Suffolk Safeguarding Children Board

Significant Harm

The Children Act 1989 introduced the concept of ‘Significant Harm’ as the threshold that justifies compulsory intervention in family life in the best interests of children and gives local authorities a duty to make enquiries to decide whether they should take action to safeguard or promote the welfare of a child who is suffering, or is likely to suffer significant harm.

There are no absolute criteria to rely on when judging what constitutes Significant Harm. . Whether the harm or likely harm suffered by the child is significant is determined by comparing the child’s health or development with that which could reasonably be expected of a similar child. Professionals must also take account of the child’s reactions, and his/her perceptions and wishes and feelings, according to their age and understanding.

Under Section 31(9) of the Children Act 1989 as amended by the Adoption and Children Act 2002 the following terms are defined:

  • Harm means ill-treatment or the impairment of health or development including, for example, impairment suffered from seeing or hearing the ill-treatment of another
  • Development means physical, intellectual, emotional, social or behavioural development
  • Health means physical or mental health
  • Ill-treatment includes sexual abuse and forms of ill treatment which are not physical

Working Together 2013 states ‘Where information is gathered during an assessment (which may be very brief) results in the social worker suspecting that the child is suffering or likely to suffer significant harm, the local authority should hold a strategy discussion to enable it to decide, with other agencies, whether to initiate enquiries under section 47 of the Children Act 1989.’

Section 47 requires that if a local authority has ‘reasonable cause to suspect that a child who lives or is found in their area is suffering or likely to suffer significant harm’ the authority shall make, or cause to be made, such enquiries as they consider necessary.

What is Abuse and Neglect?

Abuse and neglect are forms of maltreatment of a child. Someone may abuse or neglect a child by inflicting harm, or by failing to act to prevent harm. Children may be abused in a family or in an institutional or community setting; by those known to them or, more rarely, by a stranger. A child may be abused by an adult or adults, or by another child or children. The primary responsibility for protection all children from abuse lie with their parents and carers. Categories of abuse often overlap and an abused child frequently suffers more than one form of abuse. Therefore everyone who works or has contact with children or pregnant women should be able to recognise and know how to act upon evidence that the health or development of a child ( or an unborn baby) is being or may be impaired, especially when s/he is suffering or at risk of suffering significant harm.

This page was updated on 21 June 2017 (2 days ago)

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