Failure to report child abuse suspicions should be a crime

Keir Starmer, until recently Director of Public Prosecutions, wants the law to be changed to force teachers to report all suspicions of child sexual abuse – or face criminal prosecution.

Mr. Starmer said that, although many professions already have guidelines requiring them to alert the appropriate authorities about suspicions of child sexual abuse, there is a gap in UK legislation and he wants a new mandatory reporting law to plug this, BBC reports.

The leading lawyer said that a criminal penalty would “focus people’s minds” and that the punishment for failing to report abuse could be a short jail sentence or a fine. “There are just too many cases where those who have suspected abuse have not really done anything about it and the perpetrator has either got away with it or, worse still, been able to perpetuate the offending.”

Several victims of child abuse supported the call, as did the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church, which have been accused of covering up abuse in the past. However, the government has no plans to change the law, with the DfE stating that: “Other countries have tried mandatory reporting and there is no evidence to show that it is a better system for protecting children.”

Dame Clare Tickell, from the charity Action for Children, said that reporting of child abuse was on the rise, but a “huge issue” is that “teachers and people across the system are not sufficiently trained to see those early signs of abuse”.

What do you think of the change in the law that Mr. Starmer is calling for? Have you had sufficient training to spot the early signs of abuse? 

16 thoughts on “Failure to report child abuse suspicions should be a crime

  1. Zero tolerance on child abuse I agree but is this not a form of bullying – teachers once a again the scapegoat for society problems.

  2. This is a distraction from the primary issue. lack of resources mean that even when concerns are reported, little is done, so schools are trying to plug the gap. I have had personal experience of disclosures, which were not taken further by social care, so the child then gets angry and feels let down. lets get enough social workers to do the job instead of only having time for the most extreme cases

  3. This is ridiculous in as much as we as teachers are not trained to a sufficient level to detect such abuse, and I think any teacher worth their qualification would report such abuse if they had evidence to back it up. Teachers who join the profession do so because they like kids, and seeing the improvements they can make to their lives. I believe that any teacher joining the profession would report it, and if they didn’t for whatever reason, for example they didn’t feel they had enough evidence, how could a court make the judgement that they deliberately didn’t report it. My son for example is alway falling over and coming home from school with bruises on his legs, to the point that we are worried about his balance. We are taking him to a paediatric specialist to see if there is something wrong. If a teacher who was suspicious about this, they get gittery and think I had better report it, we would have social services all over us for nothing. It is just another ploy to put more pressure on teachers. There has been a lot in the news lately about poor children being killed and badly abused by their so called parents, and I am sure teachers who new about this tried to do something no matter how small, but we can’t rap our arms around the whole world.

  4. This is just another way to find a scapegoat for the failing social services system. All adults working within schools are given, at the very least, basic training through the Safeguarding Children courses/policies in place in schools. There is a reporting system in place within schools /childcare settings to report any concerns to their Child Protection Officer and if these concerns cannot be addressed within the school environment then the CPO is duty bound to pass it on to social services who then work with the carers and schools. It is the responsibility, remit, duty of Social Services to provide ongoing support to the families to help solve their problems in the best possible way for the safety and welfare of the children. How can teachers be held responsible for the further actions (or lack of action) of other professionals (SS) once the case has been handed over to them, as guidelines instruct them to do? I think the spotlight should be on the social services system. In my experience the teachers do all, and more, that is required to help every individual child in their care.

  5. This makes no sense in as much as how can you ‘prove’ somebody had suspicions?
    If somebody had suspicions that they kept entirely to themselves (for whatever reason) how can any court/judge/the police/any authority prosecute without any evidence they ever had these suspicions. This would be unprovable – unless the government is now able to read people’s minds.
    And what of the places where staff do report suspicions but their CP officer doesn’t do anything? (I know a place where this happened – I used to work there)Who becomes ‘liable’ then? Once information is given to the designated CP officer, it is beyond the teacher’s realm to check up that the CP officer actually followed it up.

  6. Sadly the case of Daniel Pelka shows that some teachers, certainly those at Little Heath Primary School, do not care. When a child starts eating food out of a bin and a sandpit and is unnaturally thin one would expect the CP officer to act and teachers to have informed him/her. Teachers see children for such a long period of time during the day that it is very difficult to miss obvious abuse. The DPP’s suggestion is a foolish one because it is so difficult to enforce. I think that it should be seen as a teacher’s duty to report on abuse and this should be part of their terms and conditions of service. Training may be helpful but a lot of such training would be about stating the obvious.

