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SAFEGUARDING CHILDREN. Hilary McCluskey and Melanie Robbins. Chapter 16. This presentation examines potential factors contributing to child abuse, explores what constitutes child abuse and looks at some of the legislation in place to safeguard children.

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safeguarding children


Hilary McCluskey and

Melanie Robbins

Chapter 16

This presentation examines potential factors contributing to child abuse, explores what constitutes child abuse and looks at some of the legislation in place to safeguard children.

Part 1 - Key Aspects which have Shaped our Ideas of Children, Childhood and Abuse.

Part 2 – Current Approach to Safeguarding Children & Underpinning Policies to Current Philosophy

Part 3 – Child in Need

Part 4 – Identifying Child Abuse & Contributory Factors

Part 5 - Assessment

Throughout this presentation current legislation and policy documents are highlighted, but kept these to a minimum because, in the field of safeguarding children, they can change rapidly.

There are also some differences in law and policy between England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland. You should be careful to investigate the legislation that’s specific to your place of practice.

By working through these slides, in conjunction with the book chapter, you will be able to:

Consider the way our understanding of abuse changes as society changes

Identify when a child may be in need or in need of protection

Recognise the need for assessment of the child’s needs, and be aware of the tools which are used

ideas of children childhood and abuse
Ideas of Children, Childhood and Abuse

Childhood is historically defined and our school year reflects the rural calendar, ensuring children are on holiday at harvest time. Expectation was that children from the age of 7 years would contribute to the family economy as part of the wider community economy – foster shared parenting

Industrial revolution moved away from community parenting to nuclear families - minimum interference from the state. It also established the need for an educated workforce – compulsory schooling introduced

Latest changes have seen the introduction of compulsory education (academic or vocational) up to the age of 18 years (DCS&F 2007)

Social policy has tended to have a seesaw view, reflecting the fears and concerns of the day. In the 1900s, there was a fear of juvenile delinquents, so state intervention was swift and punitive.

Child abuse came to the public’s notice with the Maria Colwell inquiry (DHSS1974).

With each subsequent inquiry, social policy has alternated from a protection/prevention philosophy, i.e. interventionist perspective (Jasmine Beckford enquiry (London Borough of Brent 1985) recommendation that state intervene as early as possible) to a more ‘softly softly’ approach, where the family and parents are to be given support.

Focus of current policy aims to combine both approaches, where prevention and protection work together rather than an either/or.

current approach
Current Approach

Safeguarding is a term used to express a continuum of care for children and young people, which includes:

Promoting healthy emotional, physical, educational and social development of the child, appropriate to the child’s age and expected developmental achievement.

Ensuring the child is provided with a safe environment and loving and nurturing care.

Protecting children from maltreatment.

Policies are now expanded to include the promotion of well being, not just protection from harm.

“Good parenting involves caring for children’s basic needs, keeping them safe, showing them warmth and love, and providing the stimulation needed for their development and to help them achieve their potential, within a stable environment where they experience consistent guidance and boundaries”

(p.31, HM Government, 2006).

key policies and philosophies
Key Policies and Philosophies

Articles 3 and 6 of The United Convention of the Rights of the Child:

Article 6 states that every child has an inherent right to life, and that state bodies are obliged to use every possible means to ensure the survival and development of children. There is an obligation for governments to ensure that services are developed and provided to safeguard children from serious harm.

Article 3 also states that the best interests of the child must be a primary consideration, and that authorities must provide children with adequate care when parents or others with legal responsibilities fail to discharge their duties.

(UNCRC, 1980).

Every Child Matters – 5 Targets

Be healthy

Stay safe

Enjoy and achieve through learning

Make a positive contribution to society

Achieve economic well-being

(DfES, 2004)

what a child needs
What a Child Needs

Every child needs the following aspects of care met to grow and develop to their optimum ability:

Nutrition – physical growth & development.

Play - Stimulating environment offering learning opportunities.

Safe environment which enables them to learn about risk without being in itself too risky.

(Smith et al, 2003)

Emotional needs met – good attachments to significant adults foster personal safety and a sense of self and self worth (Bowlby, 1969) etc. [Impairment of attachment inhibits play and prevents child from accessing his/ her local environment.]

Social skills – child needs access to other adults and children to foster safe relationships. (Robertson, 1955, 1969, 1970)

child in need
Child in Need

When parents or carers with parental responsibilities are unable to meet a child or young person’s needs without additional support, the child is known as a “child in need”.

Children who are defined as being ‘in need’, under s17 of the Children Act 1989, are those whose vulnerability is such that they are unlikely to reach or maintain a satisfactory level of health or development, or their health and development will be significantly impaired, without the provision of services (s17(10) of the Children Act 1989), plus those who are disabled (s1.22, p.36, HM Gov, 2006).

Needs may not be met because:

The child has intrinsic multiple physical, mental, or emotional needs or learning disability/ies.

The parent is unable to provide for a child’s parenting needs because of their own limitations (e.g. impaired physical, mental, or emotional health, learning difficulties, substance abuse or other forms of abuse within the family (such as domestic violence, abuse to vulnerable adults)

(O’Hagan, 2006; Howe, 2005; DoH, 1995; Reder et al, 1993; Reder and Duncan 1999; Mullender et al 2002).

Some children in need may have their needs met relatively easily by provision of aids in the home, additional living allowances and/or adaptations provided at school.

