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Protecting Children From Abuse: Will Mandatory Reporting Be Enough?

Protecting Children From Abuse: Will Mandatory Reporting Be Enough?

Malcolm Underhill Speaks to Tom Perry of Mandate Now

(Transcript of video)

Malcolm Underhill: I’m Malcolm Underhill, a solicitors who for some years has specialised in acting for victims of child abuse.

Child abuse has been around for many, many years, but it really came to the fore, I think in 2002 with the Soham tragedy when it brought home to the public at large that these were real life events of now. Whereas, previous reports relate to events many, many ago. But that’s when we saw our sea change turn in my view in terms of the government’s attitude to child abuse and protecting children. Hence, the consequence of that was around that time that they introduced a new system of checking the criminal records check.

Now, since that time, there has been a number of changes in safeguarding procedures. Alongside that, we’ve got a number of groups who have been champing that safeguarding course. And with me today is Tom Perry, the founder of Mandate Now whose particular interest is in the mandatory reporting of child abuse. And it’s Tom’s view- the view of Mandate generally, that not enough is being done.

Now tell me, Tom, what do you stand for and what would you like to see from our politicians?

Tom Perry: In this country we have nothing more than discretionary reporting. Now Mandate Now concentrates on child protection within in what are defined as regulated activities – by the safeguarding of vulnerable groups act 2006 – as amended in 2012. And we concentrate on that realm because it is has been ignored.

What everybody has concentrated on – al the academics and social workers – they concentrated on familial abuse. It’s been the case, where it is asserted that this is where the majority of abuse occurs.

I don’t disagree with that. However, regulation activities where parents are putting their children in the care of responsible adults is a very important area, as we have seen. And this is an area that is being ignored, this is an area where discretionary reporting cannot work- cannot have reliance placed upon it.

Mandatory reporting in a familiar area doesn’t work and can have no reliance placed upon it. And regrettably what we have seen very recently is academics in particular so it’s conflating a great deal of the research which is in familiar abuse and attempting to apply it incorrectly to regulated activities.

Malcolm Underhill: Because this is where the opposition to your campaign comes from because they say, well, on the one side you quote what goes on in other parts of the world and how successful it’s been because your opponent’s say: “well, that’s not the case at all.” But as you say they’re conflating the issues and they’re trying to dismiss you without getting the facts correctly.

Tom Perry: What we need is research from regulated activities. And I’m very pleased to say that we’re now getting that in fairly significant amounts – principally from Australia, which also had the old British system of discretionary reporting- decided that it wasn’t working, each of the states gradually went mandatory, all nuanced a little differently.

Now research is coming out of those States which is indicating that following, the initial spike, which you’re bound to get because of the lack of reporting, that we have presently here and which they had in Australia, what is now happening is that the notifications (the referrals if you will) are now actually from regulated activities and what they term mandated reporters is now below pre-mandatory reporting days. The number of substantiations has increased per hundred quite significantly so a better quality report.

So it is suggesting that child protection in these settings is improving markedly.

Malcolm Underhill: And we need to catch them up because the current position seems to me it’s wholly unsatisfactory because it allows those that have wicked intent, to enter the workplace under the guise that I’m being supervised, but we know that that’s not enough.

In my experience of talking to victims of abuse, they say – I told someone about it, but nothing was done. Which is why i entirely understand that this requires mandatory reporting and until this is brought in, more and more children will continue to be exposed abuse when it’s completely unnecessary. In effect, because adults are failing- the politicians are failing.

Tom Perry: And you mention a very interesting point there actually that is children reporting abuse. Now let me tell you, in my experience children who report abuse – are the rare exceptions. What we have is adults been absolutely fearful to report a concern, because what they’re not reporting is a witnessed piece of abuse ( a witnessed occasion of abuse). What you see is you see may be a repeat of a behavior and Baroness Finley spoke about this very well during amendment forty-three in the house of lords which is the amendment that we assisted Barnoss Wansley with, which secured the consultation which is about to start.

And she said, “As a former doctor, I used to go to a children’s home, I couldn’t get the children on their own. I found it quite impossible; I had a very strange feeling about this place but I could not put my finger on it.”

She was moved within, I think the practice, I don’t think she moved practice, I think she was given another area in the practice and six months later it was reported in the papers that the children had burnt the home down. And she said: “This indicated to her that her initial suspicion was right.”

But what does she take to social services or the local authority? “I have uncomfortable feelings about this” – I mean she’ll be laughed out of the building and that’s the problem.

It’s not that we have things falling down the cracks in the floorboards- we have no floorboards – that’s the problem. We want to create the floorboards and see the floorboards created. Unless you have law at the bottom, as the foundation of child protection in these settings, I’m afraid you cannot produce reliable safeguarding, it’s just not possible.

Malcolm Underhill: On one side you’ll get the argument saying that we can change the culture without the legislation, but the reality is that we need that legislation.

