What is child protection?

Child protection means protecting a child from child abuse or neglect.

Abuse or neglect need not have taken place; it is sufficient for a risk assessment to have identified a likelihood or risk of significant harm from abuse or neglect.

Equally, in instances where a child may have been abused or neglected but the risk of future abuse has not been identified, the child and their family may require support and recovery services but not a Child Protection Plan.

In such cases, an investigation may still be necessary to determine whether a criminal investigation is needed and to inform an assessment that a Child Protection Plan is not required.

What is harm and significant harm in a child protection context?

Child protection is closely linked to the risk of ‘significant harm’. Significant harm is a complex matter and subject to professional judgement based on a multiagency assessment of the circumstances of the child and their family.

Where there are concerns about harm, abuse or neglect, these must be shared with the relevant agencies so that they can decide together whether the harm is, or is likely to be, significant. Significant harm can result from a specific incident, a series of incidents or an accumulation of concerns over a period of time. It is essential that when considering the presence or likelihood of significant harm that the impact (or potential impact) on the child takes priority and not simply the alleged abusive behaviour. To understand and identify significant harm, it is necessary to consider:

  • the nature of harm, either through an act of commission or omission;
  • the impact on the child’s health and development, taking into account their age and stage of development;
  • the child’s development within the context of their family and wider environment