MumsnetGuestBlogs (MNHQ) Thu 12-Sep-13 10:09:25

Guest blog: "it must be mandatory for school staff to report suspected child abuse"

In August, the mother and stepfather of Daniel Pelka were given 30-year sentences for his murder (warning: distressing content). During the trial it emerged that school staff had noticed some of his injuries - but had not taken the actions necessary to save his life.

In this guest blog, Paula Barrow explains why she is campaigning for 'Daniel's Law', which would make it a legal requirement of anyone working with children in the UK to report suspected or known abuse to the local authority or the police.

Do you agree that reporting child abuse should be mandatory? Let us know what you think on the thread below.

Lead photo
Paula Barrow

Campaigner for 'Daniel's Law'

Posted on

Thu 12-Sep-13 10:09:25

(53 comments)

Daniel Pelka was subjected to "a campaign of cruelty", according to Mrs Justice Cox

I first heard Daniel's story as it flickered across the news. I was making tea for my two children, aged 7 and 5; the radio was on in the kitchen and we were listening to Steve Wright when we heard the headline report. Wide-eyed, my little girl queried whether what she'd just heard could really be true... that a four-year-old school-boy had been starved and beaten, and was now dead. Before I could answer, she went on to ask why his teachers hadn't helped him.

I couldn't put Daniel's story out of my mind. I was shaken by the sketchy details I'd heard; it seemed impossible to believe that a child of school age - who was in regular contact with teachers, school staff and other adults - should have suffered in this way, over a period of months. But he did and the circumstances surrounding Daniel's harrowing story are disturbingly reminiscent of other appalling cases of child abuse in recent years, in which we learn that people in responsible positions could have intervened, but failed to take the necessary action to save a child's life.

I was perplexed by the nagging question of accountability - why did no one seem to be held responsible for not having helped Daniel? I wrote to opinion writers and editors, to my MP and other MPs, to government offices; I went right to the top and wrote to the Prime Minister. But no one replied to me except for an officer in the Department for Education who said I could be certain of a serious case review.

I think I probably assumed it was the law for people working with children to report abuse until the details of Daniel's case made it plain that it wasn't. Looking into it, I found that many countries do have such laws, particularly with regard to safeguarding children - Australia, Canada, Denmark, Finland, New Zealand, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, the USA and now the Republic of Ireland (following a recent referendum), to name but a few - and that this number is growing all the time.

The circumstances surrounding Daniel's harrowing story are disturbingly reminiscent of other appalling cases of child abuse in recent years, in which we learn that people in responsible positions could have intervened, but failed to take the necessary action to save a child's life.

Those countries with mandatory reporting laws seldom prosecute anyone - but the deterrent or preventative effect is significant, as is the clarity of requirement. Current Department of Education guidance on how to deal with child abuse is 13 pages long, and full of the word should - leaving any final decision rather open to individual interpretation. In recent weeks, as part of my campaign research, I've seen letters from schools asking government for precise instruction (as opposed to guidance) so that staff have the confidence to take the action necessary to help a child in distress.

It's all very well talking about moral responsibility and professional duty of care, but teachers can find themselves in really difficult situations when confronted with child abuse; they need to be fully supported to press their worries home... no matter what the cost. Faced with an angry parent or a doubting colleague, staff can fail to act because they worry about being wrong, being ostracised, being put out of a job even. A new law requiring the mandatory reporting of child abuse would take away that burden of responsibility - anyone working with children would be obliged to report abuse by law. A subtle difference, perhaps, but one thing is certain sooner or later, another child's life will depend on it.

I launched my petition for Daniel's Law the night before Magdelena Luczak and Mariusz Krezolekwere were sentenced, when Daniel's name was trending in search engines and media interest was at a peak; The Coventry Telegraph ran a story almost immediately and there has been regional coverage in Manchester too (where I live); I was interviewed on BBC Radio Coventry & Warwickshires breakfast show earlier this week. I set up a Facebook page because people asked for one and I learned fast on Twitter - in fact, I was so keen at the beginning that I was almost struck off for too many unsolicited tweets (I'm still not entirely sure what I did, no one I asked had ever heard of such a thing!).

Most importantly, I now have the signatures and support of a number of MPs - a couple of whom are of Shadow Ministers - there will be a debate in the Commons on child protection this week in which parliamentary supporters intend speaking out for Daniel's Law and I will deliver my petition (currently approaching 15,000 signatures) to Downing Street around the time Daniel's serious case review reports.

