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Definitions, Context, Principles


  1. Introduction
  2. Safeguarding
  3. The Concept of Significant Harm
  4. Definitions of Child Abuse
  5. Potential Risk of Harm to an Unborn Child
  6. Recognition of Harm
  7. Non Recent Abuse
  8. Professional and Agency Response
  9. Medical Attention
  10. Understanding What Life is Like for the Child
  11. Keeping the Child in Focus
  12. Responding to a Child’s Concerns

    Amendments to this Chapter

1. Introduction

These Hull Safeguarding Children Board Guidelines and Procedures set out how agencies and individuals should work together to safeguard and promote the welfare of children. They are based on Working Together to Safeguard Children (2015) which describes what should happen in any local area when a child is believed to be in need of support.

For the purposes of this guidance, the target audience is everybody - this includes professionals (unqualified staff and volunteers), front-line managers and operational and senior managers, in:

  • Agencies responsible for providing or commissioning services to children and their families and to adults who are parents / carers or who may have contact with children; and
  • Agencies with a particular responsibility for safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children.

2. Safeguarding

Effective safeguarding arrangements should aim to meet the following 2 key principles:

  • Safeguarding is everyone's responsibility: each individual and organisation should play their full part; and
  • A child-centred approach: arrangements should be based on a clear understanding of the needs and views of children.

Working Together to Safeguard Children (2015) defines Safeguarding as:

  • Protecting children from maltreatment;
  • Preventing impairment of children's health or development;
  • Ensuring that children grow up in circumstances consistent with the provision of safe and effective care; and
  • Taking action to enable all children to have the best outcomes.

Defining ‘Harm’

Harm is defined as the ill treatment or the impairment of health or development, including impairment suffered from seeing or hearing the ill treatment of another.

3. The Concept of Significant Harm

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. It gives the local authority a duty to make enquiries to decide whether they should take action to safeguard or promote the welfare of a child who is suffering, or likely to suffer, significant harm.

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.

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 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 neglect, emotional, physical or sexual abuse that causes impairment to the extent of constituting significant harm.

Sometimes ‘significant harm’ refers to harm caused by one child to another (which may be a single event or a range of ill treatment), which is generally referred to as ‘peer on peer abuse.’

4. Definitions of Child Abuse

The following definitions are taken from Working Together to Safeguard Children 2015 and Keeping Children Safe in Education (GOV.UK):

Abuse is a form of maltreatment of a child. Somebody may abuse or neglect a child by inflicting harm, or by failing to act to prevent harm. Children may be abused in a family or in an institutional or community setting by those known to them or, more rarely, by others (e.g. via the internet). They may be abused by an adult or adults, or another child or children.

Physical Abuse

Physical abuse is a form of abuse which may involve hitting, shaking, throwing, poisoning, burning or scalding, drowning, suffocating, or otherwise causing physical harm to a child.

Physical harm may also be caused when a parent or carer fabricates the symptoms of, or deliberately induces illness in a child.

The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health have developed an evidence-based resource for clinicians to help inform clinical practice, child protection procedures and professional and expert opinion in the legal system. Formerly known as CORE Info, it comprises 15 systematic reviews covering a range of issues including bites, bruising, fractures, burns, dental neglect, oral injuries and spinal injuries - see Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health website, Child Protection Evidence.

Emotional Abuse

Emotional abuse is the persistent emotional maltreatment of a child such as to cause severe and persistent adverse effects on the child's emotional development, it may involve:

  • Conveying to children that they are worthless or unloved, inadequate, or valued only insofar as they meet the needs of another person;
  • Not giving the child opportunities to express their views, deliberately silencing them or ‘making fun of what they say or how they communicate;
  • Imposing age or developmentally inappropriate expectations on children. These may include interactions that are beyond the child's developmental capability, as well as overprotection and limitation of exploration and learning, or preventing the child participating in normal social interaction;
  • Seeing or hearing the ill-treatment of another;
  • Serious bullying (including cyber-bullying), causing children frequently to feel frightened or in danger; or
  • Exploiting and corrupting children.

Some level of emotional abuse is involved in all types of maltreatment of a child, though it may occur alone.

Sexual Abuse

Sexual abuse involves forcing or enticing a child to take part in sexual activities, not necessarily involving a high level of violence, whether or not the child is aware of what is happening. The activities may involve physical contact, including assault by penetration (e.g. rape or oral sex) or non-penetrative acts such as masturbation, kissing, rubbing and touching outside of clothing.

