What is safeguarding

all people should be valued, supported and protected from harm

Every human being has a value and dignity which we as Catholics acknowledge as coming directly from God’s creation of male and female in his own image and likeness. We believe therefore that all people should be valued, supported and protected from harm.

In the Catholic Church this is demonstrated by the provision of carefully planned activities for children, young people and adults; supporting families under stress; caring for those hurt by abuse in the past; ministering to and managing those who have caused harm.

It is because of these varied ministries that we need to take all reasonable steps to provide a safe environment for all which promotes and supports their wellbeing. This will include carefully selecting and appointing those who work with children, young people or adults at risk and responding robustly where concerns arise.

Safeguarding Children

The term ‘child’ is used to include all children and young people up to the age of 18; that is, someone who has not yet had their 18th birthday.

Safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children is defined as:

  • Protecting children from maltreatment;
  • Preventing impairment of children’s health and development;
  • Ensuring that children are growing up with safe and effective care;
  • Enabling children to have optimum life chances and enter adulthood successfully.

The main Government guidance setting out duties and responsibilities for all agencies and organisations who work with Children and Families is ‘Working Together to Safeguard Children’ which was published by the Department for Education in 2015; it provides guidance under the Children Acts 1989 and 2004.

‘Working Together to Safeguard Children’ refers directly to Faith Communities and sets out the responsibilities and expectations of all churches and faith communities in safeguarding children and promoting their welfare.

It recognises that churches provide a wide range of services for children; and that religious leaders, staff and volunteers have an important role in safeguarding and supporting children and families.

Children may be in need of protection from abuse or maltreatment in their own home or in other environments including the church itself. Wherever a child is at risk or concerns are raised about a child, all adults have a duty to act to safeguard that child and promote his or her welfare.

The need to safeguard children is not confined to any particular age group or groups in the community and all concerns should be responded to equally, always bearing in mind that the welfare of the child is paramount.

In all research and in reviews where a child has died or been seriously injured as a result of abuse, the same messages to all organisations come back time and again – namely, the importance of adults responding promptly to concerns, listening to children with respect and most importantly, communicating effectively with one another within and between organisations and agencies.

All churches and faith communities are expected to have in place arrangements which include:

  • Procedures to respond to and report concerns
  • Codes of practice
  • Safe recruitment procedures

Child Protection

Is a part of safeguarding and refers to the activities undertaken to protect specific children who are suffering or are at risk of suffering ‘significant harm’.

Significant harm

‘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; and

‘Ill-treatment’ includes sexual abuse and forms of ill-treatment which are not physical.

More information about ‘significant harm’ and types of abuse can be found in the Information Sheet ‘Abuse of Children’ on the CSAS website.

Safeguarding Adults

In the same way arrangements must be in place to respond to concerns about any form of abuse or maltreatment of an adult at risk.

The Catholic Church in England and Wales is fully committed to:

  • Actively promoting the empowerment and well-being of adults through the church;
  • Recognising that everyone has the right to live their life free from violence, fear and abuse; and
  • Recognising that adults have the right to be protected from harm and exploitation.

All adults acting in the name of the Catholic Church in England and Wales have a responsibility to act and intervene when it appears that adults at risk need to be made safe from risk of abuse or maltreatment.

The Church is fully committed to working actively and constructively within the framework set out in the Care Act 2014, the Social Services and Wellbeing Wales Act 92014) and associated statutory and good practice guidance.

To achieve this, the Church will act in an open, transparent and accountable way in working in partnership with Adult Social Care Services, the Police, Health Agencies, Probation Providers and other relevant agencies to safeguard adults and assist in bringing to justice anyone who has committed an offence against an adult at risk.

Anyone who brings concerns or allegations to the notice of the Church will be responded to sensitively, respectfully and seriously. All concerns and allegations will be addressed using these national procedures and in a timely manner.

