Prosecutions for Teachers and Other Professionals who Fail to Report Child Abuse?

3836336214_671ce9bd87_mInterestingly, and in keeping with my post on 16th October 2013, Keir Starmer, the former Director of Public Prosecutions, this week told Panorama that he believes that teachers and other professionals should be under a mandatory duty to report any suspicion they have that a child is at risk of or suffering from child abuse.

Mr Starmer stated that ‘any professionals who fail to perform their duty should face prosecution for an offence that would carry a possible jail sentence’.  The government responded to Mr Starmer by stating that mandatory reporting was not the answer to non-reporting of such suspicion’s.

In Northern Ireland it is an offence to fail to disclose the committing of an arrestable offence by any person or persons to the police under the Criminal Law Act 1967. Mr Starmer stated that ‘If you’re in a position of authority or responsibility in relation to children, and you have cause to believe that a child has been abused, or is about to be abused, you really ought to do something about it.’ He added that ‘There are just too many examples of cases where those who have suspected abuse have not really done anything about it and the perpetrator has either got away with it or, worse still, been able to perpetuate the offending.’ His idea being that the threat of a short jail sentence or fine would sufficiently encourage individuals to report such offending.

The government, however, currently have no plans to change the law. The Department of Education stressed the need for professionals to report any suspected incidents, stating that professionals ‘should refer immediately to social care when they are concerned about a child.’ They went on to say that ‘this happens every year in many thousands of cases and numbers of referrals have increased over recent years. Other countries have tried mandatory reporting and there is no evidence to show that it is a better system for protecting children.’

The question is whether making disclosure mandatory will really achieve what Mr Starmer hopes it will. Could it not result in the court system simply being clogged up with teachers and other professionals trying to defend themselves against the scrutiny of the prosecution? Would it not be better to invest time and money in to training teachers and other professionals sufficiently, to see the signs of abuse and neglect? Dame Clare Tickell, chief executive of the Action for Children, certainly thinks so, she told BBC 4’s Today programme that ‘teachers and people across the system are not sufficiently trained to see those early signs of abuse [It is important that teachers and other professionals know how to spot these signs and not that they] feel that they may be prosecuted if they don’t’.

It is obviously a hot topic and one that our government needs to address. Jonathan West, of the Mandate Now coalition of charities, agreed with Mr Starmer, stating that “social services can’t actually act on cases they haven’t been told about. Schools and other organisations, often don’t really want to have a child abuse scandal on their hands. It is surprisingly common that schools want to handle such things in house.’

What is the answer to the current non-reporting issue? I don’t know. I don’t believe that prosecuting teachers and other professionals for missing signs of abuse that they don’t even know are signs is the way forward. But then again is simply training teachers and other professionals to see the signs of abuse enough, when schools possibly don’t allow them to go on to report these signs and try to deal with it in-house?

To view BBC’s Panorama report, which aired last night (4th November 2013), please visit www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer. For the BBC’s news report on the subject please visit: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-24772777.

Photo by Ren 🙂 via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

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