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.
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.”
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.
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.
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
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.