Book Chapter

Safeguarding children: A public health imperative


All children and young people have a right to be safeguarded and their welfare promoted.  In its broadest sense ‘safeguarding’ encompasses a wide spectrum of activity to enable every child to have the best outcomes (HM Government, 2018).  It includes the prevention of impairment of children’s health and development, the maximization of children’s potential through stimulation, play and education, protection from disease via immunisation, prevention of harm from accidents, through to protection from abuse, neglect and exploitation.  The terms ‘early help’, ‘safeguarding’, ‘vulnerable children’, ‘child(ren) in need’ and ‘child protection’ will be used throughout the chapter as these reflect terms used in current practice.  Identification of child welfare needs, through services that are developed from sound public health principles, is of paramount importance for the wellbeing of all children in our society.  Themes will be developed through the chapter to illustrate the public health basis of safeguarding work and its significance to health inequalities and childhood outcomes.  These themes will be examined within the context of current policy developments and contemporary community public health practice. Policy and the discourse pertaining to child welfare has altered dramatically over the last four decades.  In the 1980’s and early 1990’s the concept of ‘protecting children’ came to the fore with much work centered around the child and family.  There was a shift in emphasis to one of protection, from the narrower historical one traditionally associated with child abuse.  “Child protection was not only concerned with protecting children from danger but also protecting the privacy of the family from unwarrantable state interventions” (Parton 2006 p 36) with an emphasis on state agencies increasingly working in partnership with parents and carers.  Following publication of the Children Act (2004) the discourse shifted again, reflecting changes in law and policy to that of safeguarding and promoting children and young people’s welfare.  The focus on safeguarding reflects a much broader focus and as well as protection, encompasses prevention and an emphasis on all children’s safety, not just those in need and suffering, or at risk of harm.  In recent years there has been increasing interest in contextual safeguarding as an approach to understanding young people’s experiences of harm beyond their families (Firmin, 2017a; 2017b; HM Government, 2018).


Appleton, Jane V.
Harrison J
Mumby-Croft K

Oxford Brookes departments

Department of Sport, Health Sciences and Social Work
Department of Nursing


Year: Not yet published.

All rights reserved.

Related resources

This RADAR resource is Part of Community Public Health in Policy and Practice: a Sourcebook (3rd ed.) [ISBN: 9780702079443] / edited by Sarah Cowley and Karen Whittaker.