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There is no one legal definition of safeguarding. There are certain specific meanings in specific situations. 

The Charity Commission defines safeguarding as the range of measures to protect people in a charity, or those it comes into contact with, from abuse and maltreatment of any kind. This includes the Charity’s beneficiaries, staff, volunteers and those who come into contact with the charity

Safeguarding children

Safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children is defined for the purposes of this guidance 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
  • taking action to enable all children to have the best outcomes.

 Learn more in the government’s guidance Working Together to Safeguard Children

Safeguarding adults

The government defines this as:

'protecting an adult’s right to live in safety, free from abuse and neglect'

It is about people and organisations working together to prevent and stop both the risks and experience of abuse or neglect, while at the same time making sure that the adult’s wellbeing is promoted including, where appropriate, having regard to their views, wishes, feelings and beliefs in deciding on any action.

Safeguarding adults board (SAB)

Every local authority has a safeguarding adults board, which aims to help and protect individuals:

  • who it believes to have care and support needs
  • who are at risk of neglect and abuse and are unable to protect themselves
  • to promote their wellbeing.

It oversees and leads adult safeguarding across the local area and will be interested in a range of matters that contribute to the prevention of abuse and neglect. Members include the local authority, the clinical commissioning group (CCG) and the local police.

Safeguarding adults reviews (SARs)

Safeguarding adults boards commission a review when an adult dies as a result of abuse or neglect (whether known or suspected), or when an adult has experienced serious abuse or neglect and there is concern that partner agencies could have worked more effectively to protect the adult. They aim to promote effective learning and improvement action to prevent future deaths or serious harm occurring again. 

Safeguarding partners

See local safeguarding arrangements

Sarah’s Law

See child sex offender disclosure scheme

Section 8 order 

When courts are making decisions about who a child should live with and have contact with they will make an order for these arrangements called a section 8 order. There are different types of orders that the court can give depending on the situation including child arrangement orders, prohibited steps orders, and specific issues orders.


If an adult at risk is living in such a way that they are disregarding their basic needs and therefore putting their health, safety, or well-being at risk this is defined as self-neglect.

Sexual abuse

Forcing or enticing a child or adult at risk to take part in sexual activities, not necessarily involving a high level of violence, whether or not they are aware of what is happening. The activities may involve physical contact (such as rape and assault) but also include non-contact activities, such as:

  • involving them in looking at, or in the production of, sexual images
  • watching sexual activities
  • indecent exposure
  • encouraging them to behave in sexually inappropriate ways
  • grooming a child in preparation for abuse.

For adults at risk of harm, this includes sexual acts to which the adult has not consented or was pressured into consenting. Children under 16 cannot consent to sexual acts.

Significant harm

Significant harm includes any ill-treatment which results in physical, intellectual, social, behavioural, or emotional damage to an individual. It can include forms of abuse which are not physical. It differs from ‘harm’ as it must be deemed ‘considerable, noteworthy, or important’ by the court and requires investigation and intervention by social services. If there are court proceedings the local authority would need to assess the child involved alongside a similar child to ascertain if the harm is significant.

Social worker

Social workers are professionals who aim to improve people’s lives by helping with social and interpersonal difficulties, promoting human rights and wellbeing. Social workers protect children and adults with support needs from harm.


There is no strict legal definition of 'stalking'.

However, experts agree that:

‘it is a long term pattern of unwanted and persistent pursuit and intrusive behaviour directed by one person to another that engenders fear and distress in the victim’.


This term is often used interchangeably with the term ‘victim’ to describe a person who has been the subject of abuse, neglect, violence, or exploitation. It is important to note that although the term ‘victim’ is often used in legal or medical settings, social support sectors prefer the term ‘survivor’. According to the organisation Bond:

‘The term survivor infers the individual has resilience and with support, will recover from the incident’.


Whenever a safeguarding incident occurs, the most suitable approach to take is the ‘survivor-centred approach’. This means that the individual who endured the safeguarding incident is the person who then directs the response. The organisation has a responsibility to respect the survivor and respond to their needs.

Page last edited Oct 03, 2019

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