Should professionals, who work with children, be required to report child abuse where there are suspicion and evidence of its occurrence? In the past, this was a contentious issue whereby confidentiality sometimes restricted how much the legal and social professional could do in such a situation. However, new laws are being championed in the West (the UK and the USA in particular), whereby reporting child abuse is to become compulsory.
This may seem like a long time coming, but ‘reasonable cause to suspect’ child abuse was not often adequate enough to be able to protect the child and prosecute the guilty party. However, governments have now ensured that even a suspicion has to be reported to the necessary authorities such as child protection services or police. Not doing so could result in the arrest of the child worker or attorney themselves.
There are moves to include child neglect as one of the issues that require reporting. By reporting neglect, a lot of legal professionals believe that this will assist in protecting children from future cases of physical and sexual abuse. Unfortunately, previous laws have only enforced reporting duties to those who work with the ill, infirm and elderly with regards to neglect, so making the reporting of child neglect compulsory is considered important progress.
Those most affected by these changes are not legal professionals and social workers. Those working in these fields have long been supporting such a necessary change. Those that are affected most are reporters and investigators who are often described as being ‘whistleblowers’ when they do report incidents. Understandably, by making reporting compulsory, the law actually protects these whistleblowers as they have no choice regarding the matter; they are expected to report their findings regardless.
There are those who believe that compulsory reporting may lead to a large amount of ‘finger pointing’ and false allegations, taking up time that may otherwise be used to protect children who are facing real threats of abuse. However, evidence of the successful conviction of a large number of abusers through compulsory reporting in countries like Australia (who have compulsory reporting laws established), means that making the reporting of child abuse compulsory a positive move.