Vera Baird

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The Commissioner’s Response to the Government Consultation – Reporting & Acting On Child Abuse & Neglect

14th October 2016

NB To inform this response I have consulted with colleagues and partners drawn from regional schools and colleges, heath services, voluntary sector organisations, social housing providers, LSCBs & local authority policy departments.  

The Current Child Protection System

 

  1. To what extent do you agree or disagree with the following statements about the current child protection system?
             
Strongly agree Agree Neither agree nor disagree Disagree Strongly disagree Don’t know
Child protection training for practitioners should be improved so that they are better qualified and able to provide the right help at the right time to keep children safe.  

Yes 

 
More needs to be done within the child protection system to encourage new and innovative systems to better protect children.    

Yes 

Organisations with child protection responsibilities need to work better together.  

Yes 

 
Practitioners and organisations with child protection responsibilities sometimes recklessly fail to take proper action (including reporting) to stop or prevent child abuse and neglect.  

Yes 

 
Child abuse and neglect is generally under-reported by practitioners involved in children’s lives.  

Yes 

   

 

Other measures that could be introduced

It is important to consider fully the consultation materials before answering the questions in this section. In order to inform your answers to these questions, you will need to balance evidence of potential positive impacts of mandatory reporting or a duty to act against possible risks and issues that may be associated with their introduction

 

The Introduction of a Mandatory Reporting Duty

 

  1. To what extent do you agree or disagree with the following statements?

 

Strongly agree Agree Neither agree nor disagree Disagree Strongly disagree Don’t know
Mandatory reporting will generate more reports of suspected and known cases of child abuse and neglect.

Yes

 

 
Increased reporting may divert attention from the most serious child abuse and neglect cases. Yes   
Increased reporting could mean that abuse and neglect would be captured at an early point in a child’s life.    

Yes 

Mandatory reporting could have an adverse impact on the child protection system (e.g. impacting recruitment and retention of staff, creating a culture of reporting rather than acting, negatively impacting the serious case review process).  

Yes 

 
Mandatory reporting could dissuade victims from disclosing incidents of abuse and reduce ‘safe spaces’ for children  

Yes 

 
Mandatory reporting could lead to greater prevention and awareness of abuse and neglect  

Yes 

The introduction of a mandatory reporting duty would not in itself mean that appropriate action would be taken to protect children.    

Yes 

 
A mandatory reporting duty would ensure that those best placed to make judgements about whether abuse or neglect is happening – i.e. social workers – do so.  

Yes 

 

  1. To what extent do you agree that the introduction of a mandatory reporting duty would directly improve outcomes for children?

 

Strongly agree Agree Neither agree nor disagree Disagree Strongly disagree Don’t know
       

Yes 

   

 

  1. Please outline any risks or benefits regarding the introduction of a mandatory reporting duty that haven’t been articulated in the consultation.

The Introduction of a Duty to Act

As Police & Crime Commissioner for Northumbria I am not convinced that the introduction of a MRD would improve outcomes for individual children, and I have been supported in this conclusion by regional partners.  A some-what disproportionate response to concerns generated by previous, high profile failures in the CP system, I am particularly concerned that this approach takes no account of the increased levels of reporting that had already been secured and could:

  • Lead to a further, rapid increase in the volume of referrals
  • Overwhelm a system already struggling to manage the number of referrals received
  • Divert resources away from front line services towards investigation and assessment
  • Increase the chance of individual children who are being abused getting lost within an over-whelmed and under-resourced system
  • Undermine the professional training that has been made available on such as thresholds for referral/intervention
  • Undermine, rather than support, the exercise of professional judgement
  • Add nothing to existing processes, beyond pressure and paperwork
  • Potentially lead to earlier, but poorer quality, referrals with individual professionals rushing to report with a minimal grasp of the facts and minimal discussion with colleagues or partner agencies
  • Create a system that encourages individual professionals to protect themselves (from the threat of disciplinary action or criminal sanctions) rather than to address the needs of the child increasing the number of irrelevant or nonsense referrals
  • Have a negative impact on schools and the classroom environment – with children becoming less rather than more likely to disclose
  • Have a negative impact on staff recruitment/retention – creating unnecessary restraints to capture the small number of professionals who err in their judgement
  • Have a negative impact on the ability of the voluntary sector to recruit/retain local volunteers
  • Have a negative impact on individuals undergoing counselling/seeking support – the idea of everything being reported would cause individuals to disengage and/or withhold information. EG adults seeking support for domestic abuse would be subject to an immediate referral of their children which, by making the perpetrator aware of their help-seeking, could put them and their children at enhanced risk of significant or even lethal harm.  EG young adults seeking support for childhood abuse would have the decision whether or not to report taken out of their hands leading to increased pressure to take action against their abusers and reinforcing, rather than tackling, their earlier experiences of disempowerment.

