every effort should be made to preserve the child’s home and family links. It introduced the concept of parental responsibility which is defined as “the rights, duties, powers and responsibilities which by law a parent of a child has in relation to the child and his property” (section 3).
The Children Act 1989 sets out in detail what local authorities and the courts should do to protect the welfare of children. It charges local authorities with the “duty to investigate … if they have reasonable cause to suspect that a child who lives, or is found, in their area is suffering, or is likely to suffer, significant harm” (section 47). Local authorities are also charged with a duty to provide “services for children in need, their families and others” (section 17). It is section 31 of the Children Act 1989 that sets out the NSPCC’s “authorised person status” which means the NSPCC has the power to apply directly for a court order if it believes a child is suffering or likely to suffer significant harm.
The Children Act 1989 defines “harm” as ill-treatment (including sexual abuse and non-physical forms of ill-treatment) or the impairment of health (physical or mental) or development (physical, intellectual, emotional, social or behavioural) (section 31). “Significant” is not defined in the Act, although it does say that the court should compare the health and development of the child “with that which could be reasonably expected of a similar child”. So the courts have to decide for themselves what constitutes “significant harm” by looking at the facts of each individual case.
Two key guidance documents exist to help professionals to identify children at risk and to work together to protect them:
Guidance on interagency cooperation under the Children Act 1989 was first published in 1991. The current guidance, Working together to safeguard children: a guide to inter-agency working to safeguard and promote the welfare of children (HM Government, 2010), is currently under review. As it stands, it provides definitions of child abuse and neglect and guidance on what action agencies must take to protect children. It includes information about roles and responsibilities, local safeguarding children boards and Serious
Child protection fact sheet An introduction to child protection legislation
Case Reviews (conducted after the death or serious injury of a child). Some chapters form statutory guidance whilst other chapters form “non-statutory practice guidance”. A revised version of the guidance will be produced, following a consultation later this year. Proposed changes include the removal of the prescription of timescales and the distinction between core and initial assessments.
The Framework for the assessment of children in need and their families (DH, 2000) is non-statutory guidance that provides professionals with a systematic way of identifying children in need and ascertaining the best way of helping those children and their families.
A simple guide for anyone working with children, What to do if you’re worried a child is being abused. (HM Government, 2006), outlines the child protection processes and systems contained in the Working Together and Framework for Assessment documents.
The Children Act 1989 legislates for England and Wales. The current guidance for Wales is Safeguarding children: working together under the Children Act 2004 (Welsh Assembly Government, 2006). The Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995 and the Children (Scotland) Act 1995 share the same principles and have their own guidance – Co-operating to safeguard children (DHSSPS, 2003) and The national guidance for child protection in Scotland (Scottish Government, 2010).
Whilst local authorities have a mandatory duty to investigate if they are informed a child may be at risk, there are no specific mandatory child abuse reporting laws in the UK that require professionals to report their suspicions to the authorities. However in Northern Ireland, it is an offence not to report an arrestable crime to the police, which by definition, includes most crimes against children (Wallace and Bunting, 2007). Most professional bodies (eg Royal College of Nursing) issue guidance to their members which sets out what they should do if they are concerned about the welfare of a child who they come into contact with.
After the Children Act 1989
Since the Children Act 1989, many new laws have been passed to strengthen the ways children are protected.
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child 1989 (UN, 1989) was ratified by the UK on 16 December 1991. It includes the right to protection from abuse, the right to express their views and have them listened to and the right to care and services for disabled children or children living away from home. Although the Government has said it regards itself bound by the Convention and refers to it in child protection guidance, it has not become part of UK-wide law (Lyon, 2003 p2)


About maryanne aka mrs charity sweet

mother, artist, author - peaceful activist for positive change
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