Statutory safeguarding duties apply to an adult who meets the following criteria:

  1. Has needs for care and support (whether or not a local authority is meeting any of these needs);
  2. Is experiencing, or is at risk of, abuse or neglect1 ; and
  3. As a result of these care and support needs, is unable to protect themselves from either the risk of, or the experience of abuse or neglect.

More information on abuse of adults can be found in other information sheets on the CSAS website.

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Abuse of Children

Many children, especially some of the most vulnerable children and those at greatest risk of social exclusion, will need early co-ordinated help services from health agencies such as GPs and health visiting, educational establishments such as schools and colleges, Children’s Centres, local authority children’s social care, the private, voluntary, community and independent sectors, including youth justice services. Some services will be provided as universal services whilst others may be more targeted to meet specific needs, whatever the circumstances of the child:

 All agencies and professionals should:

  • Be alert to potential indicators of abuse or neglect;
  • Be alert to the risks which individual abusers, or potential abusers, may pose to children;
  • Share and help to analyse information so that an assessment can be made of the child’s needs and circumstances;
  • Contribute to whatever actions are needed to safeguard and promote the child’s welfare;
  • Take part in regularly reviewing the outcomes for the child against specific plans;
  • Work co-operatively with parents, unless this is inconsistent with ensuring the child’s safety.

These procedures are based on the Working Together to Safeguard Children Guidance which sets out what should happen in any local area when a child or young person is believed to be in need of support. Effective safeguarding arrangements should aim to meet the following two key principles:

  • Safeguarding is everyone’s responsibility: for services to be effective, each individual and organisation should play their full part; and
  • A child-centred approach: for services to be effective, they should be based on a clear understanding of the needs and views of children.

Working Together to Safeguard Children defines Safeguarding as:

  • Protecting children from maltreatment;
  • Preventing impairment of children’s health or development;
  • Ensuring that children grow up in circumstances consistent with the provision of safe and effective care; and
  • Taking action to enable all children to have the best outcomes.

The Concept of Significant Harm Some children are in need because they are suffering, or likely to suffer, 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 (Section 47) to decide whether they should take action to safeguard or promote the welfare of a child who is suffering, or likely to suffer, significant harm.

Additionally, a Court may only make a Care Order or Supervision Order in respect of a child if it is satisfied that:

  • The child is suffering, or is likely to suffer, significant harm; and
  • The harm, or likelihood of harm, is attributable to a lack of adequate parental care or control (Section 31).

In addition, ‘harm’ is defined as the ill treatment or impairment of health and development. This definition was clarified in section 120 of the Adoption and Children Act 2002 (implemented on 31 January 2005) so that it may include ‘impairment suffered from seeing or hearing the ill treatment of another’ for example, where there are concerns of domestic violence and abuse.

There are no absolute criteria on which to rely when judging what constitutes significant harm. Consideration of the severity of ill-treatment may include the degree and the extent of physical harm, the duration and frequency of abuse and neglect, the extent of premeditation, and the presence or degree of threat, coercion, sadism and bizarre or unusual elements.

Each of these elements has been associated with more severe effects on the child, and/or relatively greater difficulty in helping the child overcome the adverse impact of the maltreatment.

Sometimes, a single traumatic event may constitute significant harm (e.g. a violent assault, suffocation or poisoning). More often, significant harm is a compilation of significant events, both acute and longstanding, which interrupt, change or damage the child’s physical and psychological development.

Some children live in family and social circumstances where their health and development are neglected. For them, it is the corrosiveness of long-term neglect, emotional, physical or sexual abuse that causes impairment to the extent of constituting significant harm.

Sometimes ‘significant harm’ refers to harm caused by one child to another (which may be a single event or a range of ill treatment), which is generally referred to as ‘peer on peer abuse.’

Definitions of Child Abuse and Neglect

The following definitions are based on those identified in Working Together to Safeguard Children and Keeping Children Safe in Education:


A form of maltreatment of a child. Somebody 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 others (e.g. via the internet). They may be abused by an adult or adults or another child or children.

