Children to be placed on at-risk register before they're even born

Unborn babies are to be given greater protection from the threat of abuse, under national guidance unveiled by the Scottish Government.

The measures could see unborn babies placed on the child protection register, where they are identified as being at risk, children's minister Adam Ingram said yesterday.

Changes cover new areas of practice, including keeping children safe online and child trafficking.

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The new advice is aimed at social workers, police, health professionals and those working with children and replaces previous guidance dating back to 1998.

Mr Ingram said: "There is no more important role for us all then keeping our children and young people safe and well.

"That's why we have introduced a raft of changes to strengthen Scotland's child protection procedures, including the introduction of robust, multi-agency inspections to drive up standards and the creation of a national centre of child protection expertise at Stirling University."

The improved protection for unborn babies will also ensure that any information about that child is shared between local council areas if the mother moves before birth.

The changes follow a major review of child protection procedures in Scotland.

Mr Ingram said it "marks a further important step forward in improving the protection of our most vulnerable children, including those yet to be born.

"It will improve the way all professionals and organisations - health, social work and the police - work together to give children and young people the protection they need from the start."

The issue has come into focus in recent years after high-profile cases such as the death of Dundee toddler Brandon Muir who was killed by his mother's boyfriend in 2008.

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An independent report into the death ruled there were weaknesses in inter-agency workings, but did say it could not have been predicted.

The changes also say that child trafficking can be difficult to identify, but "timely" action is important because of the risk of children being quickly moved.

Children and youngsters must also understand the risks that internet and mobile phones can pose, particularly in areas such as social networking and potential exposure to cyber-bullying.

"Practitioners and carers need to support young people to use the internet and mobile technology responsibly," the report says.

The range of organisations and professionals responsible for child protection has also been expanded, including those dealing primarily with adults.New national timescales for child protection case conferences should be met in all but exceptional circumstances, the guidance adds.

Michelle Miller, president of the Association of Directors of Social Work, said the guidance would bring "additional clarity" to the expectations on all services responsible for the protection of children.

Martin Crewe, director of Barnardo's Scotland, hailed it as an "important milestone". He added: "Voluntary organisations, including Barnardo's Scotland, were actively engaged in developing it and we welcome the recognition that all agencies, including the voluntary sector, must work together to improve support for children at risk of harm."