When it comes to discussing child protection, Slee Blackwell’s specialist sex abuse lawyers are the ‘go to’ experts for the media. Sky News recently interviewed one of our abuse solicitors about revelations concerning staff working with children who posed a risk to their safety. Sky News reviewed Freedom of Information Act requests to councils in England and Wales. Their research revealed that over 180 local authority workers had been sacked due to concerns about their suitability to work with children.
We are representing a number of victims of high profile convicted paedophile teacher Nigel Leat. Leat worked at a state run first school in Weston Super Mare. His case is an appalling example of a paedophile teacher slipping through the regulatory net. Leat went undetected for years and was only discovered after a parent became suspicious about the way in which her daughter was behaving after being promised a present by Leat. The Serious Case Review conducted after Leat’s arrest, revealed numerous complaints and incidents which should have been acted upon. Leat worked at the school for 15 years before his detection. He is now serving an indeterminate prison sentence for his offences against numerous children.
The investigation by Sky News also touched on mandatory reporting and how this may help to improve levels of detection of abuse. A number of countries have a system of mandatory reporting and have passed legislation to place certain groups or professions under a legal duty to report suspected cases of child abuse and neglect to the proper authorities.
However, there has been considerable research on the topic and the NSPCC have reported that they are not in favour of mandatory reporting. They suggest there is no conclusive evidence that mandatory reporting has a positive impact on protecting children. They argue that it may have a negative impact, eroding confidentiality for those seeking to report abuse and leading to an ineffective and dangerous system that focusses too heavily on the wrong issues.
The NSPCC suggest that children who disclose abuse do so in a staged way, releasing pieces of information to different people to gauge how disclosure is received. They argue that mandatory reporting removes the control that a person disclosing abuse has over the process and leading to lower levels of disclosure.
It is a complex issue. We recognise that there is an unhelpful lack of clear procedure in this country, but feel that criminalising a failure to report may be too draconian. We told Sky News:
“We need one body to deal with complaints of sexual abuse. This would allow information to be collated nationally and cross referenced if necessary. You may say this is a task for the police, but mandatory reporting would inevitably overload the system. But something does need to be done. Too many cases are slipping through the net. Unless information is passed to the right person, a case could be overlooked. The complaints made about Leat were simply not heard by the right people. What we need is an integrated, joined-up system of reporting.”