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Mandatory Reporting or Mandatory Madness?

July 3, 2011

Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald announced this weekend plans to make it a criminal offence for teachers, doctors, sports coaches or youth leaders who don’t pass on information which could help Gardaí secure a prosecution for physical or sexual assault against a child.

This worries me. This really worries me, for several reasons.

Firstly the most prevalent and arguably most destructive form of child abuse is neglect, but that doesn’t seem to fit into the good Ministers concept of abuse. This is a serious problem.

Secondly I don’t believe this will make children safer, and will in fact make things worse. Nearly all schools and youth groups have child protection training which includes information on abuse and spotting the signs of abuse. Most schools I have dealt with are already proactive and have a great awareness of their young people’s safety, as would any sports or youth club I have dealt with. This protects children, and more training and awareness for everyone will improve this protection. Mandatory reporting and the threat of jail won’t improve practice; it will just scare people and make them defensive. As a result social work areas across the country will see increased demand for already stretched services. Furthermore a lot of these referrals will be needless and will sit at the bottom of now longer waiting lists. The really serious cases are even more likely to be buried in the noise created by increased reporting. All of this will increase the burden on an already overburden system. This will not make children safer.

Thirdly this will have perhaps unforeseen consequences on youth groups and sports clubs themselves. At the moment most find it hard to get volunteers to work with children. A fear exists already about working with children, and threats of jail and fines will just add to this fear. Protecting children should rightly come first regardless of the consequences, but in this case we get negative consequences with no extra protection and without adult leaders youth groups and sports clubs will be in big trouble.

Passing the Children’s Rights Referendum would be a much better course of action.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. July 14, 2011 11:50

    Interesting blog.

    I would be interested in any empirical evidence showing how mandatory reporting will actually harm children

    We’ve gone through decades and decades of systemic abuse of children whilst relying on the goodwill of our citizens to identify and report abuse. All the human rights agencies and organisations advocating for children’s rights support mandatory reporting. Surely the systemic,institutional and widespread abuse of children is evidence enough that fundamental change, including mandatory reporting, is needed.

    The options would appear to be: a) goodwill reporting b) some form of contractual penalty for not reporting abuse by professionals (i.e.breach of contract) or c) mandatory reporting.

    In the 1990s the Irish College of General Practitioners (ICGP) opposed mandatory reporting because, among other things, it would overwhelm the resources of the existing services. It would appear social workers share this concern. This is a separate matter. The argument that services might be stretched is not a good enough one to oppose mandatory reporting.

    We should remind ourselves that there is no standards or inspections of foster care or disability services for children with disabilities. Dogs and horses are better protected in this country.

    We have to stop replying on the goodwill of society or its agents to report abuse.

    Mandatory reporting may not be perfect, nor is it the panacea

    However, it is a vital element in child protection

    • July 14, 2011 20:00

      Jim,

      There ARE national standards in relation to Foster Care, find them here – http://www.irishstatutebook.ie/1995/en/si/0260.html

      standards in care are enforced by Fostering Social Workers whose work in over seen by various placement committees and by HIQA. Fostering link workers would visit families and would work with the child’s allocated social worker to monitor the foster placement. Obviously there are limitations and difficulties with this set up, and the recent headlines in relation to foster carers being unassessed and unsupported highlight this, but it is wrong to say there are no standards or inspections.

      However, it is also important to remember that those headlines refer to a handful of areas in the country and should not be seen as indicative of practice around the country. Furthermore, focusing on those headlines hide several other more fundamental realities, namely that these areas may have problems of practice and service delivery, they are also some of the most deprived areas in the country, and that is a much greater contributor to child abuse than the local parish priest or lack of mandatory reporting.

      but leaving the big picture (see my other posts for that rant) and getting back to this issue….

      the child protection system in Ireland is about to collapse, and I am talking about not just the HSE but the wider system of outside agencies and charities and all the other services involved. If we add a huge amount of reports fueled by defensive practice into the mix it will tip it over the edge. In this chaos children are in fact at greater risk and will be even more damaged due to a failure to provide a timely and effective service. This isn’t good enough as you say, and highlights the failures of the current system, but that is how it is, looking at it in a pragmatic way, mandatory reporting will at this point undermine the child protection system.

      Get the system functioning better, than introduce it.

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