Child Protection System in Scotland

Last updated: 04 Sep 2018
Introduction

The Scottish Government is responsible for child protection in Scotland. It sets out policy, legislation and statutory guidance on how the child protection system should work.

Child Protection Committees (CPCs) are responsible for multi-agency child protection policy, procedure, guidance and practice. 

Within each local authority, CPCs work with local agencies, such as children’s social work, health services and the police, to protect children.

The national approach to improving outcomes for children and young people in Scotland is Getting it right for every child (GIRFEC) (Scottish Government, 2015). This provides a framework for those working with children and their families to provide the right support at the right time.

The key guidance for anyone working with children in Scotland is the National guidance for child protection in Scotland (Scottish Government, 2014).

In Scotland, a child legally becomes an adult when they turn 16, but statutory guidance which supports the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 includes all children and young people up to the age of 18. Where concerns are raised about a 16 or 17 year old, agencies may need to refer to the Adult Support and Protection (Scotland) Act 2007, depending on the situation of the young person at risk. Section 21 of the National guidance for child protection in Scotland explains how professionals should act to protect young people from harm in different circumstances (Scottish Government, 2014).

Reporting concerns

Reporting concerns

In Scotland, there is no legal requirement to report concerns about a child’s welfare. However, the National guidance for child protection (Scottish Government, 2014a) refers to "collective responsibilities" to protect children.

How to report a concern

If you think a child is in immediate danger, contact the police on 999. If you're worried about a child but they are not in immediate danger, you should share your concerns.

  • Follow your organisational child protection procedures. Organisations that work with children and families must have safeguarding policies and procedures in place.
  • Contact the NSPCC Helpline on 0808 800 5000 or by emailing help@nspcc.org.uk. Our trained professionals will talk through your concerns with you and give you expert advice. 
  • Contact your local children’s social work team. Their contact details can be found on the website for the local authority the child lives in. 
  • Contact the local Children's Reporter. Local, independent officials can decide if any legal interventions need to be made to protect a child. Children’s Reporters offices can be found on the Scottish Children’s Reporter Administration 2018.
  • Contact Police Scotland if you are concerned that a child is in immediate danger.

Services will risk assess the situation and take action to protect the child as appropriate either through statutory involvement or other support. This may include making a referral to the local authority.

> See our information about recognising and responding to abuse

Getting it Right for Every Child (GIRFEC)

GIRFEC notes that it's everyone's responsibility to ask five key questions when they have concerns about a child.

  • What is getting in the way of this child or young person's well-being?
  • Do I have all the information I need to help this child or young person?
  • What can I do now to help this child or young person?
  • What can my agency do to help this child or young person?
  • What additional help, if any, may be needed from others?
    (Scottish Government, 2014a).

GIRFEC incorporates the SHANARRI indicators which recognise that every child and young person should be:

  • Safe
  • Healthy
  • Active
  • Nurtured
  • Respected
  • Responsible
  • Included
    (Scottish Government, 2014a).

The five key questions include identifying barriers to ensuring the wellbeing of the child and asking what professionals or their agencies can do to help the child.

GIRFEC also sets out the role of Named Person for every child in Scotland. When this comes into force, this role will act as the point of contact for children/young people and families, and all others who have a concern about the wellbeing of a child.

> Visit GIRFEC on the Scottish Government website

Referrals and investigations

Referrals and investigations

Assessing the risk of harm

Local authorities have a legal duty to investigate concerns about a child and assess the risk of harm.

As new information comes to light, the risks to the child must be re-assessed.

If a child’s in immediate danger an order can be made through Scotland’s sheriff courts (local courts which deal with the majority of civil and criminal cases in Scotland).

