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Child abuse reporting requirements for professionals

NSPCC factsheet

November 2013


A brief summary of the guidelines on reporting child abuse for UK professionals who work with children. Also covers issues relating to confidentiality and information-sharing and how these can be resolved.

What are the laws for professionals reporting child abuse in the UK?
What are the requirements for professionals in England?
What are the requirements for professionals in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland?
What do I need to know about confidentiality and information-sharing?
Are there guidelines for specific groups of professionals?
Does the NSPCC offer training on child abuse reporting?
What is the NSPCC's position on the mandatory reporting of child abuse?
References
Further reading


What are the laws for professionals reporting child abuse in the UK?

There are no specific mandatory regulations in the UK requiring professionals to report suspicions about child abuse to the authorities. However, in Northern Ireland, it is an offence not to report an arrestable crime to the police, which by definition, includes crimes against children (Wallace and Bunting, 2007). In the rest of the UK, professionals who work with children report their concerns and are expected to co-operate and exchange information. Expectations with regard to reporting and information sharing are clearly set out in legislation and guidance.


What are the requirements for professionals in England?

In England, sections 11 and 12 of the Children Act 2004 place a statutory duty on agencies to co-operate to safeguard and promote the welfare of children.

In paragraphs nine and ten of the introduction to the government guidance Working together to safeguard children (PDF) it states that, “Everyone who works with children - including teachers, GPs, nurses, midwives, health visitors, early years professionals, youth workers, police, Accident and Emergency staff, paediatricians, voluntary and community workers and social workers - has a responsibility for keeping them safe.”

“No single professional can have a full picture of a child's needs and circumstances and, if children and families are to receive the right help at the right time, everyone who comes into contact with them has a role to play in identifying concerns, sharing information and taking prompt action.”

“Feedback should be given by local authority children's social care to the referrer on the decisions taken. Where appropriate, this feedback should include the reasons why a case may not meet the statutory threshold to be considered by local authority children's social care for assessment and suggestions for other sources of more suitable support”.

See also Safeguarding children: a shared responsibility, an NSPCC training pack, which will help those who work with children and families to understand what to do when they have a concern about a child's welfare.

Professionals who fail to report cases of abuse or neglect do not face criminal penalties for non-reporting; however they may be subject to professional disciplinary proceedings or held to account through Serious Case Review reports or professional negligence cases.

If you have any concerns that a child may be suffering abuse call the NSPCC helpline on 0808 800 5000.


What are the requirements for professionals in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland?

Governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have issued their own guidance on child abuse reporting.

Guidance for professionals in Scotland is found in National guidance for child protection in Scotland (PDF) in the section on information-sharing and recording which states that information sharing is an essential component of child protection and care activity and sets out general principles for information sharing.

Guidance for Northern Ireland can be found in Cooperating to safeguard children (PDF). Chapter 5 contains relevant information on handling individual cases. Any referrals should be confirmed in writing within 24 hours.

Guidance for Wales can be found in Safeguarding Children: Working together under the Children Act 2004 (PDF). Chapter 14 on information sharing sets out key principles, the first of which being that the safety and welfare of the child is the key consideration when making decisions about disclosing and sharing information.

See our UK nation pages for the relevant framework, guidance, statistics and legislation specific to protecting children and young people in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

If you have any concerns that a child may be suffering abuse call the NSPCC helpline on 0808 800 5000.


What do I need to know about confidentiality and information sharing?

In England, Working together to safeguard children (PDF) places great emphasis on information sharing. In paragraphs 1.22 and 23, the guidance states, "Effective sharing of information between professionals and local agencies is essential for effective identification, assessment and service provision.

Early sharing of information is the key to providing effective early help where there are emerging problems. At the other end of the continuum, sharing information can be essential to put in place effective child protection services. Serious Case Reviews (SCRs) have shown how poor information sharing has contributed to the deaths or serious injuries of children."

The guidance goes on to state in paragraph 1.24, "Fears about sharing information cannot be allowed to stand in the way of the need to promote the welfare and protect the safety of children. To ensure effective safeguarding arrangements:

  • all organisations should have arrangements in place which set out clearly the processes and the principles for sharing information between each other, with other professionals and with the LSCB
  • no professional should assume that someone else will pass on information which they think may be critical to keeping a child safe. If a professional has concerns about a child's welfare and believes they are suffering or likely to suffer harm, then they should share the information with local authority children's social care."

Information sharing: guidance for practitioners and managers (PDF) supplements local guidance and encourages good practice in information sharing.

If a professional believes that a child may be at risk of, or is suffering, significant harm and that they need to refer them to the appropriate authorities, they need to consider whether they have a duty of confidentiality to the child. If this is so, they may share information if they have the consent of the child or if they believe, based on their professional judgement that the sharing of information is in the public interest.

Any concerns should also be discussed with the family and if possible their agreement should be sought, unless this would put the child at increased risk of significant harm, or if it would undermine any possible criminal investigation.

If the professional needs to share information and cannot get consent they must consider, on the facts of each case, whether it is in the public interest to share all or some of the information they have. As outlined in paragraph 3.40 of the information sharing guidance, the key factors to consider are necessity and proportionality, "i.e. whether the proposed sharing is likely to make an effective contribution to preventing the risk and whether the public interest in sharing information overrides the interest in maintaining confidentiality."

Paragraph 3.42 of the information sharing guidance identifies some circumstances in which the sharing of confidential information without consent would normally pass the public interest test. These are:

  • "when there is evidence or reasonable cause to believe that a child is suffering, or is at risk of suffering, significant harm
  • to prevent significant harm to a child....., including through the prevention, detection and prosecution of serious crime."

