Child protection in Wales Referrals and investigations

Woman writingA referral is a request from a member of the public or a professional to the local authority child protection team or the police to intervene to support or protect a child.

There may be a number of different responses from agencies following a referral.


Helping children in immediate danger

If a child is believed to be in immediate danger, the local authority or an authorised person including the NSPCC, can take the following action through the courts:

The order can be applied for through a family court and offers the means of protecting actual or potential victims from FGM under the civil law.

An emergency protection order can be issued to immediately remove a child to a place of safety.

An exclusion order can be issued to remove the abuser from the family home.

A child assessment order can be issued so that a children's social worker can assess the child's needs if the parents' or carers' won't give consent for them to do so.

The police can remove a child to a place of safety for up to 72 hours without obtaining a court order.

Our authorised person status

In England, Wales and Northern Ireland the NSPCC is unique amongst charities as it has statutory powers to intervene on behalf of children.

In these nations, only local authorities and the NSPCC can apply to a court for a care, supervision, or child assessment order.

We refer to this as having 'authorised person status' because in law we are described as an 'authorised person' to bring such proceedings.

We have had statutory powers to intervene on behalf of children for more than a century. These were most recently re-affirmed by the Children Act 1989 in England and Wales and the Children (NI) Order 1995 in Northern Ireland.

Legal definitions


If a child appears to need care and support in addition to, or instead of, the care and support provided by their family the local authority has a statutory duty on local authorities to assess their needs under Section 21 of the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014.

If a child appears to be suffering or at risk of suffering significant harm the local authority has a duty to investigate under section 47 of the Children Act 1989.

Legal definitions and guidance

What is significant harm and how is it determined

"Harm" is the "ill treatment or the impairment of the health or development of the child".

It is determined "significant" by "comparing a child's health and development with what might be reasonably expected of a similar child".

Although there is no absolute criteria for determining whether or not harm is "significant", local authorities such as social services, police, education and health agencies work with family members to assess the child, and a decision is made based on their professional judgement using the gathered evidence.

 Legal definitions for the 4 nations

After a referral is investigated and assessed

After these initial enquires, a number of things can happen:

If the child hasn't been harmed and isn't considered to be at risk of significant harm, it may be decided that there doesn't need to be any further child protection action. The child and their family may be offered additional support, such as a parenting programme, instead.

We provide a number of services which local authorities can refer children and families to.

A child is assessed as in need of care or support if:

  • the need arises from circumstances such as their age or health
  • and it relates to their personal well-being outcomes
  • and it cannot be met by their parents, wider family or community services
  • and it can only be met by their local authority arranging or providing the service or making direct payments.

If the child is eligible for a service a care and support plan is agreed, as required under section 54 of the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014.

The care and support plan should include:

  • the needs that need to be met for the child
  • the desired outcomes for the child
  • the actions the local authority and others will take to meet these needs and achieve these outcomes
  • how progress against the plan will be monitored
  • how the plan will be reviewed over time

Legal definitions and guidance


Case conferences

A case conference is held if it is suspected that a child is at risk of significant harm, so that all of the relevant professionals can share information, identify risks and outline what needs to be done to protect the child.

Who's involved in a case conference:

  • agencies such as social services, the police and health services
  • people who have the most involvement working with the child and family, such as the child's school and the family GP
  • family members
  • the child, when appropriate.

What's considered during a case conference:

  • background information about the family
  • findings from the child protection investigation
  • ongoing assessments.

The initial case conference must happen within 15 working days from the start of the section 47 assessment.

If professionals at the initial case conference decide a child is at risk of significant harm they will add the child to the child protection register, and draw up a child protection plan.

Case conferences will continue at regular intervals until the child is no longer considered at risk of significant harm or until they are taken into care.

Child protection registers and plans

The child protection register (CPR) is a confidential list of all children in the local area who have been identified as being at risk of significant harm. The register allows authorised individuals in social work, education, health, police and the voluntary sector to check if a child they are working with is known to be at risk.

If a child is added to the CPR they must also have a child protection plan.

The child protection plan sets out:

  • how social work will check on the child’s welfare
  • what changes are needed to reduce the risk to the child
  • what support will be offered to the family.

A Core group is responsible for making sure that the child protection plan is supporting the child effectively on an ongoing basis. The members of this group include the person who has been nominated as the Lead Professional, the child and their parents/carers, and they report about this at CPCC meetings. The Core group should be set up within 15 days of the initial child protection case conference.

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