I use the analogy of seat belts. We knew before then that wearing seat belts is the right thing to do, but we didn’t do it. We had to be told in the 1980s, this is what you should do and of course, we are now seeing beneficial consequences. We have seen the number of serious accidents reduced. And it’s the same isn’t it for abuse, we need to introduce that mandatory reporting and over time and because it becomes second nature, our responses to these suspicions will change that protection of children will be much better, but we need action- we need action now. So what’s currently going on in the government? What do you anticipate us seeing in the next year or so?

Tom Perry: My feeling is that – from the intelligence that we’ve received, the consultation is going to start any moment. I think we’re probably likely to see three options in there.

One is going to be the “status quo” : “oh we are doing a lot of things. We don’t see how that pen out, leave it here for a couple of years and see where we are.” So there we are, we’re in the prairies with that one.

I think we will get something that alleges to be mandatory reporting as an option within the consultation. We will see whether it is and no doubt lots of the disadvantages will be spoken of to make sure that we’ve been pushed in a certain direction.

The final one I suspect we will see will be willful neglect. Now, here is the irony, I mean part of the first one I think will be the mantra that we hear repeatedly. Better training, better communication, well that should be happening anyway. And actually, we’ve got a structure for training within regulated activities that we have propagated because actually training in regulated activities is not good- training is not good. And we have put together a structured framework of what we would like to see- that should be happening anyway. That should be bolted on to mandatory reporting.

Willful neglect, well, one of our members, barrister Anne Lawrence, 9:04 was invited onto the BBC PM Program following the Oxford CFC case and willful neglect was put to her and she explained it beautifully. It’s not a culture changer, it’s right at the end of a child protection problem- is willful neglect. And it will scapegoat a few people and good luck trying to prove it- you know as a lawyer, good luck.

Malcolm Underhill: That is going to be very difficult to prove. It’s a bit like introducing the change in legislation where by directors are personally culpable for a serious accident and death. And we’ve seen a limited numbers of prosecutions and it’s because that’s a high threshold to cross and it’s going to be the same for willful neglect so it’s not going to do the job is it?

Tom Perry: No, it’s not. And you see I think the government ideal is this: “inertia rules”.

So what ideally they would like to have – is the status quo in new clothes rebranded as mandatory reporting. So those two magic words, mandatory reporting- now let’s get those in. Okay, so let’s try and flog it and what we got here is we’ve got someone on the street corner flogging something which is going to counterfeit. We’ve got to point out just how dodgy it is.

Malcolm Underhill: But if all of us are trying to be positive about what we’ve seen over the years, of course, Soham was a tragedy, but it did galvanize the various campaigns to protect children. We could say that there have been great strides made even though you and I are seriously concerned that there isn’t enough done.

Tom Perry: That’s interesting.

Malcolm Underhill: when we still hear time and again, children very young children have been abused and those who should be looking after them should be caring for them and checking on them just missing so many things. It does strike me that trying to be positive and say,” well, we have improved” – on balance we’re still considerably short of where we need to be.

And a fudged piece of legislation will only get cheers from the pedophiles and those who work in the sharp end and who see children in these situations will only throw their hands in the air and say “this is not good enough and we’re just not being supported”.

Tom Perry: Well, they’re not being supported. I would contradict you slightly there and say I actually don’t think there has been much change in the last fifty years. Because look, let’s just think about this in basic terms and the best thing to do is to try and make it simple.

Here we go: When Saville was doing his worst at Stoke Manderville nurses reported telling the children to pretend to be asleep if he comes around.

Because no one was required to report anything and if they did- bearing in mind that this man was a rainmaker for the trust, the likelihood is that the person who has done the report (and we know that one matron actually told the girl who reported to the matron “not to be silly and do you know who this man is? Do you know how much he has done for us?”).

Now, what’s different then to now? The answer is in real terms nothing.

Because the staff member still has to do that extraordinary thing and be the bravest person in the world and open their mouth and speak, when they haven’t been told that they will be protected if they do, and given immunity from prosecution if they do. They are in fact a whistleblower still today- they were then. So in real terms at that very point where someone has to decide do “I report?” It’s all up to them, it’s on their shoulders – nobody else’s.

Malcolm Underhill: And that’s what we need to deal with. 13:11

While there has been some improvement – we are now checking people when they go in the work environment, it’s better than nothing. At least there are some checks there. What concern me with the current legislation, it’s far too easy; it’s allowing individuals, to find areas of employment where they say well I’m being supervised, you don’t need to do checks; it’s absolutely incredible.

So we do need that fundamental change where people are affectedly forced. In one sense, it’s unsatisfactory, but it has to be done because more importantly the adults and the impact upon them, both the whistleblower and the person where there is suspicion- is the child. A child’s welfare is absolutely paramount and we’ve seen this in legislation over the years but it’s such a shame that the government doesn’t remember that a child’s interests are paramount and we must protect them most of all and it may upset a few adults, but so be it, that’s the price we have to pay.