Sexual abuse can also include non-contact activities, such as involving children in looking at, or in the production of, sexual images, watching sexual activities, encouraging children to behave in sexually inappropriate ways or grooming a child in preparation for abuse (including via the internet). Sexual abuse is not solely perpetrated by adult males. Women can also commit acts of sexual abuse, as can other children.


Neglect is the persistent failure to meet a child's basic physical and/or psychological needs, likely to result in the serious impairment of the child's health or development.

Neglect may occur during pregnancy as a result of maternal substance misuse.

Once a child is born, neglect may involve a parent failing to:

  • Provide adequate food, clothing and shelter (including exclusion from home or abandonment);
  • Protect a child from physical and emotional harm or danger;
  • Ensure adequate supervision (including the use of inadequate care-givers); or
  • Ensure access to appropriate medical care or treatment.

It may also include neglect of, or unresponsiveness to, a child's basic emotional needs.

These definitions are used in combination with the Threshold of Need Framework and Guidance when determining significant harm or the likelihood of significant harm.

5. Potential Risk of Harm to an Unborn Child

The parents' background, or current behaviour, may indicate that significant harm to an unborn child is likely.

Any concern should be addressed as early as possible before the birth, so that a full assessment can be undertaken and support offered to enable the parent/s (wherever possible) to provide safe care to the baby.

Examples of circumstances where this may be the case include:

  • Where a parent has a conviction for harming another child;
  • Where another child has been removed from the care of one of the parents; or
  • Where a parent's lifestyle is such that there is the likelihood of significant harm to the child; for example, exposure to domestic abuse, severe emotional, behavioural or mental health difficulties, or dependency on drugs, alcohol or other substances.

6. Recognition of Harm

Everybody must be alert to the needs of children and any risks of harm - including to unborn children, babies, older children, young carers, disabled children and children living away from home or Looked After by the local authority. They should be able to recognise, and know how to act upon, evidence that a child's health or development is being is impaired or that the child is suffering, or is likely to suffer significant harm.

The harm or potential harm to a child may come to attention in in a number of possible ways:

  • Information given by the child, his / her friends, a family member or close associate;
  • The child’s behaviour may become different from the usual, be significantly different from the behaviour of their peers, be bizarre or unusual or may involve ‘acting out’ a harmful situation in play;
  • An injury which arouses suspicion because:
    • It does not make sense when compared with the explanation given;
    • The explanations differ depending on who is giving them (e.g. differing explanations from the parent / carer and child);
    • The child appears anxious and evasive when asked about the injury;
    • Of bruising to a pre mobile baby.
  • Suspicion being raised when a number of factors occur over time, for example, the child fails to progress and thrive in contrast to his/her peers;
  • Contact with individuals who pose a ‘risk to children’ (see Managing Individuals who Pose a Risk of Harm to Children Safeguarding Practice Guidance); or
  • The parent’s behaviour before the birth of a child indicates the likelihood of significant harm to an unborn child. See Section 5, Potential Risk of Harm to an Unborn Child.

7. Non Recent Abuse

Allegations of child abuse are sometimes made by adults and children many years after the abuse has occurred. There are many reasons for an allegation not being made at the time including fear of reprisals, the degree of control exercised by the abuser and shame or fear that the allegation may not be believed. An awareness that the abuser is being investigated for a similar matter or suspicions that the abuse is continuing against other children may trigger the reporting of the abuse at a later date.

Reports of non recent or historical allegations can be complex as the alleged victims may no longer be living in the situations where the incidents occurred or the alleged perpetrators may no longer be linked to the setting or employment role. Such cases should be responded to in the same way as any other concerns and the Contacts and Referrals with Children’s Social Care Procedure should be followed. It is important to ascertain as a matter of urgency if the alleged perpetrator is still working with, or caring for, children.

Organisational responses to allegations by an adult of abuse experienced as a child must be of as high a standard as a response to current abuse because:

  • There is a significant likelihood that a person who abused a child/ren in the past will have continued and may still be doing so;
  • Criminal prosecutions can still take place despite the fact that the allegations are non recent or historical in nature and may have taken place many years ago;
  • If it comes to light that the non recent or historical abuse is part of a wider setting of institutional or organised abuse, the case will be dealt with according to the Organised and Complex Abuse Procedure.

