Child protection in England Legislation, policy and guidance

The Department for Education is responsible for child protection in England. It sets out policy, legislation and statutory guidance on how the child protection system should work.

At the local level Local safeguarding children boards (LSCBs) co-ordinate, and ensure the effectiveness of, work to protect and promote the welfare of children.  Each local board includes: local authorities, health bodies, the police and others, including the voluntary and independent sectors. The LSCBs are responsible for local child protection policy, procedure and guidance.


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 

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 

Established a single body to make decisions about individuals who should be barred from working with children and to maintain a list of these individuals.

View the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006 

Merged the Independent Safeguarding Authority with the Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) to form a single, new, non-departmental public body called the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS).

View the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 

Introduced a number of reforms including the following provisions:

  • Encourages ‘fostering for adoption’ which allows approved adopters to foster children while they wait for court approval to adopt.
  • Introduces a 26 week time limit for the courts to decide whether or not a child should be taken into care. In some cases, this limit may be extended by eight weeks.
  • ‘Staying put’ arrangements which allow children in care to stay with their foster families until the age of 21 years. This is provided that both the young person and the foster family are happy to do so.
  • Introduces a single assessment process and an Education, Health and Care (EHC) Plan to support children, young people and their families from birth to 25 years. The EHC plan will replace statements of special educational needs. 

View the Children and Families Act 2014 

Included a provision requiring school governing bodies, local education authorities and further education institutions to make arrangements to safeguard and promote the welfare of children.

View section 175 of the Education Act 2002 

Amended the Children Act 1989 by expanding the definition of "harm" to include witnessing domestic violence.

View section 120 of the Adoption and Children Act 2002 

As amended by sections 73 and 74 of the Serious Crime Act 2015, makes provisions for FGM Protection Orders and the legal duty for regulated social care and health professionals and teachers to make a report to the police if a girl under 18 tells them she has undergone an act of FGM, or if they observe physical signs that a girl under 18 has undergone FGM.

View the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003

View the Serious Crime Act 2015

Gave courts more flexible powers to facilitate child contact and enforce contact orders when separated parents are in dispute.

View the Children and Adoption Act 2006 

Legislated for the recommendations in the Care Matters white paper (DfES, 2007) to provide high quality care and services for children in care. It covers England and Wales (in part) and also placed a duty on registrars to notify the Local Safeguarding Children Board of all child deaths.

View the Children and Young Persons Act 2008 

Placed a duty on the then UK Border Agency to safeguard and promote children's welfare (section 55), bringing them in line with other public bodies that have contact with children.

View the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009 

Legislated for there to be two lay members from the local community sitting on each Local Safeguarding Children Board.

Made changes to provisions on school discipline and placed restrictions on the public reporting of allegations made against teachers.

View the Education Act 2011 

Policy and guidance

Working together to safeguard children (2015)

A guide to inter-agency working to safeguard and promote the welfare of children

The Department for Education published an updated version of the key statutory guidance for anyone working with children in England in March 2015. It sets out how organisations and individuals should work together and how practitioners should conduct the assessment of children. This latest guidance updates the previous version published in 2013.This is not a major review, but does include changes around:

  • referral of allegations against those who work with children
  • clarification of requirements on local authorities to notify serious incidents
  • a definition of serious harm for the purposes of serious case reviews.

It also incorporates legislation and statutory guidance published over the last two years.

This release is one of a raft of new and updated guidance released by the Department for Education in recent days.

The 3 main changes are:

  • The referral of allegations against those who work with children (Chapter 2, Section 5)
    The new guidance makes some changes to guidance on making allegations against people who work with children. Unlike previous editions, Working Together 2015 no longer refers to Local Authority Designated Officers (LADOs). Instead it states that local authorities should have a designated officer or team of officers for the management and oversight of allegations. The 2015 guidance includes for the first time a requirement that new appointments should be qualified social workers, unless they have previous experience in the role.
  • Notifiable incidents involving the care of a child (Chapter 4, Sections 13-16)
    Due to some confusion from local authorities over when they are required to notify child abuse or neglect incidents to Ofsted and the relevant LSCB(s), Working Together 2015 includes a section on what constitutes a notifiable incident.
  • The definition of serious harm for the purposes of Serious Case Reviews (Chapter 4, Section 17)
    Following concerns flagged by the national panel of independent experts on serious case review that some LSCBs were not making the right decision on when to commission a serious case review, Working Together 2015 now includes a definition of serious harm.

Child sexual exploitation, female genital mutilation and radicalisation

Other amendments include the specification that LSCBs, local authorities and their partners should be commissioning and providing services for children at risk of sexual exploitation, female genital mutilation and radicalisation (Chapter 1, Section 17).

New definitions

A notifiable incident is one involving the care of a child in which either:

  • a child has died (including cases of suspected suicide), and abuse or neglect is known or suspected;
  • a child has been seriously harmed and abuse or neglect is known or suspected;
  • a looked after child has died (including cases where abuse or neglect is not known or suspected); or
  • a child in a regulated setting or service has died (including cases where abuse or neglect is not known or suspected).

The guidance states that any incident meeting the criteria for a Serious Case Review will have met the criteria for a notifiable incident. However, it stresses that not all notifiable incidents will proceed through to Serious Case Review.

Seriously harmed includes, but is not limited to, cases where the child has sustained, as a result of abuse or neglect, any or all of the following:

  • a potentially life-threatening injury;
  • serious and/or likely long-term impairment of physical or mental health or physical, intellectual, emotional, social or behavioural development.

The guidance makes it clear that this definition is not exhaustive, and that serious harm can still have occurred if a child recovers from the incident. It states that LSCBs should ensure their considerations on whether serious harm has occurred are informed by available research evidence.

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

(HM Government, 2015)

Mandatory reporting of female genital mutilation
procedural information

This gives health and social care professionals, teachers and the police information on their responsibilities under the female genital mutilation (FGM) mandatory reporting duty which came into force 31 October 2015. Covers: when and how to make a report; next steps following a report; and failure to comply with the duty.

Download Mandatory reporting of female genital mutilation: procedural information (PDF)

(Home Office, 2015)

Support our research

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

Donate now

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.

Get expert training

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