Mandatory Reporting? Issues to consider when developing legislation and policy to improve discovery of child abuse
Article by Dr Emma Davies (School of Law, Liverpool John Moores University), Associate Professor Ben Mathews (School of Law, Queensland University of Technology) and Professor John Read (Institute of Psychology, Health and Society, University of Liverpool).
In the United Kingdom, recent investigations into child sexual abuse occurring within schools, the Catholic Church and the British Broadcasting Corporation, have intensified debate on ways to improve the discovery of child sexual abuse, and child maltreatment generally. One approach adopted in other jurisdictions to better identify cases of severe child maltreatment is the introduction of some form of legislative mandatory reporting to require designated persons to report known and suspected cases. The debate in England has raised the prospect of whether adopting a strategy of some kind of mandatory reporting law is advisable. The purpose of this article is to add to this debate by identifying fundamental principles, issues and complexities underpinning policy and even legislative developments in the interests of children and society. The article will first highlight the data on the hidden nature of child maltreatment and the background to the debate. Secondly, it will identify some significant gaps in knowledge that need to be filled. Thirdly, the article will summarise the barriers to reporting abuse and neglect. Fourthly, we will identify a range of options for, and clarify the dilemmas in developing, legislative mandatory reporting, addressing two key issues: who should be mandated to report, and what types of child maltreatment should they be required to report? Finally, we draw attention to some inherently different goals and competing interests, both between and within the various institutions involved in the safeguarding of children and the criminal prosecution of some offenders. Based on this analysis we offer some concluding observations that we hope contribute to informed and careful debate about mandatory reporting.
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