Child Protection Process

It’s everyone’s job to make sure I’m aright

Most children and young people are living in safe and nurturing environments, cared for by their supportive families, carers and communities.

Children and young people are supported by universal services such as GP’s, health visitors, nursery workers and teachers to help them to reach their full potential.

However, some children and families need additional support and at times families experience challenges and difficulties and extra help is needed, sometimes for short periods and for others over a longer period.

In Scotland, support is offered to children, young people and their families or carers within the context of our national approach, Getting it right for every child to ensure help is available when it is needed.

For a few children and young people there can be additional risks that mean there is concerns about their safety and wellbeing. In this situation children and families will need a more intensive level of support and assistance. 

Working with families, there are many professionals whose job it is to ensure that children and young people are protected such as social workers, police officers, teachers, health visitors and Children’s Reporters.

All professionals working in children's and adult services have a role and responsibility to ensure all our children and young people are safe and protected.

Communities also have a role to look out for children and young people who they may be worried about and let services such as police or social work know if they have any concerns.

It is everyone’s responsibility to make sure all our children and young people are safe and protected from harm and take action if we are worried or notice something that causes concern. We all need to be curious about the wellbeing of children and young people.

Child Protection Process

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

Abuse or neglect need not have taken place in order for action to be taken to protect a child or young person; action can be taken when there is a likelihood or risk of significant harm from abuse or neglect whether physical, emotional or sexual.

All forms of child abuse and neglect have an adverse impact on a child or young person’s health and wellbeing. The impact can be immediate, or it can build up over time, leaving children and young people with vulnerabilities and challenges throughout their lives.

This is why it is important to try and prevent child abuse and neglect from happening at all and, where it does occur, why it is best to identify it early and respond quickly to help the child or young person. This will minimise harm both immediately and in the longer term.

When there is a concern that a child or young person might be at risk of significant harm from abuse or neglect, a child protection case conference will take place to allow information about needs, risks and protective factors to be discussed by everyone involved, including family members.

The child protection conference will be informed by a multi-agency child protection assessment which will have taken place to assess the needs and risks in relation to the child and what support might be required to meet these needs and reduce any risks.

If it is agreed at a child protection conference that a child or young person is at risk of significant harm from abuse or neglect, and the family need support from professional services in order to reduce the risk of harm, the child or young person’s name will be placed on the child protection register and they will have a Child Protection Plan which sets out what everyone will do to help.

When a child or young person is placed on the child protection register, the individual risk/concern factors which affect them are recorded and their Child Protection Plan is developed around these.

Everyone involved in supporting the family will meet regularly to make sure that the plan is working and that risk is reducing.

This is called a core group meeting. Once the child or young person is no longer in need of a Child Protection Plan, their name is removed from the child protection register at a review child protection case conference.

The family will still receive support from professional services for as long as this is needed.


Use the tabs below to learn more about the Child Protection Process

1. Child protection case conference

1. Child protection case conference

Child protection case conferences are formal multi-agency meetings that enable services and agencies to share information, assessments and chronologies in circumstances where there are suspicions or reports of child abuse and neglect. Parents and carers, and children and young people themselves attend these meetings and are supported to take a full part in discussions. 

The primary purpose of a child protection case conference is to consider whether the child or young person – including an unborn child – is at risk of significant harm and if so, to review an existing Child’s Plan and/or consider a multi-agency action plan to reduce the risk of significant harm.

Everyone who attends a child protection case conference will be asked for their views and all have a responsibility to contribute to the decision as to whether or not to place the child’s name on the Child Protection Register.

There are four types of child protection case conference:

  • Initial
  • Pre-birth
  • Review
  • Transfer

The purpose of an initial child protection case conference is to allow representatives from across services, along with the family, to share information about a child or young person for whom there are child protection concerns, jointly assess that information and the risk to the child or young person and determine whether there is a likelihood of significant harm through abuse or neglect that needs to be addressed through a multi-agency Child Protection Plan.