Physical Abuse

Physical abuse may involve hitting, shaking, throwing, poisoning, burning or scalding, drowning, suffocating, or otherwise causing physical harm to a child. Physical harm may also be caused when a parent fabricates the symptoms of, or deliberately induces illness in a child;

Emotional Abuse

Emotional abuse is the persistent emotional maltreatment of a child such as to cause severe and persistent effects on the child’s emotional development, and may involve:

  • Conveying to children that they are worthless or unloved, inadequate, or valued only insofar as they meet the needs of another person;
  • Imposing age or developmentally inappropriate expectations on children. These may include interactions that are beyond the child’s developmental capability, as well as overprotection and limitation of exploration and learning, or preventing the child participating in normal social interaction;
  • Seeing or hearing the ill-treatment of another e.g. where there is domestic violence and abuse;
  • Serious bullying, causing children frequently to feel frightened or in danger;
  • Exploiting and corrupting children.

Some level of emotional abuse is involved in all types of maltreatment of a child, though it may occur alone.

Sexual Abuse

Sexual abuse involves forcing or enticing a child or young person to take part in sexual activities, not necessarily involving a high level of violence, whether or not the child is aware of what is happening. The activities may involve physical contact, including assault by penetration (e.g. rape or oral sex) or non-penetrative acts such as masturbation, kissing, rubbing and touching outside of clothing.

Sexual abuse includes non-contact activities, such as involving children in looking at, including online and with mobile phones, or in the production of, pornographic materials, watching sexual activities June 2019 or encouraging children to behave in sexually inappropriate ways or grooming a child in preparation for abuse (including via the internet). Sexual abuse is not solely perpetrated by adult males. Women can also commit acts of sexual abuse, as can other children.

In addition; Sexual abuse includes abuse of children through sexual exploitation. Penetrative sex where one of the partners is under the age of 16 is illegal, although prosecution of similar age, consenting partners is not usual. However, where a child is under the age of 13 it is classified as rape under s5 Sexual Offences Act 2003.


Neglect is the persistent failure to meet a child’s basic physical and/or psychological needs, likely to result in the serious impairment of the child’s health or development.

Neglect may occur during pregnancy as a result of maternal substance misuse, maternal mental ill health or learning difficulties or a cluster of such issues. Where there is domestic abuse and violence towards a carer, the needs of the child may be neglected.

Once a child is born, neglect may involve a parent failing to:

  • Provide adequate food, clothing and shelter (including exclusion from home or abandonment);
  • Protect a child from physical and emotional harm or danger;
  • Ensure adequate supervision (including the use of inadequate care-givers);
  • Ensure access to appropriate medical care or treatment.

It may also include neglect of, or unresponsiveness to, a child’s basic emotional, social and educational needs.

These definitions are used when determining significant harm and children can be affected by combinations of maltreatment and abuse, which can be impacted on by for example domestic violence and abuse in the household or a cluster of problems faced by the adults.

In addition, research analysing Serious Case Reviews has demonstrated a significant prevalence of domestic abuse in the history of families with children who are subject of Child Protection Plans. Children can be affected by seeing, hearing and living with domestic violence and abuse as well as being caught up in any incidents directly, whether to protect someone or as a target. It should also be noted that the age group of 16 and 17 year olds have been found in recent studies to be increasingly affected by domestic violence in their peer relationships.

It should therefore be considered in responding to concerns that the Home Office definition of domestic violence and abuse (2013) is as follows:

“Any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive or threatening behaviour, violence and abuse between those aged 16 or over, who are or have been intimate partners or family members regardless of gender and sexuality.

This can encompass, but is not limited to, the following types of abuse:

  • Psychological;
  • Physical;
  • Sexual;
  • Financial;
  • Emotional.

Controlling behaviour is: a range of acts designed to make a person subordinate and/or dependent by isolating them from sources of support, exploiting their resources and capacities for personal gain, depriving them of the means needed for independence, resistance and escape and regulating their everyday behaviour.

Coercive behaviour is: an act or a pattern of acts of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish, or frighten their victim.

