Child protection system

Services and processes across the UK to protect children at risk of abuse, neglect or harm.

The UK child protection system is a group of services and processes that are there to protect children at risk of abuse, neglect or harm. 

Child protection is the responsibility of the government of each of the UK's 4 nations: England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

Before devolution, child protection legislation across the UK was made and passed by Westminster. Nations had their own laws but the framework set out by the different acts was broadly similar.

Since 1999 the process of devolution has seen power and responsibility transferred from Westminster to national governments in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. This means that each nation is now responsible for its own education, health and social welfare policies and legislation, which also includes safeguarding and child protection. Although this means that the 4 nations’ child protection systems work differently, there are still certain principles that all four systems share.

The system across the UK

Child protection system in England

How the child protection system in England works from reporting, investigations and care proceedings including facts, statistics and case reviews.
How it works in England

Child protection system in Northern Ireland

How the child protection system in Northern Ireland works from reporting, investigations and care proceedings including facts, statistics and case reviews.
How it works in Northern Ireland

Child protection system in Scotland

How the child protection system in Scotland works from reporting, investigations and care proceedings including facts, statistics and case reviews.
How it works in Scotland

Child protection system in Wales

How the child protection system in Wales works from reporting, investigations and care proceedings including facts, statistics and case reviews.
How it works in Wales

Children in care

Definitions, risk factors, what can we do to help protect children and how the NSPCC protects children in care.
Read about children in care

A child's legal rights

Find out what the law defines as a child, and what children's rights are in UK law.
Find out about the law

National case review repository

A national repository of published case reviews from 2013 - 2014.
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Child protection register statistics in the UK

Almost 2,000 children in Northern Ireland were identified as needing protection from abuse last year

1,914 children were on child protection registers in Northern Ireland at 31 March 2014
These figures represent children identified and assessed as being at risk of significant harm.

See also our overview of child protection register statistics for Northern Ireland.

 

There are over 5,700 children in care in Wales.

5,770 children were “looked after” in Wales at 31 March 2013.
Children become looked-after when they are under the care of the local authority. Looked-after children are often referred to as children in care.
545 of these children were living at home with their parents.
3,925 of these children were looked after due to abuse or neglect.

Last year over 2,600 children in Scotland were identified as needing protection from abuse

2,681 children were on the child protection register in Scotland on 31 July 2013.

See also our overview of child protection register statistics for Scotland.

illustration of umbrella

Over 48,000 children in England were identified as needing protection from abuse last year

48,300 children were the subject of a child protection plan at 31 March 2014. These figures represent children identified and assessed as being at risk of significant harm.

See also our overview of child protection register statistics for England.

 

When a child is assessed as being at risk of significant harm they are placed on a child protection register (or in England made the subject of a child protection plan). These statistics are not a measure of how much child abuse has occured. Research indicates that abuse and neglect are both under-reported and under-recorded. 

But they do give some indication of the scale of the problem across the UK as these are the number of children who are assessed to currently be at risk of significant harm. 

How child protection systems have developed

Legislation that enables the prosecution of people accused of child cruelty has been in force since the 1880s but it has taken a series of high profile child abuse deaths and subsequent inquiries to establish the child protection system we have today:

1945 The first formal child death inquiry in England was the Curtis Committee Report into the death of Dennis O'Neill, who was killed at the age of 12 by his foster father.

1973 The death of 7-year-old Maria Colwell led to the establishment of our modern child protection system.

1984 Further changes were prompted partly by the inquiries into several other child deaths, including 4-year-old Jasmine Beckford.

2000 Lord Laming's inquiry into the death of 8-year-old Victoria Climbié led to sweeping changes to the way children's services are structured in England and Wales, which came into force between 2006 and 2008.

2010 A change of government led to a review of the child protection system in England.

2011 Eileen Munro’s recommendations led to a further wave of reforms, focused on making the child protection system more child centred.

CASPAR

Our Current Awareness Service for Practice, Policy And Research delivers free weekly email alerts to keep you up-to-date with all the latest safeguarding and child protection news.

CASPAR is currently being upgraded but you can still sign up by contacting our Information Service.

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Follow @NSPCCpro

Follow us on Twitter and keep up-to-date with all the latest news in child protection.

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Child protection training

We offer a range of online and face-to-face training courses for people who work with children to help you gain the skills to act appropriately and confidently to keep children safe.

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Consultancy services

We understand the child protection challenges organisations face. Our expert consultants can offer tailored safeguarding support for any organisation.

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Information Service

Our free service for people who work with children can help you find the latest policy, practice, research and news on child protection and related subjects.

For more information, call us or email help@nspcc.org.uk.

0808 800 5000

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Safeguarding Education Self-Assessment Tool

A free online tool for schools in England to make sure the most effective safeguarding procedures are in place.

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New in the Library

A free weekly email listing all of the new child protection publications added to our library collection.

New in the Library is currently being upgraded but you can still sign up by contacting our Information Service.

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Library catalogue

We hold the UK's largest collection of child protection resources and the only UK database specialising in published material on child protection, child abuse and child neglect.

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For teachers

Sign up to TES Connect to access free NSPCC resources for teachers and any other staff who work with children or young people in schools, academies or colleges.

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