Unless specified, the information relates England only. If you live in Wales, Scotland, or Northern Ireland, go to the NSPCC website.

Child protection laws

In England, the main child protection laws are the Children Act 1989 and the Children Act 2004.

The 1989 Act places a duty on local authorities to safeguard and promote the welfare of children in need in their area. This Act also sets out the steps that local authorities must take if they have reasonable cause to suspect that a child in their area is suffering, or is likely to suffer, significant harm.

The 2004 Act aims to promote co-operation between a number of local agencies for the purposes of improving the overall well-being of children. The Act also places a duty on local agencies to safeguard and promote the welfare of children, and brings together responsibility for all local authority social care and education functions for children under local Directors of Children’s Services and Lead Members for Children’s Services. Child protection in England is the overall responsibility of the Department for Education (DfE).

Human rights are the basic standards that people need to live in dignity. All human beings are entitled to enjoy human rights. Human rights exist to make sure that we are treated properly and fairly, and given the freedom to develop to our full potential, and to promote our wellbeing.

In addition to the rights that are available to all people, there are also specific children’s rights. Children need special rights because they need additional protection that adults don’t.

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), is an international human rights treaty that grants all children and young people (aged 17 and under) a comprehensive set of rights. It came into force in the UK on 15 January 1992.

There are children’s rights that are particularly relevant when their parents separate:

  • Children have the right to know and be cared for by both their parents.
  • Where children are separated from one or both of their parents, children have the right to contact with the parent they are separated from, unless this is not in the best interests of the child.

Worried about child protection issues? Contact Childline or the NSPCC helpline

Childline is a free helpline run by the NSPCC. If you’re worried about a child, contact the NSPCC on 0808 800 5000 to speak to an NSPCC counsellor – the free helpline is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. You can also email help@nspcc.org.uk.

Even if you are unsure, don’t wait to take action. You can contact Childline to discuss oncerns about any child, whether it’s your own child, a family member, neighbour or a child in the community.

Childline will offer advice and support and can take action on your behalf if a child is at risk.

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