Friday, 26 July 2013

Mandatory Reporting

It is difficult not to have some sympathy with the campaign to introduce mandatory reporting in England. 

The long history of failures to report institutional abuse in some churches and residential homes certainly leads to a lot of frustration and a feeling that the criminal law should be used to force people to report.

Sadly it isn’t that easy. The criminal law is usually a blunt instrument and there is a real danger that fear of prosecution will result in some professionals reporting unnecessarily just to be sure. That would put pressure on children’s social care services, which might result in children actually receiving a worse service.

Then there is the question of to whom any new law should apply. The Association of Child Abuse Lawyers press release says:

“The law would make failure to report suspected or known child abuse in ‘Regulated Activities’ a criminal offence. Regulated Activities include schools, sports clubs linked to national sports bodies, children’s homes and faith organisations.”

But could anybody ‘fail to report’ or only ‘professionals’ and ‘practitioners’? If it is only some people and not others, how will the line be drawn? If the law covers everybody, and people like plumbers or the electricians or neighbours are required to report, then what about family members or a child’s friends or brothers or sisters? There are dangers that a poorly drafted law could even be used against people who are the victims of abuse themselves or their close friends.

By and large people report abuse and neglect because they trust the people to whom they report it to deliver appropriate help to the victim. And they expect that they will be protected as the person reporting the abuse. Rather than negatively focusing on the threat of criminal sanction for failure to report, we should be positively focusing on ways to make it easier and safer for people who have genuine concerns to discuss them with somebody they can trust to do the right thing.