Mandatory reporting of suspected child abuse cases – the worldwide debate continues

In previous blogs we have commented upon the continuing debate about the pros and cons of mandatory reporting of child abuse and we have commented upon the work IICSA has done to consider whether or not to make recommendations to introduce mandatory reporting. We will not know IICSA’s final thinking until its final report is published. In the meantime, in Hong Kong the issue is also being considered and the debate there provides a timely opportunity to review how mandatory reporting has worked in Australia.

Mandatory reporting of suspected child abuse is a statutory requirement in at least 70 jurisdictions worldwide. However, there is currently no general legal requirement in the UK on those working with children to report known or suspected cases of child abuse or neglect. Statutory guidance does stipulate that individuals that work with children and families should report to their local authorities suspicions of abuse or neglect related to children. In 2016, the UK government introduced legislation in parliament which proposed placing people who work in roles that bring them into regular contact with children under a statutory duty to report or act on suspicions of child abuse or neglect.

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What happened to child protection during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Earlier this year we reported on predictions about the potential impact of COVID-19 pandemic on child protection and initial reports into the ‘lockdown effect’ on child protection. 

There is now further confirmation of the ‘lockdown effect’ on children in England and Wales. Compared to the same period in 2019, there is in 2020 a marked rise (+27%) in the most serious incidents of suspected child abuse. 

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New Zealand: Royal Commission releases interim report on abuse in care

In 2018 the New Zealand Government established The Royal Commission into Historical Abuse in Care. Its purpose was to inquire into and report upon responses by institutions to instances and allegations of historical abuse in state care and faith based institutions between 1950 and 2000.

The Royal Commission has now published its interim report to the Government and has indicated that it is impossible to determine the precise number of people abused in state and faith-based care.  This is due to large gaps and deficiencies in data collected at the time. There has never been a comprehensive census or count of people in the numerous care settings. In some cases, records were not kept at all or have been lost, and even where there are records, it is often difficult or impossible to trace an individual’s path through multiple care settings over time. 

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Criminal records and safeguarding

New rules to protect youth offenders

Employers can check the criminal record of someone applying for a role: this is a Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check. Scotland and Northern Ireland each have their own rules, which are not discussed here. In England and Wales, four types of checks can be made:

  • A basic check which shows unspent convictions and conditional cautions
  • An standard check which shows spent and unspent convictions, cautions, reprimands and final warnings
  • An enhanced check, which includes a standard check as well as information held by local police that is considered relevant to the role
  • An enhanced check with barred lists, which includes an enhanced check as well as checks whether the applicant is on the list of people barred from doing the role 
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Research report highlights prevalence of sexual abuse in UK schools

IICSA recently released its research report titled ‘Child Sexual Abuse in the Context of Schools’, which presents the Inquiry’s findings about the experiences of victims and survivors of child sexual abuse in the context of schools.

The researchers examined the experiences of sexual abuse across several school settings including residential, non-residential, independent and state schools.

Male pupils made up the majority of those who reported abuse to IICSA’s ‘Truth Project’, and accounted for over 75% of all pupils who reported being abused, in independent and special schools. Fifty four percent of the research participants, who were sexually abused in state schools were female.

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IICSA report results in child migrant compensation scheme and further apologies from institutions

This year the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse is revisiting the 15 investigation reports it has published so far into different institutions – examining the evidence heard, the findings made and following up on crucial recommendations. John O’Brien, Secretary to the Inquiry, discusses the first report into Child Migration Programmes.

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Charity trustees disqualified after abuse cover up abuse allegations

Trustees at the Rigpa Fellowship, Patrick Gaffney and Susan Burrows have been banned by the Charity Commission following a two year investigation by the regulator.

The Rigpa Fellowship is a charity set up in 1979 by Sogyal Lakar to advance Buddhist teaching in the UK.  Lakar served as the charity’s spiritual director until August 2017 when he ‘’retired’’ due to safeguarding concerns. He died in August 2019.

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Spotlight on child exploitation – campaign by the Children’s Society

Child exploitation can take many different forms, they include:

  • Child sexual exploitation
  • Child criminal exploitation, including county lines
  • Peer on peer abuse
  • Online grooming and abuse
  • Radicalisation
  • Modern slavery and trafficking for the purpose of child exploitation

In all forms of exploitation it can sometimes appear to the untrained eye that the child or young person is complicit in their abuse. Exploitation is not a ‘lifestyle choice’ and it is a widespread issue, as these statistics show:

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Report on Mother and Baby Homes in Northern Ireland likely to recommend full public inquiry

In February 2016, the then Northern Ireland Executive agreed to establish an inter-departmental working group to take forward work on Mother and Baby Homes and Magdalene Laundries and Historical Clerical Child Abuse, which fell outside the Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry.

