· requires multi-agency collaboration. As part of that

The Children Act 1989   

Children Act 1989 recognized that the identification and investigation of child
abuse, together with the protection and support of victims and their families,
requires multi-agency collaboration. As part of that protection, action should
be taken, usually by the police and social services, to prosecute known
offenders or control their access to vulnerable children. The Sexual Offences
Act 2003 also introduced many new offences to deal with those who abuse and
exploit children. Both Acts can be found at: www.opsi.gov.uk.  The 1989 Act gives responsibilities of the
State and individuals to ensure the welfare of Children and young people who
are under their care. It introduces provisions that apply when children are at
risk “Significant harm” and states that the child’s welfare is
paramount.  Section 47 of Children Act
1989 gives power to Local Authority to investigate:

Where a local authority—

(a) are
informed that a child who lives, or is found, in their area—

(i) is
the subject of an emergency protection order; or

(ii) is
in police protection;

(a)  have
reasonable cause to suspect that a child who lives, or is found, in their area
is suffering, or is likely to suffer, significant harm, the authority shall
make, or cause to be made, such enquiries as they consider necessary to enable

(b)  to
decide whether they should take any action to safeguard or promote the child’s

Where a local authority has obtained an emergency protection order with respect
to a child, they shall make, or cause to be made, such enquiries as they
consider necessary to enable them to decide what action they should take to
safeguard or promote the child’s welfare.

The enquiries shall be directed towards establishing—

(a) whether
the authority should—

(i) make
any application to court under this Act;

(ii) exercise
any of their other powers under this Act;

(iii) exercise
any of their powers under section 11 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 (child
safety orders).


The Children Act 1989 introduced the
concept of significant harm as the threshold that justifies compulsory
intervention in family life in the best interests of children. The breadth of
the concept of significant harm is exercised by the police officers on the
scene and would ensure what action to use and appropriately to protect the
child.  The 1989 Act gives LAs a duty to
make enquiries to decide whether or not to take action in order to safeguard or
promote the welfare of a child who is suffering, or likely to suffer,
significant harm. The very nature of the power means that the officer attending
the scene determines whether the power is used. Even where the officer is
unsure and consults a sergeant or inspector, the officer’s account of the scene
is crucial in deciding what advice to give. The Child Act 1989 provides a
safeguard by requiring that the use of power is investigated by a designated
officer and protects the child and family by providing automatic review by
senior officers and release the child at the point they feel it is safe to do


A court may make a care order (committing
the child to the care of the LA) or supervision order (putting the child under
the supervision of a social worker or a probation officer) in respect of a
child if it is satisfied that:

the child is suffering, or is likely to suffer,
significant harm; and

the harm, or likelihood of harm, is
attributable to a lack of adequate parental care or control (s31).


There are no absolute criteria on which to
rely when judging what constitutes significant harm. Consideration of the
severity of ill-treatment may include the degree and the extent of physical
harm, the duration and frequency of abuse and neglect, the extent of
premeditation, and the presence or degree of threat, coercion, sadism and
bizarre or unusual elements. Each of these elements has been associated with
more severe effects on the child, and/or relatively greater difficulty in
helping the child overcome the adverse impact of the maltreatment. Sometimes, a
single traumatic event may constitute significant harm, e.g. a violent assault,
suffocation or poisoning. More often, significant harm is a compilation of
significant events, both acute and long-standing, which interrupt, change or
damage the child’s physical and psychological development. Some children live
in family and social circumstances where their health and development are
neglected. For them, it is the corrosiveness of long-term emotional, physical
or sexual abuse that causes impairment to the extent of constituting
significant harm. In each case, it is necessary to consider any maltreatment
alongside the family’s strengths and supports.2


Under s31(9) of the Children Act 19893 as
amended by the Adoption and Children Act 2002:

