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Globally, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child is the key human rights treaty to protect children. It’s a comprehensive set of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights.

Article 19 of the convention states that governments must do all they can to ensure children are protected while in the care of parents or anyone else responsible for their care. This includes protection from all forms of:

  • physical or mental violence
  • injury or abuse
  • neglect or negligent treatment
  • maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse.

In England, the Children Act 1989 and the Children Act 2004 (among others) place various duties on local authorities, but also a range of other public bodies, to proactively safeguard children.

All charities in England that work with or support children should follow the statutory guidance on working together to safeguard children. This imposes duties on organisations to take a coordinated approach to ensure children are effectively safeguarded. The guidance places minimum expectations on an organisation’s governance and processes which should reflect a commitment to safeguard and promote the welfare of children.

Charities may also have specific legal duties imposed on them. These duties could be imposed in a contract (for example, if a charity is delivering statutory services on behalf of a public body), or through regulation (for example, if a charity is carrying out regulated activities such as childcare, education or children’s social care).

There are three key areas of law to be aware of if you or your organisation is responsible for safeguarding children or young people.

  • Public bodies and charities have specific safeguarding duties if they have functions relating to children. Similar requirements are often placed on charities and voluntary organisations that deliver functions on their behalf.
  • Organisations providing certain services for children, such as schools, childcare providers, or health or social care services, must be registered with specific regulators and adhere to relevant safeguarding regulations.
  • Individuals have specific duties when caring for a child, and there are specific offences that protect children from misconduct by those caring for them. These duties and offences apply to individual members of staff or volunteers.

This page was last reviewed for accuracy on 15 June 2022

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