Policy briefing

Safeguarding guidelines for protection of children and young people

RCN publishes updated guidance for safeguarding children and young people

RCN publishes updated guidance for safeguarding children and young people


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Essential information

All healthcare staff have a responsibility to safeguard and promote children and young people’s welfare. Staff should know what to do if they have concerns about safeguarding and child protection issues.

Healthcare staff are also expected to cooperate with other agencies to protect children and young people from self harm.

What’s new?

Updated safeguarding guidance for healthcare staff responsible for the care and protection of children and young people has been published by the Royal College of Nursing on behalf of 22 contributing organisations.

The guidance sets out minimum training requirements, however it is not meant to replace arrangements between commissioners, providers or NHS organisations and their employers.

The latest document has been updated to include changes to legislation and statutory guidance in England and now includes educational logs to enable individuals to record their learning and form a passport for those who move on to new jobs or other organisations.

Implications for nurses

The document sets out five levels of competence and give examples of groups that fall within each of these. Each level develops the competencies, knowledge and skills of the proceeding levels in the framework.

All five levels indicate that nurses must know what to do if there is a concern involving safeguarding with a child or a family, should know the referral procedure or seek safeguarding advice.

Level 3 specifically stated that practice nurses should be:

  • Able to recognise that severe mental health difficulties in pregnancy and postpartum can adversely affect parenting capacity, with potential long-term consequences for children.
  • Able to recognise that severe postnatal depression might adversely affect maternal attunement to her infant that, without specific intervention will give rise to maternal-infant attachment difficulties and child maltreatment.
  • Able to recognise that severe postnatal depression and other mental health difficulties might be the result of adverse childhood experiences and ongoing domestic violence and abuse.

Health visitors and family nurses should be:

  • Able to recognise that severe mental health difficulties in pregnancy and postpartum can adversely affect parenting capacity, with potential long-term consequences for children.
  • Able to recognise that severe postnatal depression might adversely affect maternal attunement to her infant that, without specific intervention will give rise to maternal-infant attachment difficulties and child maltreatment.
  • Able to recognise that severe postnatal depression and other mental health difficulties might be the result of adverse childhood experiences and ongoing domestic violence and abuse

School nurses (including those working in independent schools) should be:

  • Able to identify children from vulnerable families that require ongoing support and intervention at, and beyond, school entry.
  • Able to identify those children at risk of mental health difficulties and to provide or signpost to targeted intervention.
  • Able to identify vulnerable children at risk of exclusion and recognise that they might have unrecognised physical and emotional needs, including being at risk for child maltreatment.

To access this RCN guidance click here

Expert opinion

Fiona Smith, RCN professional lead for children and young people’s nursing

‘Wherever staff are working they need to be able to recognise when someone in their care could be at risk and have the right skills and knowledge to take the appropriate action.

‘The importance of prevention must also not be overlooked and this guidance gives those caring for children and young people the vital learning needed to prevent harm as well as advice on what to do should something go wrong.

‘The learning draws from research and case studies as well as serious case reviews, to give individuals the expertise needed to offer the protection children and young people deserve.

‘We know from some high-profile cases in the past the consequences of not having the right skills and procedures in place, and the aim of this document is to give those looking after vulnerable children and young people the knowledge needed to prevent such tragedies from happening again.’

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