  7. Keir Starmer must be living in a pipe dream !I agree with the above commentators . How would it be possible to enforce or even ascertain if a teacher neglected the signs of abuse ?

    I’m sure if a teacher has suspicions he/she would report it. Moreover, schools are populated by more than one teacher. If a teacher failed to notice and report a case of obvious abuse , other teachers in the same school would notice the child as well and report it !
    This is yet another case of politicos trying to get their name in the press by interfering in the teaching profession .
    Keep politicians out of the classroom and from abusing teachers !

  8. I’m a teacher, and I don’t have an issue with this. We should report any signs that we see to the school’s CP officer. We should never wait and think, “Perhaps, possibly, maybe, I’m not sure”. We should certainly never be held back through thinking, “Maybe it’s something entirely innocent, after all the parents seem like real nice people and are always seem supportive and caring towards their child.”

    We should never think that we might cause the parents difficulties with social services etc. and we’re not really sure about what we have observed. Unfortunately I think some teachers and some school CP officers do think like that. Perhaps the possibility of being held legally accountable might help remove that element of hesitation?

    I’m not bothered about this proposal. If we report any concerns immediately (as we are supposed to anyway) there is nothing to fear from this.

  9. I agree totally with the foregoing comments about the absurdity of the proposal, yet I also think it deplorable that so many teachers appear to have their eyes closed. The first suspects as victims of abuse are the children who behave badly in school and those who are excessively quiet and submissive. Of these two groups, the former become the object of further abuse from the very people Starmer is expecting to do the reporting, as they, the school staff, grapple with the task of minimising the effects of bad behaviour in school, through application of behaviour management systems which largely rely upon a scale of punishments – as though the child hasn’t already been punished enough before even attending school – but also very often through the use of hostile and coercive behaviour, including shouting.

    It is clear to me, and I hope it will become clear to others as they read this, that the children who enjoy a loving and supportive family life fit in well at school, behave well and tend to do well academically and socially; whereas the children who are deprived of love and support resist the structure of school life and tend to be less successful academically and subscribe to the social subculture; and, bringing these two observations together, the children who receive love and approval at home receive love and approval at school, whereas the children who experience disapproval and an absence of love as home are likewise deprived at school. In other words, the school experience that children have term’s to perpetuate and reinforce their home background experiences! Thus we have well hardened adolescents filled with resentment and hatred, making streets unsafe for the community and their own future families unsafe for their own often-accidental progeny, for the very simple reason that they’ve never experienced love.

    The inescapable conclusion from this observation os that teachers, and other professionals and non-professionals working with children, need educating in how to love ALL the children they work with, regardless of their behaviour; and systems which employ any form of punishment as one of their tools cannot be applied in the name of Love. This issue requires a radical rethink on the role of schools in the education and socialisation of our youngsters.

    In my own work with disaffected children, in a PRU and in a variety of special schools, I’ve found that abstaining from using punishment and the free dispensation of love and care have had the most profound influence on “taming” wild children and adolescents. Gang members serving a suspended sentence for carrying weapons and displaying them in a threatening way have felt inspired to become a social worker, a carer, a foster mother for badly treated children, and yes, even a teacher working with disadvantaged children.

    The miraculous thing about abandoning anger and hatred, is that it liberates us to turn our own misfortunes towards the betterment of other people’s lives. We as teachers need to understand this vitally important concept in order to be able to identify and help the abused.

  10. Its useful to get things fixed. As I’ve seen my colleagues faking up the evidence, it might facilitate us as teachers to throw false allegations at parents to squeeze children out of the school, to save ourselves. We need more staff to do so because in some schools, child and staff ratio isn’t good at the moment due to the cuts in the funding.

  11. In addition to this, if we have do report it to the designated person in charge and if they fail to take it further. It is our responsibility to keep pushing!!It is ridiculous!

  12. Teachers are to be encouraged, they have peculiar duties to perform in school since many parents had failed in theirrole

  13. unfortunately not all teachers do. Not all teachers join the professions because of the children and not all teachers put the needs of the students first.

  14. Certainly, teachers should be on guard and note/report anything they feel is untoward/not right/unnatural to their supervisors, child protection etc etc.

    But, that said… suppose they see (as explained above) a child who is always having bruises and assume there’s abuse going on, report it, social services get involved (with the utmost respect, not the proverbial sharpest tool in the artillery of society going by past incidents, of course), the child is taken away. It transpires (likely much later) there was a medical issue was the reason for the bruises, the damage is done, and the media get a field day on chastising “meddling so-called professionals” who should know better.

