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Mandatory reporting laws for child sexual abuse are essential for kids and society: Professor Ben Mathews

Professor Ben Mathews is a researcher in the Australian Centre for Health Law Research at Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, Australia. He has led some of the largest studies ever undertaken into mandatory reporting laws for child sexual abuse.

In the UK, 18% of girls and 5% of boys experience contact sexual abuse (one in eight children), and the figures are even higher for all kinds of sexual abuse. The mean age of onset is 9-10. Most children unlucky enough to suffer sexual abuse are unable to tell anyone, because they are terrified of the abuser’s power, have been threatened, feel ashamed, depend on the abuser, or are too young to understand it. The abuse often continues, the children endure horrific experiences and suffer long-lasting health, behavioural and social problems, and society suffers enormous socio-economic costs. Offenders get away with it and can continue offending. We see this repeatedly with prolific individuals and gangs: Rotherham, Rochdale, Savile, Oxford, Operation Yewtree. But it’s not just high profile casesthat matter: many offenders are family members and other acquaintances.

What should society do to better identify cases at an early stage, interrupt the abuse, help the child, and identify the offenders? We should do what the scientific evidence tells us will get the best result. We should put the child at the centre of our debate. And we should do what an advanced liberal democracy in the 21st century that cares about its children would do.

To identify more cases at an early stage, the UK Parliament is considering whether to introduce mandatory reporting laws for child sexual abuse in England and Wales. As a social scientist who has conducted multiple long-term studies of this topic, my conclusion is that a UK mandatory reporting law will be very successful in responding to child sexual abuse and identifying cases that otherwise would not come to light. Ireland must agree, since in November 2015 it passed reporting laws for child sexual abuse. In fact, dozens of nations have them, ranging from Canada, Australia and the USA, to Sweden and Saudi Arabia.

These laws are often misunderstood, which produces erroneous conclusions. The truth is that the best evidence indicates they are probably the best public policy innovation we have to help identify cases of child sexual abuse. Based on historical experience, hard data and international insights, here are the top 10 things policymakers, professionals, and the public need to know.

  1. The laws do not require everyone to report everything. Rather, they simply require designated people (typically teachers, doctors, nurses, police, and sometimes others dealing with kids in their work) to report specified sexual abuse. So, the laws do require teachers, for example, to report known or reasonably suspected serious sexual offences, based on a child’s disclosure or clear behavioural indicators. The laws don’t require teachers to report four year olds engaging in developmentally normal sexual behaviour, or teenagers taking consensual semi-naked selfies.
  1. For this reason, and because sexual abuse is difficult to detect and frequently undisclosed, even with the laws you will not get loads of “unnecessary reports”. Numerous jurisdictions have had these laws for decades and the sky hasn’t fallen in. In Australia, which has very broad reporting laws for multiple kinds of abuse, our recent nationwide study over 10 years found that mandated reports of child sexual abuse make up only about 6% of reports of all kinds of child maltreatment made to the government.
  1. The laws overcome gaze aversion, which is the tendency for people to avoid uncomfortable phenomena and turn the other way. They compel professionals to report when they know or suspect sexual abuse and set a social norm about what must be done instead of ignoring the child’s situation. Together with good education about child sexual abuse and the reporting duty, the laws increase professionals’ awareness of just how serious sexual abuse is, and its nature, frequency and indicators. The laws say what professionals must do. The education explains why. The laws also give reporters anonymity and legal immunity: important legal protections.
  1. The reason the laws help is that these professionals can play a massive role in identifying cases that otherwise would remain hidden. Data from other countries shows that 50-75% of sexual abuse cases confirmed by child protection agencies are found after mandated reports by these social sentinels. To sexually abused kids, these professionals are guardian angels.
  1. Here’s how two demographically similar jurisdictions with the same child population compared in 2010, one with mandatory reporting (Victoria: A), and one without (Ireland: B). A found 4.73 times as many sexually abused children (989) compared with B (209): 780 more children in one year. In A, the mandated reports alone (police, teachers, doctors, nurses) identified 536 confirmed cases; 2.5 times the entire amount in B. Twice the number of reports were made in A compared with B, with 53% of these made by mandated reporters.
  1. Still not convinced? Here’s what is likely to happen when you introduce a reporting law. We analysed data in an Australian state from three years pre-law and four years post-law. Due to improved reporting by mandated reporters after the law, twice as many children per year were officially identified as sexual abuse victims; and three times as many were investigated (which may be the best measure of success). Reporting trends stabilised after the third post-law year. Even at their highest new level, the rate of children in reports was one in 210.
  1. Numbers of mandated reports of sexual abuse remain very stable over time, especially compared with other maltreatment. Rapid sustained rises in reports have occasionally occurred, but these have been about neglect and domestic violence, not sexual abuse. Moreover, subsequent changes to law and policy have caused just as rapid a decline in reports.
  1. It’s impossible to give a comprehensive cost-benefit analysis. But, each case of child maltreatment has been estimated as costing US$210,000, child sexual abuse is arguably even more costly, and the costs of reporting and investigation are shown by leading researchers to be minimal in the child protection budget. Alongside the moral, legal and practical arguments, the economic argument based on returns from early intervention and increased offender detection is strong.
  1. A reporting law should not be limited only to offences within a “regulated activity” like boarding schools. Queensland did this, and had to expand the law after accepting it was theoretically, legally and practically indefensible. Are you really going to take seriously child sexual abuse you know or suspect occurs in a boarding school, but not every other case? No jurisdiction in the world does this and the UK shouldn’t either.
  1. That’s a lot of evidence. Now let’s consider the child’s experience, feelings, and needs. The abused child is terrified, wants it to stop, and needs health assistance. In the worst kind of case, she is raped daily by someone twice her size, and is completely in their power. She can’t escape it, process it, or stop it. Her teacher, doctor, or a police officer who knows or suspects something, might be the only person in her world who can help by reporting that suspicion.

