RCPCH responds to the Home Office’s announcement on Mandatory Reporting of child sexual abuse

The Home Office has announced that the Government intends to introduce mandatory reporting of child sexual abuse in England and Wales.
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Under this legislation there will be a legal requirement for anyone in regulated activity relating to children, including teachers or healthcare professionals, to report it if they know a child is being sexually abused. Those who fail to report child sexual abuse they are aware of, falling short of their legal duties, face being barred from working with young people. 

RCPCH is supportive of the Government taking steps to protect children from child sexual abuse, however it is imperative that any changes made are founded in robust, academic, evidence-based practice. Any such changes would need to bring demonstrable improvements to the outcomes for this vulnerable group of children and young people.  

The College is unable to endorse this mandatory reporting policy without the following five points being addressed: 

  1. All types of child abuse must fall under any mandatory reporting duty, to prevent the formation of a hierarchy of abuse and to protect the large group of children who experience more than one type of abuse. 
  2. A children’s rights-based approach must be followed, and a children’s rights impact assessment must be carried out. 
  3. A Government systems impact assessment must be carried out to ensure that adequate support will be available for children who report abuse, and to ensure that professionals are adequately trained to identify and correctly report disclosures. The only impact assessment presented by the Home Office currently vastly underestimates several critical elements of the child protection system. 
  4. Measurable outcomes for children must be built into any plans for the introduction of any form of mandatory reporting of abuse. 
  5. Clearer definitions must be provided for all the key terms outlined in the consultations on this policy. 

Professor Andrew Rowland, RCPCH officer for Child Protection, said:  

This is the most serious of policy areas and requires a meticulous and evidence-based approach to truly protect children and young people, and to support victims of Child Sexual Abuse. We are concerned that the Government has not considered the evidence basis for mandatory reporting- which repeatedly shows that outcomes for children are not improved by the blanket introduction of a duty in mandatory reporting with regard to protection from future abuse, access to support and health outcomes.  

The Government’s own impact assessment predicts that a maximum of 9 offenders would be given a custodial sentence at Crown Court as a result of the implementation of this duty. When over 500,000 children are estimated to be sexually abused each year, this figure simply isn’t good enough. The limited resource allocated in this area must be done with precision if we are to maximise improved outcomes for victims of child sexual abuse, and to prevent future victims. The currently proposed resource allocation is mistargeted and in all the above circumstances the Government should stop; re-think; and not introduce this policy until and unless the five points set out above are addressed.”

Vicki Green, CEO of the Marie Collins Foundation and a member of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) Changemakers, said:  

It's imperative that we create safe opportunities for young people to report abuse and then act upon their concerns appropriately. It’s also essential that adults who work with children have the appropriate training and the resources to act upon signs of child sexual abuse. 

Adults and authorities’ responses to children’s disclosures are critical in ensuring young victims get the action and support they need. But mandatory reporting must be matched with sufficient resources and easier access to therapeutic support services.

Notes to Editors 

  1. Following the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA), the Government consulted twice with the public on the introduction of this law.  
  2. RCPCH responded in August with an update to our full position on Mandatory Reporting, and again to the second consultation in November 2023, highlighting important considerations for any introduction of this duty. The Government has not yet published a response to either of these consultations.