Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Mandatory Reporting of Child Abuse and Neglect – sadly the saga continues

I was sorry to read in Children and Young People Now that the British government has not yet ditched the idea of introducing mandatory reporting of child abuse and neglect in England, although to be fair it is hard to see how they could have just ‘lost’ the results of the consultation that they carried out in 2016.

My principle objections to mandatory reporting are as follows.

Firstly, it perpetuates the blame culture by making a failure to report child abuse and neglect a criminal offence for some groups of workers. If people feel that they may be blamed and criminalised for making mistakes at work, they are unlikely to be open and honest about the mistakes they make, practicing in an increasingly defensive manner. By increasing the fear of blame, mandatory reporting would reduce openness about service failures and reduce reporting of slips and lapses. That would make services less safe than they currently are.

Secondly, it ignores the fact that all too often professionals and other practitioners are not faced with clear cases of child maltreatment, but rather evolve suspicions and concerns over a period of time. What is needed is not a threat of punishment to force people to report, but support and guidance for those who have a concern which they may not yet fully understand. Mandatory reporting is an on/off process. If you believe a child is being abused you must report it or face sanctions; if you do not just carry on. In the real world things are a lot more fuzzy and it is often difficult to distinguish the wood from the trees. Helping workers understand more about the nature of child abuse and neglect, and how to recognise it, is much more likely to ensure that the right children are referred for help.

Thirdly it is a distraction. The government should be pursuing policies which actually make children safer, not introducing punishments for people who get things wrong. Once you have a mandatory reporting regime people have to be trained to work in it. Suspected violations have to be investigated. Decisions about prosecution have to be made. There has to be trials. Some people might be wrongly convicted. The impact of further stoking up the blame culture would have to be managed as defensive practice proliferates.

Mandatory reporting is a bad idea. I hope the government has the guts to resist its introduction.