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Practitioners could be prosecuted for failing to report child abuse concerns

The Department for Education and the Home Office are holding a joint consultation to consider prosecuting those that fail to report suspicions of child abuse or neglect to local authorities.
The consultation is open until 13 October, and will look to make it a criminal offence for individuals in a variety of groups, including healthcare, social care and the early years sector, not to take appropriate action when they know or suspect that a child is suffering – or is at risk of suffering – abuse or neglect.
Existing statutory guidance on this topic does not impose legal requirement to comply and for the early years, the consultation will consider early years teachers, nursery staff and childminders, with the possibility to extend to support staff and administrators.
A foreword in the consultation documentation, Reporting and acting on child abuse and neglect, from MPs Sarah Newton – Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Home Office – and Edward Timpson – Minister of State, Department for Education – notes that protecting children from abuse and neglect is not a simple or straightforward task, but that the government is looking to make improvements across every area of the child protection system.
“There have been too many cases over recent years that have highlighted serious failings to protect children,” it read.
“These failings result from a variety of different factors, from not recognising abuse for what it is to incorrect assessments of risk and from failure to properly share information between agencies to deliberate cover-ups. Given that that failings can be a result of so many different factors, there is no single solution.”
The consultation will look at the potential to implement one of two additional legal requirements, either:  
  • a mandatory reporting duty which would require practitioners to report child abuse or neglect if they knew or had reasonable cause to suspect it was taking place; or
  • a duty to act, which would require practitioners to take appropriate action (this could include reporting) in relation to child abuse or neglect if they knew or had reasonable cause to suspect it was taking place
The DfE hopes the consultation will result in better training for frontline staff, improved regulation, the introduction of joint multi-agency inspections and, most importantly, better protection for children.
“We urge everyone – children, young people, practitioners or members of the public – with a view about these issues to consider the materials here carefully and respond to the consultation so that we can take account of your views on this critical issue,” the foreword concluded.