Not reporting child abuse 'should be illegal'

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Professionals working with children should be required by law to report any suspicions they have about child abuse, the former director of public prosecutions has said.


In an interview with BBC’s Panorama, due to be shown on Monday evening, Keir Starmer says that the time has come for a change in the law to stop child abuse victims from slipping through the net.

Mr Starmer says that there should be ‘mandatory reporting’ by teachers and health workers, to bring Britain into line with the US, Canada and Australia.

‘The problem is, if you haven’t got a central provision requiring people to report, then all you can do is fall back on other provisions that aren’t really designed for the purpose and that usually means they run into difficulties. What you really need is a clear, direct law that everybody understands,’ he says.

The Panorama programme questions why abusers, including Jimmy Saville, were able to evade prosecution. It includes interviews with two victims of abuse, including a woman who was allegedly raped at the age of 12 by Saville when she was attacked at Stoke Mandeville Hospital.

The programme also claims that declassified Government files from 60 years ago show that school authorities routinely hid child abuse in children’s homes and boarding schools.

However the Government said it has no plans to change the law.

A Department for Education spokesperson said, ‘Mandatory reporting is not the answer. Guidance is already crystal clear that professionals should refer immediately to social care when they are concerned about a child. Other countries have tried mandatory reporting and there is no evidence to show that it is a better system for protecting children. In fact there is evidence to show it can make children less safe.’

The NSPCC said it was concerned that mandatory reporting may result in a flood of reports to police, local authorities, and other agencies working in child protection and would put extra pressure on an already overstretched system.

The charity argues this could result in delays in investigations and potentially serious cases getting lost in the sheer volume of reports. Professionals may also be lulled into a false sense of security, it warns.

Peter Wanless, CEO of the NSPCC, said, ‘The NSPCC’s first priority is to protect children and we have an open mind about the best way to do that, but there is insufficient evidence to show that mandatory reporting would result in children being better protected. It’s people, not processes, that protect children and we need a system that encourages everyone to focus on the child and act as if they were their own, not more forms and box ticking.’

‘Sadly, mandatory reporting would not, as some have claimed, have saved Daniel Pelka or Peter Connelly. In both these cases the children were known to a range of services and dozens of reports had been made. It was action, not reporting, that was needed.’

He added, ‘There is already very clear guidance for professionals working with children on what to do if a child discloses abuse or they have concerns. We want to see this guidance rigorously followed but also a culture change that encourages professionals to be child-focused, be willing to question adult’s excuses, and be empowered to take urgent action whenever they suspect a child is being abused.’

  • ‘Panorama: After Savile: No more secrets?’ is on BBC One tonight at 8.30pm.
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