Key definitions




The Children and Young People (S) Act 2014 defines a child as being up to 18yrs of age (and a Young Person as having attained the age of 18yrs but still at school.)   Every child who requires child protection interventions will fall under the scope of this legislation and a Child’s Plan must be in place as a consequence.


However, it is possible that a child at risk of significant harm may fall under the scope of the Children and Young People (S) Act 2014 and the Adult Support and Protection (S) Act 2007.  In such cases practitioners should discuss with their line manager or child protection lead.      


For the purposes of Human Trafficking and Child Sexual Exploitation, a child is any person under 18 years of age.




A parent is defined as someone who is the genetic or adoptive mother or father of the child. A child may also have a parent by virtue of provisions in the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008. A mother has full parental rights and responsibilities.  A father has parental rights and responsibilities if he is or was married to the mother at the time of conception or subsequently, or if the child’s birth has been registered after the 4th of May 2006 and he has been registered as the father of the child on the child’s birth certificate.  A father may also acquire parental responsibilities or rights under the Children (Scotland) Act 1995by entering into a formal agreement with the mother or by making an application to the courts.





A carer is someone other than a parent who has rights/responsibilities for looking after a child or young person


A kinship carer can be a person who is related to the child or a person who is known to the child and with whom the child has a pre-existing relationship. 


Private fosteringrefers to children placed by private arrangement with persons who are not close relatives. 




  Harm/Significant Harm

‘Harm’ means the ill treatment or the impairment of the health or development of the child, including for example, impairment suffered as a result of seeing or hearing the ill treatment of another.  In this context, ‘development’ can mean physical, intellectual, emotional, social or behavioural development and ‘health’ can mean physical or mental health.


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 or young person takes priority and not simply the alleged abusive behaviour.  Significant harm is not defined in the Children’s (Scotland) Act 1995, however commentary from Professor K Norrie [1]states:


“harm will be significant only when it is clearly more serious than the potential trauma removal from the home will almost inevitably cause a child”.


The reactions, perceptions, wishes and feelings of the child must always be taken into account and given weight in accordance with their age and stage of development.


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 current or future 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;
  • the context in which a harmful incident or behaviour occurred;
  • any particular needs, such as medical condition, communication impairment or disability, that may affect the child’s development, make them more vulnerable to harm or influence the level and type of care provided by the family;
  • the capacity of parents or carers to meet adequately the child’s needs; and
  • the wider and environmental family context.




‘Risk is the likelihood or probability of a particular outcome given the presence of factors in a child or young person’s life.   ‘Risks’ may be deemed acceptable; they may also be reduced by parents/carers or through the early intervention of universal services.  At other times, a number of services may need to respond together as part of a co-ordinated intervention. Only where risks cause, or are likely to cause, significant harm to a child would a response under child protection be required.  Where a child has already been exposed to actual harm, assessment will mean looking at the extent to which they are at risk of repeated harm, the seriousness of that harm and the potential effects of continued exposure over time.


The definition of this is a complex matter requiring thorough assessment of all relevant issues.  It relies on high quality professional evaluation and judgement and a reflection on the relative significance of the harm in any specific circumstance.


For further information on child protection in specific circumstances please click on the following links:


Domestic abuse

Children and young people affected by parental substance misuse (CAPSM)

Disabled children and young people

Hostile/non-engaging parents and carers/practitioners safety

Children and young people experiencing or affected by mental health problems

Children and young people who display harmful or problematic sexual behaviour

Female Genital Mutilation

Honour based violence and forced marriage

Fabricated or induced illness

Sudden unexpected death in infants and children

Underage Sexual Activity


Historical child abuse

Missing children and young runaways

Child trafficking

Online and mobile phone child safety

Children young people who place themselves at risk

Adults who hold a position of trust

Abusers living in same household as child

Abuse by organised networks or multiple abusers

Ritual abuse

Child Sexual Exploitation


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