Baroness Joan Walmsley writes…The NSPCC does not go far enough

Children Walking on TrailThis morning the BBC had an exclusive story from the NSPCC. They have at long last shifted their position on making it a crime to cover up child abuse and have come out with a very half-hearted and confusing policy. I call it “safeguarding light.” Instead of making it the duty of everybody with the care of children in a regulated institution (like a school) to report to the Local Authority any child abuse or serious suspicion of child abuse, as I am advocating, they are saying that the duty should be on only those “closed” institutions where children are away from home, such as children’s homes, hospitals or prisons and only where there is “known” child abuse.

I was lined up to go into the studio to expose this for the poor apology for policy that it is but was cancelled at the last minute “because we’ve run out of time because of the football result last night”. However, in the prime spot at 8.10 there was a long discussion between Alan Wardle of the NSPCC and a chap called Alan Wood, president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, who felt that everything is OK now and we don’t need to do anything. So by removing me from the discussion the BBC shifted the debate from “Is this enough?” to “Should we be doing anything at all?”

I am concerned that I did not get a chance to take part in the debate this morning. I would have hoped to raise the fact that there are 8 million children in education in this country. The NSPCC’s policy would protect less than a million of them. That won’t do. And it’s nonsense. By including only “known” child abuse they are putting the judgement as to whether abuse has really happened onto the shoulders of a boarding school head teacher or a care home manager instead of where it should be – with the Local Authority Designated Officer or children’s services who have experience in dealing with and investigating these issues. And by restricting it to “closed institutions” they are putting different duties on teachers doing exactly the same job in different schools. They are also excluding places like churches and sports clubs where, as we know, there have been many problems in the past. By putting the duty on everyone in “regulated activity” we would be empowering and protecting whistle-blowers who would be able to say that they have no alternative but to report what they know, or what a child has told them.

My amendment to the Serious Crime Bill, which will be debated next Tuesday, would do this and would make exemptions for doctors when dealing with a patient in a professional capacity and for confidential helplines such as Childline. But when children disclose abuse to Childline they are often encouraged to go and tell a trusted adult. They will only have the confidence to do that when they know the adult will do something to make it stop. Nothing less will do!

* Joan Walmsley is a Liberal Democrat member of the House of Lords

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  • Jayne Mansfield 9th Jul '14 - 1:57pm

    Have you been offered any other opportunity to put your points to a wide public forum, Baroness Walmsley?

    It is truly appalling that two individuals were allowed so much time that someone with an alternative viewpoint was
    unable to put theirs. I didn’t watch/ hear the programme but it sounds there was little control over the structure – with the effect that a valuable critical viewpoint was excluded . Just having a title with the word ‘children ‘ in it seems to carry a lot of weight with the ‘establishment’ and the public at large, so much so that their ‘blind spots’ go unchallenged

    I am not sure that I am in a position to make a complaint to the BBC as a consequence but I hope that complaints are made. Good luck with making yourself heard next Tuesday.

  • Jayne Mansfield 9th Jul '14 - 5:30pm

    I have now had the opportunity to listen to the Radio 4 Today programme and I agree with Baroness Walmsley.

    I assume that Canada and Australia have not changed their policy about mandatory reporting despite the system being ‘swamped’.

  • Stephen Donnelly 10th Jul '14 - 12:03am

    I don’t think there is much doubt about the ends, but there is room for debate about the means. I support the argument that the NSPCC were putting forward. Criminal law is not the best way to encourage openness, and may have unintended consequences.

  • Tsar Nicholas 10th Jul '14 - 11:45am

    Hang on! I thought that it was already a criminal offence to not pass on information when you have knowledge of a crime being committed – it’s called being an accessory after the fact.

    We already have too many laws on the statute book. What is needed is the will to ENFORCE them, particularly in relation to the upper echelons of the state and the corporate world, something entirely lacking in the case of Sir Michael Havers and Peter Hayman, and in others.

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