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New legal duty on school staff to report child sexual abuse

Teachers will be legally required to report child sexual abuse if they know about it – or face sanctions such as being banned from the profession.

The new requirement will make mandatory reporting of child sexual abuse apply to anyone working in regulated activity relating to children in England – which suggests it would apply to all school staff. However a list has not yet been published. 

Under the plans, those who fail to do so will be barred from working with young people. Any staff intentionally blocking reporting could go to prison for seven years.

The Home Office confirmed the changes today. They will be introduced as amendments at report stage of the Criminal Justice Bill in the House of Commons and will apply in England and Wales.

The Home Office could not say when exactly the changes would be introduced, only that it would happen “shortly”.

It comes after the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse recommended the government make it a legal requirement for certain people to report child sexual abuse.

The Home Office published a call for evidence on how to implement the proposal last summer and ran a consultation on the proposals in November.

Few details announced so far

The consultation contained further details on the proposals, however the Home Office was last night unable to confirm whether all these would now be enacted.

The consultation had said teachers must make a report when “in the course of undertaking regulated activity or one of the specified roles, they receive a disclosure of child sexual abuse from a child or perpetrator; or personally witness a child being sexually abused”.

However the consultation’s proposals said a report “will not need to be made under the duty if those involved are between 13 and 16 years old, the relationship between them is consensual and there is no risk of harm present”.

Reports should be made to either the council or police “as soon as reasonably practicable”.

Teachers would also be “protected from any repercussions by their employer or wider organisation as a result of a making a report in good faith; or alerting appropriate authorities that a report which should have been made under the duty has been withheld”, the consultation said.

Concern over ‘negative impact’

In the call for evidence, “many respondents expressed concern around the potential negative impacts of implementing a new duty, from overburdening public services, lowering the quality of referrals to safeguarding agencies and reducing the amount of ‘safe spaces’ available to children and young people who may wish to discuss sexual abuse in confidence. 

There were also “concerns raised around the potential for a new duty to be misused through false and malicious reporting”, the Home Office consultation stated. 

But it added at the time that “detailed guidance on the implementation and operation of the mandatory reporting duty” would be published. 

The Home Office was unable to say last night when details of the new duty would be confirmed.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the school leaders’ union NAHT, said schools already have a “range of statutory duties when it comes to safeguarding”.

The statutory ‘Working Together to Safeguard Children, Keeping Children Safe in Education’ guidance already makes clear that professionals should report child sexual abuse. 

But the Home Office consultation stated the proposed duty “seeks to introduce appropriate sanctions to secure better compliance with these expectations”.

‘No excuse for turning blind eye’

The seven-year Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) found many sexual abuse victims had made disclosures to a responsible adult but no action was taken. 

A “common reason for these failures was the prioritisation of protecting an individual or institution from reputational damage over the safety and wellbeing of children”, the inquiry found.

James Cleverly

However on the new duty, Whiteman added it is “vital” government provide “sufficient funding” to ensure services like children’s social care “can cope with demand and note not forced to raise thresholds for intervention”.

The Home Office also planned to “evaluate the effectiveness of the mandatory reporting duty and the impact it has had on children and young people after a suitable period of operation”.

Home Secretary James Cleverly said: “There is no excuse for turning a blind eye to a child’s pain.

“Having listened to the voices of victims and survivors and reviewed the work of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, we are working at pace to get a mandatory reporting duty for child sexual abuse onto the statute book.”

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