Ferns-why mandatory reporting is urgently needed
By June Tinsley and Fiona Ryan*
In Barnardos, we believe the mandatory reporting of
child abuse will help to reduce the incidences of child abuse and allow
children to receive the support and care they need and deserve.
Under mandatory reporting, designated professionals such
as GPs, social workers, teachers and public health nurses would be required
to report known or suspected child abuse to the authorities. We believe the
needs of children must be the priority when abuse has occurred or is in danger
of occurring and that there can be no valid reason why we would not seek
to prevent that abuse.
If the Ferns Report has taught us anything it is that
child protection must be the ultimate priority for Government and society. How
can the Government get out of not introducing mandatory reporting but simultaneously
communicate a message that abusing children is unacceptable? In order to keep children safe, reporting known or
suspected abuse should not be a matter of discretion for anyone. Instead
it should be the foundation of a transparent and accountable system of
Mandatory reporting sends out a clear message on all
levels that the abuse of children will not be accepted. It equips those
who interact with children with a clear course of action that puts children
first. It helps remove the element of discretion – a potentially important
factor for someone who might want to make a report of suspected abuse but
is reluctant. With mandatory reporting they can do so with the full support
of the law. Mandatory reporting would also help tackle the issue of inconsistent
and under reporting of abuse and allows those investigating reports of abuse to take a more
consistent approach. The Protections for Persons Reporting Child Abuse
Act, 1998 provides clear legal protection for anyone reporting child abuse
'reasonably and in good faith'.
Arguments do exist against introducing mandatory reporting
including the very real issue that the resources available for dealing
with prevention and treatment of child abuse would be diverted into investigating
cases of alleged abuse. The introduction of mandatory reporting would
require developing further development and resourcing of the structures
now in place under Children First National Guidelines For the Protection
And Welfare of Children (1999).
tasked with mandatory reporting need to have training so reporters know
what to report, how to report and what system is in place to follow up
on cases otherwise the whole process could be in danger of being reduced
to a bureaucratic exercise. The Health Service Executive have had such
training packages in place since 2000 and this should allow for the orderly
introduction of mandatory reporting. Barnardos does not believe this is an ‘either
or’ situation – investigation, prevention and treatment should be viewed
as going hand in hand. Resources need to be made available to make that
unified approach to tackling child abuse a reality. There would be an increase in the number of cases reported
but also an increase in the number of cases being confirmed with the result
that more children would be protected.
suggested reason against introducing mandatory reporting is that the professional
/ client relationship will be damaged; e.g. parents may be reluctant to
bring a child suspected of abuse to the GP if the GP is obliged to report
the matter. Or that an adult / young person who has been abused may not
engage in therapy if they know the therapist is obliged to report the matter.
Barnardos believes that this can be overcome given that there are already
exceptions to the principle of confidentiality e.g. criminal cases. The
introduction of mandatory reporting would need to be accompanied by appropriate
information and education strategies for all and professionals would have
to explain the limits of the principle of confidentiality. Good practice
suggests that responsibility of working with clients and explaining why
limitations are necessary will be in the best interests of both the client
and therapist. Ultimately, it could also lead to the prevention of further
abuse as the abuser would be investigated.
Barnardos has been calling for the introduction of mandatory
reporting for some time but the reality is that mandatory reporting is one
of a number of measures that have to be introduced to ensure that children
in Ireland are protected from abuse. Another such measure is the expansion
of the Central Garda Vetting Unit to provide clearance / vetting for every
one who works with children whether in a professional or voluntary capacity.
Barnardos welcomes the additional funding that this Unit recently received
to enable it to meet its objectives. A legal change is now required to ensure
the Garda Vetting Unit can do its job fully.
The introduction of mandatory reporting and full vetting
procedures for all paid / unpaid adults who have contact with children is
in the interests of protecting children and as adults we have a responsibility
to do this.
*June Tinsley is Policy Development Officer and
Fiona Ryan is Campaigns Manager with Barnardos.