Pilot studies could support case for mandatory reporting of child abuse

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More evidence needs to be gathered before rejecting the possibility of a law which makes professionals’ reporting of child abuse mandatory, says England’s Children’s Commissioner, Maggie Atkinson.

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She believes that pilot studies should be carried out to provide this evidence and that children’s views should be taken into account.

‘We strongly believe pilots should be undertaken to gather evidence because there must be sound justification for not proceeding with a requirement on professionals to report abuse,’ she said.

The Government’s current position on the issue is that existing statutory guidance is clear that professionals should refer immediately to social care when they are concerned about a child. It has also highlighted evidence from other countries that suggests mandatory reporting does not make children any safer.

Ms Atkinson said, ‘We recognise that there are arguments in support of, and against, mandatory reporting but also that it is not a straightforward matter to interpret findings from other countries that already have such provisions in place. It cannot be seen as a panacea as so much depends on the quality of assessment and the response from professionals.

‘We agree better staff training on identifying and supporting child victims of abuse is vital. This would overcome problems with both over and under reporting.’

The Children’s Commissioner also believes making the reporting of abuse mandatory could encourage organisations and professionals working with children to focus more on children and the signs of abuse they may display.  

'It could encourage better information sharing within and across organisations when abuse is suspected. In our areas of work we have found that some organisations and professionals, in particular in the health service, can be fearful of sharing information where abuse is suspected, in case it breaches a child’s confidentiality.’

She added,  ‘Children and young people have told us that what matters above all is that professionals are clear with them about what will happen with what they disclose, and that they can trust in ongoing support.’