This girl, and thousands of other children like her, needs someone to help bring her experience to the attention of a protective agency. That can best happen through a mandatory reporting law, properly supported by good reporter education and a well-supported system.

September 3rd, 2016|

Article in Community Care Magazine about Mandatory Reporting and the Whereabouts of the Consultation

Community Care 14.07.16

Community Care article

 

 

 

 Still we await this long delayed  consultation. If  ever a Government  was hoping a consultation  would be  forgotten, this is it.

 

The article is available here or via .pdf here.

July 16th, 2016|

Spectator article Against Mandatory Reporting: A Blizzard of Ill-informed Comment

On 22.6.16 the Spectator published an article by Josie Appleton who does not appear to be a regular contributor. She is convener for a pressure group that writes against regulations in everyday life. She also periodically contributes to the Guardian. Clearly Mandatory Reporting seems to be considered a soft target to which, just like any other piece of proposed legislation, Ms Appleton can contribute using her adult logic without appreciating the first two rules of child protection are (i) suspend adult logic (ii) apply significant experience because it is a complex subject. The piece is available here

Uploaded to Spectator website 22.6.16

 

 

There are several points of interest in the article. Firstly that appeared in this Conservative magazine at this time at all. The Government has repeatedly deferred the consultation despite there being little need. We understand it was ready to begin in December 15 and that it might now be launched just before the recess, ideally timed for the ‘silly season.’ Let’s not forget Mr Cameron described child abuse as a ‘national threat.’

Within the article there is a thumb print that suggests Ms  Appleton was briefed by  the Department for  Education media team. The idea that referrals from Mandated reporters are poor, while referrals from elsewhere are reliable is pure DfE fantasy spin.  

 

 

 

The Spectator declined to publish a comment from a reader maybe because it was too long or perhaps because of embedded links to evidence. The post was sent (more…)

June 23rd, 2016|

Mandatory Reporting of Known and Suspected Abuse: Guardian and Observer Articles June 2016

Louise Ticklle 060616

 

 

 

You can read the article here

 

 

 

 

 

 

Observer 280516

Although the positions of the two child protection NGO’s appear to differ in this article their approaches to mandatory reporting are in reality almost identical in that both are keen on the status quo. The NSPCC sidesteps the question on mandatory reporting and talks of sanction predicated on ‘known abuse’ The view of these two organisations seems to be that neither want to be seen to hold a different position to Government.

The NSPCC’s raising ‘known abuse’ hints at its position statement launched in July 2014 which we reviewed it in detail here and concluded  : If the objective is the introduction of sound legislative foundations the proposals from the NSPCC are profoundly flawed. 

In July 2014, to coincide with the NSPCC’s ‘strengthening duties’ policy statement, Peter Wanless said to the Independent newspaper

“However, our focus for criminalisation is on cover-up, not the merest suspicion that a child might have been harmed.

Why does the NSPCC adopt a seemingly discriminatory approach to regulated activity staff being required and supported to report concerns about the safety of a child, but not concerns arising from talking PANTS?