The Working Group was tasked with considering the evidence about the operation of Mother and Baby Homes and Magdalene Laundries and make recommendations to the Northern Ireland Executive on what action to take.

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Irish Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes makes recommendations on redress

The Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes said that former residents of the institutions investigated by the Commission had raised the issue of redress with them. Former residents sought redress for what they considered to be the wrongs done to them in those institutions and/or by society generally.

The Commission, in making its recommendations, noted that:

  • redress can be in the form of enhanced services or financial payments and
  • Former residents of the institutions investigated felt that an apology would also be appropriate.

Enhanced services

The Commission said that counselling and enhanced medical cards should be made available to those former residents who need them.

Financial redress

The Commission was clear that any decision to provide financial redress is a matter for the Irish Government.

If redress is to be considered for former residents of mother and baby homes, the Commission said that the relevant comparable redress schemes are the Residential Institutions Redress Scheme (RIRS) and the Magdalen laundries scheme.

In the Commission’s second Interim Report in August, 2016 it reported that it felt that there were inconsistencies in the decisions made to include/exclude some institutions from the RIRS. In its final report the Commission remained of this view and said that the exclusion of children from the Children’s Home at Tuam from the RIRS as “most egregious” as it was a local authority home where “many children” stayed until they were seven years or older.”

The Commission noted that the criterion for the inclusion of an institution in the RIRS was “whether or not a public body had a regulatory or inspection function in respect of that institution.” and concludedthat it was “abundantly clear that all institutions investigated by the Commission meet this criterion.” The implication being that these institutions could have been included in the RIRS from the outset.

The Commission further noted that the RIRS applied to children under the age of 18 and therefore if the RIRS (which is still in existence) was extended to the institutions under the remit of the Commission a number of mothers would be eligible to apply to the RIRS for redress.

The Commission also thought that children who had spent time in the Children’s Home at Tuam, Bessborough in Cork, Castlepollard in Westmeath, Sean Ross in Tipperary, the Bethany and Denny homes in Dublin should all be eligible to apply to the RIRS for redress.

However, the Commission went on to remark that those children, some of whom had spent very short periods in the institutions, “would find it very difficult to establish they had been abused” for the purpose of having redress awarded to them under the RIRS.

Children who had spent time at Belmont, Miss Carr’s, the Castle and the Regina Coeli resided in these institutions with their mothers and so the Commission was of the view that the issue of financial redress did not arise for these children.

The Commission was however satisfied that all the former child residents in the four county homes it investigated, who were resident in those institutions without their mothers should also be eligible for any financial redress package announced by the Irish Government.

The Commission also commented on the women who were resident in the Magdalen laundries who received ex-gratia payments because they were considered to be incarcerated and were made to do commercial work for no pay. Although the women in the mother and baby homes were not in the exact same position, the Commission was satisfied that there were some similarities between the two groups and as such that it may be suitable to consider a similar ex-gratia type payment to the women in the mother and baby homes.

There was evidence that some of the women in these institutions had carried out unpaid work on behalf of the local authority or the institutions.  The Commission found that if this was the case that these women should be eligible to apply to the Magdalen laundry scheme.

The Commission concluded by saying that those women who spent lengthy periods (in excess of six months) in mother and baby homes should be considered for redress on the same basis as the Magdalen Laundry Scheme. The payment made related to the time spent in the institutions. The Commission settled on six months as the cut off period in terms of being eligible for this proposed redress as six months was the average length of time that women spent in mother and baby home outside of Ireland.

However, the Commission was clear that after the introduction of the Unmarried Mother’s Allowance in 1973 things changed and women had other options and as such those women who entered a mother and baby home after 1973 did not have a case for financial redress.

State apology

Since the publication of the final report the Irish Government has issued a State Apology.

On 13 January, the Irish Prime Minister, Taoiseach Michael Martin apologised on behalf of the State for the “profound generational wrong visited upon Irish mothers and their children” in mother and baby homes and county homes”. Mr. Martin said “the Irish State funded these institutions” and had authority for directing their operation. “This authority was not exerted, and the State’s duty of care was not upheld. The State failed you, the mothers and children, in these homes.”

The Roman Catholic Church in Ireland and those religious and other charitable organisations responsible for operating several mother and baby homes have also issued separate apologies.

It has also been confirmed at the end of last week that Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman has written to the primates of the Church of Ireland and the Roman Catholic Church, as well as to the religious congregations and the associated charities asking them to read the report of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes and meet him to discuss their own apologies to victims, contributions to the redress fund and access to records for survivors.

Minister O’Gorman has given a commitment to bring forward proposals for a redress scheme by the end of April 2021.


Katrina Gray, Partner, BLM
katrina.gray@blmlaw.com