8. Professional and Agency Response

Everybody should:

  • Be alert to potential indicators of abuse or neglect;
  • Know where to go for advice;
  • Be alert to the risks which individual abusers or potential abusers, may pose to children;
  • Be alert to the impact on the child of any concerns of abuse or maltreatment;
  • Be able to gather and analyse information as part of an assessment of the child’s needs;
  • Contribute to whatever actions are needed to safeguard and promote the child's welfare;
  • Take part in regularly reviewing the outcomes for the child against specific plans;
  • Work cooperatively with parents and carers, unless this is inconsistent with ensuring the child's safety;
  • Know who is the manager/ person responsible for safeguarding children / child protection in your organisation / agency; and
  • Know how to contact the Children’s Social Care Early Help and Safeguarding Hub (EHASH) / Police Protecting Vulnerable People Unit.

Each agency should have a Child Protection Policy in place to support and provide information about how and what action to take when there are concerns about a child. Child Protection Policies should be written in conjunction with the Hull Safeguarding Children Board Guidelines and Procedures, and all staff should know how to access these.

Hull Safeguarding Children Board have developed a template Child Protection Policy – please click here to download a copy from the Documents Library section of this manual.

9. Medical Attention

If a child has a physical injury and medical attention is required, then this should be sought immediately by phoning for an ambulance, attending the Emergency Department or Minor Injury Unit (depending on the severity of the injury). The procedures for referring a child to Local Authority Children’s Social Care should then be followed (see Contacts and Referrals with Children’s Social Care Procedure).

Any safeguarding concerns should be shared with the Ambulance staff / Medical and Nursing staff in order that they can appropriately assess and treat the child, and share relevant information.

Contacting emergency services for any urgent medical treatment must not be delayed for any reason.

10. Understanding What Life is Like for the Child

As Munro noted in her review of the Child Protection System (See The Munro Review of Child Protection, Part One: A Systems Analysis), being for moments “in the shoes” of the child you are trying to help is central to finding interventions that work. Some of the worst failures of the system have occurred when professionals have lost sight of the child and concentrated instead on their relationship with adults.

"The failure to see the situation from their (the child's) perspective and to talk to them was highlighted in Ofsted's first annual report of evaluations of Serious Case Reviews. Staff across frontline services need appropriate support and training to ensure that as far as possible they put themselves in the place of the child or young person and consider first and foremost how the situation must feel for them."
(Lord Laming, 'The Protection of Children in England: A Progress Report' (March 2009))

For additional information see Good Practice Supporting the Voice of the Child Procedure.

11. Keeping the Child in Focus

Children want to be respected, and their views to be heard, to have stable relationships with professionals built on trust and to have consistent support which is provided for their individual needs. This should guide the behaviour of professionals, and involves:

  • Developing a direct relationship with the child;
  • Obtaining information from the child about his or her situation and needs;
  • Eliciting the child's wishes and feelings - about their situation now as well as plans and hopes for the future;
  • Providing children with honest and accurate information about the current situation, as seen by professionals, and future possible actions and interventions;
  • Involving the child in key decision-making;
  • Providing appropriate information to the child about his or her right to protection and assistance;
  • Inviting children to make recommendations about the services and assistance they need and/or are available to them; and
  • Ensuring children have access to independent advice and support (for example, through Advocates or children's rights officers) to be able to express their views and influence decision-making.

See also Good Practice Supporting the Voice of the Child Procedure

12. Responding to a Child’s Concerns

  • Never stop a child who is freely recalling significant events;
  • Never promise the child that what they have told you can be kept secret. It should be explained to the child that whilst their views will be taken into account, professionals have a responsibility to take whatever action is required to ensure the child's safety and /or the safety of other children, including making a referral to Children’s Social Care or Police; and
  • If the child can understand the significance and consequences of making a referral to Children's Social Care, they should be asked for their views and for their consent (For further information see Effective Communication, Consent and Information Sharing Procedure).

Make a note of the discussion, taking care to record the timing, setting and people present, as well as what was said.

Amendments to this Chapter

In July 2017, Section 7, Non Recent Abuse was added and contains guidance for professionals on how to respond when an individual discloses non recent abuse.