The law to protect children from physical assault dates back to 1861 (Offences Against the Person Act 1861). The child protection laws protect children from physical abuse. Children’s rights campaigners continue to call for changes in the law to protect children from physical punishment.

Children Act 1989

Currently provides the legislative framework for child protection in England. Key principles established by the act include:

  • the paramount nature of the child's welfare
  • the expectations and requirements around duties of care to children.


View the Children Act 1989 

 

Children Act 2004

Strengthens the 1989 Act. Encourages partnerships between agencies and creates more accountability.  Part three of the Children Act 2004 applies solely to Wales.

  • creates the post of Children's Commissioner for England
  • places a duty on local authorities to appoint a director of children’s services and an elected lead member for children’s services, who is ultimately accountable for the delivery of services.
  • places a duty on local authorities and their partners (including the police, health service providers and the youth justice system) to co-operate in promoting the wellbeing of children and young people and to make arrangements to safeguard and promote the welfare of children
  • updates the legislation on physical punishment (section 58) by limiting the use of the defence of reasonable punishment so that it can no longer be used when people are charged with the offences against a child of wounding, actual or grievous bodily harm or cruelty. Therefore any injury sustained by a child which is serious enough to warrant a charge of assault occasioning actual bodily harm cannot be considered to be as the result of reasonable punishment.

View the Children Act 2004 

 

Section 58

Section 58 of the Children Act 2004 updates the legislation on physical punishment. It limits the use of the defence of reasonable punishment so that it can no longer be used when people are charged with the offences against a child of wounding, actual or grievous bodily harm or cruelty. Therefore any injury sustained by a child which is serious enough to warrant a charge of assault occasioning actual bodily harm cannot be considered to be as the result of reasonable punishment. (DCSF, 2007). 

Non Accidental Head Injury Cases (NAHI, formerly referred to as Shaken Baby Syndrome [SBS]) - Prosecution Approach

 

Working together to safeguard children

(HM Government, 2015)

Chapters 1-3 provide guidance on the legislative requirements and expectations on services to safeguard and promote the welfare of children, covering: assessing need and providing help; organisational responsibilities, including the requirement to appoint a qualified social worker to the role of designated officer for the management of allegations, unless the candidate has previous experience in the role; and, the statutory objectives and functions of Local Safeguarding Children Boards (LSCBs).

Chapter 4 sets out a learning and improvement framework for LSCBs to monitor the effectiveness of local services and includes: a section on what constitutes a notifiable incident; a definition of 'serious harm' for the purposes of Serious Case Reviews.

Chapter 5 provides guidance on child death reviews listing specific responsibilities of relevant bodies in relation to child deaths.

Download Working together to safeguard children: a guide to inter-agency working to safeguard and promote the welfare of children (PDF)

Read more about the changes made to the statutory guidance in 2015 on the Legislation, policy and guidance for England page.

 

The Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995

This act provides the legislative framework for Northern Ireland's child protection system. It sets out:

  • parental responsibilities and rights, and
  • duties and powers public authorities have to support children and intervene if there are concerns about a child

View The Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995

 

Co-operating to Safeguard Children and young people in Northern Ireland

Replaces the ‘Co-operating to Safeguard Children’ guidance issued in 2003. It provides the overarching policy framework for safeguarding children and young people in the statutory, private, independent, community, voluntary and faith sectors. Outlines how communities, organisations and individuals must work both individually and in partnership to ensure children and young people are safeguarded as effectively as possible.

View Co-operating to safeguard children and young people in Northern Ireland
(Department of Health, 2016)

Area Child Protection Committees' regional policy and procedures 2005

(Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety. Northern Ireland, 2005)

Outlines a single set of child protection procedures all five Health and Social Care Trusts abide by. It is based on the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Policy guidance Co-operating to safeguard children (2003).

Download Area Child Protection Committees' regional policy and procedures 2005 (PDF)

Article 2 of the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Northern Ireland) Order 2006

Under Article 2 of the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Northern Ireland) Order 2006 physical punishment of children is defensible on the grounds of 'reasonable punishment'.

 

Children (Scotland) Act 1995

This act provides the legislative framework for Scotland's child protection system. It sets out:

  • parental responsibilities and rights, and
  • duties and powers public authorities have to support children and intervene if there are concerns about a child.

View the Children (Scotland) Act 1995

 

National guidance for child protection in Scotland

(Scottish Government, 2010)

Provides the current guidance and a national framework for anyone who could face child protection issues at work. Further guidance has been published for health professionals, and protecting disabled children.

Download National guidance for child protection in Scotland (PDF)

Children Act 1989

Currently provides the legislative framework for child protection in Wales. Key principles established by the act include:

  • the paramount nature of the child's welfare
  • the expectations and requirements around duties of care to children.

View the Children Act 1989

 

Safeguarding children

(Welsh Government, 2004)

Sets out the Welsh Government's guidance on child protection and safeguarding for local authorities in Wales.

Safeguarding children: working together under the Children Act 2004

All Wales child protection procedures

(All Wales Child Protection Procedures Review Group, 2008)

Provides a common set of child protection procedures for every safeguarding board in Wales.

View All Wales child protection procedures

In October 2011, members of the Welsh Assembly voted in favour of a change of law to ban parents from smacking children. The Welsh Government has ruled out introducing new legislation before 2016.

Child protection in the UK

How the systems and laws of the UK and its 4 nations work to keep children safe from abuse and harm.
More about the child protection system

Your donation can take a child anywhere

Research like this helps keep children safe from abuse and free to dream – but we can’t do it without our generous supporters. 

Donate now

Help and advice for professionals

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.

Search the library

Research and resources

Research, reports and resources about physical abuse
See research and resources for physical abuse

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

Submit an enquiry

References

  1. DCSF (2007) Review of Section 58 of the Children Act 2004 (PDF). London: TSO.