Ministers drop moves over mandatory reporting of suspected child abuse

Ministers have ruled out imposing measures that could have resulted in school secretaries, caterers and caretakers facing jail if they failed to raise the alarm about child abuse.

In 2016 the Government unveiled proposals to place people who work in roles that bring them into contact with children under a statutory duty to report or act on abuse or neglect.

Those in administrative or support roles would have been covered by the requirement, as well as teachers, doctors and social workers.

Sanctions for those who failed to comply would range from disciplinary to criminal action.

But it was confirmed on Monday that the plans would not be taken forward after they met with widespread opposition.

Two possible models were outlined in a consultation document published by the Home Office and Department for Education in July 2016.

One was a mandatory reporting duty which would require certain practitioners or organisations to report child abuse or neglect “if they knew or had reasonable cause to suspect it was taking place”.

The other would introduce a “duty to act” requiring staff or bodies to take appropriate action, which could include reporting.

There is currently no general legal requirement on those working with children to report either known or suspected child abuse or neglect.

Statutory guidance states that those who work with children and families should report to the local authority immediately if they think a child may have been or is likely to be abused or neglected.

The Government said the consultation received more than 760 responses from social workers, police officers, local government, children’s charities, educators and health professionals, victim support groups, and other members of the public.

The majority of responses disagreed with the concept of introducing new statutory requirements.

Ministers concluded that the evidence received does not demonstrate that either of the proposals would sufficiently improve outcomes for children – pointing to feedback suggesting the measures could risk creating unnecessary burdens, divert attention from the most serious cases and hamper professional judgment.

The Government also noted that England already has a higher rate of reporting than countries where such duties are in place, and the evidence from serious case reviews, Ofsted inspections and the consultation responses does not suggest there is a systemic problem.

Isabelle Trowler (pictured), chief social worker for children and families, said: “The Government has listened to the views of social work leaders who know the system best and understand the unintended consequences that introducing mandatory reporting could produce.”

Steps that are being taken forward include efforts to improve co-ordination between agencies involved in keeping children safe through better information sharing, while officials will review the law around concealment of child abuse and neglect.

Minister for crime and safeguarding Victoria Atkins said: “Child sexual exploitation and abuse are sickening crimes. In the past we have seen vulnerable children let down by the very people who should have protected them from harm.

“We are clear that this must never be repeated.”

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