Bitesize Guides Q - Z

Racial and religious harassment

The experience of racism/and or religious harassment is likely to affect the responses of the child and family to assessment and enquiry processes. All professionals involved with families who may be experiencing or who have, in the past, experienced racial or religious harassment should take account of race, culture and religion and the individual needs of the child and family.

Failure to protect a child from racism (whether it originates from within or outside of the family) or take action when racism is being alleged, is likely to undermine all other efforts being made to promote the welfare of the child.

Children and families may suffer racial and/or religious harassment sufficient in frequency and seriousness to undermine parenting capacity. In responding to concerns about children in the family, full account needs to be taken of this context and every reasonable effort made to end the harassment.

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Residential care

A child in residential care may be vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. The welfare and safety of children living in residential care should be promoted and provided for at a minimum, in line with the relevant standards.


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Self harm and suicide

Any child or young person who self-harms or expresses thoughts about this or about suicide has to be taken seriously and appropriate help and intervention offered at that point.

The difference between suicide and deliberate self-harm is not always so clear. For example, deliberate self-harm can be precursor to suicide; also children and young people who deliberately self-harm may kill themselves by accident.

The City of York Self Harm and Suicidal Behaviour booklet (sometimes known as the ‘Pink Book’) is intended for use by practitioners working in a wide range of settings such as schools and youth or community groups.

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Sexually active under-age children and young people

All sexual contact with a child under the age of 16 is a criminal offence, irrespective of the age of both children. However, it is recognised that many young people will have a healthy interest in sex and sexual relationships and many will engage in sexual activity.

Safeguarding children includes the provision of sexual health education and support, whilst protecting the child or young person from inappropriate or abusive sexual contact. It is therefore essential that children and young people are not deterred from accessing sexual health services and that a balance is struck that promotes a child or young person’s welfare.

All young people, regardless of gender, who are believed to be engaged in, or planning to be engaged in, sexual activity should have their needs for health education, support and/or protection assessed by the agency that has contact with them.

Children under the age of 13 are considered of insufficient age to give consent to sexual activity. In all cases where a known sexually active young person is under the age of 13, there must be a discussion with the organisation’s child protection lead.  Sexual activity involving a child under the age of 13 years should always be considered to be of serious concern with a presumption that a referral should be made to Children and Family Services and/or the police. However, consideration should still given to what is in the best interest of the child.

Sexually active young people between the ages of 14 and 16 should have their needs assessed by the agency which has contact with them to establish whether they are at risk of harm. Discussion with the child protection lead is not mandatory and will depend on the level of risk/need assessed by those working with the young person.

Although the age of consent remains at 16, it is not intended that the law should be used to prosecute mutually agreed teenage sexual activity between two young people of a similar age, unless it involves abuse or exploitation.  However, the younger the person, the greater the concern about abuse or exploitation. It is therefore expected that local policies will reflect the need for social care practitioners to use their discretion in weighing up the circumstances of each individual case to determine whether a formal notification to the police is necessary.

When dealing with any child, especially children under the age of 13, it is recommended that those providing sexual health advice explore the nature of the child’s relationship in order to ascertain the child’s own wishes and feelings. On occasions children may experience ambivalence, feeling obliged (short of coercion), to engage in sexual activity for example as a result of peer pressure, a desire to conform or a belief that such behaviour equates to affection.

Sharing information with parents

Decisions to share information with parents will be taken using professional judgement and in consultation with the Child Protection procedures. Decisions will be based on the child’s age, maturity, and their ability to appreciate what is involved in terms of the implications and risks to themselves. This should be coupled with the parents’ ability and commitment to protect the young person. Given the responsibility that parents have for the conduct and welfare of their children, professionals should encourage the young person, at all points, to share information with their parents where ever safe to do so.

Fraser guidelines (also known as the Gillick competence)

It is considered good practice for workers to follow the Fraser guidelines when discussing personal or sexual matters with a young person under 16. The Fraser guidelines give guidance to doctors, social care and health professionals in England and Wales on providing advice and treatment to young people under 16 years of age. These hold that sexual health services can be offered without parental consent providing that:

The young person understands the advice that is being given.

The young person cannot be persuaded to inform or seek support from their parents, and will not allow the worker to inform the parents that contraceptive advice is being given.

The young person is likely to begin or continue to have sexual intercourse without contraception.

