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Child protection system in Wales

Last updated: 09 Apr 2024

The Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014 came into force in April 2016. It provides the legal framework for social service provision in Wales.

At a local level regional safeguarding children boards co-ordinate and ensure the effectiveness of work to protect and promote the welfare of children. They are responsible for local child protection policy, procedure and guidance.

Each board includes any:

  • local authority
  • chief officer of police
  • local health board
  • NHS trust, and
  • provider of probation services that falls within the safeguarding board area.

In October 2022, the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) published its final report and recommendations into child sexual abuse and exploitation in institutions in England and Wales (IICSA, 2022). The Welsh Government (Welsh Government, 2023) and the Home Office (Home Office, 2023) set out how they would be responding to IICSA’s recommendations.

> Read the CASPAR briefing on the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) final report and government responses

> Listen to NSPCC Learning's IICSA podcast series: Recommendations for Change


Reporting concerns

Reporting concerns

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 Our child protection specialists will talk through your concerns with you and give you expert advice. 
  • Contact your local child protection services. Their contact details can be found on the website for the local authority the child lives in. 
  • Contact the police.

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

If your organisation doesn't have a clear safeguarding procedure or you're concerned about how child protection issues are being handled in your own, or another, organisation, contact the Whistleblowing Advice Line to discuss your concerns.

> Find out about the Whistleblowing Advice Line on the NSPCC website

When you're not sure

The NSPCC Helpline can help when you're not sure if a situation needs a safeguarding response. Our child protection specialists are here to support you whether you're seeking advice, sharing concerns about a child, or looking for reassurance.

Whatever the need, reason or feeling, you can contact the NSPCC Helpline on 0808 800 5000 or by emailing

Our trained professionals will talk through your concerns with you. Depending on what you share, our experts will talk you through which local services can help, advise you on next steps, or make referrals to children's services and the police.

> Find out more about how the NSPCC Helpline can support you

Duty to report

Section 130 of the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014 requires “relevant partners” of a local authority 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. This includes people who work for the local authority such as teachers and social work practitioners, health practitioners, the police, probation services and others.

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


Referrals and investigations

Referrals and investigations

The local authority child protection team has a legal duty to investigate any concerns referred to them.

If the child is not in immediate danger, there will be an initial assessment of the child’s needs.

Under Section 21 of the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014, the local authority has a statutory duty to assess the needs of a child if they appear to need additional support to that provided by their family.

If a child appears to be suffering or at risk of suffering significant harm the local authority has a duty to investigate under Section 47 of the Children Act 1989.

After these investigations they 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
  • assess the child as a person who has a need for care and support. A child is assessed as in need of care and support if:
    • the need arises from circumstances such as their age or health, and:
    • it relates to their personal wellbeing outcomes
    • it cannot be met by their parents, wider family or community services
    • it can only be met by their local authority arranging or providing the service or making direct payments.

If the child is eligible for a service a care and support plan must be agreed. This is required under Section 54 of the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014.

If the child is in immediate danger the local authority or an authorised person (including the NSPCC) can take the following action through the courts:

  • An emergency protection order can be issued to immediately remove a child to a place of safety.
  • An exclusion order can be issued to remove the abuser from the family home.
  • A child assessment order can be issued for a children’s social worker to assess the child’s needs without the parents’ or carers’ consent.
  • The police can remove a child to a place of safety for up to 72 hours without obtaining a court order.
  • A female genital mutilation protection order (FGMPO) can be applied for through a family court and offers the means of protecting actual or potential victims from FGM under the civil law.

Case conferences

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

In Wales, this must happen within 15 working days from the start of the assessment.

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

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

Child protection measures

Child protection measures

Child protection register

In Wales 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 abuse, neglect or harm under one or more of the following categories:

  • physical abuse
  • emotional or psychological abuse
  • sexual abuse
  • financial abuse
  • neglect.

The CPR 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 the practitioners working with them have a duty to inform the child’s social worker if there are any significant events or changes to the child’s circumstances.

The child 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 keep them safe.

Unless the level of risk requires the courts to get involved immediately, extensive efforts will be made to keep the child with their family.

A child can be taken into care voluntarily or under a care order.

Voluntary accommodation

A child may be taken into care voluntarily through Section 76 of the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014.

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.

Under Section 76 a parent retains all their legal rights and can require the child’s return at any stage.

Going to court

Care proceedings are usually held in the Family Court and more complex cases may be held in the High Court.

The court will make sure the child has a children's guardian. The guardian's job is to look after the child’s interests. If the child is judged to be mature enough they will also be allowed to appoint their own solicitor to represent their wishes.

The child's social worker will make a care plan to help the court decide how the child should be cared for.

Care orders

If the courts agree that it's necessary, they can make an order giving the local authority parental responsibility for a child.

Interim care order

After the initial hearing the court may decide that an interim care order is needed to set out what should happen to the child during proceedings.

This is awarded for eight weeks initially and must be renewed every four weeks, allowing for investigation and further plans to be made. The social worker and an officer from the Children and Family Court advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) among others will try to understand why the child might be at risk and what can be done to keep them safe.

The social worker and Cafcass officer will then produce reports on what they think should happen to the child, after consulting with the parents, child and family and friends.

This will include whether they think the child should be taken into care or stay with the family.

Care order

The court will only make a full care order if they are convinced:

  • the child is suffering, or is likely to suffer, significant harm
  • making an order would be better for the child than making no order
    and that harm is due to either:
    • the care the child is receiving or likely to receive if the care order isn’t made; or
    • the child is beyond parental control.