Depending on the situation, one of the following actions may be taken:

  • A child protection order (CPO) can be issued to immediately remove a child from circumstances that put them at risk, or to keep a child in a place of safety. Anyone can apply to the sheriff for a CPO.
  • An exclusion order can be issued to remove a suspected abuser from the family home. Only the local authority can apply for an exclusion order.
  • A child assessment order (CAO) requires parents to allow their child’s needs to be assessed by a social worker. A CAO can only be applied for by the local authority.
  • If a sheriff isn’t available, the police or someone authorised by a justice of the peace can remove a child to a place of safety for up to 24 hours, allowing time for a CPO.

All of these emergency measures allow time to decide the best way to protect a child. This may involve a case conference and possibly care proceedings.

If a child isn’t considered to be in immediate danger then more information will be gathered. This will allow an assessment of whether they are at risk of suffering significant harm.

After this assessment, the professionals involved will decide how to act. They may:

  • take no further child protection action if the child hasn’t been harmed and isn’t considered to be at risk of harm
  • carry out a joint investigation, if the initial assessments suggest that the child may be at risk of significant harm. This aims to decide if any child protection action is needed and whether a child protection case conference should be held.

Case conferences

A child protection case conference (CPCC) is held if the child is assessed as being at risk of significant harm. This enables all of the relevant professionals to share information, identify risks and outline what needs to be done to protect the child.

The initial CPCC must take place within 21 days of the original referral to the police or children’s social work.

If professionals at the initial case conference decide a child is at risk of significant harm they will add them to the child protection register, and draw up a child protection plan.

CPCCs will continue at regular intervals until the child is no longer considered at risk of significant harm or until they are taken into care.

The CPCC may decide that the best way to protect the child is through legal interventions - either to make sure they get the help they need or to take the child into care.

When that happens, the case is referred to the Children’s Reporter who will decide if there needs to be a children’s hearing for compulsory child protection measures.

Child protection measures

Child protection measures

Child protection register

In Scotland 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. It allows authorised individuals 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, which sets out what action needs to be taken by whom and when, in order to safeguard the child and promote their welfare.

Care proceedings

If the local authority believes that a child is at risk of significant harm they may take the child into care to help keep them safe.

Unless the level of risk requires the courts to get involved immediately, care proceedings will only start after extensive efforts to keep the child with their family.

If the child is still at risk following these efforts then the parents will be invited to a pre-proceedings meeting as a final attempt to avoid going to court.

Voluntary accommodation

A child may be taken into care voluntarily through Section 25 of the Children (Scotland) Act.

A local authority must provide accommodation for children who do not have anywhere suitable to live. This includes children who have nobody to look after them or whose parents are unable to look after them for a period of time, due to illness or other problems.

Going to court

In Scotland, there are two different ways a local authority can ask to take a child into care:

  • if the child is in immediate danger the local authority can ask a sheriff court to grant a child protection order (CPO)
  • a referral can be made to the children’s reporter. The reporter will decide if it’s necessary to refer a child to a children’s hearing for compulsory measures of supervision.

A child can be subject to an order from the children’s hearing and an order from the sheriff court at the same time.

In all cases, a child should be given the opportunity to give their views if they have capacity. The Children’s advocacy guidance (Scottish Government, 2014a) gives information about children’s capacity to make decisions.

A child’s social worker will make a plan, sometimes referred to as a care plan, setting out how they think the child should be cared for.

Care orders

The children’s hearing will make a decision about the care of the child based on the child’s protection, guidance, treatment or control needs. They may make a child protection order.

Supervision order

Under a supervision order a child can either live away from home (in foster or residential care) or continue living at home under the supervision of the local authority.

Once a supervision order has been made the child protection plan will be carried out, regardless of where the child is living.

A compulsory supervision order has no set limit, but should only last as long as is necessary. It must be reviewed by a children’s hearing at least once a year when it can be continued, changed or stopped.

After three months a parent of a child can ask for the children’s hearing to review the supervision order. A social worker can ask for a review at any time.

A parent, child or social worker can also appeal the decision made at the hearing but this must be done in writing and within strict time limits.

In Getting it right for looked after children and young people (Scottish Government, 2015), the Scottish Government makes it clear that a child’s views should be taken into account when deciding where they should live, and that remaining at or returning to their home with the necessary support should be considered as the first option.

