Following the numerous revelations over the past few years of abuse having taken place in various sectors and organisations, there has been growing support to impose stronger reporting duties on professionals working with children to report suspected cases of abuse to the authorities in England and Wales. This is in the form of mandatory reporting of suspected incidents of abuse, with criminal sanctions for failing to do so. Mandatory reporting is not a new concept and already exists in other jurisdictions, such as Australia, with varying degrees of duties between states to report suspected abuse.
As a result, the Regulated and Other Activities (Mandatory Reporting of Child Sexual Abuse) Bill has now been presented to the House of Lords for its first reading with the aim that it will become law in England and Wales.
The Bill proposes to mandate those providing and carrying out regulated or other activities with responsibility for the care of children to report known and suspected child sexual abuse. It is not intended to include other instances of suspected child abuse, such as physical abuse or neglect.
It will create a criminal offence for failing to report concerns of child sexual abuse but also aims to enact provisions to protect mandated reporters from detriment in any personal, social, economic and professional settings.
The Bill states that any providers of one or more of the activities set out in the Bill who have “reasonable grounds for knowing or suspecting sexual abuse of children when in their care” must, as soon as is practicable after it comes to their knowledge or attention, report it to:
If the report is made orally then the maker of the report must confirm the report in writing within seven days. Importantly, the report needs to be made whether the alleged or suspected abuse has taken place in the setting of the activity or elsewhere. If a person fails to make such a report then they will have committed an offence and if found guilty they will be liable on summary conviction a fine of up to £5,000.
Crucially, a person who makes a report, as required to under the Bill or in good faith, may not be held liable in any civil, criminal or administrative proceeding and may not be held to have breached any code of professional etiquette or ethics, or to have departed from any acceptable form of professional conduct.
For the purposes of this Bill, some of the proposed regulated or other activities would include:
The first reading is simply a formality to signal the start of the Bill’s journey. The Bill will now move on to its second reading in the House of Lords with a date yet to be scheduled. If the Bill successfully makes its way through both the House of Lords and House of Commons it is proposed that the Bill, once it receives Royal Assent, would become known as the Regulated and Other Activities (Mandatory Reporting of Child Sexual Abuse) Act 2022.
There is no doubt mandatory reporting will increase the awareness of professionals working with children when sexual abuse may be taking place. In support of this, some studies have indicated that where mandatory reporting systems are in place, it substantially increases the number of cases of child sexual abuse that are identified. However, if the Bill is enacted into law it will be important for organisations to provide all the necessary training, support and resources to those working with children to enable professionals to comply with their legal duties and report concerns of child sexual abuse promptly and appropriately.
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