Photograph of children hiding under an umbrella
Resource Type Policy & Legislation

Child Protection

Getting it Right for Every Child (GIRFEC)

Designed to be threaded through all existing policy, practice, strategy and legislation affecting children, young people and their families, GIRFEC is founded on ten core components which can be applied in any setting and in any circumstance:

  • A focus on improving outcomes for children, young people and their families based on a shared understanding of wellbeing
  • A common approach to gaining consent and to sharing information where appropriate
  • An integral role for children, young people and families in assessment, planning and intervention
  • A co-ordinated and unified approach to identifying concerns, assessing needs, and agreeing actions and outcomes, based on the wellbeing indicators
  • Streamlined planning, assessment and decision-making processes that lead to the right help at the right time
  • Consistent high standards of co-operation, joint working and communication where more than one agency needs to be involved, locally and across Scotland
  • A Named Person for every child and young person, and a Lead Professional (where necessary) to co-ordinate and monitor multi-agency activity
  • Maximising the skilled workforce within universal services to address needs and risks as early as possible
  • A confident and competent workforce across all services for children, young people and their families
  • The capacity to share demographic, assessment, and planning information - including electronically - within and across agency boundaries

The wellbeing of children and young people is at the heart of GIRFEC. The approach uses eight areas of wellbeing, SHANARRI indicators, which represent the basic requirements for all children and young people to grow and develop and reach their full potential:

  • Safe
  • Healthy
  • Achieving
  • Nurtured
  • Active
  • Respected
  • Responsible
  • Included

The indicators are used to record observations, events and concerns and as an aid in putting together a child’s plan.

Other GIRFEC provisions

The Scottish Government has published statutory guidance on Part 3 (Children's Services Planning) of the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014, which provides local authorities and health boards, working in partnership with other public bodies, with information and advice about how they should exercise the functions conferred by the Act. The guidance notes that compliance with the duties will be monitored in part through joint inspections of children’s services. Included in the appendices is information on the joint inspection process and the Care Inspectorate’s 10 Steps to Successful Children’s Services Planning.

Child Protection Improvement Programme

The Scottish Government set up the Child Protection Improvement Programme in response to issues identified in the Brock report and the Care Inspectorate's 2011-2014 triennial review. Following year-long activity, two reports were published in Spring 2017:

  • the Child Protection Improvement Programme report setting out 35 Actions covering children’s hearings; leadership and workforce development; inspections of children’s services; neglect; data and evidence; child sexual exploitation; child internet safety; and trafficking
  • Protecting Scotland’s Children and Young People: It is Still Everyone’s Job – the Child Protection Systems Review, which makes 12 recommendations covering Initial/Significant Case Reviews, Child Protection Committees, the Child Protection Register, and matters of leadership, governance and accountability.

The then Minister for Childcare and Early Years made a ministerial statement in March 2017, confirming the Scottish Government would implement a number of the recommendations.

Protecting Scotland's Children National Policy and Child Abuse Prevention Activity followed in March 2018, setting out the Scottish Government's vision for the protection of Scotland's children and young people.

A National Child Protection Leadership Group, chaired by the Minister for Children and Early Years, was established to support, strengthen and improve activity on child protection. The group oversees implementation of the recommendations of the Child Protection Improvement Programme Report and reviews arrangements for child protection across current planning and service delivery processes. The group reports to and is accountable to Scottish Ministers.

National Action Plan on Child Sexual Exploitation

In November 2014 the Scottish Government published a National Action Plan to tackle Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE). The Action Plan was co-produced by the Scottish Government and a national Ministerial Working Group (MWG) on CSE made up of a range of experts, including Police Scotland, Children in Scotland, the Care Inspectorate, Aberlour, Barnardo's and the Crown Office.

The publication followed an inquiry into child sexual exploitation by the Public Petitions Committee, which was established after Barnardo’s Scotland raised a petition on the issue in 2011. The inquiry examined the nature and extent of CSE in Scotland, and the effectiveness of current measures aimed at tackling, preventing and disrupting CSE. The Committee published its report on tackling child sexual exploitation in January 2014, including the overarching recommendation that the Scottish Government should develop a national strategy for tackling CSE.

The Action Plan was developed with specific areas of focus for tackling CSE: prevention of abuse (with specific measures for dealing with particularly vulnerable children); disruption and prosecution of offenders through legislation; and supporting children and young people affected by CSE.