A care order gives the local authority shared parental responsibility with the parents, but the local authority has the power to decide how much involvement a parent should have with their child.

Once a care order has been made, the child’s care plan will be carried out.

Placement order

This allows a child to be placed with prospective adopters prior to an adoption order, should the local authority believe this is the best option for the child.

Adoption order

This transfers parental responsibility to the adoptive parents. It’s only made by a court following extensive enquiries, based on the best interest of the child.

At the point of adoption the care order ends and the adoptive parents take over the sole parental responsibility.

Care order duration

Unless an adoption order is made or the child returns home, care orders last until the child turns 18. Local authorities have a duty to continue to promote the welfare of care-leavers until the age of 21.

Legislation and guidance

Child protection legislation and guidance in Wales


Children Act 1989

In Wales, the Children Act 1989 outlines when to initiate care proceedings and the duty of local authorities to safeguard and promote children’s welfare.

Much of the Children Act 1989 applies to both England and Wales. As of April 2016, Part 3 of the Act (which refers to support for children and families provided by local authorities) has been replaced by Part 6 of the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014.

Children Act 2004

The Children Act 2004 strengthens this by encouraging partnerships between agencies and creating more accountability. A number of sections have been amended, repealed or replaced by the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014 and the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 contents, including the requirements for the establishment of local safeguarding children boards in Wales.

Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014

The Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014 provides Wales with its own framework for social services by:

  • giving individuals a stronger voice and more control over the care and support they receive
  • encouraging a renewed focus on prevention and early intervention.

Provisions in the Act include:

  • Establishing a National Adoption Service.
  • Strengthening powers for safeguarding children and vulnerable adults.
  • Introducing a National Outcomes Framework for setting out what children and families can expect from social services.

The Welsh Government adopted the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) as the basis for all policy relating to children and young people in 2004 (Welsh Government, 2019a; Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), 1989).

Rights of Children and Young Persons (Wales) Measure 2011

The Rights of Children and Young Persons (Wales) Measure 2011 requires the Welsh government to:

  • have due regard to the UNCRC in all its functions, including when developing or reviewing legislation and guidance
  • be responsible for making sure people in Wales know about the rights of children and young people as set out in the UNCRC.

(Welsh Government, 2019a).

The Children's Commissioner for Wales has produced a framework to help children's services put children's rights at the centre of decision making (Children's Commissioner for Wales, 2021).

Policy and guidance

Working together to safeguard people

Working together to safeguard people is the statutory guidance in relation to Part 7 of the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014. This Welsh Government guidance covers the protection of adults and children. The volumes that cover safeguarding children are:

Wales Safeguarding Procedures and Practice Guides

This guidance, first published in 2019 by the Wales Safeguarding Procedures Project Board, provides a common set of child and adult protection procedures and practice guides for every safeguarding board in Wales.

The Procedures relating to children and young people at risk of harm are divided into six sections, covering:

  • safeguarding principles and effective practice (section 1)
  • the duty to report a child at risk of abuse, neglect and/or harm (section 2)
  • responding to a report of a child at risk of harm, abuse and/or neglect (section 3 part 1)
  • decision making and initial child protection conferences (section 3 part 2)
  • planning and intervention for children on the child protection register (section 4)
  • safeguarding allegations/concerns about practitioners and those in positions of trust (section 5).

The procedures contain ‘pointers for practice’ which provide information on how to complete safeguarding tasks. They have been designed to enable frontline practitioners and their managers apply the legislative requirements and expectations of the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014

The All Wales Practice Guides on safeguarding children, which forms section 6 of the procedures, provides guidance on specific issues for practitioners working with children and young people:

  • child criminal exploitation (CCE)
  • abuse related to cultural or religious beliefs
  • child trafficking
  • domestic abuse
  • neglect
  • online abuse
  • harmful sexual behaviour
  • home education
  • children who go missing from home or care
  • child sexual exploitation (CSE)

(Wales Safeguarding Procedures Project Board, 2021).

Keep up-to-date with new legislation and guidance by signing up to CASPAR, our current awareness service for policy, practice and research.

> Find out more about the key legislation guidance for schools 

References and resources

References and resources

Children's Commissioner for Wales (2021) The right way: a children's rights approach for social care in Wales (PDF). Swansea: Children's Commissioner for Wales.

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

Home Office (2023) Response to the final report of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse. [Accessed 23/05/2023].

IICSA (2022) IICSA: report of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse. [Accessed 23/05/2023].

Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) (1989) Convention on the Rights of the Child. Geneva: OHCHR.

Wales Safeguarding Procedures Project Board (2019) Wales Safeguarding Procedures. [Accessed 29/03/2021].

Wales Safeguarding Procedures Project Board (2021) All Wales Practice Guides. [Accessed 25/05/2023].

Welsh Government (2019a) Children’s rights in Wales. [Accessed 29/03/2021].

Welsh Government (2019b) Working together to safeguard people: volume 1: introduction and overview. [Accessed 21/12/2023].

Welsh Government (2019c) Working together to safeguard people: volume 2: child practice reviews. [Accessed 21/12/2023].

Welsh Government (2019d) Working together to safeguard people: volume 5: handling individual cases to protect children at risk. [Accessed 21/12/2023].

Welsh Government (2021) Working together to safeguard people: volume 7: safeguarding children from child sexual exploitation [Accessed 21/12/2023].

Welsh Government (2023) Welsh Government response to the independent inquiry into child sexual abuse. [Accessed 23/05/2023].

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 Wales, search the NSPCC Library catalogue using the keyword/keywords "child protection", "child protection services", "child law", "social policy" and "Wales".

> Find out more about the Library and Information Service