Responding to concerns

Concerns about a child can arise in a number of ways, e.g. an accumulation of concerns, a single significant incident, reports from the child themselves, observation of child/parent interaction or information from a relative or a member of the public.


The child may be living with or affected by:


  • Problematic alcohol and/or drug use
  • Mental health / illness
  • Disability
  • Domestic abuse
  • Neglect
  • Physical, sexual or emotional abuse


There may be signs which cause concerns and could be an indication of a child being abused neglected or exploited.  The child may:


  • Have unexplained bruising or bruising in an unusual place
  • Appear afraid, quiet or withdrawn
  • Be afraid to go home
  • Appear hungry, tired or unkempt
  • Be left unattended or unsupervised
  • Have too much responsibility for their age
  • Be acting out in a sexually inappropriate way
  • Be misusing drugs or alcohol


Not all children who are abused or neglected will display these signs and equally a child may display some of these signs and symptoms for other reasons.


All staff who work and/or come into contact with children and their families have a role to play in child protection.  That role will range from identifying and sharing concerns about a child or young person to making an active contribution to joint decision-making and/or providing direct support to the child or young person and their family. 


All forms of child abuse involve elements of power imbalance, exploitation, and the absence of true consent, whether they concern acts of commission or acts of omission.  The abuse of children and young people can take many forms; children and young people can be subjected to more than one form of abuse at a time; and different children and young people in a family may be abused in different ways.


The following are the 13 areas of concern identified by Scottish Government for the recording and classification of abuse.  Although these are presented as discrete definitions, in practice there can be overlap and interaction between areas of concern, and the abuse experienced by a child or young person may not always affected by just one factor.  Children and young people may be assessed and registered as at risk due to more than one area of concern at any time and concerns which create risk may change over time. 


  1. Domestic Abuse
  2. Parental Alcohol Misuse
  3. Parental Drug Misuse
  4. Non-Engaging Family
  5. Child Affected by Parental Mental Health Problems
  6. Child Placing Themselves At Risk
  7. Sexual Abuse
  8. Child Exploitation
  9. Physical Abuse
  10. Emotional Abuse
  11. Physical Neglect
  12. Child Sexual Exploitation
  13. Other Concern


The GIRFECapproach stresses the importance of understanding risks and needs within a national practice framework of the child’s whole world and well-being.  Each child has the right to be Safe, Healthy, Achieving, Nurtured, Active, Respected, Responsible and Included (SHANARRI wellbeing indicators, UNCRC Article 12).


Anonymous Notification of Concern


As with any child protection notification, anonymous allegations will be treated seriously and investigated appropriately.  Anyone receiving an anonymous telephone call about a concern for the wellbeing of a child should try to obtain the caller's details.  If this is impossible, full details of the allegation/concern should be recorded carefully in writing.  Callers should be encouraged to be as specific as possible.


No anonymous caller should be discouraged from sharing the information he/she has about a child, nor should any pressure be applied that could lead to the caller refusing to provide information.  The protection of children is paramount and it is more important to secure information that may protect children than to identify an anonymous caller. 


Anyone who has reasonable cause to believe that a child requires compulsory measures of supervision may make a referral to the Children’s Reporter.  It is theReporter's responsibility to determine if further investigation of the child's circumstances is required and if so make such enquiries as deemed appropriate.


Emergency Protection


There are four possible means of protecting children in an emergency situation:


  1. Child Assessment Order (section 35 Children’s Hearing (Scotland) Act 2011)


  1. Child Protection Order (section 37 Children’s Hearing (Scotland) Act 2011)


  1. In exceptional circumstances if a Sherriff is not available children can be removed to a Place of Safety by a Justice of the Peace or Police Scotland (section 55 / 56 Children’s Hearing (Scotland) Act 2011)


  1. Exclusion Order (section 76-80 CSA 1995)   An Exclusion Order excludes an alleged abuser from the family home.  It has the effect of suspending the named person's right of occupancy to the family home.  It prevents the person from entering the home without the express permission of the Local Authority which applied for the Order.  An Exclusion Order can only be sought by a Local Authority and granted by a Sheriff.  The conditions to be met are much the same as a CPO however the additional safeguard the child is that it allows that “the Order would better safeguard the welfare of the child than removing the child from the family home”.


For any of the above to be granted, the condition of “significant harm” must be satisfied.   Since this term is not defined in the 2011 Act it will require professional judgements to be made by the applicant and, more crucially, by the Sheriff (or Justice) determining the application, to decide whether or not risk of immediate and significant harm is established.


initial Assessment


Responding to Initial Concerns


If a child is identified as being at ‘Significant Harm’ then this should be reported immediately to Social Work or Police Scotland.  These agencies will undertake an assessment and progress according to their internal guidance.  The use of the GIRFEC‘practice model’ and particularly the resilience matrix is a useful tool to apply when undertaking an initial assessment.



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