This House of Commons Library Briefing Paper gives a very broad overview of the legislative framework for child protection in England.

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Children Act 1989

The current child protection system in England is grounded in the Children Act 1989, as amended. The Act establishes a number of key principles, including

  • the concept of parental responsibility.
  • the paramount nature of the child’s welfare when a matter under the Act is before a court.
  • that children are best looked after by their family unless intervention in family life is essential.

The Act places a general duty on local authorities to promote and safeguard the welfare of children in need in their area by providing a range of services appropriate to those children’s needs. It additionally sets out what a local authority must do when it has reasonable cause to suspect that a child in its area is suffering, or is likely to suffer significant harm.

Section 31 of the Act sets out the circumstances under which a court may make an order placing a child in the care of the local authority (a care order). When determining whether or not to make such an order, a court must have regard to the ‘welfare checklist’ set out in section 1(3) of the Act. The Act also sets out the functions of local authorities in relation to looked after children, including a duty under section 22(3) to safeguard and promote the welfare of children in their care.

Children Act 2004

Following Lord Lamming’s inquiry into the murder of Victoria Climbié, the Children Act 2004 made a number of key changes to the child protection framework. Further changes were made by the Children and Social Work Act 2017, which amended the 2004 Act in a number of areas.

Among other things, the 2004 Act, as amended:

  • places a duty on local authorities in England to make arrangements to promote co-operation with key partners and local agencies, with a view to improving the well-being of children in the authority’s area.
  • places a duty on a range of agencies, including local authorities, the police and health services, to ensure that they consider the need to safeguard and promote the welfare of children when carrying out their functions.
  • establishes the roles and responsibilities of safeguarding partners (the local authority, NHS Clinical Commissioning Groups and the police), which are responsible for determining how safeguarding arrangements should work in their area.

Statutory guidance

The statutory guidance, Working Together to Safeguard Children, sets out how individuals and organisations should work together to safeguard and promote the welfare of children and young people in accordance with the relevant legislation. It was last updated in July 2018 to reflect changes brought about by the Children and Social Work Act 2017.

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