Permanence order

If the local authority believes it would not be safe to return a child home, the court can make a permanence order. These orders remove parental responsibility and give it to the local authority.

If adoption is not seen as the way forward the local authority can delegate parental responsibility to the child’s foster carers while it remains the legal parent of the child.

If adoption is seen as the best option, the local authority can apply for a permanence order with authority to adopt. This means the local authority can place a child with prospective adoptive parents without the birth parent’s consent.

Adoption order

Once a permanence order has been made, prospective adopters can apply to the court for an adoption order. Once an adoption order is granted parental responsibility is transferred to the adoptive parents.

Under Section 29 of the Children (Scotland) Act 1995 (Part II Chapter I Section 29) and Regulation of Care (Scotland) Act 2001 local authorities have a duty to assess the needs of care-leavers in order to provide advice, guidance or assistance to them until the age of 26.

Legislation and guidance

The Children (Scotland) Act 1995 outlines the legislative framework for Scotland’s child protection system covering parental responsibilities and rights and the duties and powers local public authorities have for supporting and promoting the safety and welfare of children.

Under Section 29, local authorities have a duty to assess the needs of care leavers up to the age of 26.

This is amended by the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014, which focuses on children and young people in planning services to make sure their rights are respected across the public sector.

In particular, Section 19 describes the role of a Named Person who should advise and support the child or young person in accessing a service or support. This formalises processes already outlined in Getting it right for every child (GIRFEC) (Scottish Government, 2018).

Policy and guidance

Getting it right for every child (GIRFEC) (Scottish Government, 2018)

This is the Scottish Government’s approach to making a positive difference for all children and young people in Scotland.

  • Its principles help shape all policy, practice and legislation that affects children and their families.
  • It provides a consistent way for people to support and work with all children and young people in Scotland.
  • It aims to improve outcomes for children and make sure that agencies work together to take action when a child is at risk or needs support.

National guidance for child protection in Scotland (Scottish Government, 2014a)

Updated in May 2014, this provides the current guidance and a national framework for anyone who could face child protection issues at work.

Children and young people (Scotland) Act 2014: national  guidance on part 12: services in relation to children at risk of becoming looked after, etc (Scottish Government, 2016a)

This non-statutory guidance is for frontline practitioners, managers and strategic leaders who work with children and families facing adversities.

It gives an overview of the legal framework for providing support services where there is a risk a child may become looked after, and describes who relevant services must be provided for.

National action plan to prevent and tackle child sexual exploitation (Scottish Government, 2016b)

This action plan was updated in March 2016. It explains:

  • what child sexual exploitation (CSE) is
  • what the scale of the problem is
  • what the Scottish Government is doing about it.
References and resources

References and resources

Scottish Children’s Reporter Administration (2018) [Accessed: 20/07/2018].

Scottish Government (2014a) National guidance for child protection in Scotland (PDF). Edinburgh: Scotland.

Scottish Government (2014b). Children's advocacy guidance. [Accessed: 22/04/2018].

Scottish Government (2015) Getting it right for looked after children and young people: early engagement, early permanence and improving the quality of care (PDF). Edinburgh: Scotland.

Scottish Government (2016a) Children and young people (Scotland) act 2014: national guidance on part 12: services in relation to children at risk of becoming looked after, etc (PDF). Edinburgh: Scotland.

Scottish Government (2016b) National action plan to prevent and tackle child sexual exploitation (PDF). Edinburgh: Scotland.

Scottish Government (2018) Getting is right for every child (GIRFEC). [Accessed: 20/07/2018].

Legislation

Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014

Children (Scotland) Act 1995

Regulation of Care (Scotland) Act 2001

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 for Scotland, search the NSPCC Library catalogue using the keyword/keywords "child protection"; "child protection services"; "child law"; "social policy"; "Scotland".

If you need more specific information, please contact our Information Service.