Role of the Safeguarder

Below is a list of Frequently Asked Questions to help clarify the role of the Safeguarder and how they should perform this role when engaging with children and young people.

You can also download our Safeguarders information booklet, which provides information for children, young people and families to help them understand what a Safeguarder is and what they do.

When a child or young person is experiencing some difficult things in their life, they may have to be involved in a children’s hearing or court case. Sometimes a Safeguarder might be asked to help a Sheriff or Children’s Hearing Panel make a decision about what should happen next for a child or young person. 

A Safeguarder wants to learn about what is going on in a child or young person’s life to help make sure that any decisions that are made at the hearing or in court are what is best for the child or young person.

A Safeguarder is someone who protects a child or young person’s human rights, including making sure their best interests are protected

Best interests means that children enjoy all of the rights that are in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and that their wellbeing, growth and development are considered when adults are making decisions that will affect their lives.

Safeguarders are appointed when it is considered necessary to involve a person to safeguard the interests of the child in order to decide matters in relation to the child. A Safeguarder can be appointed by the Children’s Hearing Panel, a pre-hearing panel, or a Sheriff.

A request to appoint a Safeguarder is sent to the Safeguarders Panel Team and an allocation is made through a taxi-rank system to appoint the next available Safeguarder from the national Safeguarders Panel.

An appointment can happen at any point during the hearing, as long as matters are still being decided for the child. The Panel that appoints a Safeguarder must record the appointment and give the reasons for deciding that it was necessary for the interests of the child to appoint a Safeguarder.

Safeguarders are not always needed, but there are times when a Children's Hearing Panel or a Sheriff might ask for a Safeguarder to get involved. There are a few reasons that a Panel or Sheriff might think a Safeguarder is needed. These reasons might be:

  • to have someone who is independent look at what is going on, 
  • to make sure they have all the important information they need, especially children and young people’s views
  • to help work around lots of disagreement between different people about what should happen for a child or young person, or
  • to help make sure that children's rights and best interests are protected during the process.

Safeguarders are people who have been recruited and assessed to be on the national Safeguarders Panel. Safeguarders come from different backgrounds and have different personal and professional experience. To be a Safeguarder, they must show that they have the skills and knowledge required for the role. 

After they have demonstrated that they have the right skills and knowledge, Scottish Ministers appoint Safeguarders to the national Safeguarder Panel. When a child or young person needs a Safeguarder, a person who is on the panel can be appointed to them.

When someone becomes a Safeguarder, they agree to follow national standards to make sure they do the best job they can. The way they speak to and communicate with children, young people and their families should follow these standards. 

Safeguarders should:

  • understand children’s rights and best interests 
  • be respectful of everyone and their rights
  • be empathetic, adaptive, and self-reflective
  • be on time and available
  • answer any questions you might have
  • explain things so that you understand what's happening
  • listen to what you have to say
  • give clear reasons for their views and recommendations
  • keep information confidential
  • keep you updated 
  • let you know what they are going to tell the Children's Panel or Sheriff

To read the full Practice Standards, click here.

  • They will meet and speak to the child or young person. 
  • They will speak to people around the child or young person, like parents, carers, teachers, social workers, or others who are seen as important to the child or young person.
  • They will read through the information that the Children's Hearing has about the child or young person and their situation. 
  • They will share what they think is in the child or young person's best interests and maybe make recommendations about what they think should be decided by the Children's Hearings Panel. This will be written as a report, and this will be shared with the child or young person if they wish to see it.  
  • They will attend hearings to share their views. 
  • They will keep all the information they get confidential and only share it with those people who have permission to see it.

A Safeguarder will only be involved until there is a decision made by the Hearing or the Court. This could be a very short period of time – as little as 35L days – or a slightly longer period of time, but that depends on what happens in the hearing. While the Safeguarder is involved, a child or young person may speak with them a few times, only once, or maybe not at all. 

However, unlike other adults working with a child or young person, a Safeguarder’s relationship with that child or young person will always be short-term and come to an end when a decision is made by the Panel or the Sheriff.

The place where a Safeguarder meets with a child or young person will be different for everyone. It’s important that it is a place where the child or young person feels comfortable, safe, and able to express themselves. It could be at home, at school or at a community space, or it also may be a virtual or telephone meeting.

According to the UNCRC, Article 12 states that children and young people have the right to share their views on matters that affect them and to have those views taken seriously. 

Safeguarders are particularly interested in hearing children and young people’s thoughts and feelings about what is happening in their lives. This will help them think about what would be best for that child or young person going forward. 

However, when a Safeguarder writes their report and makes recommendations to the Children’s Hearing Panel or the Sheriff, they will be taking into account all the information they have learned throughout their involvement. This may not always be the same as what the child, young person, parent or carer has asked to happen. 

Safeguarders aim to make sure any decisions made are in the best interests of the child or young person.

Children and young people have the right to share their views and experiences and to have them taken seriously (Article 12 of the UNCRC), the most important part of what a Safeguarder does is to speak to a child or young person to understand how they are thinking and feeling about what is going on in their life. A Safeguarder might speak to a lot of adults in a child or young person’s life, but most importantly they want to speak directly to the child or young person themselves. 

If a child or young person doesn’t feel comfortable or doesn’t want to speak to a Safeguarder, it’s important that they have the chance to consent (agree) or not to speaking with the Safeguarder. 

A Safeguarder might also decide that it isn’t appropriate for them to speak with a child or young person, and they will say why they made this decision in their report.

A Safeguarder can give their views and thoughts about what they think is in children and young people's best interests, but it is the Sheriff or Children's panel that make decisions about what happens next.

Given the significant role that Safeguarders play in Children’s Hearings for children and young people, it is essential that we are listening to their views and experiences as much as possible. Our CYP Safeguarder report describes the views and experiences of children and young people who have been involved in the Children’s Hearings System and the youth justice system.