Several updates progress against actions identified in the plan have been published by the Scottish Government. 

National Guidance for Child Protection in Scotland

National Guidance for Child Protection in Scotland is the Scottish Government's national framework for agencies and practitioners at local level to understand and agree processes for working together to safeguard and promote the welfare of children. It sets out expectations for strategic planning of services to protect children and young people and highlights key responsibilities for services and organisations, both individual and shared. It also includes guidance for practitioners on specific areas of practice and key issues in child protection.

In early 2013 a steering group, chaired by the Director of child protection body WithScotland Beth Smith, ran a consultation on a 'refresh' of the guidance, which was originally published in 2010. The updated guidance was published in May 2014 and it is referenced in the Scottish Government’s Child Protection Improvement Programme report published in March 2017.

Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry

statutory public inquiry to examine historical cases of abuse of children in care in Scotland was established on 1 October 2015. The Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry has the power to compel witnesses to appear and give evidence and runs in parallel and complements the hearings of the National Confidential Forum. The Centre for Excellence for Looked After Children in Scotland (CELCIS) is providing ongoing logistical support, input and advice throughout the process. The full text of the Inquiry Terms of Reference is available here.

The Rt Hon Lady Anne Smith was appointed Chair in July 2016. The Deputy First Minister made a Ministerial Statement to the Scottish Parliament to announce that the Inquiry terms of reference would be amended to make clear its scope includes the abuse of children in care wherever that occurred, though it will not be extended further to include all allegations of abuse in non-residential settings.

In June 2018, the Deputy First Minister announced that the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry will be given more time to complete its work and ensure survivors are heard. The Scottish Government agreed to a request from the Chair to remove the requirement from the terms of reference to report to Ministers within four years. The Inquiry will now report as soon as reasonably practicable.

The Limitation (Childhood Abuse) (Scotland) Bill was introduced by the Scottish Government in November 2016 and received Royal Assent in 2017. The Act removes the three-year time limit on bringing civil cases to court, also known as a time-bar, and remove the limitation period for actions of damages in respect of personal injuries resulting from childhood abuse.

Children (Equal Protection from Assault) (Scotland) Act

A Member's Bill was proposed by Green MSP John Finnie in May 2017 which, if enacted, would give children equal protection from assault by prohibiting the physical punishment of children by parents and others caring for or in charge of children. 

The Children (Equal Protection from Assault) (Scotland) Bill was introduced on 6 September 2018 and the Scottish Parliament passed the legislation in September 2019. 

The Children (Equal Protection from Assault) (Scotland) Act 2019 changed the law and removed the “reasonable chastisement” defence from 7 November 2020. This means that all forms of physical punishment of children will be against the law in Scotland, and children will have the same legal protection from assault as adults.

The Scottish Government published Children (Equal Protection from Assault (Scotland) Bill: framework for statutory bodies which explains the effect of the Children (Equal Protection from Assault) (Scotland) Act 2019 and establishes a framework for implementation of the Act for statutory bodies in Scotland.


Children and Young People (Information Sharing) (Scotland) Bill

In a speech to Parliament in March 2017, the Deputy First Minister John Swinney announced plans for a Scottish Government Bill to include new provisions around information sharing so as to comply with all data, confidentiality and human rights legislation. The Children and Young People (Information Sharing) (Scotland) Bill was introduced on 19 June 2017. Under the draft proposals, Ministers were under a duty to issue a code of practice about the provision of information. In November 2017, the Scottish Government announced that an independent GIRFEC Practice Development Panel was to be established to ensure the Code of Practice, published alongside the Children and Young People (Information Sharing) (Scotland) Bill, is “workable, comprehensive and user friendly”. The Scottish Parliament also approved a motion to remove the Stage 1 deadline for the Bill. 

In September 2019, the Scottish Government announced that the Named Person and Child’s Plan proposals will no longer go ahead as planned. Parts 4 and 5 of the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 will be repealed. Education Secretary John Swinney confirmed that existing voluntary schemes that provide a point of contact for support will continue under current legal powers, where councils and health boards wish to provide them and parents want to use them. The Scottish Government is to develop practical guidance and support to give professionals confidence to share wellbeing concerns in a compliant way, and to help families understand their rights under existing law.

Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Scotland) Act

The Scottish Government's Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Scotland) Bill was passed by MSPs in October 2015. The Act received Royal Assent in November 2015 and introduced a range of provisions, including a new single offence of trafficking for all forms of exploitation for both adults and children and those who seek to exploit others.

The Act also increases the maximum penalty for offenders to life imprisonment, commits ministers to publishing and updating a human trafficking strategy, and places a duty on ministers to ensure there is a guardian service available for both child victims and children who are at risk of and vulnerable to becoming victims.

The final version of the Human Trafficking and Exploitation Strategy was published in May 2017. The Scottish Government reports on the Strategy’s progress on an annual basis.

Disclosure (Scotland) Bill

A Bill designed to “deliver a range of positive and proportionate reforms to the disclosure regime in Scotland” has been introduced to Parliament by the Scottish Government. Key provisions in the proposed Disclosure (Scotland) Bill include:

  • reducing four main levels of disclosure (basic, standard, enhanced and PVG) to two (Level 1 and Level 2), with the ten different types of disclosure certificate offered under the current structure reduced to four
  • a mandatory PVG Scheme for people working with vulnerable groups
  • replacing the concept of ‘doing regulated work’ with a list of core activities giving rise to ‘regulated roles’ that trigger mandatory PVG membership
  • providing clarity on disclosure arrangements for individuals directly employing a PVG scheme member, e.g. personal care
  • providing new referral powers for Police Scotland, councils and integration joint boards.

The Scottish Parliament began consideration of the draft legislation, led by the Education and Skills Committee, in September 2019. 

Children (Scotland) Bill

The Scottish Government has published the draft Children (Scotland) Bill, which is designed to strengthen the family law system and to ensure the best interests of children are at the centre of contact and residence cases. The Bill includes a range of measures and aims to ensure the views of the child are heard in contact and residence cases, and further protect victims of domestic abuse and their children. 

The Justice Committee launched a call for evidence on the Bill.


Significant Case Reviews

A significant case review (SCR) is a multi-agency process for establishing the facts of, and learning lessons from, a situation where a child has died or been significantly harmed.  Significant case reviews should focus on learning and reflect on day-to-day practices and the systems within which those practices operate. 

The overarching objectives of significant reviews are outlined in National Guidance for Child Protection Committees Conducting a Significant Case Review, published by the Scottish Government in 2015.  They are fundamentally to establish whether there are lessons to be learned about how better to protect children and young people and ensure they get the help they need when they need it in the future.

The Scottish Government has announced plans to consult on and publish revised National Guidance for Child Protection and develop a new approach to reviewing significant protection cases by April 2021.

Listed below are SCRs carried out in Scotland which have been published in the last 18 months:

Perth and Kinross 

West Lothian 

South Lanarkshire 

Glasgow city

East and Midlothian 


North Ayrshire 


If you have any questions about the SCRs, please contact the relevant local authority area following the links above. 

Listed below are national reports and research findings

Learning From Significant Case Reviews in Scotland: A retrospective review of relevant reports completed in the period between 1 April 2012 and 31 March 2015

Learning from Significant Case Reviews in Scotland 2019 

Child safeguarding practice review panel: practice guidance Apr 2019 

Pathways to harm, pathways to protection: a triennial analysis of serious case reviews 2011 to 2014, Final report, May 2016 

Relevant Links

Useful Links

Further reading

UNCRC (Incorporation) (Scotland) Bill

The UNCRC (Incorporation) Bill, introduced on 2 September, to further embed the rights of children and young people as enshrined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Bill will incorporate the UNCRC into domestic law so that children and their representatives can vindicate their rights set out in international law in domestic courts. It will aim to ensure there is a “proactive culture of everyday accountability” for children’s rights across public services in Scotland. The Bill will aim to ensure that public authorities take proactive steps to ensure compliance with children’s rights in their decision making and service delivery.

National strategies and frameworks

A library of publications by the Scottish Government and other national bodies setting out relevant policy developments or direction

Government Legislation

Legislation which may be relevant to you and your service

Health and Social Care Standards

The Health and Social Care Standards set out what we should expect when using health, social care or social work services in Scotland

Latest Children and Young People Bulletin

A weekly bulletin produced by our policy team providing an update on the key developments concerning children and young people

Children and Young People Bulletin: 3 - 9 April 2021

Children and Young People Bulletin: 3 - 9 April 2021

Children and Young People Bulletin: 3 - 9 April 2021