by Tom Perry
About six years ago I had a conversation with a senior member of the safeguarding ‘establishment.’ He said to me: ‘You know you are never going to get Mandatory Reporting (“MR”) – that’s never going to happen.‘ I asked why and was given a lesson in politics followed by an introduction to the culture and mindset of the Civil Service. Sadly, as I have now come to appreciate, this same culture also exists in bigger child protection charities where many senior personnel are ‘whitehall exiles’ as some describe themselves. And what does the phrase mean? – ‘either
The bottom line of what the expert informed me was that the system, which includes social services, police, courts, prisons, was already full to bursting and could cope with no more referrals without significant investment.
I had just two questions – “are you telling me the Government is wearing an eye patch which permits it to see a conveniently limited percentage of the problem because it has no desire to see the whole on the grounds of cost? Tell me this is not the Government doing a ‘Nelson‘ with the safety of children’ He remained silent so I asked a supplementary ‘Tell me you are the only one who believes this nonsense‘ ‘It’s well known in the senior echelons of safeguarding’ came the reply. I was thunderstruck.
Some months later I had a similar conversation with another individual in the field. I speculated the Government wanted a ‘contained’ number of referrals to Local Authorities because of resource limitations which meant MR in Regulated Activities (“RA’s”) wouldn’t happen. The individual just nodded.
The collateral damage stemming from legislative inertia continues with the avoidable abuse of children in Regulated Activities (schools, hospitals, faith settings etc.) and all because the UK adopted ‘discretionary reporting’ with its inbuilt weaknesses which includes low referral rates. The current child (and vulnerable adult) protection framework has the appearance of being designed to fail.
When MR arises for the Minister ( DfE ), a senior civil servant informs his boss of the ‘serious and unintended consequences’ attached to this initiative. An easy to produce conflation of polemic ‘evidence’ on familial abuse rather than delivering child protection in Regulated Activities is put before him/her. This is derived mostly from other countries because little of relevance has been produced here because our data collection is poor to non-existent. The research into familial abuse is then misapplied to Regulated Activities to demonstrate mandatory reporting doesn’t work. Then the Minister is taken through the ‘Fright List’ consisting of the following points:
- There will be a huge increase in referrals from Regulated Activities.
- Local Authority Social Services Departments (“SSD’s”) will face collapse and require extra funding.
- Child Abuse Investigation Units in the constabularies will require extra financial support to cope.
- Courts will need to receive financial support to cope with the extra cases.
- More prisons will have to be built.
- “Minister, your legacy will be one of cost.” (The trump card)
The long-term cost saving benefits of MR are ‘dropped’ from the equation despite MR introducing a positive ‘culture change’ that helps protect the vulnerable in RA’s and helps RA’s in their very important ‘sentinel reporting’ role. Ministers are collectively addicted to the short-term so child protection strategy is an unattractive prospect because it initially means front loaded investment for long-term savings.
Well structured child protection legislation will deliver greater child protection reliability to benefit children and the adults who work in RA’s. The secondary benefit is the significant cost savings associated with crimes that so often accompany an abusive childhood. This includes burglary, shoplifting, mugging, both of which often feed drug and/or alcohol abuse (this link features Dr Clive Froggart, Margaret Thatcher’s former adviser on NHS Reform , a victim of child abuse and a recovered Heroin addict) violent crime, suicide, mental health treatment, welfare benefits, and loss of tax and NI revenue to the treasury. Successive Governments silently pay the far greater cost of child abuse, yet recoil from investing a far smaller sum to create an effective child protection framework despite being aware that inaction means the continued and avoidable abuse of children.
Mandatory Reporting in specified professions and settings has been introduced in Australia on a State by State basis. After an initial spike in referrals which is common when converting from discretionary reporting, the outcomes are very positive as the slides demonstrate. There are now fewer ‘referrals’ than before the introduction of mandatory reporting, yet a higher proportion of substantiations meaning more children are being placed into safety which suggests less strain on the agencies and costs might be reducing significantly. Importantly, it must also be pointed out that just under 50% of the referrals featured in the slides come from non Mandated Reporters.
Research by : Dr Ben Mathews, Professor, School of Law Australian Centre for Health Law Research (Co-Director, Children’s Health Program), Faculty of Law Senior Research Fellow, Professorial Fellow Royal Commission Into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, Faculty of Law, Queensland University of Technology
Since last August a ‘lite’ or perhaps more accurately, ‘zero’ version of MR has been proposed by the NSPCC. It is currently an impractical and ineffective proposition that contains significant safety concerns. Mandate Now is critical of it as we explained in our response.
