Criminal offences for social workers who fail to act on abuse rejected by government

Controversial proposals for a 'duty to act' for children's social workers to act on suspected abuse has been rejected by the government

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The government will not introduce new rules that would make social workers who don’t report child abuse punishable with criminal offences, a consultation response has said.

The document, published this week, outlined the responses to a consultation on the introduction of mandatory reporting and a ‘duty to act’ for professionals working with children.

Both proposed duties would have made professionals working with children liable for criminal charges if they did not report child abuse when it was suspected.

The then Prime Minister David Cameron suggested the move in 2015. At the time he proposed expanding the crime of wilful neglect, which currently applies to care workers and health workers providing care for adults and children, to professionals who fail to act on child abuse.

This was dismissed before the consultation as it would have meant stretching the offence “beyond its original purpose”. It did however inform the duty to act option proposed in the consultation.

Case ‘not been made’

Sanctions under mandatory reporting would have been incurred if a person failed to report abuse for any reason other than genuine errors or mistakes. Under a duty to act sanctions would focus on cases where there were “reckless reasons for failure to act”. It would have included practitioners consciously taking no action, or an action that was insufficient or inappropriate.

Potential punishment for social workers who breached either duty could have included existing practitioner sanctions (such as through the regulator), additional processes involving the Disclosure and Barring Service, or criminal sanctions at individual and organisational levels.

Following a consultation, the government said: “The case for a mandatory reporting duty or duty to act has not currently been made”.

“Therefore, we do not intend to introduce a mandatory reporting duty or duty to act at this time,” the government response said.

More than half (51%) of those who responded to the consultation said a duty to act would have an “adverse” impact on the child protection system, such as “impacting recruitment and retention of staff, and negatively impacting the serious case review process”.

Further criticism of the proposal also said a duty to act would not recognise the complicated judgements required by practitioners working with abuse, and that it would increase pressure on resources.

More than two-thirds of respondents felt a mandatory reporting duty would negatively impact the child protection system.

A majority also said sanctions should not be too severe, and should be less to professional bodies.

Most were in favour of allowing existing government reforms to child protection, which included investment into innovation fund projects and the accreditation of social workers, to take effect before considering the need for additional statutory measures.

‘Listened to the views’

Following the feedback, the government said it would provide coordination between agencies to implement stronger safeguarding arrangements locally and consider the current legal framework to assess whether it is sufficiently robust in terms of criminal offences for concealing child abuse neglect.

Isabelle Trowler, the chief social worker for children and families, said the government had “listened to the views of social work leaders” in heeding the warning of the impact mandatory reporting could have.

“Our focus should be to continue building public confidence in our first-class child protection system which holds a door wide open for vulnerable children and also provides support for families.”

Richard Watts, chair of the Local Government Association welcomed the news, and added the organisation did not think mandatory reporting would have addressed current child protection challenges.

“Mandatory reporting systems demand an overwhelming focus on the investigation of families rather than the provision of support and the promotion of wellbeing. With children’s services facing a £2 billion funding gap by 2020 and demand for child protection services continuing to increase at a staggering rate, we strongly believe that the government needs to focus its efforts on providing the resources that councils need to provide early support for children and families before problems become serious.”

2 Responses to Criminal offences for social workers who fail to act on abuse rejected by government

  1. Tom J March 7, 2018 at 1:23 pm #

    Phew! In health because of the reporting duty around FGM midwives and other profs are referring women left right and centre. Say you once walked past a mosque and you might get a referral lol

    Professionals get nervous and ‘play it safe’. Thank heavens they have stopped this in social work otherwise there would be non stop reporting just to be safe.

    And lets not forget the HCPC are always happy to hammer social workers who fail to reach their ridiculous standards regardless of context of caseloads, supervision, resources etc.

  2. Chris Mills March 7, 2018 at 6:47 pm #

    Good news. The right decision.

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