Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Is the law an ass?

“If the law supposes that," said Mr. Bumble, squeezing his hat emphatically in both hands, "the law is a ass — a idiot.” So wrote Charles Dickens in his novel Oliver Twist. I can’t help feeling that the law relating to mandatory reporting of child abuse and neglect in Louisiana may be in danger of becoming ‘a ass’.

Louisiana's Supreme Court has decided that the state’s law on reporting child abuse and neglect, which mandates health and social workers, teachers, clergy and other professionals to report child maltreatment, does not apply to priests who are informed of child abuse and neglect during a sacramental confession.

It’s not that I think that priests in these circumstances should face punishment if they don’t report abuse – quite the contrary. It is more a question of how very easily a mandatory reporting law becomes a series of illogicalities and arbitrary exclusions and inclusions which are not really about protecting children better.

If priests do not have to report, why shouldn’t psycho-therapists and counsellors also be exempt? It seems that Catholic child abusers are to be granted the right to a confidential hearing denied to those of other religions or none. While at the same time children of Catholics seem to be less likely to be protected as a result of the anomaly in the law. Surely that cannot be right?   

The truth of the matter is that mandatory reporting laws, with their illogical exemptions, are not what is required to ensure that every child who needs help gets it. Far better than threatening to punish some professionals for their perceived failings, while arbitrarily exonerating others, the emphasis should be on helping all professionals to recognise and understand child abuse and neglect and supporting them, no matter what their other responsibilities may be, in doing the right thing and reporting the abuse.