The initial child protection conference should also consider whether the child is safe to remain at home and whether a referral to the Children’s Reporter is required.

The purpose of a pre-birth child protection conference is to decide whether serious professional concerns exist about the likelihood of harm through abuse or neglect of an unborn child when they are born. The participants need to prepare an inter-agency plan in advance of the child’s birth.

Review child protection conferences are held three or six monthly once a child or young person has been placed on the child protection register. Participants at the review child protection case conference will review the progress of the Child Protection Plan, consider all new information available and decide whether the child’s name should remain on the Child Protection Register. Where a child is no longer considered to be at risk of significant harm, their name should be removed from the Child Protection Register by the review child protection case conference.

The child and their family/carers may still require ongoing support and this should be managed through the Child’s Plan.

A transfer child protection case conference will take place when a family moves permanently to another local authority area and the child or young person currently has a Child Protection Plan in place.

This meeting allows for full information sharing and discussion with the new group of professionals supporting the family in order that the Child Protection Plan can continue to be fully implemented to reduce risk to the child or young person.

2. Child protection assessment

2. Child protection assessment

When a concern about a child or young person is shared with social services or the police, a range of activity takes place in order to assess whether the child or young person may be at risk of significant harm.

Understanding the concept of risk is critical to child protection.

Services in Scotland who contribute to assessments of risk for children and young people are supported in this complex work by the National Risk Framework to Support the Assessment of Children and Young People.

3. Child protection register

3. Child protection register

All local authorities are responsible for maintaining a central register of all children and young people – including unborn children – who are the subject of an inter-agency Child Protection Plan. This is called the Child Protection Register. 

It is a list of children and young people in a local area where professionals from the different services involved with the family have assessed that the child or young person is, or is likely to be, at risk of significant harm.

The child protection register is confidential.

Professionals use it to better support and protect children and young people they are working with.

The decision to place a child or young person’s name on the child protection register (or to remove their name from the register) can only be made at a child protection conference.

4. Child protection plan

4. Child protection plan

A Child Protection Plan is a written plan that sets out what everyone will do to support the family and reduce the risk to the child or young person.

It contains the anticipated outcomes for the child or young person along with the responsibilities of everyone involved, including the parent or carer.

5. Individual risk/concern factors

5. Individual risk/concern factors

The individual risk/concern factors which are recorded for children and young people on the child protection register are drawn from a list set out by the Scottish Government:

  • Domestic abuse
  • Parental alcohol misuse
  • Parental drug misuse
  • Non-engaging family
  • Parental mental health problems
  • Children placing themselves at risk
  • Sexual abuse
  • Physical abuse
  • Child sexual exploitation
  • Emotional abuse
  • Neglect
  • Forced or dangerous labour
  • Trafficking
  • Other

These risk and concern factors are used to plan how best to protect the individual child or young person and meet their needs.

The Scottish Government collects information annually about risk and concern factors in order to better understand the needs of the population. View data on children and young people looked after, on the child protection register and in secure care.

Local areas will use information about risk and concern factors to develop, plan and deliver services to children, young people and their families.

6. Core group

6. Core group

This is the group of people (professionals and parents/carers) directly involved in working together to reduce the risk to the child or young person.

7. Review child protection case conference

7. Review child protection case conference

Review child protection conferences are held three or six monthly once a child or young person has been placed on the child protection register.

Participants at the review child protection case conference will review the progress of the Child Protection Plan, consider all new information available and decide whether the child’s name should remain on the Child Protection Register.

Where a child is no longer considered to be at risk of significant harm, their name should be removed from the Child Protection Register by the review child protection case conference.

The child and their family/carers may still require ongoing support and this should be managed through the Child’s Plan.


Child Protection Process diagram

The process of responding to child protection concerns in diagrammatic form can be represented in the following way. However, it should be noted that at any stage, the process may be stopped if it is felt emergency measures are required to protect the child or no further response under child protection is necessary.

Download a PDF of the Child Protection Process diagram