Tom Perry: I was with a leading school earlier this year who asked me and it was very interesting and a very positive engagement. They had a particular reason of wanting to see me and it was three hour meeting.

I said look if I was a teacher at this school (and I was one of those in accommodation) and there was a concern that I had – would I report it?

The likelihood is that I wouldn’t because I’m living in accommodation, my livelihood depends on up on it, my family depends on upon it. I’m not required to speak, no one has told me that i’m required to speak; they said I should speak, but then I should lose weight. So why should I take any notice of that? 15:07. I get killed if I do speak and nothing happens if I don’t because no one will find out. So we go back to this cultural point that you mentioned earlier with seatbelts and also drink driving. And of course, we were told for ten years the extraordinary government spending on advertising 15:29 Okay, ironic and when laws were introduced- look it’s just natural now. Unless you introduce law you cannot change culture. I had an expert in safeguarding the other day tell me and I’ve been told this before “Oh, you’re just trying to criminalise teachers.”

Well, this isn’t just about teachers, these are for parents, for the elderly and all those other environments involving regulated actives.

Malcolm Underhill: It’s for all the environments where children are exposed. And adults too. 16:00

Tom Perry: And I said: Well, let me just ask you: . “Did you drive here? And did you walk here from the station?” I said,: “well, you can get done for 19 criminal offenses on the way to this meeting.” I said: “do you feel criminalized? I don’t. Do you?”

And that prompted a bit of silence and I said: “Because actually all that the law is designed to do is to influence your behavior and support you if you’ve got to do something – if there are occasions and you got to do something and that’s what is got to happen now. And I was astounded at these remarks, it’s not the first time it’s been said, it’s like a cheap get out.

Actually, lots of criminal prosecutions on an issue like that which show that actually the law is not working- it would suggest that.

It could just suggest that we’ve got an awful lot of people who are, badly behaved or the law is not working. So this sort of loose language from these experts- or alleged experts has got to be very careful. I really do wish people would think before they speak. What we are proposing here (I mean we are behind the rest of the world) 90 percent of the Americas, the vast majority of Asia- Asian nations, everybody, all four continents. The vast majority of the continents and in Europe, 83 percent of countries are operating some form of mandatory reporting. Is it all working? Almost definitely not. Does it absolutely deliver on every occasion? Almost certainly not. But the point is that those countries don’t have CSA inquiries. The counties that have CSA inquiries include England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland, Australia currently, Canada until 2009, Centalina and Jersey and guess what? All of those places operated discretionary reporting. The government claims that we’ve got a good system, but nowhere else has child protection inquiries

Malcolm Underhill: No, but whenever I see a public show that we have a good system. I think to myself why won’t we interview some victims and ask them about their experiences and if you have a heart, then you can’t help but respond and introduce mandatory reporting.

So let’s think forward- it’s not an unreasonable to think that there is a real possibility at some point – it might not be soon – maybe within a few years, that we could see a piece of legislation that really fulfills your aims.

Is that Job done for you at Mandate Now or will there be other areas you think can be addressed?

Tom Perry: Yes, I was asked after a meeting yesterday with some parents who I went to meet. And I have a boy who was abused and I personally think that by the time we get some legislation I would be ready to sort of leave and go to a different latitude and crack open some coconut shells.

Because this has been a very long battle really- no war – it really has.

It started in 2005, that’s when the inception of 19:40 of Mandate Now -it crystalized in March. And here we are now in 2015 we finally now got a consultation and I’m very proud to have been a part of that. We have a fantastic team of people at Mandate Now. They’ve been fantastic, and they’ve given their time liberally. And we’re going to battle our way through this. We’ve also now got the IICSA (The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse) is receiving expert witnesses on mandatory reporting and they are going to announce this in the first half of this year. I hope you will have the opportunity of participating in that, I’ll certainly be lobbying so to do.

So, therefore, the direction of travel is reasonably positive.

Let’s put it on like this, our ball is on the pitch, it’s quite close to the middle of the pitch and we’re politically being talked about and mandatory reporting is politically being talked about it- a great deal. I’m encouraged by that bearing in mind that it was only about three years ago when no one knew that there wasn’t a law in the first place. It has been the biggest misleading of people that you can possibly imagine. You just look at all literature pumped out by the DFE and frankly, if you’re not convinced that there is some form of law that requires you to report, I would be very surprised. To my personal knowledge, I know two children’s ministers who didn’t know it.

Malcolm Underhill: That’s astonishing. Tom, thank you for joining me today. It’s been fantastic talking to you. And you know, you and I both know that for the benefit of children now and in the future, we require mandatory reporting and I’m confident that- don’t know when, but it will come about at some point and when it does children will be a lot safer.

Tom Perry: Thank you. It’s not only for the children, though, it’s for the staff.

Malcolm Underhill: Yes, that’s true. And anyways, we talk about because the focus is upon children. It’s the staff too. Thank you, Tom.

Tom Perry: My pleasure.

End of audio

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