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Child protection definitions

Last updated: 05 Dec 2023

An A-Z list of key terms used in child protection in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

Unless otherwise stated, these key terms apply to all four nations in the UK.

Care plans

This is known as a child plan in Scotland and a care and support plan in Wales. Before a child is taken into care the local authority will produce a plan for the future care of the child. The parents and the child should be involved in developing the care plan.

The plan should show how the child’s needs would be met in care, including their health, education and contact with family members. It often includes details about:

  • where the child will live
  • arrangements for attending school
  • arrangements for seeing parents.

Plans must be regularly reviewed and updated.

For more information, see:

Child protection case conferences

A child protection case conference is held if the child is at risk of significant harm, so that all of the relevant professionals can share information, identify risks and outline what needs to be done to protect the child.

Who’s involved in a case conference:

  • agencies such as social services, the police and health services
  • people who have the most involvement working with the child and family, such as the child’s school(s) and family GP
  • family members
  • the child, when appropriate.

What’s considered during a case conference:

  • background information about the family
  • findings from the child protection investigation
  • ongoing assessments.

Child protection registers and plans

In England a child may be the subject of a child protection plan (CPP). Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland use the term child protection registers (CPR).

Despite the different terminology, plans and registers are roughly the same.

The child protection register (CPR) is a confidential list of all children in the local area who have been identified as being at risk of significant harm. The register allows authorised individuals in social work, education, health, police and the voluntary sector to check if a child they are working with is known to be at risk.

If a child is added to the CPR they must also have a child protection plan. The child protection plan sets out:

  • how social workers will check on the child’s welfare
  • what changes are needed to reduce the risk to the child
  • what support will be offered to the family.

A core group is responsible for making sure that the child protection plan is supporting the child effectively on an ongoing basis. The members of this group include the person who has been nominated as the Lead Professional, the child and their parents/carers, and they report about this at child protection case conference (CPCC) meetings. The core group should be set up within 15 days of the initial child protection case conference.


Coercion is the use of emotional, psychological or physical force to compel someone to act in a way that they would not otherwise choose, or in a way that is contrary to their best interests.

Coercion may involve:

  • blackmail
  • direct threats
  • physical assault
  • humiliation
  • other activities designed to punish or frighten an individual.

Coercion is related to controlling behaviour, where a perpetrator seeks to regulate another person so they become subordinate to the perpetrator. Controlling behaviour can take a number of forms, but it includes isolating an individual from friends and family and limiting their opportunities for independence.

Confidentiality and information sharing

When recognising and responding to abuse, it's important to ensure that any information shared with relevant authorities about a child is done so in a confidential, systematic and respectful manner.

Topics to consider should include:

  • when information should be shared
  • when and how to get consent
  • what information needs to be shared
  • who to share information with.

> Find out more about recognising and responding to abuse

Mandatory reporting

In England and Wales, it's mandatory for all regulated health and social care professionals and teachers to report ‘known cases’ of female genital mutilation (FGM) in under 18s to the police (Home Office, 2016).

In Wales, health and social care professionals and teachers are required to inform the local authority if they have reasonable cause to suspect a child is at risk of experiencing abuse, neglect or other types of harm (Section 130. Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014).

In Northern Ireland it's an offence not to report an arrestable offence, including those against children, to the police (Criminal Law Act 1967).

> See our information about recognising and responding to abuse

NSPCC authorised person status (excludes Scotland)

In England, Northern Ireland and Wales the NSPCC is unique amongst charities as it has statutory powers to intervene on behalf of children.

In these nations, only local authorities and the NSPCC can apply to a court for a care, supervision, or child assessment order.

This is referred to as having ‘authorised person status’ because in law the NSPCC is described as an ‘authorised person’ to bring such proceedings.

The NSPCC has had statutory powers to intervene on behalf of children for more than a century. These were most recently re-affirmed by the Children Act 1989 in England and Wales, and the Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995. For more information, see:

Parental responsibility

This is a set of legal rights and responsibilities, including making sure a child is kept safe. Parental responsibility gives the right to make important decisions about a child’s life like:

  • who looks after them
  • where they live
  • how they are educated. 

For more information, see:

Pre-proceedings meetings (excludes Scotland)

In England, Northern Ireland and Wales a pre-proceedings meeting takes place between the local authority, the parents and the parents’ lawyer to discuss with the parents how they can change the way they look after their child and what support and help is needed from the local authority.

If both sides agree, they will write a formal agreement that both the parents and the local authority have to follow. If parents don’t agree to the changes, or don’t follow the agreement, the local authority will probably ask the court to take the child into care.

Significant harm

“Harm” is the “ill treatment or the impairment of the health or development of the child” (Section 31, Children Act 1989; Article 2, Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995; Scottish Government, 2023).

Seeing or hearing the ill-treatment of another person is also a form of harm (Section 120, Adoption and Children Act 2002; Section 28, Family Homes and Domestic Violence (Northern Ireland) Order 1998; Scottish Government, 2023).

Harm can be determined “significant” by “comparing a child’s health and development with what might be reasonably expected of a similar child”.

Although there is no absolute criteria for determining whether or not harm is “significant”, local authorities such as social services, police, education and health agencies work with family members to assess the child, and a decision is made based on their professional judgement using the gathered evidence. For more information, see:

References and resources

References and resources

Home Office (2016) Mandatory reporting of female genital mutilation – procedural information (PDF). London: Home Office.

Scottish Government (2023). National guidance for child protection in Scotland 2021 - updated 2023. [Accessed 20/11/2023].

Further reading

Child protection plan register statistics
Our series of factsheets pulls together the most up-to-date statistics on children who are the subject to child protection plan or on a child protection register for each of the UK nations.

For further reading about the child protection system in the UK, search the NSPCC Library catalogue using the keywords “child protection”, “child protection services”, “child law”, “social policy”, “United Kingdom”.

> Find out more about the Library and Information Service