Sunday, 10 November 2013

Daniel's Law

There are two aspects to what Mandatory Reporting is designed to achieve.

The first is the kinds of cases described by Panorama last week, of schools or other institutions which deliberately decide to hide abuse in order to protect the own reputations. There's no real way of knowing how many such cases there are still hidden. What we do know is that quite a number of cases have come to court, sometimes decades after the event, of teachers convicted of child sex crimes against the pupils in their care. The following is a non-exhaustive list of recent cases
  • Fr David Pearce (St Benedict's School, Ealing)
  • Richard White (Downside School)
  • Bruce Roth (Wellington College and Kings School Rochester)
  • Stephen Skelton (St Benedict's School, Ealing and West Hill Park School, Titchfield)
  • Nigel Leat (Hillside First School)
  • Michael Brewer (Chetham's School, Manchester)
  • Jeremy Forrest (Bishop Bell School, Eastbourne)
The additional thing all these cases have in common is that in every case, concerns about abusive behaviour were known to management of at least one of the schools concerned, and those concerns were either ignored by management or handled "in house" without notifying the authorities. In each case the matter later came to the attention of the police by a route that didn't involve the school.

One can theorise that some kinds of schools are more at risk than others - that the vulnerability correlates with the extent to which the school is dependent on  its reputation for its future. So independent schools might be considered more of a risk than state schools, because they operate as business. Faith schools might be regarded as more vulnerable than secular schools because they have the reputation of their sponsoring religion to consider. And academies might be more at risk than schools under local authority control because they compete for pupils (and the money that follows them) against their neighbours.

But these are only rules of thumb. The list above contains two Catholic independent schools, three secular independent schools, one specialist music school, one C of E assisted academy and one community school under local authority control. There is no variety of school that is immune to the possibility that management will hide abuse.

The other thing that Mandatory Reporting will help is where abuse isn't reported because of incompetence and disorganisation in a school, without any malicious intent. The Daniel Pelka Serious Case Review described the following.
Of considerable concern during this period of time in either late 2011 or early 2012, was that the school noted injuries on Daniel which had not been caused by any accidents in the school. The lack of recording of them by the school was a concern in itself as well as the fact that there were two books in which to record concerns about a child. One of the injuries was recorded in the book for the reception class but none were recorded in the school book for this purpose. It was therefore apparent that the school did not have clear protocols to enable the compilation of information and concerns. This meant that there was lack of clarity about when exactly injuries were seen, how many there were, and of the response to them. Within the criminal trial, school staff gave conflicting accounts, particularly about the occasions when the head teacher was informed (who also had the role of designated safeguarding lead). It appeared that there were three occasions as a minimum when injuries occurred, and that these included facial injuries, and potentially finger bruising to the neck. In fact in the trial, the class teacher said that in her view this was caused by someone trying to strangle Daniel, and that she thought that the mother had done this.
What was thought by his class teacher to be evidence of an attempted strangulation of Daniel was not reported to social services as a child protection concern. How can this be?

What ought to have happened is that the teacher should have reported this to the head within an hour, and the head should have had social services round before the end of the school day to interview Daniel's mother. Social Services should in turn have arranged for a medical examination and then called in the police.

The Serious Case Review was highly critical of the safeguarding arrangements at the school. The next paragraph includes the following.
With the background of mounting concerns by the school about Daniel’s obsession to seek out food, as well as poor growth and possible loss of weight, it was surprising and very concerning that these injuries were not linked to those concerns. Whether the evidence presented by school staff within the criminal trial was influenced by a level of hindsight is not possible to say, but if there were such concerns about the injuries alongside the background of the other concerns, it is difficult to understand why the school did not coordinate these and ensure that a child protection referral was made to CLYP at the time. Despite considerable individual concerns by school staff, these were not developed into a coherent referral to CLYP. The school missed this clear opportunity to formally raise the level of concerns to the child protection level. The reasons why they did not do so appeared to have reflected a disorganised response to injuries witnessed, meaning that no records were made, incidents were viewed individually, and there was no person who was coordinating the concerns and identifying that a clear pattern of risk was potentially emerging. The system within the school to respond to safeguarding concerns was therefore dysfunctional at this time. The schools own safeguarding and child protection policy does not make it clear what the internal arrangements were for reporting and recording concerns.
I've read the safeguarding policy that was in place at the time. The SCR is quite correct in its description of it. However, OFSTED had no concerns. When they visited the school in March 2011 they had this to say about safeguarding at the school.
Procedures for safeguarding pupils are robust; staff and the designated governor are well informed about child protection. Good practice in multi-agency work to support individual pupils is an example of the school's effective partnership work.
Any parents reading that report would think that their children were safe at the school. And yet less than a year after that inspection, Daniel was dead.

But it gets worse. In January 2013, 9 months after Daniel died, OFSTED inspected the school again. This was their opinion of safeguarding.
The arrangements for the safeguarding of pupils meet requirements. The school carries out the necessary checks on adults to ensure that they are suitable to work with children.
There was no mention of any lessons learned or changes of procedure that had been made as a result. There was not even any mention of Daniel or his death. From the evidence of the report there's no reason even to think that the inspectors were even aware that Daniel had been a pupil at the school.

