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Northern Ireland

Child protection guidance and legislation for Northern Ireland

NSPCC factsheet

March 2013

A list of the guidance and legislation for protecting children from abuse and neglect in Northern Ireland. Covers:


1991The United Kingdom ratified the UNCRC (Convention on the Rights of a Child).

1995The Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995 passed into law in Northern Ireland and was enabled in 1996. It set out the responsibilities of the authorities to provide services to children in need and their families, to provide for and support looked-after children, to investigate children at risk and take appropriate action.

1997 – The Sex Offenders Act 1997 (UK wide) created the sex offenders notification arrangements through a series of monitoring and reporting requirements.

1998 – The Human Rights Act 1998 enshrined the principles of the European Convention of Human Rights in UK law. It does not explicitly refer to the protection of children, but the act recognises that children are classed as persons in the eyes of the law and should therefore be afforded the same protection as adults.

2003 – The Sexual Offences Act 2003 (UK wide) made changes to the sexual crimes laws in England and Wales, and to some extent Northern Ireland bringing in a series of changes to sex offender notification arrangements.

2006 – The Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006 (UK wide) established vetting and barring arrangements for England and Wales, and established the remit of the Independent Safeguarding Authority which works in Northern Ireland to prevent unsuitable adults working with children and makes barring decisions.

2007 - The Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups (Northern Ireland) Order 2007 was passed, replacing the Protection of Children and Vulnerable Adults (Northern Ireland) Order 2003.

2008The Sexual Offences (Northern Ireland) Order 2008 modernised sexual offences legislation in Northern Ireland bringing it largely into line with that in England and Wales, including lowering the age of consent from 17 to 16.

2008 – The Criminal Justice (Northern Ireland) Order 2008 led to the introduction of Public Protection Arrangements on a statutory basis in Northern Ireland to increase the effectiveness of work to manage risks posed by sexual and violent offenders released into the community.

2011 – Safeguarding Board Act (Northern Ireland) 2011 was passed. It provided the legislative framework for the creation of a new regional Safeguarding Board for Northern Ireland (SBNI) and the establishment of Safeguarding Panels and Committees which will support the SBNI’s work.

2012 – The Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 (UK wide) became law in the UK. It will see the scrapping of the Vetting and Barring Scheme and the creation of a new Disclosure and Barring Service to oversee a scaled-back barring regime which focuses on roles working closely with vulnerable groups. The barring arrangements will apply to Northern Ireland with AccessNI providing the disclosure arrangements.

Regional guidance

Co-operating to safeguard children (PDF).
Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety (DHSSPS), 2003
Guidance to assist Area Child Protection Committees develop strategies, policies and procedures to safeguard children who are assessed to be at risk of significant harm.

Area Child Protection Committees’ regional policy and procedures 2005 (PDF).
Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety (DHSSPS), 2005
Sets out the local procedures and processes for agencies to comply with the Co-operating to safeguard children (2003) guidance.

A short guide to child protection policy and procedures (PDF).
Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety (DHSSPS), 2005
Short version of the Area Child Protection Committees’ regional child protection policy and procedures (2005) aimed at anyone working with children.

Standards for child protection services (PDF).
Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety (DHSSPS), 2008
A framework of best child protection practice for all public bodies, organisations, professionals and other persons who provide statutory services to children in Northern Ireland.

Safeguarding children: a cross-departmental statement on the protection of children and young people (DOC).
Children and Young People's Unit, Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister, 2009
Policy statement setting out a safeguarding policy framework across government which explains the government’s safeguarding agenda and identifies gaps and new actions to close these gaps.

Clinical guideline No 89: When to suspect child maltreatment (Circular HSC (SQSD) (NICE) 13/10 CG 89) (PDF).
McBride, Michael, Bradley, Martin and Holland, Sean.
Belfast: Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety (DHSSPS), 2010
Circular stating that the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) guidance on when to suspect child maltreatment is valid for Northern Ireland and endorsing it for implementation in Health and Social Care (HSC). Contains links to the NICE and related guidance.

