It looks like the UK government is now performing a U-turn by backing both mandatory reporting of suspicions of child abuse and neglect and going further in introducing an offence of ‘wilful neglect’ in an attempt to deal with the kinds of sexual exploitation scandals we have seen in Rotherham, Rochdale and Oxford.
The details of the proposals are to be announced later today, so watch this space for more detailed comment, but to my mind the Daily Mail’s headline said a great deal about how these Draconian proposals may be interpreted as applying mostly to those unfortunate enough to work in some front line posts: “Five years in jail for social workers who ignore sex abuse cases”.
The devil will be in the detail, but clearly any sensible reforms would make a crystal clear distinction between willfully colluding with abuse, for personal gain or to protect reputations, and human error which is an unavoidable part of performing any complex task. Nobody should ever be punished for making honest mistakes.
I say a crystal clear distinction, but the problem will be in drafting that into legislation. Sadly I do not have much confidence that this can be achieved, even if all concerned are committed to it.
So my own first take on these proposals is that they are just another aspect of the prevalent culture of blame, which in turn fosters service failures, rather than preventing them, because it inhibits the development of a reporting culture, which is a necessary first step to understanding why things go seriously wrong in child protection.