For other families, needs may be more complex and require a range of support services which can be provided by a multi-agency team of professionals, using a family support plan.

Reviews of children who have been seriously injured or died have shown an escalation of abuse, from mild abuse or neglect to severe abuse, suggesting that early intervention to support parents may help to prevent abuse. (Reder and Duncan, 1999; Reder et al, 1993).

how do we identify child abuse
How do we Identify Child Abuse?

Many studies have sought to find the foolproof check list. Whilst the studies have identified factors which may increase the risk of abuse occurring, none of these characteristics are predictive.

A family may have on one more of these characteristics and abuse not take place.

Likewise a family may not have any of these characteristics and abuse occurs.

At best these can aid practitioners to identify families who are in need of additional support.

The following lists identify characteristics a child, parent, and social situation which may contribute to abuse occurring.

(Adapted from DH (2006) McKears et al (2005) Robotham (2006)

the child
The Child

Pre term infant

Low birth weight

Difficult feeder

Required time in Special care

Wrong gender


Younger children more likely to be physically abused

Older children more likely to be sexually abused

Munro, 2007; McKears et al, 2005

the parents
The Parents


Lone parent families

Low educational attainment

Low stress threshold

Substance dependent

Mental or physical health needs

Previously abused themselves

Lack of family support


Socially excluded

Munro, 2007; McKears et al, 2005

the social setting
The Social Setting

Poor housing



No social support mechanisms

Discriminatory environment – e.g. racial discrimination.

Munro, 2007; McKears et al, 2005

additional factors which compound child parental and social characteristics
Additional Factors which Compound Child, Parental and Social Characteristics

Where more than one factor is present.

When factors are present over a long period of time (chronicity)

Where the effect of factors on the family is more pronounced (severity)

Caution - Some families may meet several of the criteria highlighted in previous slides but are still able to provide a nurturing and stimulating parental environment for their children.

Munro, 2007; McKears et al, 2005


A number of key documents outline frameworks and strategies to enable identification and offer support to safeguard children in need and children in need of protection e.g:

Framework for the assessment of Children in Need and their Families (DfES, DoH, HO 2000)

Every Child Matters (DfES 2004)

Working Together to Safeguard Children. A guide to inter-agency working to safeguard and promote the welfare of children (HM Gov 2006),

assessment framework
Assessment Framework

DOMAIN 1: Infant, Child & Young Person’s Development

Physical and emotional development, and whether this is age appropriate.

Health and well being.

Ability to identify, which includes their self esteem.

Ability to self care and develop independence, and whether this is age appropriate and/or encouraged within any limitations such as disability.

Social presentation, including their family and social relationships.

Ability for learning, including cognitive reasoning, problem solving, participation, education, employment, progress & achievement of their aspirations.

DOMAIN 2: Parenting Capacity of Main Carers

Ability to provide basic material needs, such as food, clothing and shelter.

Ability to respond to the child’s changing needs over time.

Capacity to meet key psychological needs such as emotional warmth, guidance and provision of consistent boundaries.

Gray (2002) adds that assessment should also consider the role of the father/father figure (rather than assume a female as carer view). Where one parent does not live with the child, the role that parent will take should also be assessed and agreed. The relationship between parents and the impact of that on the child should also be considered.

DfES, HO, DoH, 2000 Framework of Assessment of Children in Need and Their Families

DOMAIN 3: Family and Environmental Factors

Social integration – poor social integration has been linked with child protection concerns. We know that families who have access to support, whether from the immediate or wider family or from strong social support are less likely to experience adverse health and educational outcomes (Ghate and Hazel, 2002).

Socio-economic factors including employment, housing and income.

Coping mechanisms when faced with adversity/stress.

Relationships with siblings.

Wider family contacts – the child may have positive contacts with members of the extended family or with adults in their local community, which can help mitigate the effects of adverse influences within the home e.g. poverty, abuse or violence.

Family history and functioning – some families have a long history of dysfunction over several generations, and this increases the risk to the child.

DfES, HO, DoH, 2000 Framework of Assessment of Children in Need and Their Families

assessment process
Assessment Process

The assessment process should:

Gather and record information systematically, outlining the strengths and challenges within the family.

Check accuracy of information with parents and child (if appropriate).

Where there are differences in perspective of the information, this should be recorded.

Identify the vulnerabilities of, and protective influences available to, the child and family.

Identify the impact of the current situation on the child.

Identify and utilise a ‘common language’ between agencies and professionals who work with children to ensure the needs of the child are understood and that there is a shared view of what is in the child’s best interest and a joint commitment to improve the child’s outcome.

skills of assessment
Skills of Assessment

Observation – appearance & behaviour tells a story – appropriate clothing for the weather? Child under or over weight? Child interacts with strangers and is stranger aware?

Listening skills – does the story match your observations? Check the meaning of words used to avoid misunderstandings. Child and/or parent may disclose their fears and concerns

Questioning skills – use of open questions, allow time for story to be told.

Knowledge of child development:

Is the child’s behaviour what you would expect for that age group?

Is he/she developmentally delayed (under stimulated?) or demonstrating behaviour beyond his/her years? (sexualised behaviour, or child is parenting younger siblings, or child may be primary carer for disabled parent)


Objective measurements

Weight, height (plotted on centile chart)

Condition of skin

Bruises – position on body, colour

Injuries (old or new) – position

Laboratory findings – eg sexually transmitted infections, pregnancy

safeguarding continuum
Safeguarding Continuum