The young person's physical or mental health is likely to suffer unless they receive contraceptive advice or treatment.

It is in the young person's best interest to receive contraceptive advice and treatment without parental consent.

Useful Websites

Fraser guidelines and Gillick competence information.  

The Brook Street Sexual Behaviours Traffic Light Tool can also help professionals working with children and young people to identify which sexual behaviours are potentially harmful and which represent healthy sexual development and to respond appropriately to sexual behaviours. 

Harmful Sexual Behaviour

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"Shaken baby syndrome”

Various terms are in use to describe babies or young children with a possible inflicted head or brain injury. These include:

  • Shaken Baby Syndrome
  • Inflicted Traumatic Brain Injury
  • Battered Child Syndrome
  • Inflicted Head Trauma
  • Shaken Impact Syndrome
  • Shaking Injury
  • Whiplash Infant Syndrome
  • Whiplash-shaking injury

The above terms refer to the internal head injuries a baby or young child sustains from being violently shaken or thrown. This can cause a range of serious injuries to a baby or small child, which are often fatal. These injuries are mainly to the head but there may also be injuries to the body.
From a medical, social care and judicial perspective, the main interest is the consequence of any non-accidental injuries in terms of treatment, investigation, identifying who may be responsible and safeguarding the child and any siblings from further harm.


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Spirit possession and religious beliefs

Whilst the number of known cases of child abuse linked to ‘possession’ or ‘witchcraft’ or other spiritual beliefs is small, children involved can suffer considerable harm.

Belief in witchcraft, spirit possession and other forms of the supernatural can lead to children being blamed for bad luck, and subsequently abused. Fear of the supernatural is also known to be used to make children comply with being trafficked for domestic slavery or sexual exploitation.

A parent or carer who views a child as being ‘possessed’ or a parent who is involved in ‘witchcraft’ can abuse a child in many different ways, including attempts exorcise the child which can involve severe abuse.

Staff in all agencies should be alert to indicators of child abuse linked to spiritual or religious beliefs and speak to their safeguarding lead and/or contact Children’s Social Care for advice.

See also ‘Child abuse linked to faith or belief: national action plan’ DfE 2012.

The National FGM Centre has information on Child Abuse Linked to Faith or Belief (CALFB)


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Surrogacy is legal in the UK, with only reasonable expenses being payable to the surrogate mother. Surrogacy contracts are not enforced by UK law, even if a deal has been signed with the surrogate and her expenses paid.  It is illegal to advertise for a surrogate in the UK. Most people have a family member or friend willing to carry the child; others join a surrogacy organisation.

A professional in any agency may become aware of the surrogacy arrangement and have concerns about (among others):

  • The suitability of the intended parents to care for the child;
  • Conflict between the adults in a surrogacy arrangement e.g. that the surrogate mother is under pressure to relinquish the child against her will  and / or
  • The amount being paid for the child.

In these circumstances, all staff have a responsibility to safeguard and promote the welfare of the unborn or newborn child, and professionals should follow the normal safeguarding  procedures.

Surrogacy: legal rights of parents and surrogates in UK law.


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Therapy for child witnesses

The decision about the need for therapeutic support (separate from formal court preparation of a child witness) should always be considered when a child has been abused and is a witness in criminal proceedings. Where a child is a witness in criminal proceedings and therapy is being considered for that child or young person, contact should be made with the police officer in charge of the case before therapy commences. This will allow the Crown Prosecution Service to be contacted to ascertain whether the therapy will have any bearing on the criminal trial. It should however be stressed that the child's needs for therapy will always be paramount even if this is likely to prejudice the criminal case.

While some forms of therapy may undermine the evidence given by the witness, this will not automatically be the case. An assessment may be needed to inform a decision on whether a child with special needs (e.g. disabled children and those with learning disabilities, hearing and speech impairments etc) can, with the appropriate assistance, be a competent witness.

Detailed guidance issued by Home Office, The Crown Prosecution Service and the Department of Health.


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(Also see Modern Slavery)

Trafficking is defined as ‘the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons (including children) by means of threat, force or coercion for the purpose of sexual or commercial sexual exploitation or domestic servitude’ (United Nations).

Children may be trafficked into the UK from abroad, but children can also be trafficked from one part of the UK to another.

