Child protection in England Reporting your concerns about a child
We're all responsible for reporting concerns about a child's welfare. Legislation and guidance for each of the UK's 4 nations clearly sets out expectations with regard to professionals reporting their suspicions that a child is at risk of harm to the authorities.
From October 2015, the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003 (as amended by section 74 of the Serious Crime Act 2015) introduced a mandatory reporting duty for all regulated health and social care professionals and teachers in England and Wales. Professionals must make a report to the police, if, in the course of their duties:
- they are informed by a girl under the age of 18 that she has undergone an act of FGM
- they observe physical signs that an act of FGM may have been carried out on a girl under the age of 18.
How to report a concern
If you work or volunteer with children and families, your organisation should have procedures in place to report concerns about a child. For example, hospitals have designated nurses and doctors who deal with child protection issues; and all schools must have a designated child protection teacher.
What happens to the report
When concerns about a child are reported to the NSPCC or police, they will be passed to the child protection team where appropriate. Once reported, the child protection team have a legal duty to investigate concerns about a child.
Practice information for people working with children in England
Although there are no specific mandatory regulations in the UK requiring professionals to report suspicions to the authorities, there are some expectations that are clearly set out in legislation and guidance for each of the UK's 4 nations.
For 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.
Paragraphs 15 and 16 of the introduction to the government guidance Working together to safeguard children (PDF) states:
“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.”
Paragraph 21 of Chapter 1 adds:
“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."
Professionals who fail to report cases of abuse or neglect do not currently 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.
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.
When it comes to the reporting of child abuse, the NSPCC believe that the overriding principle should be that all professionals listen to and act in the best interests of the child.
We believe that where professionals cover up crimes against children by consciously failing to report known abuse of a child this should be an offence.
Whether any failure to report suspected child abuse should be criminalised is more contested territory. We have looked at other countries and have not seen convincing evidence that this automatically keeps children safer. Indeed, there is evidence that such systems can lead to over reporting, which makes identification of children at risk harder and action to protect them less swift.
We believe attaching criminal sanctions to a failure to report should only be done where there is a problem with reporting. In a good number of cases where children suffered serious abuse it has not been a lack of reporting but a lack of action that has led to tragedy. However, we have seen too many instances of a failure to report where suspected abuse has been swept under the carpet within “closed” institutions like boarding schools and care homes. Too often, an organisation’s reputation has been placed ahead of the welfare of a child. That is why the NSPCC favours the mandatory reporting of suspicions of abuse by those working within such institutions.
In such settings, we believe that suspicions should be reported to a person or body outside that institution to ensure any perceived conflict of interest between organisational reputation and protecting children does not arise.
Mandatory reporting is not a silver bullet and alone will not address the challenges faced when safeguarding and protecting children. An effective structure needs to focus on the interests of the child; create good protective cultures within organisations; support children speaking out; have external checks to make sure the right measures are implemented; and take action when the system fails to protect children properly.
We keep this position under constant review as evidence and experience develops. We ask that whoever forms the next government undertakes a thorough and wide-reaching consultation on how best to legislate in this complex area.
Our policy briefing on Strengthening duties on professionals to report child abuse (PDF, 392KB) sets out the NSPCC’s current position in relation to mandatory reporting of concerns or suspicions and the need for a criminal offence of cover-up, concealment or inaction in response to known child abuse by a professional.
Our Exploring the case for mandatory reporting (PDF, 612KB) paper presents a summary of the discussion at a roundtable of stakeholders. The focus of the roundtable was to explore how a form of mandatory reporting might work. These discussions were not in any way conclusive: the paper draws on individual views expressed around the table and does not pretend to represent any definitively shared view. We hope this paper will contribute to the debate of this complex issue.
The NSPCC will continue to work alongside key stakeholders and professionals to review and refine these proposals and wider measures based on evidence and practice to continue to improve safeguarding practice in all institutions caring for children.
Does the NSPCC support the Labour Party's call for mandatory reporting of known abuse?
Yes, though we also support the mandatory reporting of suspicions of abuse in certain settings. A full, well informed consultation would be desirable.
view Section 47 of the Children Act 1989
The child protection system in the other UK nations
Child protection in Northern Ireland
Child protection in Scotland
Child protection in Wales
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Child protection training
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