Young People's Zone

I am a child in need


Children’s Services have a duty (this means that they MUST do it) to make sure children are safe (the part of the law that says this is Section 47 Children Act 1989). This doesn’t just apply to children in care, it covers all children and young people – even those who have never spoken to Children’s Services before.

Not feeling safe at home can mean all sorts of things. It might include:

  • Being hit or physically hurt in some way, or being scared that this might happen
  • Seeing other people hurting each other (for example, if your Mum and Dad have really bad fights)
  • Being told that you are bad or horrible in such a way that really upsets you and makes it difficult for you to concentrate on other things
  • Someone touching you or doing things to you that you do not like (this might include an adult trying to kiss you or touching you in private places or asking you to have sex)
  • Having no-one to help you with you the things you need, like making sure you have enough food or clothes, or making sure you see a doctor if you are unwell

These are just examples and sadly, there are lots of ways that children can be harmed or made to feel unsafe. If something feels wrong to you, it is really important that you talk to someone who you trust about it (maybe a teacher or a family friend).  They can help you decide what to do next and they can even call Children’s Services for you to get you some help.

Once Children’s Services are told that you are feeling unsafe they must do something about it (the part of the law that says this is Section 47((1)a), Children Act 1989).  They have to ‘make enquiries’ and start an assessment to see exactly what is going on (the part of the law that says this is Paragraph 54, Working Together to Safeguard Children 2015). The assessment will involve talking to people - including you! – and doing visits to see how things are at home.  

The law says that Children’s Services must listen to you and take what you say seriously in their assessment and in deciding how to make sure that you can be kept safe (the part of the law that says this is section 47(5A) Children Act 1989). Children’s Services must act quickly if you need immediate protection (the part of the law that says this is Paragraph 61, Working Together to Safeguard Children 2015) although the assessment itself can take up to 45 working days to complete (that’s about two months).

Once Children’s Services have worked out what is going on, there are lots of different things they can do to try and make things better. It is hard to say exactly what will happen as every case is different but some common examples are:

  • Providing help to your Mum and/or Dad so they can care for you better and keep you safe
  • Seeing whether other people in your family might be able to help (like grandparents or aunts and uncles) and maybe even asking them to look after you for a while if that will help
  • Asking your parents to agree for you to go into care for a while (if you are really unsafe, Children’s Services can go to court to make this happen even if your parents don’t agree). This would mean that you would live with foster carers or possibly in a children’s home. 
  • If you are 16 or 17 you can ask to be accommodated under section 20 Children Act 1989 and you can live with foster carers, in a children’s home or somewhere independent.  For more information on this see the section 'I can't live at home any more but I will be homeless. Can I get help?'

There should be one named social worker who deals with all of this. They must speak to you about what you want and keep you updated about what is happening.

What can I do?

Be Prepared
Telling someone that you feel unsafe at home can be really daunting. Children worry about whether they will be believed and what will happen to them and their family after they tell. It is normal to worry but things will only get better if people know what is going on so that they can then help.

Try to think about someone that you trust who could support you in speaking up about what is going on. Sadly, many children feel unsafe at one time or another so adults like teachers, doctors, youth workers and social workers receive special training so that they can help in the best way possible. Choosing someone to tell is the first big step.

Talk to People
There are lots of different people you can talk to if you are feeling unsafe.

  • If you are worried you are going to be hurt and something needs to happen straight away to keep you safe, you can call the police. Just dial 999 and explain what is going on.
  • If you are not sure what to do and just want to talk to someone, you can call Childline on 0800 1111. The call will be free and you don’t even need to give your name. You can also chat to someone on-line if that is easier – go to Childline’s webpage at If you decide that you want help, Childline can contact Children’s Services for you.
  • The NSPCC is another charity that helps children who are feeling unsafe. They also have a free helpline for any adults who are worried about a child. If you decide to tell a trusted adult, they can call the NSPCC on 0808 800 5000 and they will tell them what they can do next.

Making a Complaint
Although you have the right to make a complaint if you feel that Children’s Services are not doing what they should to keep you safe, this might not be the best answer. Complaints can take a long time to resolve and if you are at risk of being harmed it is important that action is taken immediately. If you are unsafe and no-one is taking any action, you may want to contact an advocacy service or even a solicitor (see “Get Some Help” below.)

Get Some Help
If you are unsafe it is important that Children’s Services act quickly to protect you. If this isn’t happening, contacting your local advocacy service can help to get things resolved more quickly. You can find your local advocacy service by clicking here.

As your safety is so important, another option is to contact a solicitor. It is actually against the law to leave you in a situation where you are at risk of significant harm. If you want to speak to a solicitor, you can contact Coram Children’s Legal Centre on 0207 713 0089 for advice.

Did this page make you feel more confident about speaking out about your rights and entitlements?
Much less confidentLess confidentSameMore confidentMuch more confident