There are many signs that a child may or may not have been trafficked.  Among them are:

  • The child looks intimidated and behaves in a way that does not correspond with behaviour typical of children of his/her age.
  • The child has been brought from another country and/or has false documents or no passport or travel documents.
  • The child is with an adult, but it is unclear what their relationship is, or there are concerns about the relationship between parent and child.
  • The child is orphaned or separated from family members.
  • Unrelated or new children are found at the same address.
  • The child rarely leaves the house, has no freedom of movement and no time for playing.
  • The child eats apart from “family” members.
  • The child is engaged in work that is not suitable for children, or is seen in inappropriate places such as brothels and factories.
  • The child gives a prepared story which is very similar to stories given by other children.
  • Multiple use of the same address may indicate that this is a sorting house;

Trafficking is a rapidly growing global problem and is a violation of human rights affecting all communities. There is evidence that large numbers of children and young people, from different parts of the world, are subject to such exploitation within the UK or that the UK is used as a step in the process, with children and young people arriving here and at a later point being trafficked to another part of the world.

If any suspicions are raised that a child or young person is being trafficked, or at risk of this, immediate action to safeguard the child or young person is required. This includes urgent liaison with the police.

A York and North Yorkshire leaflet telling you what modern slavery is and what you can do to stop it.

Further information on modern slavery and human trafficking can be found on the National Crime Agency website including information about the National Referral Mechanism.

Further resources and guidance from the Hope for Justice organisation.


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Unborn babies

Circumstances when there may be safeguarding concerns about an unborn baby might include:

  • Concerns regarding the mother’s ability to protect the child.
  • Where alcohol or substance abuse is thought to be affecting the health of the expected baby, and is one concern amongst others;
  • Where the expectant parent(s) are very young and a dual assessment of their own needs as well as their ability to meet the baby’s needs is required;
  • Where a previous child in the family has been removed because they have suffered harm or been at risk of significant harm;
  • Where a person who has been convicted of an offence against a child, or is believed by child protection professionals to have abused a child, has joined the family;
  • Where there are acute professional concerns regarding parenting capacity, particularly where the parents have either severe mental health problems or learning disabilities;
  • Where the child is believed to be at risk of significant harm due to domestic violence

If a practitioner has concerns about an unborn baby, wherever possible, the practitioner should share their concerns with the prospective parent(s) unless this action may place the unborn child, or someone else, at risk. 
In any of the above circumstances, or where there are other factors which meet the criteria for safeguarding concern, the practitioner must discuss this with their organisation’s safeguarding lead and with Children’s Social Care.

Full Pre-birth Assessment Guidance is available on the CYSCB website. 


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Every employee working with children has a duty and responsibility to disclose any concerns about the conduct of another professional. Whistle blowing will be seen as a protective disclosure and, if made in good faith, should not result in any form of detriment to the worker.

If the concerns relate to a person or persons in the same agency, that agency's reporting procedures must be followed.

If the concerns relate to a person or persons from another agency, the person raising the concerns must contact a senior manager within his/her own agency, and a decision be made as to how the concern will be addressed, and by whom. It is the responsibility of the senior manager within the agency of the person raising the concern to ensure that a response is received from the agency to which the concern relates.

The person raising the concern and his/her senior manager must maintain a written record of events which give rise to the concern and of subsequent actions and responses.


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Young carers

A young carer is a person under the age of 18 who has a responsibility for caring, on a regular basis, for a relative or friend who has an illness or disability. This is usually a parent, grandparent, sometimes a sibling or, occasionally, a friend. This can be primary or secondary caring and can lead to a variety of losses for the young carer. Young carers can experience:

  • Low level of school attendance;
  • Some educational difficulties;
  • Social isolation;
  • Conflict between loyalty to their family and their wish to have their own needs met;
  • High levels of anxiety;
  • High level of demands leading to tiredness and loss of concentration.

Professionals in all agencies should be alert to a child being a young carer. Where a young carer is identified, professionals should consider the child as a “child in need”.

There are circumstances in which a young carer can be suffering, or at risk of suffering, significant harm through emotional abuse and/or neglect. This should be discussed with the organisation’s safeguarding lead and consultation with Children’s Social Care made. Where a young carer or parent does not give consent to the enquiry with Children's Social Care, but it is still considered necessary to refer, both the child and parent should be kept informed of all decisions made and offered support throughout.

Where a young carer is caring for another child, each individual child should be considered to be a child in need.

York Carers Centre offers services and information about and for young carers.   A government report on the lives of young carers has been published. 


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