And no lessons had been learned, and no procedures had been changed. The same child protection policy, issued in 2009, was in use at the time of both OFSTED inspections, the death of Daniel and the Serious Case Review.

Since this was first publicised in an article by Louise Tickle in the Guardian, Little Heath Primary School has issued a new child protection policy. It is a mere four pages long. It contains a list of things that the child protection policy should do, such as "Ensure all staff and volunteers understand their responsibilities in being alert to the signs of abuse and responsibility for referring any concerns to the designated senior person responsible for child protection." But it doesn't describe the procedures for doing that, so staff are no better off than before about what they should do. It is slightly better than the shambles of the 2009 policy, but not by all that much.

So let's describe the current situation. There is no law requiring schools to report. There is "statutory guidance" which schools "must have regard to", but having regarded the guidance schools are free to do anything they like, including nothing. OFSTED does not notice bad safeguarding procedures, or at least does not report on them. Increasing numbers of state schools are being turned into academies and required in effect to compete for pupils with their neighbours, increasing the temptations to hide abuse. And a year and a half after a child dies when there had been clear signs that he was in danger, his school has updated its child protection policy without describing clear procedures for reporting child protection concerns to the authorities.

The system is broken. We must fix it. Please sign the @MandateNow and Daniel's Law petitions.

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Panorama on Mandatory Reporting of Child Sex Abuse

On Monday night BBC Panorama had a programme "After Savile: No More Secrets?" about coverups of child sex abuse in schools, hospitals and similar institutions. Some of the cases such as Downside School and Hillside First school are ones I've previously mentioned here.

The key point of the Panorama programme was that there is no law requiring institutions to report abuse that comes to their attention. A headteacher can know that one of his teachers has raped a pupil on school premises, and has no legal obligation to report anything to anybody. Panorama had examples of such failure to report dating back to the 1950s and forward to very recent times. Keir Starmer, until recently the Director of Public Prosecutions, stated that he thinks that a law requiring institutions to report abuse is necessary to prevent this from happening again in future.

I was on the Today programme on BBC Radio 4 on Monday morning debating this issue with Dame Clare Tickell. You can hear it for yourself here. The section starts at 2:10:00 in to the programme.

Dame Clare Tickell is against mandatory reporting, and her view is that everything can be handled with better training and communication.

What Panorama has described as happening time and time again is the deliberate cover-up of abuse that has been reported within the institution. The problem is that management often does not want to have the bad publicity associated with a child sex abuse scandal on their patch. In such circumstances there is a clear conflict of interest - a conflict of duty if you prefer to call it that - between the welfare of the children and the reputation of the institution.

And many institutions are subject to this temptation. Independent schools for instance are run as businesses (even though they may be constituted as charities) and are dependent on their reputations in order to attract pupils and the fees that go with them.

Faith schools are also vulnerable, because they have the reputation of their sponsoring church or other faith group to consider.

Increasing numbers of state schools are being removed from local authority control and set up as academies or free schools. They are quasi independent, and compete for pupils with their neighbours in much the same way that independent schools do, even though the money comes from government rather than directly from the parents. With the growth of academies and free schools, the proportion of schools which are dependent for their future on their reputation has vastly grown in recent years. Even in the maintained sector, the reputation of a school is often also the reputation of the headteacher, and so reports can be suppressed if the head's reputation is under threat.

To resolve this conflict of interest between the welfare of the children and the reputation of the institution, schools and other institutions frequently try to square the circle by handling cases "in house". They think they can protect children without all the messy publicity associated with reporting the case to outside authorities. For instance they quietly tell the employee concerned not to do it again, or they get rid of him by sending him on his way with a good reference.

The first option is perfectly legal. The decision not to report might be taken in all good faith, but in fact protects nobody except the abuser. When he abuses again, management is compromised. They dare not report the new case lest their earlier bad decision come to light. In such ways, you can have abuse at an institution which goes unchecked for decades.

The second option simply throws the problem over the fence - somebody else is given the job of reporting the abuse - after the abuser has harmed another child. This is technically illegal, but I know of no case where a school has been prosecuted for it, even though we know it has happened many times, and Panorama described a couple of cases.

No amount of training will resolve this conflict of interest. No amount of training in how to recognise and report abuse will change the mind of an organisation which has decided that its reputation is better served by suppressing reports. This is why Dame Clare Tickell's analysis of the situation is profoundly wrong-headed. The only thing that will change this situation is for the balance of interest to be decisively tipped in favour of reporting. Mandatory reporting does this. No head teacher is going to risk going to jail in order to cover up somebody else's abuse.

Mandatory reporting is not intended to be a threat hanging over ordinary teachers. Most class teachers want to protect the children in their care and will report child protection concerns that they have. At the moment, if the school doesn't want to report, these class teachers are in the position of being whistleblowers, they have to go over the head of their own management to get their concerns into the hands of the authorities. Whistleblowers often pay the price of doing the right thing with the loss of their job. If you are a teacher with a mortgage and a young family, it takes enormous courage to do this. Understandably, a significant proportion don't dare risk their jobs.

Mandatory reporting will protect these people and ensure that management doesn't suppress the reports that are passed to them. It will ensure that all reports actually get to the authorities so they can be properly investigated.

Nothing less will address the coverups which Panorama described. This is why mandatory reporting is needed. If you agree, please sign the @MandateNow petition.