What's it all about?
There is currently no legal duty to report known or suspected child abuse in England. This means that individuals or organisations who come to know that a child is being abused can turn a blind eye without fear of sanction. It also causes confusion as to what someone's safeguarding responsibilities are. At the moment, any reporting 'obligations' stated in the guidance are purely optional, because 'statutory guidance' is not backed by law and can therefore be ignored. Northern Ireland do have a legal duty to report any indictable offence, which includes child abuse by default, but this was not developed with the needs of children in mind. Meanwhile, Wales have recently enacted a legal 'duty to act', but since it does not include any sanction for non-compliance, it is indistinguishable from the English framework.
Aren't the current arrangements enough?
No. We know from many Serious Case Reviews that there have been whole-scale institutional failures to report knowledge or suspicions of child sexual abuse. For example, a concluding remark of the Jay Report, on the Rotherham CSE revelations, was "no one can say 'we didn't know'". At the moment, the current non-legal duties can easily be ignored or genuinely misunderstood. They are full of coulds, shoulds and woulds, but no must. In addition, every Beam Project facilitator has had direct experience of instances where professionals either knew or suspected that we were being sexually abused, but nothing was done about it. This can be for all sorts of reasons, not necessarily malicious or wilfully ignorant ones. Sometimes, there is a genuine lack of awareness of what professionals are supposed to do with new information. A clear reporting duty, backed by law instead of just guidance, compels the needed cultural change around reporting and has been shown, by research from other countries which have a mandatory reporting system, to cause a steep increase in the number of genuine cases of child sexual abuse being reported, at relatively minimal economic burden.
Siobhan has participated in the seminar on mandatory reporting run by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA), stating a personal as well as professional case for why there needs to be a legal duty on professionals to report known or suspected child sexual abuse. You can see part of her contribution in the video above.
Where we are in the campaign
The government consultation
The government conducted a consultation on 'reporting and acting on child abuse and neglect', which came about as a result of Amendment 43 tabled by Baroness Walmsley during the passage of the Serious Crimes Bill 2014. The outcome was released in early 2018, and confirmed the government's commitment to the existing framework and rejecting mandatory reporting. Whilst disappointing, this outcome was not unexpected; the research submitted by Siobhan and others was inexplicably omitted, and the reasons stated for the rejection are irreconcilable with what we know to be the experience of other countries. For more of Siobhan's work on various aspects of safeguarding, see the Resources page.
IICSA and the future
The second mandatory reporting seminar run by the Independent Inquiry examined the arguments for and against introducing mandatory reporting in the UK. Research was presented by Prof. Mathews of Queensland University of Technology in Australia, which has implemented mandatory reporting in various forms throughout every state. Other jurisdictions with a legal duty to report child abuse include every state in the United States of America and every state in Canada. Overall, mandatory reporting jurisdictions make up around 80% of the developed world and 80% of all jurisdictions globally. By being late to the party, the UK could stand to learn from the implementation issues experienced elsewhere. Of all the jurisdictions which have a legal duty to report, none have later reverted back to a discretionary model.
An outline of the current debate, including key arguments for and against, can be found in Siobhan's latest video on mandatory reporting. Siobhan has also accepted a place at King's College London to evaluate the new reporting laws implemented in the Republic of Ireland as the basis for PhD research. This will help to further clarify the impact of new laws on one of our neighbours and will hopefully inform the UK government's stance on this important issue. For further news and analysis on the campaign, please visit mandatenow.org.uk.