Regional guidance: police involvement in residential units: safeguarding of children missing from home and foster care (PDF).
Health and Social Care Board for Northern Ireland, 2011
Guidance for carers, police officers and social workers in dealing with situations where children go missing, or where police officers attend residential units.

Sexual abuse

Guidance on the Sexual Offences (Northern Ireland) Order 2008.
Northern Ireland Office
A series of leaflets for the public and practitioners as well as guidance for practitioners and professionals.

Guidance to agencies: public protection arrangements (PDF).
Belfast: Northern Ireland Office, 2008
Sets out how agencies must protect the public from serious sexual and violent offenders.

Adults who pose a risk to children

Sharing to safeguard: information sharing about individuals who may pose a risk to children. Circular HSS CC 3/96 (revised) (PDF).
Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety (DHSSPS), 2009
Guidance on when agencies should share information about individuals who may pose a risk to children.

Changes to disclosure and barring: what you need to know (Northern Ireland) (PDF)
Home Office, 2012
Leaflet, explaining the changes to criminal records and barring arrangements from September 2012.

Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) website
Home Office

Child protection in schools

Pastoral care in schools: child protection circular 1999/10 (PDF).
Department of Education Northern Ireland (DENI), 1999
This circular contains advice and guidance on child protection in schools.

Case management reviews

Chapter 10: Case Management Reviews (PDF).
In: Co-operating to safeguard children (PDF).
Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety (DHSSPS) Belfast: Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety, 2003
In Northern Ireland the Safeguarding Board for Northern Ireland (SBNI) undertakes a Case Management Review (CMR) when a child dies or is seriously injured and abuse or neglect is believed to be a factor. This guidance sets out procedures for undertaking a CMR.

Forced marriage

Right to choose: statutory guidance for dealing with forced marriage (PDF).
Department of Finance and Personnel, 2012.
Guidance setting out the processes that agencies must have in place to safeguard children and vulnerable adults in cases of forced marriage.

Child witnesses

Achieving best evidence in criminal proceedings: guidance on interviewing victims and witnesses, the use of special measures, and the provision of pre-trial therapy (PDF).
Department of Justice Northern Ireland, 2012
Guidance aimed at police officers conducting visually recorded interviews with vulnerable and intimidated witnesses, those tasked with preparing and supporting such witnesses during the criminal justice process and those involved at the trial, both in supporting and questioning the witness in court


Human trafficking is partly dealt with by UK immigration legislation.

Working arrangements for the welfare and safeguarding of child victims of human trafficking (PDF).
Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety (DHSSPS), Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), 2011
Establishes a framework of support and the processes to be followed for children believed to be the victims of trafficking, including those who go missing from care.

Separated/trafficked children are the responsibility of Health and Social Care Trusts and are recognised as ‘children in need’ under the Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995.

Looked after children

Protecting looked after children (PDF).
Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety (DHSSPS), 2010
Provides guidance on protecting and safeguarding looked after children.

Guidance for media reporting

Guidance for media reporting on child abuse and neglect (PDF).
NSPCC et al, 2012
Provides background information for journalists about child protection in Northern Ireland and encourages the media and child welfare professionals to work together to ensure that child abuse and neglect is reported in ways which will help the public to better understand the issues involved.

Child protection resources for anyone working to safeguard children in Northern Ireland

Information and resources on child protection in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales

Further reading

Search the NSPCC Library Online for references on child protection in Northern Ireland

Further help and information

NSPCC training consultancy
Our child protection training courses in Northern Ireland.

NI Direct: protecting children and vulnerable adults
Information on reporting child abuse and neglect, disclosure and barring arrangements and regulated activity with vulnerable groups.

Contact the NSPCC’s information service for more information about child protection in Northern Ireland or any child protection topic