The Manchester Evening News  brought to our attention on 19th Feb an amendment Yvette Cooper tabled in the Serious Crimes Bill to be debated on Monday.  We are pleased that the Labour Party has made a committment to Mandatory Reporting, and we hope it will positively consider our review of the amendment.

An earlier MR amendment to the SCR Bill was moved in the House of Lords by Lib Dem Peer Baroness Walmsley, to which MandateNow contributed (28th October 2015). It was withdrawn on an assurance from the Government that a long needed and inclusive ‘consultation’ on Mandatory Reporting would happen. Disappointingly, the terms of reference have still not yet been announced.

MR in Regulated Activities is inevitable, but its design is critically important.  MR is not a component that can be lifted from a shelf, applied and switched on. It is a complicated and nuanced subject that requires tailoring to be effective. Unfortunately this amendment prompts a number of concerns – 

    These include:
  • 1(c) It appears that the duty to report is only to apply where harm is caused within a setting of Regulated Activities. It is odd that incidents involving children such as Daniel Pelka and Blake Fowler remain outside the scope of this amendment. Both these children were abused at home but multiple concerns about each of them came to the attention of staff at their respective schools, yet none of these concerns in either of these cases were referred to the Local Authority. Both children died. Similarly the amendment does not give children who might be entrapped in CSE cases such as Rotherham the same statutory protection. This creates a form of Child Protection  apartheid for the following reason.  Below in italics is an extract from our response to the NSPCC proposal in August 2014 titled – ‘Strengthening Duties on Professionals …’ which bears a striking resemblance to this sub-clause of the amendment.

“A duty to report should apply when the concerns are about the behaviour of those within the institution.”

Mandate Now commented:

So if abuse occurs outside one of these residential settings but where evidence or suspicion
becomes known inside the institution, it is to be excluded from the NSPCC’s proposal.

The amendment adopts the same position.

  • 1(c) also requires that a person ‘becomes aware that a child has been harmed.’ The requirement to know that a child has been harmed is problematic. So often, as with sexual abuse for instance, it is very difficult to suspect let alone know. We challenged the NSPCC on this flawed concept because it formed part of the NGO’s ‘Strengthening duties’ proposal to which we responded here.  A law that depends on somebody being “aware” (a dangerously vague word) is not going to catch most cases.  The term required here is that “a person must act on reasonable grounds of suspicion.”

The exceptions under section (2) of the amendment :

  • 2(a) permits undefined circumstances for reasons not to refer an incident for independent assessment. This undermines the  concept of ‘Mandatory Reporting.’ When might it be in the interests of a child to be harmed and those who know or suspect to do nothing about it? This needs to be made explicit.
  • (b) this clause is almost a facsimile of the current and porous position. In complying with current non-mandatory reporting clauses in institutional child protection procedures, personal liability is avoided. This proposal continues with the failed narrative that reporting to the LA for independent assessment is reliant on what the person responsible for reporting believes. If the member of staff  refers to the Head Teacher as the ‘designated person’ and nothing happens because the Head believes it wasn’t in the child’s interests to refer, or the Head followed the inadequate professional guidelines which are discretionary, then this amendment produces no change. Hillside First School can recur under this amendment.

The exceptions in Section 2, undermine the already underpowered provisions in Section 1.

_________________

NC17

Yvette Cooper, Seema Malhotra, Jack Dromey, Mr Steve Reed

(1) A person commits an offence if —“Mandatory reporting of suspected child abuse

(a) he is involved in the provision of regulated activity as defined by section
5 of the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006 for which he is paid;

(b) he is a provider of regulated activity as defined by section 6 of theSafeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006;

(c) he becomes aware that a child has been harmed in connection to the regulated activity; and

(d) he does not inform a relevant authority of this harm.

(2) A person does not commit an offence under this section if—

(a) he can demonstrate he acted in the best interests of the child, or
(b) he complied with relevant professional guidelines or institutional
guidelines for the reporting of abuse as he believed them to be,
complying with institutional guidelines for the reporting of abuse can
include informing another individual with relevant safeguarding
responsibilities.

(3) In this section “harm” means conduct which amounts to one of the following

offences—

(a) cruelty to and neglect of children;
(b) cruelty to children/young persons;
(c) child abduction;
(d) rape of a female child under 16;
(e) rape of a female child under 13;
(f) rape of a male child under 16;
(g) rape of a male child under 13;
(h) sexual assault on a male child under 13;
(i) sexual assault on a female child under 13;
(j) sexual activity involving a child under 13;
(k) sexual activity involving a child under 16;
(l) sexual expolitation of children;
(m) abuse of position of trust of a sexual nature; and
(n) sexual grooming.

________________________________________

Notices of Amendments: 19 February 2015 1588

Serious Crime Bill-[ [], continued

(4) The Secretary of State may, by way of regulation, make guidance as to the
interpretation of subsection (2) or amend subsection (3).

(5) Any regulations made under subsection (4) must be subject to an affirmative
procedure of both Houses of Parliament.

(6) In this section “relevant authority” means—
(a) the local authority with safeguarding authorities;
(b) the local police force; and
(c) the Disclosure and Barring Service.

(7) A person guilty of an offence under this Part of this Act shall be liable—
(a) on summary conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six
months or to a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum, or to both such
imprisonment and fine;
(b) on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding
three years.”