    And what of the teacher who initially reported it? Public scorn, calls for the teacher to be sacked.

    In short, teachers are darned if they don’t report, but darned when they do!

  15. I think that any conscientious and caring teacher, just like any loving and caring parent, would pick up signs of abuse. However, feeling under pressure by the threat of being sent to prison would create a great deal of unsettling paranoia in the classroom and break down learning aims and objectives.
    I believe that is the teachers moral duty to report on the first signs. However, after this abuse has been reported, the teacher or staff member should, as normal, continue to care for the child, and, as usual monitor their progress, but should no longer be expected to continue as a participant in the investigations until absolutely necessary.

    In my experience there should be a great deal more responsibility taken by the social services They should be given more powers to investigate such criminal activity. That includes summoning the parents/carers for monitoring purposes on a daily basis.

    In most cases weekly monitoring reports of a child’s daily progress at designated meeting places, with regard to progress at school, is represented by their safety and security officer at weekly meetings between staff members, police and the social services. Court orders obligating the parents to allow social services access in their home on a daily basis during investigation, and a restriction on their movements until the investigation is closed and a decision has been reached concerning the child’s future care, and, consequently, the security of that child should be enforced.

  16. We are increasingly living in an alarmingly Stasi police-controlled state when teachers and neighbours and emergency-room nurses are required to report their suspicions about child “abuse” (whatever that is, because even the so-called experts have no idea) to the various authorities. The Social Services have morphed into a draconian social police force, when instead they should be focussing on providing non-judgemental help to vulnerable people or people in crisis.

    We had our children removed on “suspicions” and the primary instigator was the (now former) headteacher at Livingstone Primary School, Graham Lancaster. He zealously and maliciously made up allegations about us, citing my daughter’s introspectiveness as evidence (she was being bullied at school, surprise surprise) and – what seemed to really irk him – that I wasn’t so enthusiastic about bringing my children to school on time every day.

    My wife was suffering depression and possibly a mental breakdown and instead of getting the much-needed and begged-for support from the social services (and the school and afternoon-care services), we were told that there were “insufficient resources” to assist us.

    But on Graham’s insistence, the child protection authorities came to investigate us and removed the children indefinitely “on risk of abuse”, with the intention of putting them up for adoption or in permanent care. Ironically, the social services had no qualms about spending nearly half a million pounds to drag us through the courts – when all we originally requested was around £30 per child per week for after-school care and some home help. We got our children back after 3 years and then were promptly ignored again! We no longer go to doctors or dentists or hospitals. We don’t claim housing benefit (we’d rather be “homeless” or live in a caravan than have to imply that the children might be at risk in any way in order to get these benefits).

    If our children had not been returned, I was considering how to kill (better yet, to permanently maim) Graham and the others involved to prevent them from snatching other people’s children on the basis of similarly contrived accusations! I had the means. And I would have been prepared to spend 10-15 years in prison – after which my children would be adults and we would be reunited again.

    It’s not worth a teacher’s life (or simply his/her reputation) to be making false or misleading accusations in potentially complex issues that they know nothing about. The teacher’s job is to provide an environment where children can be educated, not to be a social policeman or babysit children to keep them off the streets and out of mischief.

    Over the last ten years, I have consistently called for an overhaul of the social services: they should not be allowed to get involved with “child protection” – that should ONLY be the job of a specialist, trained police unit. Their only mandate should be to support children and families in crisis, regardless of the circumstances.

    Ultimately, stick to the job you were trained to do and don’t interfere in other people’s private lives. Children are not public property. They deserve to be protected from *genuine* identifiable physical abuse – by people whose job it is to do so, not by self-appointed armchair moralists.

    Children also deserve to be listened to – and if they (or their parents) ask for help then it should be provided unconditionally. If the children want to stay at home then it’s also not up to a “guardian” who pretends to know better to over-rule them.

    Teachers, focus on what goes on in your school and in your class rooms – and don’t interfere in people’s homes and private lives, because it’s none of your business.

    There’s plenty of “abuse” in schools already. Stamp out bullying for one (by teachers as well as other students). And consider what “abuse” you are perpetuating yourself by forcing children to memorise a standardised but possibly irrelevant body of knowledge, while sitting quietly in a class for 50 minutes at a time, and preparing for a one-off exam that requires them to perform (silently) in a written evaluation of their skills, beliefs, abilities and knowledge.

    When have you ever allowed your students to ask “why”? Why is this necessary? Why is this relevant? Why can’t we do what WE are personally interested in and passionate about?

    Don’t be so quick to accuse natural parents of abuse before examining your own role in abusing children!

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