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Masthead Education - Child Protection

Ministers rule out imposing mandatory reporting of child abuse

The government has ruled out mandatory reporting of child abuse, in a move welcomed by the Local Government Association (LGA) and the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS).

Responses to a consultation on how to improve measures to tackle abuse and neglect found negligible support for the idea.

A Home Office statement said the consultation sought views on introducing mandatory reporting of any concern relating to child abuse by practitioners, and a duty to act, under which individuals could have faced professional or criminal sanctions for failing to take appropriate action where child abuse was known or suspected.

It said the consultation drew some 760 responses from social workers, police officers, local government, children’s charities, educators and health professionals, victim support groups and members of the public, with only 25% of respondents in support of the duty to act and just 12% favouring mandatory repotting.

The Home Office said the responses did “not demonstrate that either of the proposals would sufficiently improve outcomes for children.

“Rather, feedback suggests that these additional measures could risk creating unnecessary burdens, divert attention from the most serious cases, hamper professional judgement, and potentially jeopardise the vital relationships between social workers and vulnerable families in their care.”

By contrast, 63% of respondents were in favour of allowing the Government’s existing programme of child protection reforms time to bed in before considering additional statutory measures.

Minister for Crime, Safeguarding and Vulnerabilities Victoria Atkins said: “We have set a clear expectation on the police by giving child sexual abuse the status of a national threat, set up joint inspections of health, police, and children’s social care, and introduced a national whistleblowing helpline with the NSPCC for any employee who wants to raise a concern about how their organisation is dealing with a concern about a child.”

LGA Children and Young People Board chair Richard Watts said: “We are pleased that the Government has listened to the concerns of the LGA, local councils and our partners across the public sector and decided against the introduction of mandatory reporting of child abuse.

“We do not believe that mandatory reporting would have addressed the current challenges in protecting children in the UK. Evidence shows that referrals to the police and children’s social care are already higher than in comparable jurisdictions in other countries with mandatory reporting systems, and rates continue to increase significantly year-on-year.”

Cllr Watts said mandatory reporting systems demand “an overwhelming focus on the investigation of families rather than the provision of support and the promotion of wellbeing” and urged the government to fill what he said would be £2bn funding gap in children’s services by 2020.

Stuart Gallimore, ADCS Vice President, said: “We think it’s sensible that the government has decided against introducing a mandatory reporting duty, or a duty to act, for professionals following a public consultation. The government has acknowledged that there is no evidence that such reporting systems will provide greater protection for children nor improve their outcomes. Instead they risk overwhelming the systems already in place to protect children.

"Many professionals already face serious sanctions if they knowingly fail to pass on information about suspected abuse, we believe the most common reason people do not report abuse and neglect is because they simply don’t recognise it for what it is. We need to ensure all professionals, and local communities, are aware of the signs of child abuse in all its forms, the need for vigilance and how best to raise concerns with the appropriate agency.

“The introduction of a similar duty in some Australian states led to a huge jump in contacts, the majority of which were unsubstantiated. If such a new statutory measure was introduced it would need to be fully funded by government as a new burden, we would argue any available resources would be better invested in early help and preventative services aimed at stopping harm from occurring in the first place or preventing concerns from escalating further.”

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