If a professional is unsure of what constitutes 'reasonable cause to believe' they should discuss their concerns either with their line manager or the member of staff who has the lead role for child protection. Concerns should always be acted upon and any decision on whether to share information or not should always be recorded.

Any information shared should always be accurate, up to date, shared appropriately and securely: only with the person or people who need to know and limited to information relevant to purpose.

In Wales, guidance about information sharing is contained in Chapter 14 of Safeguarding children: working together under the Children Act 2004 (PDF), paragraph 14.5 broadly overlaps with the guidance for professionals in England in stating that, "the safety and welfare of a child or young person must be the first consideration when making decisions about sharing information about them" and that there must be, "an overriding public interest in disclosing information." However, paragraph 14.6 also advises that, "the best way of ensuring that information sharing is properly handled is to work within carefully worked out information-sharing protocols between the agencies and professionals involved, and taking legal advice in individual cases where necessary."

In Scotland, on page 27 of the National guidance for child protection (PDF) it states that, "In general, information will normally only be shared with the consent of the child (depending on age and maturity). However, where there are concerns that seeking consent would increase the risk to a child or others or prejudice any subsequent investigation, information may need to be shared without consent."

Chapter 5, paragraph 5.14 of Northern Ireland's Code of practice on protecting the confidentiality of service user information (PDF) on decision-making about whether to use and disclose personal information relating to children, states that, "There is a need to balance the protection of a child from actual or potential harm with respect for their confidentiality and the confidentiality of their family. The welfare of the child is paramount. The assessed levels of actual or potential harm to a child, as well as the substance and imminence of such harm, should inform decision-making with regard to the sharing of personal identifiable information".


Are there guidelines for specific groups of professionals?

Churches and religious organisations

Churches Child Protection Advisory Service (CCPAS).

Doctors

General Medical Council (2012) Protecting children and young people: the responsibilities of all doctors (PDF). London: General Medical Council.
 
National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) (2009, modified 2013) When to suspect child maltreatment (PDF). London: NICE.


Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (2010) Safeguarding children and young people: roles and competences for health care staff: intercollegiate document (PDF). London: Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health.


Royal College of General Practitioners and NSPCC (2011) Safeguarding children and young people: a toolkit for general practice. London: Royal College of General Practitioners.


National Health Service (NHS) Commissioning Board (2013) Safeguarding vulnerable people in the reformed NHS: accountability and assurance framework (PDF). London: NHS Commissioning Board.

Dentists

Harris, J. et al (2009) Child protection and the dental team: an introduction to safeguarding children in dental practice. Sheffield: Committee of Postgraduate Dental Deans and Directors (COPDEND).

Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (2010) Safeguarding children and young people: roles and competences for health care staff: intercollegiate document (PDF). London: Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health.

National Health Service (NHS) Commissioning Board (2013) Safeguarding vulnerable people in the reformed NHS: accountability and assurance framework (PDF). London: NHS Commissioning Board.

Nursing and Midwifery

Royal College of Nursing (2007) Safeguarding children and young people: every nurse's responsibility. Guidance for nursing staff (PDF). London: Royal College of Nursing.

Nursing and Midwifery Council (2008) The code: standards of conduct, performance and ethics for nurses and midwives (PDF). London: Nursing and Midwifery Council.

Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (2010) Safeguarding children and young people: roles and competences for health care staff: intercollegiate document (PDF). London: Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health.

National Health Service (NHS) Commissioning Board (2013) Safeguarding vulnerable people in the reformed NHS: accountability and assurance framework (PDF). London: NHS Commissioning Board.

Physiotherapists

Chartered Society of Physiotherapists: Rules of professional conduct for chartered physiotherapists.  London: Chartered Society of Physiotherapists.

National Health Service (NHS) Commissioning Board (2013) Safeguarding vulnerable people in the reformed NHS: accountability and assurance framework (PDF). London: NHS Commissioning Board.

Pharmacists

Practice guidance available to members on the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain's website 

Teachers

Department for Education (DfE) (2013) Safeguarding children and safer recruitment in education (PDF). London: Department for Education.

Psychologists

British Psychological Society (2007) Child protection position paper. Leicester: British Psychological Society.


Does the NSPCC offer training on child abuse reporting?

We provide a wide range of training courses in child protection for all those who work with children, young people and families.


What is the NSPCC's position on the mandatory reporting of child abuse?

Mandatory reporting: a consideration of the evidence (PDF, 267KB)
November 2013
This paper reviews the evidence available in relation to the impact of mandatory reporting laws for suspicions of child abuse and neglect. It argues that mandatory reporting, in isolation, will not improve the reporting process or better protect children.


References

Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety (DHSSPS) (2012) Code of practice on protecting the confidentiality of service user information (PDF). Belfast: DHSSPS.

Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety (DHSSPS) (2003) Cooperating to safeguard children (PDF). Belfast: DHSSPS.

HM Government (2013) Working together to safeguard children: a guide to inter-agency working to safeguard and promote the welfare of children (PDF). London: HM Government.

HM Government (2008) Information sharing: guidance for practitioners and managers (PDF). London: The Stationery Office.

National Assembly for Wales (2007) Safeguarding children: working together under the Children Act 2004 (PDF). Cardiff: National Assembly for Wales.

Scottish Government (2010) National guidance for child protection in Scotland 2010 (PDF). Edinburgh: Scottish Government.

Wallace, I. and Bunting, L. (2007) An examination of local, national and international arrangements for the mandatory reporting of child abuse: the implications for Northern Ireland. Belfast: NSPCC Northern Ireland Policy and Research Unit.


Further reading

Search the NSPCC Library Online for publications on child abuse reporting and reporting laws.


Contact the NSPCC's information service for further information on this or any child protection topic


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