What is it?

The Scottish Government recently released the new National Guidance for Child Protection in Scotland, the first update since the previous guidance in 2014.

Icon of scottish flag and sheet with tick on it

The non-statutory guidance describes the responsibilities and expectations for how safeguarding professionals and agencies should work together with parents, families, and communities to prevent and protect children from harm caused by abuse and neglect in Scotland.

Compared to the 2014 version, the updated guidance has a strengthened focus on children’s rights, resilience building and collaboration with families and services.

Spanning over 250 pages, the guidance received updates to every section, containing advice and best practice on issues such as poverty, bullying and child sexual abuse. It also includes the addition of Part 2B: ‘Approach to multi-agency assessment in child protection’.

We reviewed some of sections that are relevant to online safety, you can access the full guidance below at the end.

Figure 1: Expectations from children who may be involved in child

protection processes

A circle diagram called a children's charter

Responses to Image Sharing

The guidance sets out information on how staff can respond to ‘youth-produced sexual imagery’ or ‘image sharing’ incidents (4.243).

  • Staff must follow relevant agency protocols and avoid viewing, downloading, or sharing any imagery related to children.

  • Staff must not say or do anything to blame or shame the children involved.

  • They must also explain to the children involved that the imagery must be reported and reassure them that they will receive help and support.

Additionally, the guidance states that reporting to Police Scotland or to social care for consideration will ‘normally be the recommended response’ to ensure the concern is placed in context and that proportionate, supportive steps are taken to support the child (4.244).

Children’s Rights Online

The guidance acknowledges that the online world has now changed in how it presents risks to children. It sets out the rights of children and young people to be protected from harmful material online:

“Article 17(e) of the UNCRC expects public authorities to develop appropriate guidelines to protect children from information and material injurious to his or her wellbeing” (section 4.234)


The guidelines recommend that education around online sexual harm must be embedded in school curricula to support young people to develop digital resilience in the online world.

Before spending time online, children should have access to education that supports their understanding of online sexual harm (4.240).

Young white girl has her hand in the air to raise a question in the classroom



Professionals involved in assessing and planning should develop a knowledge of online harms and how families are using technology. This includes how technology can be used to inflict harm, e.g., spyware which can be used abusively to coerce and control (4.242).

Why Does It Matter?

The changes to the national guidance for Scotland come at a time when the country prepares to incorporate the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) into Scottish Law. It also comes as Scotland works toward delivering on ‘The Promise’ action plan. This action plan was the result of a 2020 Independent Care Review into the experiences of over 5,500 children and adults who have lived in, worked in, or otherwise dealt with the Scottish care system.

The new guidance also reflects the integration with the Getting it Right for Every Child (GIRFEC) framework and uses the core components to respond to the needs of children in Scotland.

The inclusion of guidance around online safeguarding for children in the Guidance is a welcome and significant step, giving validity to the importance of protecting children online. It will aid safeguarding professionals across Scottish agencies to deal with safeguarding issues and encourages multi-agency approaches that are fundamental focused on protecting and empowering children and young people in Scotland.

Further Resources

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Pause, Think and Plan

Guidance on how to talk to the children in your care about online risks.
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