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.
Karen Bradley, the Minister for Preventing Abuse, Exploitation and Crime, said the helpline would be:
“a vital service in our fight to end child abuse, including sexual exploitation”.
“Some employers are making great strides in strengthening whistle-blowing processes. But more can be done to encourage employees to report malpractice without fear of victimisation – particularly in relation to children where the cost of failure is so high.”
“No-one should be afraid to report concerns about failures in child protection.“
The problem is that word “should”. Of course no-one should be afraid to report concerns, but the fact is that they are. But nothing is said about how the helpline will change this. The reason they haven’t said anything is that the helpline can’t and won’t help.
Imagine you are a senior member of staff in a school (or any other Regulated Activity) with reasonable suspicions that a fellow member of staff is sexually abusing a child. You take the reasons for your concern to the head teacher who says:
“This is impossible. He has been at the school for 20 years and has an exemplary record. I will not have you wrecking his career by spreading unfounded allegations against him. You will not speak of this again to anybody.”
But you saw what you saw, your suspicions won’t go away, and you are worried that the head teacher’s reaction is in part motivated by a desire to protect the reputation of the setting. So you call the new helpline.
The helpline assures your anonymity and passes the concerns to the local authority. (In the past you might have called the LA directly yourself, and they might have provided anonymity. The helpline makes no significant difference here.) The local authority children’s services call the school and says it wants to attend the setting about a child protection concern it has received. It does not say who blew the whistle, but it will take the administration of the Regulated Activity about 3 seconds to work out that you made the call, because you brought the very same concerns to him/her in the first place.
You as the whistle blower could now very easily get hounded out of your job. This is a common fate for whistle blowers who by default take news nobody wants to hear to the very people who most don’t want to hear it, and who then are not legally obliged to refer it to anyone.
This isn’t a purely hypothetical example. This has happened in real life. Listen to this account from a member of staff in a Special Educational Needs school.
Would the Helpline have made any difference to Beth or her colleague?
All whistle blowers have to protect them is Public Interest Disclosure Act – a shaky piece of ‘stable-door’ legislation on which you would be foolish to place any reliance. The new NSPCC whistle blower helpline cannot provide any other legislatively backed protection.
The only thing that would make a significant difference is for schools and other “regulated activities” (organisations involved in caring for and working with children) to be subject to “mandatory reporting” a statutory duty to report reasonable suspicions of abuse backed by criminal sanctions for failure to do so. Whistle blowers would then no longer be blowing the whistle, they would merely be fulfilling their statutory duty and be protected when doing so. And nobody in a leadership position is going to risk time in jail covering up somebody else’s alleged abuses by squelching a report that comes from a member of staff. This would instantly transform the child protection environment in schools and other institutions.
But the government has so far resisted all attempts to introduce mandatory reporting. They are instead spending £500,000 of taxpayer’s money on a helpline which cannot make any difference to the situation.