Monday, 30 December 2013

Mandatory Reporting and the Blame Culture

The Children’s Commissioner for England issued a press release just before Christmas on the subject of mandatory reporting of child abuse and neglect.

Generally it is a thoughtful and well-balanced piece that stresses that no change in the current law should take place unless there is conclusive evidence to show that mandatory reporting would improve the protection of children.

The press release tries to put both sides of the argument, but in my view it misses a central argument against mandatory reporting, namely this:

  • If it is to be made a criminal offence for a professional to fail to report the abuse or neglect of a child, inevitably some professionals will be prosecuted and probably some will be imprisoned
  • There will be some difficult cases, where there is a grey area between having made a disastrous mistake and having been negligent. 
  • Inevitably there will be some cases where a miscarriage of justice occurs
  • All of that will add to a culture of blame and fear. We know that such cultures inhibit safety. In a blame culture people are unwilling to discuss their mistakes, and so learn from them, because they fear that they will be punished for admitting to them
  • Consider the following scenario. Eventually it is recognised that a child has been abused. His teacher now realises, with the benefit of hindsight, that s/he could have spotted the abuse earlier. Will that teacher be fully open about what went wrong and about how the abuse was missed, if at the same time a police investigation is in progress, the end result of which is that the teacher could be imprisoned? Bet your bottom dollar that s/he will keep mum, will only talk through her/his lawyers and won’t be a willing participant in any attempts to learn from the situation
That’s why I’m against mandatory reporting.