Government Consultation On Mandatory Reporting Stops Taking Responses

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The Law Of... reporting child abuse

A government consultation on reporting and acting on child abuse and neglect is set to consider responses after 12 weeks seeking the opinion of leading bodies and organisations.

The Law Of... reporting child abuse

Looking to outline options to reform the child protection system in England, the consultation is considering a change of law and could see the introduction of mandatory reporting in the UK.

Discussing his response to the consultation, Peter Garsden – Head of Abuse Law at Simpson Millar – explains that he has spearheaded a number of campaigns to introduce mandatory reporting into UK law.

Mandatory Reporting In The UK

Mandatory reporting denotes a system that requires individuals that witness child abuse or neglect to report this to the relevant authorities, failure to do so would amount to a criminal offence.

Already established in countries around the world, including the US, Canada, Australia, France, and most Scandinavian nations, proponents of mandatory reporting claim that the system helps protect children from abuse and neglect.

Looking at other nations, Britain is in a minority in not already having rules on some form of mandatory reporting, as 86% of European countries, 77% of African nations, 72% of Asia, and 90% of the Americas have some form of mandatory reporting.

Previously, the Government have claimed that mandatory reporting could overload services and result in a backlog of cases, which would slow down its ability to protect vulnerable children and the worst cases of child abuse would be missed.

In the UK, campaigners for mandatory reporting have advocated introducing the system exclusively for professionals who work with children, as to avoid overwhelming the relevant authorities.

Mandatory Reporting Consultation

After the abuse scandal in Rotherham, as well as the revelations of Jimmy Savile's abuse after his death, the case for mandatory reporting gained momentum, as there was clear evidence that such a system could have stopped abusers continuing with their crimes for such an extended period of time.

In response, the Government launched a consultation on reporting and acting on child abuse and neglect, which sought to outline options for reforming child protection in England.

The consultation briefing explicitly stated that the Government were looking at the possibility of bringing one or two new legal requirements focused on reporting and acting on child abuse and neglect.

Limiting the scope of any future legislation, there was a note stating that any statutory duties to report suspicions of abuse would not apply to the general public and would not be applied retrospectively to previous cases.

A deadline of 13th October 2016 was set for the consultation, after which the Government will consider responses and either introduce legislation on mandatory reporting and a duty to act, or decide that the current protection system is fit for purpose and does not require amendments.

It has been claimed that the Home Office were guilty of purposefully delaying the consultation, as it only began in July this year, despite the documents required to begin the process being signed off in October last year.

Mandatory Reporting Or A Duty To Act?

Mandatory reporting of suspected abuse and neglect was not the only option presented in the consultation, as the Government took feedback on a statutory requirement to act on suspected child abuse and neglect.

Mandatory reporting and a duty to act differ as the former focuses solely on reporting suspected abuse and neglect, while the latter requires appropriate action to be taken against child abuse and neglect.

Under mandatory reporting, the actions taken under duty is limited to reporting, on the other hand a duty to act would require a wider spectrum of safeguarding responses, including considering issues that have arisen in past cases of abuse.

Responding to the consultation, Peter said:

"While we are still in the consultation stage, it is promising to see some action being taken on mandatory reporting, as the UK is far behind the rest of the world in this regard."

"Placing a duty to report abuse of neglect on those professionals who are best placed to spot suspicious behaviour will ensure that reports are taken seriously; in the case of Jimmy Savile a junior member of staff had witnessed abuse but was not taken seriously by his superiors, who subsequently failed to report the allegations to the police – mandatory reporting could ensure that such situations do not repeat themselves."

"Speaking from a practical standpoint, it seems logical to place a legal obligation on those responsible for the care of children to report the abuse they witness."

"Talking to abuse survivors, both as their legal representation and in a personal capacity at various seminars and workshops, it is clear that they often feel let down by the current system and many abuse survivors have come out to advocate the introduction of mandatory reporting."

"I have advocated for the introduction of mandatory reporting for a long time and I sincerely hope that the Government take on board the responses to their consultation, as this is something that could protect both children and the professionals that work with them every day."


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