All children are owed the right to be safe from harm. Keeping children safe is the responsibility of everyone who comes into contact with children and families, and we all have a role to play in protecting children and young people from child abuse and neglect.
1. We are absolutely clear that practitioners should make an immediate referral to local authority children’s social care if they believe that a child has suffered harm or is likely to do so. This expectation is set out in the cross-sector Working Together to Safeguard Children statutory guidance. Approaching 650,000 referrals were made to local authority children’s social care services in England in 2016–17.
2. We know, however, that despite the best efforts of practitioners working with children and families – across children’s social care, the police, health, education, and the charity sector – some abuse and neglect has gone undetected by statutory agencies. This can happen for a variety of reasons, including failures to report or share information properly, and failures to perceive abuse or understand the nature and level of the risk of harm faced by children. In a small but important number of cases, there have been allegations of deliberate cover-ups or malpractice. The Government is clear no sector or organisation is above the need for robust safeguarding arrangements. We all have a responsibility to protect children from harm and abuse and a moral duty to report a crime.
3. In circumstances where frontline practitioners do fail to identify or fail to report the signs of abuse and neglect, the consequences can be catastrophic and leave a lasting and devastating impact on the lives of victims and their families.
4. Acknowledging the importance of these issues and the need to explore all options for improvement, on 21 July 2016, the Government launched a 12-week consultation on ‘Reporting and acting on child abuse and neglect’. In particular, the Government’s consultation document took a neutral stance in setting out possible options and recognised the strength of feeling amongst some survivors’ groups and other voices in the sector that more needed to be done to change the way knowledge about children at risk of harm was shared, and that in particular, a mandatory reporting duty was often raised as the potential solution. It was essential to give these issues fair consideration with an unwavering focus on how we might be able to improve outcomes for children. The Government agreed on the need to consult widely due to the complexity and sensitivity of the issue, and the scale of the potential impact on practice across a wide range of professions. The consultation sought views on whether to introduce new statutory measures focused on reporting and acting on child abuse and neglect, in addition to our ongoing programme of wide-ranging reforms.
5. The headline question in the consultation asked which of the following three options was most preferable:
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;
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; or
the introduction of a mandatory reporting duty focused on increasing the reporting of child abuse and neglect.