Child protection in Scotland Legislation, policy and guidance

The Scottish government is responsible for child protection in Scotland. It sets out policy, legislation and statutory guidance on how the child protection system should work.

Child Protection Committees (CPCs) are responsible for child protection policy, procedure, guidance and practice at the local authority level. CPCs make sure that all the different local agencies, such as children's social work, health services and the police, work together to protect children.

The key guidance for anyone working in Scotland is Scottish Government (2014) National Guidance for child protection in Scotland.


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

This act sets out the law relating to adoption.

View the Adoption and Children (Scotland) Act 2007

This act sets out measures to prevent unsuitable adults from working with children.

View the Protection of Vulnerable Groups (Scotland) Act 2007

Provides definitions of sexual offences and consent. Part 4 of the Act provides for offences relating to sexual behaviour towards children. Part 5 provides for offences concerning sexual abuse of trust. Came into force on 1 December 2010.

View the Sexual offences (Scotland) Act 2009

Building on the aims of the Early Years Framework, this act aims to put children and young people at the heart of planning and services to make sure their rights are respected across the public sector.

View the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014

Makes it a requirement for providers of internet pornography to prevent access to their material by anybody under the age of 18, and creates an age verification regulator, to publish guidelines about how this should be achieved. The regulator will have the power to fine providers that fail to comply, and require internet service providers (ISPs) to block access to any platform that makes extreme online pornographic material within the UK.

Also requires the Secretary of State to publish a code of practice for social media providers about responding to online bullying and harassment.

View the Digital Economy Act 2017

Changes the rules around time limits for making a compensation claim in the civil courts, so that anyone who was abused as a child since 26 September 1964 will no longer have to make a compensation claim within three years.

View the Limitation (Childhood Abuse) (Scotland) Act 2017

Policy and guidance

Updated in May 2014 – the National guidance for child protection in Scotland 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.

Child protection committees will have their own inter-agency child protection procedures which are based on the national guidance.

Download National guidance for child protection in Scotland

Getting it right for every child (GIRFEC) is the Scottish government's approach to making a positive difference for all children and young people in Scotland. Its principles help shape all policy, practice and legislation that affects children and their families.

It provides a consistent way for people to support and work with all children and young people in Scotland. It aims to improve outcomes for children and make sure that agencies work together to take action when a child is at risk or needs support.

GIRFEC says children should be:

  • safe
  • healthy
  • achieving
  • nurtured
  • active
  • respected
  • responsible
  • included

Each child is different, and there is no set level of wellbeing that children should achieve. These 8 wellbeing indicators are seen as the basic requirements needed for all children and young people to grow, develop and reach their full potential. GIRFEC is based on 10 core components that can be applied in any setting and any circumstance. These include: a focus on improving outcomes for children, young people and their families based on a shared understanding of well-being; a co-ordinated and unified approach; consistent high standards of co-operation, joint working and communication.

The GIRFEC approach is reinforced by measures in the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014. This includes plans to provide a named person for every child in Scotland. Following a legal challenge to this policy, the UK Supreme Court ruled that changes are required to the information-sharing requirements of the Act. Between September and December 2016 the Scottish government is carrying out a consultation about the necessary changes, and plans to implement the named person scheme in August 2017.

Getting it right for every child

Published in 2008, the Early years framework aims to give all children a better start in life by focusing on prevention and early intervention from pre-birth to age 8.
It sets out 10 changes that need to take places over ten years to improve outcomes for children.
Underpinned by GIRFEC, the Early years framework is one of 3 interlinking frameworks that provide the cornerstone of the Scottish government's social policy. The other two frameworks are:

  • Equally well - focusing on health inequalities
  • Achieving our potential - focusing on poverty and income inequality.

(Scottish Government, 2008)

Early years framework

This guidance advises Child Protection Committees (CPCs) about the processes they should follow when they carry out a significant case review (SCR). It explains how CPCs should decide whether a SCR is necessary and suggests that in some circumstances it might be helpful to carry out an Initial case review (ICR) to gather more information. It sets out how SCRs should be governed and highlights the points that a CPC should consider when they are carrying out a SCR.

(Scottish Government, 2015)

National guidance for Child Protection Committees for conducting a significant case review

This action plan was updated in March 2016. It explains what child sexual exploitation (CSE) is, what the scale of the problem is, and what the Scottish government is doing about it. It outlines their strategic approach to preventing and tackling CSE and details 44 actions which should be taken by the Scottish government and other national organisations.

(Scottish Government, 2016)

National action plan to prevent and tackle child sexual exploitation

This definition of child sexual exploitation (CSE) and its relationship to child sexual abuse was developed by the University of Bedfordshire in partnership with Scottish stakeholders. It aims to ensure that all practitioners and agencies use the same definition of CSE so that multi-agency responses are effective. It should be used in conjunction with the Child sexual exploitation: definition and practitioner briefing paper.

(Scottish Government, 2016)

Child sexual exploitation: definition and summary

This briefing paper outlines Scotland’s national definition of child sexual exploitation (CSE) which was developed by the University of Bedfordshire in partnership with Scottish stakeholders. It highlights the key issues that all professionals and agencies should be aware of when working with children and young people affected by CSE. It should be used in conjunction with the Child sexual exploitation: definition and summary document.

(Scottish Government, 2016)

Child sexual exploitation: definition and practitioner briefing paper

The CRWIA is an approach to policy development and improvement which the Scottish government has been using since 2015. It helps to assess whether policies, measures and legislation will help make children’s rights a reality in Scotland, and protect and promote the wellbeing of children and young people. The CRWIA approach is available for public authorities and children’s services to adapt for their own uses, if they wish.

(Scottish Government, 2015)

Child Rights and Wellbeing Impact Assessment (CRWIA)
Getting it right in policy and legislation: when and how to best use the child rights and wellbeing impact assessment (CRWIA): guidance for Scottish government officials (PDF)

This non-statutory guidance is for frontline practitioners, managers and strategic leaders who work with children and families facing adversities. It gives an overview of the legal framework for providing support services where there is a risk a child may become looked after, and describes who relevant services must be provided for.

(Scottish Government, 2016)

Children and young people (Scotland) Act 2014: national guidance on part 12: services in relation to children at risk of becoming looked after, etc

The Limitation (Childhood Abuse) (Scotland) Act 2017 changes the rules around time limits for making a compensation claim in the civil courts, so that people who were abused as children since 26 September 1964 will no longer be required to make a compensation claim within three years. This guidance explains what is involved in making a compensation claim through Scotland's civil courts; how long the process takes; how to get legal advice; and how to pay for legal advice.

(Scottish Government, 2017)

Download Limitation (Childhood Abuse) (Scotland) Act 2017: what does it mean for me and what do I need to know about making a claim? (PDF)

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