The Government is currently consulting on child protection reform, in particular the proposed introduction of new ways to secure improved identification of, and action in relation to, abuse and neglect of children. The consultation suggests the introduction of a mandatory reporting duty or, alternatively, a duty to act, which would require certain practitioners or organisations to report or take appropriate action in relation to child abuse or neglect, if they knew or had reasonable cause to suspect it was taking place. The consultation seeks views on whether the possible changes should extend to cover vulnerable adults as well as children.

The Government’s consultation is wide ranging and includes consideration of the ongoing child protection reform measures which are focused on improving how the whole system responds to child abuse and neglect. However, organisations working with children (and vulnerable adults) will be particularly interested in the scope of the potential mandatory duties.

Who would a new duty apply to?

The new duty could apply at an individual or organisational level or both. 

The Government’s starting position is that individuals or organisations who undertake activities which bring them into close and frequent contact with children could be within the scope of any new statutory measure. This would include public and private sector bodies, including charities, delivering education, childcare, social care and healthcare services, because practitioners and organisations working in these fields are well placed to recognise risk factors, triggers of concern and signs of abuse and neglect.  The consultation notes that those at senior levels within organisations such as local authorities, the health service and the police could be in scope (e.g. Chief Executives, Directors of Children’s Services and Chief Constables) because they should be held accountable for the activities of their staff.  Those in administrative and support roles might also be in scope, as individuals such as school secretaries and catering staff may be in a position to identify abuse and neglect and take action.

What would either new duty cover?

Subject to the outcome of the consultation, either new duty if introduced could apply to all forms of child abuse and neglect (including online abuse and grooming), both suspected and known.  It is envisaged that it could apply to abuse or neglect encountered during the course of a practitioner’s day-to-day role, to abuse or neglect within the home and within organisations and institutions such as boarding schools and hospitals. Any new statutory measure would not apply retrospectively.

What type of sanctions would be introduced?

The consultation seeks views about the sanctions that might apply in the case of non-compliance with any new duty, and whether these should apply at an individual or organisational level.  The consultation considers the interaction with existing sanctions (such as employer and professional regulatory sanctions and statutory intervention) and proposes that criminal sanctions including fines and imprisonment may be appropriate.

Comment

Every child deserves to be protected from abuse and neglect and it is important to have in place effective measures to ensure that abuse and neglect are identified and that action is taken by those in the position to do so.  There is a concern that introducing a mandatory duty to report may lead to over-reporting which, without a significant increase in resources, may impede authorities’ ability to respond to such reports.

We would encourage organisations and practitioners which work or have contact with children (or vulnerable adults) to respond to the consultation and in particular to put forward your experience of safeguarding in practice.  The deadline for responding to the consultation is 13 October 2016. The consultation can be found here

For any questions regarding the content of this article, please contact our Public & Regulatory department


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Emma Dowden-Teale

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Claire Whittle

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Melanie Carter

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Posted on 09/09/2016 in Legal Updates

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