The following questions seek your views on the possible introduction of a duty to act.

  1. To what extent do you agree or disagree with the following statements?

 

Strongly agree Agree Neither agree nor disagree Disagree Strongly disagree Don’t know
A duty to act could strengthen accountability on individuals and organisations in protecting children from abuse and neglect.

 

   

Yes 

A duty to act could have an adverse impact on the child protection system (e.g. impacting recruitment and retention of staff, and negatively impacting the serious case review process).

 

   

Yes 

A duty to act on child abuse and neglect would be more likely to lead to better outcomes for children than a duty focused solely on the reporting of child abuse and neglect.

 

 

Yes 

A duty to act allows professionals discretion to decide what action should be taken to best protect children in each case.

 

 

Yes 

The focus of sanctions for the duty to act on deliberate or reckless failures would ensure that those responsible for the very worst failures in care would be held accountable.

 

   

Yes 

 

  1. To what extent do you agree that the introduction of a duty to act would directly improve outcomes for children?

 

Strongly agree Agree Neither agree nor disagree Disagree Strongly disagree Don’t know
         

Yes 

 
  1. Please outline any risks or benefits regarding the introduction of a duty to act that haven’t been articulated in the consultation.

As Police & Crime Commissioner for Northumbria, I can see that this option appears preferable to the Mandatory Reporting Duty but remain unconvinced that it is either necessary or would lead to improved outcomes for children, and my partners concur.  In particular, I am concerned that a mandatory DTA could:

  • Create a pressure to act without ensuring that sufficient training/guidance/supervision is in place to enable professionals to act in ways that are appropriate, safe or proportionate.
  • Lead to an increase in inappropriate (and potentially dangerous) actions by un- or under-trained professionals or lead to a minimalist approach which becomes a Mandatory Reporting Duty by default
  • Create an impression of change whilst doing little to enhance the practices/procedures/systems already in place
  • Place additional pressures on professionals, individual services and m-a systems
  • Have a potentially negative impact on service recruitment and retention
  • Encourage professionals to focus on processes/procedures rather than outcomes for children
  • Encourage professionals to focus on self-preservation more than on child protection
  • Place additional stresses on existing disciplinary systems
  • Place a greater emphasis on the monitoring/punishment of professionals than on intervening with/creating consequences for perpetrators of abuse
  • Increase public awareness whilst reinforcing the current (and false) impression that professionals are the only people responsible for protecting children and that the majority (rather than the minority) are failing in this duty.
  • Criminalise individual professionals without taking into account the wider context of austerity and cuts in services/service personnel
  1. Having considered the issues outlined in the consultation and your answers above, which of the following would be most preferable? Please choose one option only.
 
Please tick one
Allowing the package of reform measures focused on improving how the whole system responds to child abuse and neglect to be implemented before considering the introduction of additional statutory measures.

 

 

Yes 

The introduction of a mandatory reporting duty focused on increasing the reporting of child abuse and neglect.

 

The introduction of a duty to act, focused on taking appropriate action in relation to child abuse and neglect, with sanctions for deliberate and reckless failures.

 

 

Scope, accountability and sanctions

 

This section is optional and relates only to the possible introduction of a mandatory reporting duty or a duty to act.

Having considered the issues and indicated a preference for allowing the existing package of reforms to be implemented before considering the introduction of any additional, statutory measures, I did not wish (and my partners did not wish) to answer questions on how a new, statutory measure should be implemented. My responses are therefore limited to those questions which have enabled me to offer positive alternatives to the proposed measures.

  1. If a new statutory measure is introduced, do you agree with the following elements of the proposed scope?
A new statutory measure, should, if introduced: : Please tick
Apply to all forms of child abuse and neglect (including online abuse and grooming).   non
Apply to both suspected and known child abuse and neglect.   non
Apply to abuse or neglect encountered during the course of a practitioner’s day-to-day role only.   non
Apply to abuse or neglect within the home and within organisations or institutions, e.g. boarding schools.   non
Apply to present day abuse and neglect only (i.e. it would not apply retrospectively).   non
Apply to children under 18 only.   non
Be triggered if a practitioner had “reasonable cause to suspect” a child was being abused or neglected, or was likely to be abused or neglected.   non

 

10. If there are aspects of the proposed scope that you disagree with, or you would like to provide further information to support your answer to question 9, please do so here:

 

I do not believe that either of the proposed statutory measures should be introduced and therefore would not seek to delineate its core elements.