Many people have lost faith in the serious case review process and we can only hope the Coventry serious report is bold enough to make some radical recommendations for future safeguarding, including mandatory reporting. In 2003, the Climbie Inquiry advised that teachers, doctors, other professionals must communicate concerns and share information - yet here we are 10 years later, considering once again how to make that vital communication happen. Making reporting child abuse the law for those who work with children has got to be a good place to start.

People signing this campaign include abuse lawyers and specialist charities, teachers, health workers and nurses who consider it would help both staff and children to make reporting abuse a legal obligation of course, lots of parents and other interested people are also supporting, many are shocked to discover such a law is not already in place.

Nick Clegg said at the time of Daniel's trial "Clearly people must have seen something was wrong with this boy, I think his death should be on all of our consciences."

There is a window of opportunity to campaign for change right now. If youd like to see a change in the law, please sign, tweet and share, tell everyone you know... do whatever you can to support the campaign for Daniel's Law.

By Paula Barrow

Twitter: @paulabarrow

KB02 Thu 12-Sep-13 11:30:39

Signed

Tee2072 Thu 12-Sep-13 12:25:03

I'm stunned that it is not mandatory, perhaps because I grew up in the US where it is mandatory and because when my son started at his school I was handed a thick booklet of their CP policy including the reporting of suspected abuse.

I wonder if the law is different in NI?

In any case, we definitely need the mandate.

Ilovemyrabbits Thu 12-Sep-13 13:24:04

Having undergone safeguarding training I thought it was a legal obligation to report suspected abuse or to highlight signs that may indicate difficulties within the family. It seems, however, that I confused a responsibility with a legal compulsion. At the school I work with I believe we are very attentive when it comes to reporting issues. It's clear that this child was failed, however, and there should be some kind of redress if schools and nurseries are not compelled to report problems or potential issues that they see.

Oblomov Thu 12-Sep-13 14:03:31

This case is a copy of Baby P.
Total negligence. By so many peoe. and he just slips through the net.SS closed the case. School nurse visited twice. Nurse refers to Paed, but appt cancelled.

I can't see how we get around this. Or rather it appears that we have learnt nothing from Baby P case.

ReallyTired Thu 12-Sep-13 14:33:28

I don't think that making it "mandatory" for school staff to report child abuse would help save lives. All the schools I have worked in have had a strong child protection policy. It is very easy for someone who is inexperienced to get things wrong and make a child protection issue far worse.

Child protection is a complex area and often professionals with degrees in child protection make mistakes. I think its unreasonable to criminalise school staff for getting it wrong. It is hard for a chidl protection officer to know when to make a referal to SS. Our county has external support for schools when faced with such issues.

Certainly I don't want some nutcase TA/ parent helper ruining an innocent family's life by reporting them to social services because they disagree with the family's parenting philosophy. If social workers are investigating innocent families then they have less time to visit the baby P families. Social workers have limited time and it needs to be targetted on helping families who need it.

MobileKeysPurse Thu 12-Sep-13 15:05:21

Realytired

We were an innocent family investigated by SS, from school. It was a catalogue of errors by many professionals that brought the school to see me as someone I was not. Medical neglegance, followed by Police, then CAFCASS messing up on various things, me being a victim of DV. Malicious allegations by an ex. It took years and loads of work from me to sort the mess out. SS were not impressed with the referrals to them, they sat in court and told CAFCASS it was a waste of their time, they told the school they were having their time wasted on this so wanted us all to meet to clear up the continual referrals from school for what were untreated physical medical issues due to medical neglect from medics the children had and not what school were trying to make out was me being someone I am not.

reallyslummymummy Thu 12-Sep-13 17:28:09

Completely fair that there is a legal requirement. My only reservation is that in everything there will be mistakes in judgement on both sides. It would be hard to enforce and it would concern me if innocent people came under scrutiny by teachers who actually did not know what they were looking for.

tethersend Thu 12-Sep-13 17:32:19

Mandatory reporting is one of the steps which need to be taken to address the detection of child abuse in schools.

Staff need comprehensive training not just on the signs of abuse, but on how abusers can cover abuse and use close relationships with staff to do so. This is simply not covered in enough depth in current CP training.