Meanwhile the resistance to MR from Government continues. Through my MP Cheryl Gillan, who is very supportive of Mandate Now, I received a letter from Michael Gove dated 5th December 2012 which you can read here. It said:
“Whilst I understand the concern of those who would like to see this requirement” [the referral of all allegations to the Local Authority] “put beyond doubt by introducing mandatory referral of any allegaton, I believe we must be careful not to swamp LADOs with every incident reported.”
( My emphasis, and LADO means Local Authority Designated Officer to whom certain concerns that emerge from Regulated Activities are referred)
(click on images to enlarge)
Mr Gove is defending a system that is now void of credibility. Decades of safeguarding failures both in and by RA’s have led to the Child Sexual Abuse inquiry in England and Wales as well as inquiries in Northern Ireland, Jersey, St Helena, Scotland, all of which adopted the hopelessly inadequate ‘discretionary reporting’ model designed in Whitehall. Furthermore, until Australia adopted MR, it also framed its protocols on the Whitehall model which has resulted in the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses Child Abuse. Its Terms of Reference include improvements to the mandatory reporting protocols that now exist in each State. We meanwhile, have yet to cross the MR threshold.
In fact Mr Gove’s letter carries a tacit acknowledgement the system is not working. He also refers to teachers as ‘professionals’ and I agree they are at teaching, but not at child protection. Child abuse is absolutely not a ‘common sense’ issue, in fact the first rule of this complex subject is ‘suspend adult logic, and apply experience.’
The letter also raises the vexed issue of increased referrals points #1+2 on the Ministers ‘Fright List’. This has been repeated many times since, both by Ministers and the former civil servants who populate senior positions in the NSPCC and other NGO’s. The word ‘swamp’ is terminology designed to scare in the hope of shoring up the status quo. Inertia is a Government default and the civil service is expert at it. But let’s not forget that child abuse detection is estimated to be onle 5% in the How Fair is Britain Report 2012 by the Equalities and Human Rights Commission. We want this increased don’t we, and to make Regulated Activities unsafe environments for perpetrators?
So this takes us to #3 on the Fright List – and here are just a few examples of the Police letting it be know that more money is needed to address the surge in non-recent child abuse complaints being made to forces countrywide.
- Baroness Butler Sloss after stepping down from the Inquiry 16/7/14
- This link provides the results for a Google Search on the subject
This takes us to No #4 on the Fright List. On 24/1/15 The Times drew our attention to the Director of Public Prosecutions complaining of the ‘bow wave’ of cost stemming from non-recent child abuse cases . But we are in ‘catch up’ conditions at present – a backlog of decades of non-recent abuse has been created as a direct result of the UK’s amateurish ‘discretionary reporting’ framework – and finally it is now emerging.
So here is No #5 on the Fright List, Mr Grayling informing us there had been an ‘explosion’ in the numbers of rapists and sex attackers’ He went onto say: “The system is so stretched that eight prisons now exclusively house sex offenders”
What can the Government do about full prisons? Those who create the demand for indecent images of children, the downloaders, are now by default spared jail. Most days, the @MandateNow Twitter feed delivers news of ‘downloaders’ receiving suspended sentences. Ironically this case arrived on my phone as I was listening to Justice Lowell Goddard informing a group of abusees, who had been invited to meet her the day before her scheduled appearance before the Home Affairs Select Committee, of an extract from her sentencing remarks in a similar case. The New Zealand criminal was jailed. What might have happened here when there is such limited prison space?
In Government terms child protection is about cost, it has little to do with the protection of children. It justifies its position on research that has nothing to to with child protection in Regulated Activities. The Government objective, aided by the Social Work profession and biddable NGOs, neither of which have had anything to do with the design or delivery of child protection in Regulated Activities, is to re-badge the status quo and apply the magical words ‘Mandatory Reporting.’ With this achieved another safeguarding fraud will have been perpetrated on parents, children and those who have responsibility for the protection of children in these settings.
Update 8/3/18 – After the consultation ‘reporting and acting on child abuse and neglect’ the Government has decided to retain the failing status quo. The presenter was misinformed at the start about what is mandated and what Mandate Now is seeking but it self-corrects after a few moments.