Please read our review of the April 2016 article by Professor Ben Mathews entitled – Impact of new mandatory reporting law on reporting and identification of child sexual abuse: A seven year time trend analysis. The empirical evidence contradicts the NSPCC.

June 8th, 2016|

A Review of: MR law on reporting and identification of CSA: A seven year time trend analysis

Mandate Now review of :

Published April 2016

Published April 2016

Click on image to enhance quality

The Mandate Now position has always been that we follow the evidence. If sound research were to show that mandatory reporting in Regulated Activities (e.g. schools, hospitals etc.) were unhelpful to detecting child sex abuse, then we would stop our campaign for the introduction of such a law.

The government has consistently opposed mandatory reporting, and has cited various academic research papers which it claims support its position. These include: (more…)

June 8th, 2016|

New Research: Impact of Mandatory Reporting Law : A Seven year Longitudinal Analysis

The long delayed consultation on Mandatory Reporting (“MR”), ceded from Government on 28th October 2014 in the House of Lords during the passage of the Serious Crimes Bill, still awaits launch.  But this has borne an advantage with the release earlier this week of important new longitudinal research into the effects of MR from Ben Mathews, LLB, BA, PhD, Associate Professor in the School of Law at Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, Australia. He is also Director of Research in the School of Law and is co-Leader of the Children’s Rights and Welfare research program in QUT’s Children and Youth Research Centre.

Dr Mathews’ major area of research expertise is in children and the law, with a focus on issues concerning law and child maltreatment, civil damages for child abuse, children and educational systems, medico-legal issues, children’s rights, cultural violence against children, and children’s criminal responsibility. He has conducted large multidisciplinary studies of laws regarding the reporting of child maltreatment and has published extensively in Australia and internationally, with 45 publications. Ben’s research and knowledge translation has led to changes in law, policy and practice. (more…)

May 13th, 2016|

A Lengthening List of Independent Schools Confused over Child Protection – 16/03/16

In 2008 child protection in England and Wales was described in the following terms by the co author of a highly regarded reference book on child protection law in common law jurisdictions:

‘What is the current law?

To start it is important to recognise two problems in the current law relating to child abuse:

It is a patchwork of different types of law often created as a specific reaction to a particular scandal. It has no cohesion and can be contradictory. It is, for want of a better description, the Dangerous Dogs Act writ large.

It is unwieldy. There are hundreds of different rules in different places.’

The co author was expressing opinions shared by others. Here is Sir Roger Singleton on the same subject in 2009 following the publication of his report ‘Keeping Our School Safe‘ which was commissioned by the Secretary of State for Education Ed Balls, just three weeks after the first broadcast of the BAFTA award winning documentary Chosen about institutional child abuse and its long-term effects (more…)

March 16th, 2016|

NSPCC Whistling Home Office Tune to Child Protection Inertia

The Home office has entered a joint enterprise with the NSPCC to create a whistle blowing helpline to aid staff who consider their employer has not handled, or been handling, a child protection concern well or correctly. This was reported by the BBC on 13/2/16 

That there’s a helpline is an admission that whistleblowers aren’t protected and the existing child protection system is fundamentally broken. If it wasn’t broken we wouldn’t need whistleblowers!

Grounding child protection on whistle blowing is a non starter which means functioning child protection in organisations is impossible. Examples include an institution such as BBC and Regulated Activities such as schools, faith groups, healthcare, sport,  and care homes for both young and old. The NSPCC’s abuse prevalence statistics further indicate the failure of whistle blowing over 40 years. It claims only 5% of child abuse is detected in this country, and more recently the Children’s Commissioner claimed it to be 12.5%.  By any standard, these figures do not represent anything of which child protection experts can be proud. (more…)

February 13th, 2016|

Mandate Now: Putting the spotlight on UK child abuse

February 1st, 2016|

BBC Child Protection Policy. Perfectly Legal but Useless

This posting supports a live appearance on Sky News today following the leak of an early draft report by Dame Janet Smith into the activities of Savile at the BBC.

We have reviewed the Corporations current Child Protection Policy. It’s value is extremely limited.  Child Protection at the BBC, as with every institution (and ‘Regulated Activities’) is grounded on ‘discretionary reporting,’ not mandatory reporting.

Here is the BBC’s child protection policy and our review. The areas of particular concern are highlighted in yellow. (more…)

January 21st, 2016|