Offred Thu 12-Sep-13 18:49:38

Absolutely opposed to this.

Don't believe it will help.

Believe what it will do is further over stretch the services and I think it is shocking that people may be criminalised for failing to do something which apparently becomes right only with hindsight.

Offred Thu 12-Sep-13 18:51:06

Absolutely opposed to this.

Don't believe it will help.

Believe what it will do is further over stretch the services and I think it is shocking that people may be criminalised for failing to do something which apparently becomes right only with hindsight.

I agree that with legal compulsion there must be training. I'm not sure, though, how it would work in practice.

Claudiecat Thu 12-Sep-13 19:12:52

How do you know the professionals involved didn't report it? No abuser is going to walk around saying yes I am abusing my child, I own up to it. They are extremely clever at covering up.

ReallyTired Thu 12-Sep-13 19:33:44

Two afternoons child protection training is not enough to responsible in a criminal sense for spotting and reporting child abuse. The baby P case is different, it is fair to chastise people who have studied child protection to degree level for not spotting child abuse.

I am horrified to think that a level 1 TA might be criminalised for failing to act.

tethersend Thu 12-Sep-13 20:00:00

Also, essentially, we need an adequately funded service which can investigate reports of abuse.

Children's services are currently so over stretched that any increase in reports of abuse will floor them. This does not mean that mandatory reporting is a bad idea, just that more funding is needed.

paramjitkamal1 Thu 12-Sep-13 21:03:25

I have also signed this petition and totally agree that there needs to be a legal requirement esp. in schools and will help child abuse 'detection'.. Daniel Pelka was a sad and horrific case and I believe had mandatory reporting been in place it could have made a difference. We definitely need this mandated...

Kidsareinbed Thu 12-Sep-13 21:13:26

I think there has been some misunderstanding here, this isn't about accounting anyone to blame nor is it about criminalising people for failing to do something. It's about new legislation which will enable staff who work with children to report any concerns they may have around a child. It removes any hesitation, any doubt, that they may have, that might stop them from reporting.

If people who work with children are legally obliged to report any worries or suspicions, it will empower them to act, which could save a child's life. They will no longer need to worry about what to do if they are wrong or being labelled as interfering. It will be their duty, by law, to report any suspicions.

It is our responsibility to give every child a chance at the best opportunities in life, the best chance of having a good life. They only get ONE chance. It's a no brainer to introduce this legislation, which may save a child's life, may save a child from being mistreated. And it doesn't matter in the slightest how much paperwork this creates.

There are too many cases like Daniel's in the news, it is our duty to do everything in our power to change this.

1grinkle Thu 12-Sep-13 21:15:22

The bottom line is that at least 2 children have lost their lives (Baby P & Daniel Pelka) because the system failed them. Clearly something has to change to better protect vulnerable children! School staff would not be "criminalised" for getting it wrong - on the contrary instead of the fear of reprisal leading to hesitation to report they will be supported and have clear instruction on what steps to take and when. It is not about blame, it is about making sure this does not happen again.

The comment that reads "Certainly I don't want some nutcase TA/Parent helper ruining an innocent family's life by reporting them to SS because they disagree with the family parenting philosophy" Is a very rash comment clearly made by someone who does not understand the whole concept of what is being proposed. Of course a great deal of thought will need to go into the logistics and way it is set up. Mistakes are made now to innocent families - what this law is trying to achieve is protection - in the first instance to the children who can't protect themselves but also to the Professionals who at the moment are unsure of when and how to act for the very reason of blaming innocent people. This law is not creating that problem it will be making something clear, concise and universally accepted and will give protection to all.

Remarks about overstreching the services are irrelevant, if a law is passed then a structure will be set up to cope with the process and nobody will be "Criminalised for failing to do something which only seems right in hindsight" another rash comment!

So to the negative reviewers I ask what are the alternatives? Do we sit back and watch it happen again? What would you suggest?? Something must be done, it has been proven in many other Countries - so why not here!!

ReallyTired Thu 12-Sep-13 21:36:56

Anyone can report a family to social services. In a school setting there is proceedure for dealing with child protection concerns. It is easier to make a situation worse if you don't know what you are doing.

For example if you suspect abuse then you need to be very careful how you question a child. Otherwise you can make a court case fall apart.

"Something must be done, it has been proven in many other Countries - so why not here!!"

