Thursday, 23 June 2016

The Spectator on Mandatory Reporting

The Spectator has weighed into the debate on mandatory reporting saying that ‘Mandatory reporting’ of suspected child abuse is a mad, bad idea. I saw the article and commented "below the line" on the Spectator website.


Oh dear! What an ill-informed and misleading article.

1. Cameron hasn't spoken in favour of mandatory reporting with a penalty of 5 years for non-reporting, he spoke in favour of a law on "wilful neglect" which is something quite different and almost impossible to prove which won't change child protection culture in any way at all. It was just Cameron deciding to have a pop at another group of public sector staff, in this case social workers.

2. Mandatory reporting in countries such as the USA, Canada and Australia hasn't resulted in thousands of ill-founded or-unverifiable reports. The most recent research from Australia confirms that the introduction of mandatory reporting there has significantly increased the number of substantiated reports from mandated reporters. The conclusion of author Ben Mathews of Queensland University of Technology was “The results of this research suggest a mandatory reporting law for CSA is associated with a substantial and sustained increase in identification of cases of CSA. Societies which are considering the introduction of a mandatory reporting law for CSA should find support for this policy intervention from these findings, while recognizing the associated needs for reporter education, investment in agency capacity and service provision, and the need to implement responses to reports with sensitivity.”

3. Without proper support it is really hard to summon the courage to report. The natural thing to do is ask "What if I'm wrong?" So people tend to be on the side of the alleged abuser rather than the vulnerable child. The author has piled on the pressure in that direction with her talk of "the harm done to families and-professionals by thousands of unfounded accusations". It is a pity that no mention is made of the devastating and often lifelong harm to children that results from abuse going unreported and undetected. Non-reporting is far more common that you might think, and results in prolific serial abusers such as William Vahey getting away with their crimes for decades, or of Nigel Leat, where other staff noticed concerning behaviour on over 30 occasions and none of those concerns were forwarded to children's services

3. Actually Michael Gove is on record as having had a change of heart in favour of mandatory reporting.

4. It isn't a myth that there is an epidemic of hidden abuse. Research by the Children's Commissioner for England concludes that only 1 in 8 cases of child sex abuse comes to the attention of the authorities. That's a awful lot of unreported abuse. Yes, I'd call it an epidemic.

5. The tight, closed institutions that carried out the abuse-cover-ups of the past do still exist. As an example one school, knowing that a member of staff had abused, instead of reporting it consulted the school's solicitors to see if they had to report. The lawyers said no.

6. The Rochdale scandal had very little to do with the mandatory reporting question. Although under-reporting probably happened, the key problem was that local authority social services and the police simply didn't believe the children when they came forward with horrific takes of abuse. Professor Jay didn't conclude that the primary problem was fear of pointing fingers at the Pakistani community, but rather that the children, often from troubled backgrounds, were thought not worth trying to help.

So, an error of fact in almost every paragraph. Apart from that, the article is wonderful.


The editors of the Spectator can't take criticism. The comment was moderated and not published.

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