The Home Office made a statement yesterday in The House of Commons, explaining its decision not to go ahead with a legal duty to report child abuse for professionals working with children.

Whilst media outlets are suggesting that the majority of respondents didn’t want to see a duty to report implemented, this is incorrect. What the consultation actually tells us, is that of the 768 responses it received, 63% were in favour of allowing the Government’s existing programme of reforms time to be implemented before considering additional statutory measures. What this effectively means, is that any one of those individuals within that 63% could potentially be in favour of a duty to report. The consultation also tells us that 12% of those who took part in the consultation wanted to see a mandatory duty to report, right away.

The backdrop to this consultation, particularly those who submitted evidence it, is important. Most child welfare sectors would be unlikely to want to see a legal duty to report, as it could lead to individuals within those sectors being penalised and fired for a failure to log any suspected abuse. So asking a group of people who are unlikely to benefit from legislation – and could even be harmed by it – is very silly indeed. The 12% who did want a legal duty to report, was probably not made up of social workers, police men or psychiatrists, but abuse survivors and child welfare charities who work with victims of child abuse.

There is also the problem of handing complex consultations like this one to junior ministers to manage. The end result is the poor logic inside the consultation, coupled with odd soundbites about children’s best interests.

Victoria Atkins, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, and Minister for Women, made the statement on behalf of the Home Office:

“The Minister for Children and Families at the Department for Education and I have today published the Government’s response to the consultation exercise on reporting and acting on child abuse and neglect.

The consultation, which ran from 21 July 2016 to 13 October 2016, sought views on key issues relating to the child protection system and on the possible introduction of one of two new statutory measures, namely:

  • a mandatory reporting duty, which would require certain practitioners or organisations to report child abuse or neglect if they knew, or had reasonable cause to suspect, it was taking place; or
  • a duty to act, which would require certain practitioners or organisations to take appropriate action in relation to child abuse or neglect if they knew, or had reasonable cause to suspect, it was taking place.
    All children have the right to be safe from harm. Keeping children safe is the responsibility of everyone who comes into contact with children and families, and we all have a role to play in protecting children and young people from child abuse and neglect.

The legal duties the Government consulted on would involve a particular focus on practitioners: across children’s social care, the police, health, education, and other sectors. The vast majority of such practitioners are committed to doing all they can to safeguard and promote the welfare of children, through recognising children’s needs early and taking action so that children receive the right support at the right time.

We are absolutely clear that practitioners should make an immediate referral to local authority children’s social care if they believe that a child has suffered harm or is likely to do so, as set out in statutory guidance already. We know, however, that despite the best efforts of practitioners working with children and families, some abuse and neglect continues to go undetected by statutory agencies. This can happen for a variety of reasons, including failures to report or share information properly and failure to perceive abuse or understand the nature and level of the risk of harm faced by children.

In circumstances where professionals fail to identify or fail to report the signs of abuse and neglect, the consequences can be catastrophic. However, triennial analysis of serious case reviews demonstrates that in most cases the significant harm or death of children occurs despite their being known to children’s social care. So the issues are complex and challenging and introducing a new statutory duty is not a simple, straightforward solution, as some argue.

We received 768 responses to the consultation exercise, from a wide range of interests including practitioners and others in the education, health, social care and local government sectors, children’s charities, survivors’ groups, the police and members of the public. We have considered all the responses and relevant issues carefully.

The majority of respondents (63%) were in favour of allowing the Government’s existing programme of reforms time to be implemented before considering additional statutory measures. Only a quarter (25%) of respondents favoured introducing a duty to act, with less than half of that number (12%) favouring the introduction of a mandatory reporting duty.

Given the consultation outcome and after careful consideration, we have concluded that the case for the introduction of a mandatory reporting duty or a duty to act has not been made, and would not, against the landscape of our current arrangements, deliver better protection for children. Therefore, neither of these proposals will be taken forward at this time. We will implement the reforms set out in the Government’s response and evaluate whether this is having the intended impact once these are embedded, in addition to continuing to assess any new or different evidence supporting the need for further changes.

We remain committed to examining all options to improve further the children’s social care system and tackle abuse in all its forms. In addition to our already wide-ranging programme of reforms, we will therefore focus on taking steps to address the key issues raised by respondents to the consultation. This action includes:

  • improving multi-agency working, in particular through strengthening information sharing for safeguarding purposes, including better local arrangements;
  • publishing our revised Working Together to Safeguard Children statutory guidance and launching a further phase of the communications campaign, Together, we can tackle child abuse ahead of its publication;
  • looking at the current legislative framework to assess whether it is able to deal appropriately with concerns about concealment of child abuse and neglect; and
    continuing our work to improve the training, accreditation and regulation of practitioners, so that they can better safeguard and promote the welfare of children.
  • To repeat, every child deserves to, and must be protected from abuse and neglect. We are determined to do all that we can to strengthen our child protection system in ways which we expect will bring real benefits to children.”

Copies of the Government’s response have been placed in the House Library and are available on the Government’s website.