Potential Risk of Harm to an Unborn Child

In some circumstances, agencies or individuals are able to anticipate the likelihood of significant harm with regard to an expected baby (e.g. where there is information known about domestic violence, parental substance misuse or mental ill health).

These concerns should be addressed as early as possible before the birth, so that a full assessment can be undertaken and support offered to enable the parent/s (wherever possible) to provide safe care to the baby.

There are also other types of abuse that you need to be aware of:

Online abuse – is any type of abuse that happens on the internet, across any device connected to the web (computers, mobile phones, tablets). Online abuse can happen anywhere online e.g. social media, text/messaging apps, emails, online chats, online gaming and live-streaming sites.

Grooming – which is when someone builds a relationship, trust and emotional connection with another person so that they can manipulate, exploit and abuse them.

Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) – which is a type of sexual abuse, where the child or young person is given things like gifts, drugs, money, status and affection in exchange for performing sexual activities. The child is often groomed into thinking they are in a loving and consensual relationship when they are being exploited. The child may trust their abuser and not understand that they are being abused.

Female Genital Mutilation – which is when a female’s genitals are deliberately altered or removed for non-medical reasons. It is also known as ‘cutting’ or ‘female circumcision’.

Bullying – which is behaviour that includes name calling, spreading rumours, hitting, pushing, undermining or threatening someone – behaviour that hurts someone else.

Cyberbullying – which is bullying that takes place online. Unlike bullying in the real world, online bullying can follow the person wherever they go via social networks, email, text etc.

You can visit www.nspcc.org.uk/what-is-child-abuse/types-of-abuse/ for more information about these types of abuse.

More information about ‘significant harm’ and types of abuse can be found in the Information Sheet ‘Abuse of Children’ on the CSAS website.

Adults at Risk

An adult is defined as ‘at risk’ or ‘vulnerable’ when they are in receipt of a ‘regulated activity’ in relation to vulnerable adults. It is important to recognise however that any adult can be subject to abuse and that they do not have to be defined as ‘vulnerable.’ Any adult could be subjected to domestic abuse; financial abuse; physical, emotional, sexual abuse etc. Within the Church context, it is important to recognise therefore that abuse can be perpetrated against adults who are not ‘vulnerable’ according to the statutory definition. Where these incidents of abuse are substantiated they should be dealt with either as a criminal matter (e.g. sexual assault) and/or misconduct with the Church disciplinary structure.

Definitions of Abuse

Physical Abuse

Including hitting, slapping, pushing, kicking, misuse of medication, restraint, or inappropriate sanctions.

Sexual Abuse

Including rape and sexual assault or sexual acts to which the vulnerable adult has not consented, or could not consent or was pressured into consenting.

Psychological Abuse

Including emotional abuse, threats of harm or abandonment, deprivation of contact, humiliation, blaming, controlling, intimidation, coercion, harassment, verbal abuse, isolation or withdrawal from services or supportive networks.

Financial or Material

Including theft, fraud, exploitation, pressure in connection with wills, property or inheritance or financial transactions, or the misuse or misappropriation of property, possessions or benefits.

Neglect and Acts of Omission

Including ignoring medical or physical care needs, failure to provide access to appropriate health, social care or educational services, the withholding of the necessities of life, such as medication, adequate nutrition and heating.

Discriminatory Abuse

Including racist, sexist, that based on a person’s disability, and other forms of harassment, slurs or similar treatment.

Any or all of these types of abuse may be perpetrated as the result of deliberate intent, negligence or ignorance.

Protecting those we care for:

Vulnerable adult(s) may be abused by a wide range of people, including relatives and family members, professional staff, paid care workers, volunteers, other service users, neighbours, friends and associates, people who deliberately exploit vulnerable people and strangers.

Applying these definitions to different circumstances may not always be easy. Many situations may involve combinations of these elements. If there is difficulty in defining a situation this should be discussed with the Safeguarding Co-ordinator / Advisor.

The CSAS Information sheet – What constitutes abuse and neglect in adults, can be downloaded here