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Consultation on Mandatory Reporting and Acting on Child Abuse and Neglect - What You Need to Know

on Friday, 12 August 2016.

The government has opened a public consultation to seek views on whether it is necessary to introduce one of two new legal duties...

The government has opened a public consultation to seek views on whether it is necessary to introduce one of two new legal duties: the mandatory reporting of child abuse and neglect, or an alternative duty to act in relation to child abuse or neglect.

Why?

The consultation has arisen as part of the government's ongoing reform of the child protection system following the Munro Review of Child Protection (2010) and recognition of historic failings of professionals who worked with children to respond appropriately to suspicions or knowledge of abuse or neglect, highlighted in serious case reviews.

There is currently no mandatory legal requirement on those working with children to report either known or suspected child abuse or neglect. The aim of introducing mandatory responsibilities is to add accountability and liability mechanisms to the child protection system, with penalties for those who fail to act.

What exactly are they asking?

The consultation seeks views on whether to introduce:

  • a mandatory reporting duty, which would require certain practitioners or organisations, including teachers and schools, to report child abuse or neglect if they knew or had reasonable cause to suspect it was taking place; or
     
  • a duty to act, which would require certain practitioners or organisations to take appropriate action (which could include reporting) in relation to child abuse or neglect if they knew or had reasonable cause to suspect it was taking place.

In relation to the mandatory reporting option the government has identified and invited views on the possible benefits identified as:

  • increased awareness
  • more cases identified
  • a higher risk environment for abusers
  • ensuring that those best placed to make judgements about whether abuse and/or neglect is happening do so.

 And risk areas:

  • en increase in unsubstantiated referrals
  • diversion of resources
  • poorer quality reporting
  • focussing attention on reporting rather than improving the quality of interventions
  • dissuading children from disclosing
  • undermining confidentiality for those contemplating disclosure

What's the alternative?

The alternative duty to act would be broader in scope than any mandatory reporting duty since although required actions could, and probably should, include reporting they would not be limited to this; what would be considered to be appropriate action under the duty to act would necessarily depend on the particular circumstances of each case.

Practitioners working with children would be responsible, as now, for considering what action is needed to protect the child(ren) from harm and acting accordingly. It is anticipated that the duty to act would make practitioners more accountable for such decisions.

Again, the consultation identifies possible benefits:

  • strengthening existing mechanisms for ensuring accountability
  • increasing awareness of the importance of taking action
  • changing behaviours of those covered by the duty by putting in place a clear requirement to take action

And possible risks:

  • an increase in unnecessary state intrusion into family life
  • those bound be the duty feeling less able to openly discuss cases for fear of sanctions
  • incorrect judgements about what cation is appropriate
  • limited benefits for further raising awareness of the importance of taking action

Anything else?

The consultation also seeks views on what sanctions should be, and whether they should be at an individual or organisational level , or both. Other considerations are the type of sanctions that would be appropriate, ranging from an employer/regulatory sanction to criminal sanctions for reckless or deliberate failings.

Under the duty to act, sanctions for breaches would be focussed on cases where there were reckless reasons for failure to act, or because practitioners and/or organisations were indifferent to the harm, or potential harm, that might be caused.

The consultation closes at 12noon on 13 October 2016, and responses can be returned online.


For more information, please contact Yvonne Spencer in our Independent Schools team on 020 7665 0870.

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