Is there evidence that other countries have fewer tragedies than the UK? Our schools, social workers and health visitors do a damn good job. It doesn't get into the newpapers when some TA spots something wrong, goes to the child protection officer refers the matter to social services and the child is rescued.

If a well meaning school employee follows child protection protocal then the matter is dealt by people who know what they are doing. I feel that rather than criminalising people who make mistakes, its better to actually spend the money on more social workers and better child protection training.

Most school staff deeply care about the children. They don't need the threat of criminal proceedings to make them report an incidence of child abuse.

Offred Thu 12-Sep-13 21:44:07

I suggest people get a grip and realise that children will always be abused and killed and there is nothing we can do to stop this.

Practical solutions would be to completely ban physical punishment which is shown to reduce child deaths at the hands of their parents. Put money into support structures and early interventions which help prevent escalation. Also create a greater respect for children and families in our society to start with, too much treating them like property and stigmatising families and parents if you ask me.

Offred Thu 12-Sep-13 21:47:01

I don't see what basis there is that this wouldn't result in punishing people who were trying to help or some people being falsely accused either. If it won't end up with both those things happening then it is ineffective and worthless isnt it because of the nature of the proposed change to encourage increases reactionary reporting without better support or education and at the threat of punishment.

heygirl0001 Thu 12-Sep-13 22:23:27

Making it mandatory to report abuse and neglect means the news gets to the professionals who can really assess whether there is a case. It is not then for school to keep considering is this abuse? Is this neglect? Experts in child protection would be able to recognise quickly the cases that need urgent attention or just support with the child.
It is a completely separate issue but the headteacher at Daniel's school was in his early thirties when this was going on. I can't help thinking at that age you just cannot have the experience to recognise neglect, disbelieve a parent and query a child's injuries.
Daniel is all I can think about. While staff at his school returned daily to their lives he returned daily to the hell we now read about. This month he should have started in Year 2. Instead he has just been buried a year and a half after dying. The unbearable thing is a system to protect him exists but it is clear it needs changing. His suffering must not be in vain and if the only tribute is that the law is changed to make reporting mandatory then that will be something. He deserves to be recognised for his suffering.

Lilyching Thu 12-Sep-13 22:34:20

As has been said in the guest blog above, the simple fact is that Department of Education guidelines are just that - guidelines - and as such are open to subjective interpretation by both institutions and individuals. All that is being asked in this petition is for these often confusing guidelines to be enshrined in law so that the guidance would become a legal obligation, removing any doubt or hesitation and supporting teachers and other individuals to report suspected abuse appropriately in often very difficult circumstances, with the full support of the law behind them. I am at a loss to understand how this could be considered a bad thing! Almost 45,000 people have already signed the petition; there is a depth of feeling in this country following the death of Daniel Pelka under such harrowing circumstances that something should and must be done to try to prevent such a thing happening again. I think the proposals put forward in this petition go a long way towards achieving that goal and I urge everyone to consider signing for the sake of all vulnerable children in our country.

1grinkle Thu 12-Sep-13 22:38:23

hmmm........... "I suggest people get a grip and realise that children will always be abused and killed and there is nothing we can do to stop this" You are correct in that statement - there will always be abuse and murder in the world, we can't stop that. However, if you read the case of Daniel Pelka you will see that a Teaching Assistant did voice concerns, hesitation and fear of reprisal meant it was too late to save him. Had it been law then he would have been saved - 1 life saved !!!! Worth it or not??

How would you go about your suggestion of banning physical punishment? - you admit that there is nothing we can do to stop abuse and killing of children, how would you police your idea?

When you "suggest people get a grip" that is exactly what the people who have started this campaign are trying to do - they must have been moved to try and make changes to save lives. Putting work into trying to find an answer and your comments basically insinuating that there is no point because children will always be abused and killed so lets not bother and even try to save 1 child are at the very least flippant and at worst monstrous. Innefective and worthless are not words to describe something that has been proved in other Countries - they are words to describe someone who has no comprehension of the full facts!!

1grinkle Thu 12-Sep-13 22:50:04

I agree that our Schools, Health Visitors and Social Workers do a damn good job, often under a great deal of pressure. I truly believe that this law would help them and indeed there has been a great deal of support from that sector.

I also agree it would have to be very carefully thought out in order that it supports and protects all parties. We can't go on reading about these hideous cases without trying to learn lessons and acting accordingly.

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