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Calls for new law over reporting child abuse

Bishops, vicars and youthworkers could find themselves on the wrong side of the law for failing to report allegations and incidents of suspected child abuse.

That's if a petition launched by four charities calling on the Secretary of State for Education to introduce legislation to make it mandatory to report suspected child abuse is successful. The Survivors Trust and four other charities are petitioning Michael Gove to introduce law requiring schools, faith groups, sports bodies, NHS, and early years settings to inform the Local Authority Designated Officer or police.  The charities believe the entire child protection system must be changed following the murder of four year-old Daniel Pelka in Coventry in March 2012. A serious case review found police, teachers, doctors and social workers missed chances to help the boy, who was beaten to death by his mother and her partner. The charities say legislation is urgently needed so that experienced and independent assessment is introduced immediately to ensure perpetrators are stopped as soon as possible.

It's estimated that only five percent of child abuse is reported, and presently no such legal obligation exists, and there is no sanction on any Regulated Activity, as these institutions are termed, for failing to inform the LADO. The National Association of People Abused in Childhood (NAPAC); Survivors UK, Respond, and Innocence in Danger are all involved in petitioning the government.

CEO of NAPAC Pete Saunders told Premier's Marcus Jones on the News Hour that too many children are let down:

A serious case review into the murder of 4 year-old Daniel said organisations responsible for protecting him failed to share information and that authorities were too willing to accept his mother and her partner's explanations. It found he was "invisible" at times and "no professional tried sufficiently hard enough" to talk to him. Daniel suffered months of abuse, including broken bones and massive weight loss before he died at his Coventry home in March 2012. Magdelena Luczak and Mariusz Krezolek were given at least 30 years in jail after being found guilty of murder at Birmingham Crown Court in July.

Martin Reeves is Chief Executive of Coventry City Council and said:

"All of us have to take responsibility for the missed opportunities. 

"From the City Council's point of view we are sorry because of those missed opportunites we did not protect Daniel well enough."

Children's Minister Edward Timpson said:

"The council and many other agencies have to have a long hard look at themselves as well as each other to understand why so many basic things went wrong about exchanging information, basic record keeping, understanding when they assessed four different times Daniel that they were unable to identify the risks that he had."

A statement by the charities said:

"Mandatory reporting of allegations and concerns will address the distorting factors in what can appear to be complex situations. 

"A headteacher or a bishop might wish to protect his colleague's or church's reputation but if he risks a criminal conviction and a hefty fine by so doing then he will think it a poor exchange.

"Under a system of mandatory reporting, staff in schools or hospitals who suspect abuse would have no choice but to report or face prosecution.

"This means every employee is better protected from blame and/or recrimination. Being faced with a conviction, prison or a fine cuts across friendship or loyalty to an institution, and there is no doubt where 'duty' lies.

"A criminal sanction for failure to report also removes any perceived need to weigh up whether the concerns reported are serious enough, or who to believe before having to decide what to do: the person reporting is freed from having to make complex judgements about who is telling the truth and they will know they are following and protected by the law when they report as opposed to whistleblowing."

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