Last week, we submitted Labour's response to the Government's consultation on the introduction of mandatory reporting of child abuse and neglect. Our position remains as stated in the 2015 Labour Manifesto - that we need a mandatory reporting duty. But the Government was wrong to frame a Duty to Report or a Duty to Act as a binary choice as they did in their consultation. We need both.
We cannot simply wait until children are abused to act. The first action must be to report, but it must not be the last. That's why we are pressing the Government to introduce both a Duty to Report and a Duty to Act, when suspicions or knowledge of abuse arise. The latter means making prevention and early intervention an absolute priority.
When I last wrote about mandatory reporting, I received lots of feedback about our proposals. Many people raised concerns about increasing pressure on those working with children, who are already over-stretched thanks to cuts to public services.
We have listened carefully to all feedback, as well as to the many experts who generously gave their time to write, talk and meet with my colleagues to share their insight. Our response to the Government makes it clear that there are necessary pre-conditions to the introduction of mandatory reporting including:
- The capacity of services must be increased, to deal with the inevitable initial spike in reports
- Accredited training must be provided for all those expected to report
We know that those working with children are over stretched and under resourced. But mandatory reporting has the potential to protect professionals as well as children, by allowing professionals to report outside their organisations.
We have made it clear, too, that the Duty to Report must not be used as a stick to beat professionals with. Among the concerns raised was the possibility that those who fail to report may be criminalised (there is no proposed sanction on the recipients of the report, who we expect to be qualified social workers).
Only when there is a deliberate and reckless failure to report should a criminal sanction be considered. All reports made in good faith should mean the reporter is given protection against civil and criminal actions. And the identity of reporters should be confidential.
Setting a single date for the introduction of mandatory reporting in all settings, for all types of abuse, is fraught with risk. We recommend a phased introduction, set within a stated timeframe, based on evidence and with properly resourced and prepared staff. We are therefore proposing that a ‘toe in the water’ approach is taken, and an evaluation is included with sensible measures.
We know that mandatory reporting is not a silver bullet. All of this this will of course require investment in all agencies involved with protecting children and promoting their welfare. Cuts in public service budgets is giving them a near impossible task.
But we must do everything we can to protect children from abuse and neglect.