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.
Campaigner for 'Daniel's Law'
Posted on: Thu 12-Sep-13 10:09:25
(53 comments )
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
Ilovemyrabbits, I am interested to hear that you have received safeguarding training because, in the three years that I was a SENCo in a primary school in Surrey, I never received any and so neither would any other SENCo have done. I have signed the Change.org petition calling for mandatory reporting of suspected child abuse. I see this as enabling legislation designed to support professionals in the jobs they are paid to do, not as a means of criminalising teachers, social workers and other caring professionals who come into daily contact with children. It is a sad state of affairs when it needs a law to support whistle-blowers and take them out of the category of "interfering busybodies", "snoopers", "nosey neighbours" and the like! If a "Daniel's Law" were to be brought in, industrial-strength training would need to follow for all categories of people who have the care of children. Why are teachers not issued with even a tick list of suspicious symptoms : bruising, child not given adequate food in lunchbox, frequent absence, tearfulness, flinching when touched (Daniel exhibited all these symptoms) - I could go on. If such a list of suspicious symptoms existed while I was working, I never saw it. The Children's Society launched a tookkit this week and has also launched a campaign called "Say something if you see something" which I hope will catch on. We just cannot go on with hearing about these traumatic cases and being left feeling helpless in the face of them.
Every member of staff in school, including the lunchtime supervisors has to be included in safeguard training and it takes place once every 3 years. The notes on safeguarding are part of the induction pack we get when we join the school. The whole school knows what to look for and all staff are told to talk to the SENCO or the Head/Deputy Head if they have any doubts at all about a child. The SENCO or Deputy Head/Head will then take the enquiry forwards. Everything is documented and followed through. I have a child at the school and am/have always been happy that the pastoral care of kids is put first for all pupils. As an employee I feel obligated to talk to the SEN team if I have any worries at all, be it behavioural quirks or physical indicators of abuse. I'm the lowest level TA in school and I feel confident that I know what to look for. (I have trained to NVQ Level 3 and am looking to train as a teacher, but I think most of our TAs know this).
Ilovemyrabbits, it seems that the picture on the training of staff in the recognition of symptoms of child abuse and what to do about it when it is noticed is very patchy. It needs to be all staff, everywhere, not just some staff here and there. It occurs to me to ask myself what I would have done if I had reported suspicions of child cruelty to the Head but then felt that action was not happening or not happening fast enough? I hope I would have had the courage to phone the NSPCC and report the details to them. As things stand at the moment, this would be considered highly unprofessional, but if a "Daniel's Law" were to be brought in, I would be protected by it. I am on tenterhooks to know what the Serious Case Review is going to say.
According to the reports today (again, utterly heart-breaking), the teachers DID report the bruises, concerns about his weight, his scavenging in bins, etc, and the head teacher failed to pursue it aggressively. SS also apparently 'closed the file' on Daniel about six months before his death, despite knowing there was alcoholism, drug use and domestic violence in the household. Yet again, a systematic failure - agencies getting involved, but no joined-up reporting. SS, police, school, doctors all aware of massive problems with this little boy and his family, yet nothing was done. I agree that budgets for SS and child-protection must be ring-fenced if we're to have a chance of stopping this kind of thing in future. It's Baby P all over again and Victoria Climbie - and how many years ago was that???
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