 

 

11. If you believe new statutory measures should extend to adults, please provide further information, taking into account the existing wilful neglect offence.

 

I do not believe that either of the proposed, statutory measures need to be extended to adults

 

 

12.Should the proposed activities outlined in paragraphs 65–68 of the consultation and table 1 be included if a new statutory measure were to be introduced?

 

I do not believe that either of the proposed statutory measures should be introduced and therefore would not seek to delineate which personnel employed at various levels within our key services (social care, housing, education, early years and childcare or the emergency services) should be made subject to these measures.

 

 

13. Please provide your views, noting if any activities listed should be removed, and if there any other activities that should be included.

 

 

As above, I do not believe that either of the proposed statutory measures should be introduced and therefore would not seek to delineate which personnel employed at various levels within our key services (social care, housing, education, early years and childcare or the emergency services) should be made subject to these measures.

 

 

14. If a new statutory measure is introduced, where do you think accountability should rest (see paragraphs 69–70 of the consultation)?

Please tick
At an individual level.   non
At an organisational level.   non
At both an individual level and an organisational level.   non

 

 

15. If a new statutory measure is introduced, what do you think the type of sanction should be if it is breached (see paragraphs 71–74 of the consultation)?

Please tick
Existing practitioner and organisation specific sanctions only.  non
Existing practitioner and organisation specific sanctions plus additional sanctions involving the Disclosure and Barring Service (available only at an individual level).  non
Existing practitioner and organisation specific sanctions plus criminal sanctions. non 

 

16. Please provide further information about the reasons for your answers to the above questions on scope, accountability and sanctions, if you would like to do so.

As the consultation document indicates, referrals for children affected by child abuse and neglect are at an all-time high and a number of steps have already been taken to improve child protection outcomes.  As such, I believe that the introduction of a Mandatory Reporting Duty or a wider Duty To Act is not only unnecessary but also runs the risk of introducing change that satisfies the desire to be seen to be doing something whilst simultaneously overwhelming the systems put in place to get things done.  Child abuse and neglect is everybody’s business, but getting all professionals to accept this responsibility and to respond effectively to an individual child’s needs is best brought about through attention to the systems that can support them in this (high quality training, detailed practice guidance and skilled supervision) than the systems that can punish them.

 

In this context, I would seek to draw attention to Northumbria’s involvement in the Change That Lasts’ pilot that is being developed by Women’s Aid.  Addressing an issue (domestic abuse) which is present in the majority of child protection cases, this pilot focusses (amongst other things) on training and supporting local professionals who are already working with victims of domestic abuse (as health visitors, housing officers, family support workers etc.) to move beyond the traditional practice model (based on risk assessment and referral) to embrace the role of the ‘trusted professional’ who assesses needs as well as risks and undertakes more much of the early support work that victims (and their children) need.  Such an approach builds professional capacity rather than undermining it and, as such, has much more to recommend it than the proposed statutory measures and their individual, organisational or criminal sanctions.

Additional Information

 

17. Please detail any additional information that you feel should be taken into account in this consultation.

Having consulted with a range of local professionals I would suggest that other ways of building on existing improvements would include:

  • Increasing organisational accountability for the level of staff training, guidance and supervision provided on child protection practices/issues
  • Increasing organisational accountability for the quality of this provision – EG less e-learning and more face-to-face training; greater use of specialist trainers and more use of case studies and sharing of good practice; more supervision by fully skilled and experienced practitioners
  • Increasing resources for early intervention/prevention work – Including mandatory PSHE work with children and young people on healthy/unhealthy relationships (at all ages, not just teens)
  • Developing a whole-system approach/undertaking more Multi-Agency Inspections in areas of m-a work (EG the current development of m-a audits in areas of work such as CSE and Domestic Abuse are a good example of what is required to improve m-a practice/systems)
  • Greater emphasis on providing feedback on failed/NFA’d referrals – for professional and/or organisation reflection
  • Greater recognition that austerity has had an impact on staffing levels and on the ability of services to deliver and perform effectively.