The Scottish government has launched a consultation on whether children’s social workers who wilfully neglect children should be jailed for up to five years.
Published last week, the consultation document on extending wilful neglect into health and social care services for children asks for views on how to define the crime, who can be liable for it, and what the penalty should be for those convicted.
Plans to introduce a crime of wilful neglect for professionals working in adults’ health and social care services in Scotland were confirmed in the Health Bill earlier this year, although provisions were not included for an offence regarding children as there were still issues which needed exploring, the document said.
The latest consultation asks whether the wording and definitions of the offence for adults’ health and social care – regarding the types of professionals and corporate bodies which should be included – should apply to children’s services.
Wilful neglect by adults’ services workers will carry a maximum jail term of five years, and the proposals for children’s services outline that the punishment for conviction on indictment would be five years, or an unlimited fine.
The offence for children’s services would be based on the conduct of the individual or organisation, and not any harm caused as a result of their actions, the document proposed.
“If a threshold of harm was set out in legislation then this could give rise to a situation where two children were subjected to the same ill-treatment or neglect by the same care worker but because one was more seriously harmed than the other, a prosecution could only be brought in respect of the more seriously harmed individual. Furthermore, setting a harm threshold may give rise to uncertainty about when the offence would apply,” the consultation said.
Trisha Hall, manager of the Scottish Association of Social Workers, said there needs to be more information about how the proposed offence would add to what offences there are already.
She said there is legislation in Scotland that “already covers” if a child is being abused or neglected by a professional.
“We want to get people’s views on what would be the added value, if any, of this offence before we respond in detail,” Hall said.
Hall said it’s important to clarify this proposal would work across the whole of children’s health and social care services, and described the proposals as “vague”.
“It talks about the health and social care settings in a really wide context… social work is very heavily regulated, if there is any conduct that is in question it will be dealt with by criminal law already. We want to find out what it will add… I’m not clear about what the difference is,” Hall said.
The consultation will close on 28 October.
Children’s social workers in England and Wales are awaiting a consultation on wilful neglect announced by Prime Minister David Cameron earlier this year.