Released On 3rd Mar 2015
New legislation planned to tackle child abuse
David Cameron has now announced plans to introduce a new offence for social workers, teachers and local councillors which will be similar to the crime of wilful neglect of patients by care workers that featured in this year's Criminal Justice and Courts Act. The new law is planned to put a stop to the culture of denial and `turning a blind eye' as revealed in recent high profile child abuse scandals.
Professionals could face unlimited fines and jail terms of up to five years if they can be shown to have failed to protect children from sexual abuse. Senior management who leave local authorities who are the subject of abuse investigations will have their severance pay clawed back if they fail to protect children under their care.
The offence of wilful neglect or ill treatment currently applies to individual care workers or care provider organisations looking after children and adults in care homes. The new offence will have a similar application. David Cameron said, "It's about making sure that the professionals we charge with protecting our children - the council staff, police officers and social workers - do the jobs they are paid to do". Yvette Cooper, the Shadow Home Secretary and spokesperson for the Labour Party, commented that the Cameron plan did not go far enough and represented a missed opportunity. "Stronger laws are needed to protect children. The government should bring forward a legal duty to report child abuse, a new specific offence of child exploitation, and new child abduction warning notices."
The National Union of Teachers has criticised Cameron's plans to introduce legislation that will make it a criminal offence for teachers not to raise the alarm if they suspect children are being abused. General Secretary Christine Blower cautioned that criminalising teachers will not assist and may be counter-productive. The system could be bogged down by over reporting of assumed abuse and actual victims and perpetrators may be overlooked.
The NSPCC who have previously opposed so called mandatory reporting, now say they are open to discussions about what form the new law should take. Other charities have welcomed the idea.
In practice, it may be difficult to prove wilful neglect. Moreover, the new legislation may aim to punish the healthcare practitioner for their failings, rather than to protect or recompense the victim for their harm. The legislation may also encourage professionals to be overly bureaucratic in their dealings with children. Other professionals have commented that people need to be confident that they are reporting the right thing, indicating that clear guidance will need to available so people can report effectively.
Samantha Robson who has been specialising in abuse compensation claims for many years, believes this planned legislation does not go far enough. She is an ardent supporter of mandatory reporting which requires designated individuals to report even the suspicion of abuse. This means that when a member of staff at a school witnesses inappropriate behaviour, that person is required to report what they see. In that way, information can be collated by an outside body and if other staff witness similar misconduct their accounts can be cross referenced. Sam has dealt with many child abuse cases where she believes the numbers of victims could have been reduced if mandatory reporting had been in force at the time. She comments, "In the case of convicted paedophile teacher Nigel Leat at Hillside School in Weston-Super-Mare, the Serious Case Review commissioned after his arrest, highlighted numerous failings which mandatory reporting would have stopped. Even if one child is spared sexual abuse through mandatory reporting, surely this must support the argument for a change in the law applicable to all institutions."
Samantha Robson has been representing childhood victims of sexual abuse for the past 15 years and can be contacted on 01392 345333, or email firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss your abuse compensation claim.