Safeguarding: is your organisation ready for mandatory reporting?

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In the wake of ‘The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse’, organisations everywhere are starting to look at their own policies and procedures to see if they measure up. We discuss the Inquiry’s recommendations, and what your next steps should be.

The ‘Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse’ published its final report on 20 October 2022, outlining 20 recommendations to “protect future generations of children from sexual abuse”. Launched by the then-Home Secretary, Theresa May, in 2015, the Inquiry gathered evidence from more than 7,000 victims and survivors, many of whom were sharing their experiences for the first time. It also drew on investigations and reports targeted at specific institutions, most notably the Roman Catholic Church.

The first-hand accounts of the abuse that victims and survivors suffered, as well as the difficulties they faced in finding justice, make for distressing reading. Furthermore, although each individual account was different, there were consistent themes throughout many testimonies gathered as part of the Inquiry’s ‘Truth Project’. These testimonies paint a picture of a system that, for too long, treated children as “commodities at adults’ disposal to do with as they wished”, prioritised reputation and public standing over child protection, and failed to invest enough time and resource into investigating disclosures and bringing perpetrators to justice.

As the Inquiry’s report stresses, these issues are not “conveniently committed to the annals of history” and may even be exacerbated by the rapidly accelerating risks posed to children by technology and the internet. The responses of numerous institutions implicated in the Inquiry’s investigation have also been inadequate, prompting a call for systemic change across all institutions involved with children, driven by new legislation and greater government focus.

Mandatory reporting and dedicated support

Overall, the Inquiry specifies 20 recommendations. One of their main aims is to increase accountability of individuals and institutions with a duty to protect children, by making reporting sexual abuse mandatory for anyone involved in regulated activity with children, including police officers. The report even suggests making failure to do so a criminal offence.

They also target removing the barriers to reporting and sharing information, by stressing the importance of a single set of data relating to child sexual abuse and exploitation. Organisations and authorities would have an obligation to ensure that these data are consistent and compatible enough to be shared across different institutions, which would ultimately help streamline investigations and avoid duplication of efforts. 

The report also covers the provision of adequate support – both financial and psychological – to victims and survivors of abuse. Recommendations here include establishing a single redress scheme in England and Wales and guaranteeing specialist therapeutic support at a national level.

The road ahead

Relevant institutions – including the government – now have six months in which to outline their response to these recommendations, but all organisations that work with children should use this report as a catalyst for change. Reviewing and auditing existing policies and procedures relating to the safety of children is a key first step and should incorporate extensive review of all relevant documentation, including policies relating to complaints, disciplinary procedures, health and safety, recruitment, and whistleblowing. 

The importance of having reporting procedures and adequate training in place has also never been greater, particularly as not doing so could carry consequences including a criminal prosecution. Conducting a thorough audit of existing infrastructure first – ideally with the support of a safeguarding specialist – will help you to identify what needs to be amended or improved and, more importantly, ensure that your organisation prioritises the welfare of all children in its care.

This article was previously published in Care Talk 2022 Winter Edition.

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