Protecting children and young people: The responsibilities of all doctors

Principles for protecting children and young people


The following principles should guide all doctors who are concerned about the safety or welfare of a child or young person.

  1. All children and young people have a right to be protected from abuse and neglect – all doctors have a duty to act on any concerns they have about the safety or welfare of a child or young person.
  2. All doctors must consider the needs and well-being of children and young people – this includes doctors who treat adult patients.
  3. Children and young people are individuals with rights – doctors must not unfairly discriminate against a child or young person for any reason.12 
  4. Children and young people have a right to be involved in their own care – this includes the right to receive information that is appropriate to their maturity and understanding, the right to be heard and the right to be involved in major decisions about them in line with their developing capacity (see the advice on assessing capacity in appendix 1 to this guidance).
  5. Decisions made about children and young people must be made in their best interests – the factors to be considered when assessing best interests are set out in appendix 2.
  6. Children, young people and their families have a right to receive confidential medical care and advice – but this must not prevent doctors from sharing information if this is necessary to protect children and young people from abuse or neglect.
  7. Decisions about child protection are best made with others – consulting with colleagues and other agencies that have appropriate expertise will protect and promote the best interests of children and young people.
  8. Doctors must be competent and work within their competence to deal with child protection issues13  – doctors must keep up to date with best practice through training that is appropriate to their role. Doctors must get advice from a named or designated professional or a lead clinician or, if they are not available, an experienced colleague if they are not sure how to meet their responsibilities to children and young people.14 

The Equality Act 2010 specifies nine protected characteristics that cannot be used as a reason to treat people unfairly. These are age, disability, sex, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, and sexual orientation.


For guidance on competency see the intercollegiate report on safeguarding children and young people.


In England, Northern Ireland and Wales, designated and named professionals have specific roles and responsibilities for protecting children and young people. In Scotland, the lead clinician carries out this role. When we refer to an ‘experienced colleague’ in this guidance, we mean a colleague who has experience in making decisions about the safety and welfare of children and young people but is not a named or designated professional or a lead clinician.