Government abandons plans for mandatory reporting of suspected child abuse following consultation

The Government has dropped plans to introduce new laws requiring mandatory reporting of suspected child abuse

Executive summary

The Government has dropped plans to introduce new laws requiring mandatory reporting of suspected child abuse which could have seen doctors, social workers and police officers face professional or criminal sanctions for failing to take appropriate action. Instead, ministers have set out plans to strengthen the approach to tackling child abuse through improved information sharing and joint working between professional organisations. Read the Government announcement in full.

In detail

The Government has announced that it will not follow through with proposals included in the joint Home Office and Department for Education consultation ‘Reporting and acting on child abuse and neglect’ which was launched in July 2016 – read our update on the consultation proposals. The consultation proposed two approaches to placing a statutory duty on professionals working with children: introducing a mandatory reporting obligation on professionals and organisations to report child abuse or neglect if they knew or had reasonable cause to suspect that it was taking place; or introducing a duty to act and to take appropriate action which could include reporting. The proposals included a provision that failure to fulfil either of the statutory duties could result in professional or criminal sanctions.

The consultation received over 760 responses with the majority disagreeing with the introduction of new statutory requirements. Only 12 per cent of responses supported the introduction of mandatory reporting and 70 per cent expressed concern that it could have an adverse impact on the child protection system. Only 25 per cent said that they supported the introduction of a duty to act.

In its response, the Government has recognised that the feedback indicates that the proposed changes would not “sufficiently improve outcomes for children” and would create “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”. The Government has instead set out plans to build on its current campaigns and to allow more time for its existing programme of child protection reforms to take effect. The plans include publishing revised Working Together to Safeguard Children statutory guidance; improving information sharing between the different agencies involved in child protection; improving training, accreditation and regulation for social workers and practitioners; and considering the current framework for criminal offences for concealing child abuse and neglect.

Conclusion and comment

The Government’s response needs to be seen within the context of the ongoing Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) chaired by Professor Alexis Jay – more information on the inquiry.

Given that those who responded to the consultation are likely to have professional involvement and expertise in child welfare to some degree, it is encouraging also to see the Government responding to their concerns and amending its proposals accordingly.

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