Mandatory reporting systems in social work will neither provide greater protection for children and young people nor lead to better outcomes.
This is the stark warning from the Association of Directors of Children’s Services and the Local Government Association in a joint statement opposing the introduction of mandatory reporting or a duty to act.
The government proposed that a legal requirement is introduced on social workers to report child abuse and neglect. The consultation proposed that sanctions for failing to comply with the requirement could range from employer and/or regulatory sanctions to criminal sanctions.
The consultation also proposed a duty to act which would impose a legal requirement on certain groups, professionals or organisations to take appropriate action where they know or suspect that a child is suffering, or is at risk of suffering, abuse or neglect. Appropriate action may include reporting, but it would not be limited to this. In cases where a report has already been made, for example, the duty to act would require further action to be taken if that was appropriate. This might include sharing information with other agencies or taking protective action.
As the focus of the duty to act would be broader than mandatory reporting, sanctions for breaches would apply differently. Under the duty to act, sanctions for breaches would be focused on cases where there were reckless reasons for failure to act, or because practitioners and/or organisations were indifferent to the harm, or potential harm, that might be caused. This means that an individual would have to consciously take a decision not to take action, or take action which was clearly insufficient or inappropriate, in the knowledge that they were not doing the right thing or reckless as to whether they were.
The statement from the ADCS and LGA said: “Introducing mandatory reporting (or a duty to act) will not address the current challenges in protecting children in the UK.”
“This system was introduced in other countries in response to significant levels of undisclosed abuse and a perceived failure by some professionals to report concerns about the neglect and abuse of children and young people.
“There is no evidence that this is the case here, referrals to the police and children’s social care are already higher than in comparable jurisdictions with mandatory reporting systems and rates continue to increase year-on-year,” the statement added.
The organisations also state that existing measures under the Local Authority Designated Officer (LADO) process which addresses professional negligence in reporting abuse and neglect and can result in de-registration and dismissal are sufficient.
The statement also goes on to warn that introducing mandatory reporting could result in defensive practice. It warns: “Play-it-safe practice driven by fear risks overwhelming a system that is already under significant strain due to increased demand, rising expectations and reducing resources.”
An unintended consequence of mandatory reporting is a distortion of social responsibility, the statement adds, and communities should be empowered to recognise signs of abuse and neglect and be confident in responding appropriately rather than relying on the state to act at all times.
The organisations call for investment of efforts and available respires in prevention, early identification and early help through a range of measures aimed at children ad young people, professionals and the public.
“ADCS and the LGA do not support the introduction of mandatory reporting on child abuse and neglect, nor do we support the introduction of the alternative, a duty to act. We believe any failure to report concern is not likely to be a matter of political indifference but one of ignorance of the signs and symptoms of abuse in the first place. We believe that this can and should be addressed in different ways,” the joint statement concluded.