‘harm’ means ill-treatment or the impairment of health or
development, including, for example, impairment suffered from seeing or hearing
the ill-treatment of another; ‘development’ means physical, intellectual,
emotional, social or behavioural development; ‘health’ means physical or mental
health; and ‘ill-treatment’ includes sexual abuse and forms of ill-treatment
which are not physical.


s31(10) of the1989 Act:


the question of whether harm suffered by a child is significant turns on the
child’s health and development, his health or development shall be compared
with that which could reasonably be expected of a similar child.’


the fact child abuse is laden with stigma but devoid of clear meaning, the
Children Act 1989, support the primary responsibility of parents to raise their
children. The guiding principle is that the relationship between the children
and parents should be fostered, except where this is outweighed by
considerations of harm to the child. In cases where there may be child abuse by
parents who have inadequate family backgrounds and who lack sufficient
understanding of child development or basic child care techniques; that where
the state need to intervene and take care of the child. Otherwise, social work
support and education may be appropriate other than either prosecution or care


1.4    Child Abuse and Safeguarding Children

Safeguarding is the process of protecting
children from abuse or neglect, preventing impairment of their health and
development, and ensuring they are growing up in circumstances consistent with
the provision of safe and effective care environment.


1.1    Domestic Violence and Child

Domestic violence is likely to have a
damaging effect on the health and development of children and it constitute
child abuse. When a child or young person has been abused or neglected, there
may often be a range of co-existing family-based difficulties such as domestic violence,
parental mental illness, substance misuse and learning disability, which pose
additional challenges for effective intervention. The context within which the abuse
or neglect takes place can aggravate or protect harm on the child.  In addition, experience has shown that the way
in which professionals respond to concerns about children’s welfare has a
significant bearing on subsequent outcomes for children.5


Children living in families where they are
exposed to domestic violence have been shown to be at risk of behavioural,
emotional, physical, cognitive-functioning, attitude and long-term
developmental problems. The UK government guidance, requires that everyone
working with women and children should be alert to the frequent
inter-relationship between domestic violence and the abuse and neglect of
children (National Service Framework for Children, Young People and Maternity
Services, 2004). 


1.2    Trafficking and Modern
Slavery of Children


1.3    Child Protection and
Child Abuse


1.4    Framework for the
Assessment of Children in Need

The Framework for the Assessment of
Children in Need and their Families

provides a systematic basis for collecting
and analysing information to support professional judgements about how to help
children and families in the best interests of the child. Practitioners are
required to use the framework to gain an understanding of:6

1)    a
child’s developmental needs;

2)    the
capacity of parents or caregivers to respond appropriately to those needs,
including their capacity to keep the child safe
from harm; and 

3)    the
impact of wider family and environmental factors on the parents and child.


framework is to be used for the assessment of all children in need, including
cases where there are concerns that a child may be suffering significant harm. The framework should
provide evidence to help, guide and inform judgements about children’s welfare
and safety, from the first point of contact, through the processes of initial
and more detailed core assessments, according to the nature and extent of the
child’s needs. The provision of appropriate services need not, and should not,
wait until the end of the assessment process, but should be determined
according to what is required, and when, to promote the welfare and safety of
the child.7

1  Judith Masson et al., (p74, 2007) Protecting
Powers: Emergency Intervention for Children’s Protection, John Wiley & Sons
Ltd, London.

Adcock, M. and White, R. (1998). Significant Harm: its management and outcome.
Surrey: Significant Publications

3  s31(9) of the Children Act 1989

4  Jean Graham Hall and Douglas Martin ‘Crimes
Against Children’ (1992), Barry Rose Law Publishers Ltd

Department of Health (04 Oct 2004), ‘Core Document, National Service Framework
for Children, Young People and Maternity Services”, London SE1 8UG. Cited in https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/199952/National_Service_Framework_for_Children_Young_People_and_Maternity_Services_-_Core_Standards.pdf

HM Government (2006, p201), “Working Together to
Safeguard Children: A guide to inter-agency working to safeguard and promote
the welfare of children”, TSO (The Stationery Office), London.